Reading the Anabaptist Bible: Reflections for Every Day of the Year. Edited by C. Arnold Snyder and Galen A. Peters. Kitchener, Ont.: Pandora Press and Herald Press. 2002. Pp. 425. $29, U.S.; $38, Can.
Even as a child, I recognized a canon within the canon, the ?Mennonite Bible? that formed the preaching and teaching diet in my home congregation (Sheridan Mennonite Church in Oregon). Though Sunday worship often began with the reading of a psalm as a call to worship, the preaching texts were drawn most often from the epistles. A ready source of instruction, the epistles provided trusted wisdom from the past and practical advice for the life of discipleship for both individuals and the congregation. With certain preachers whose storytelling gifts were especially well developed, the Old Testament narratives of Abraham, Moses and David were favored. Still others were more likely to choose Jesus? teachings from the Gospels or apocalyptic literature such as Daniel or Revelation.
Reviewing the scripture selections chosen for Reading the Anabaptist Bible, I found that the canon I knew as a child was not dissimilar to the one favored by the early Anabaptists. In this book, the editors C. Arnold Snyder and Galen A. Peters have drawn together a collection of daily Bible readings from the texts most frequently cited by Anabaptists. Their source is a biblical concordance published around 1540 by Anabaptists in which the scriptures they deemed most important were organized by topics for the purpose of study, reflection and memorization. Described as ?a tiny, thick book, well suited to being hidden in one’s boot or in an article of clothing, out of sight of the authorities? (11), this ?Bible digest,? which Reading the Anabaptist Bible makes newly accessible, offers an intimate look at the faith and commitments of these believers. As Snyder explains:
When we read these verses, we are in one sense simply ?reading the Bible,? because the verses were printed with no commentary at all. But in another sense, we are reading a selection of Bible texts that were specifically chosen by the Anabaptists as being central to their faith and way of life. We are reading an Anabaptist Bible (13).
Along with a scripture passage chosen for each day of the year, the editors have included a few lines of explanatory text and an Anabaptist testimony reflecting on the scripture. Sources of the Anabaptist testimonies include the Martyrs Mirror and Sources of South German/Austrian Anabaptism, as well as the collected writings of Menno Simons and Dirk Philips.
So which scripture texts did the Anabaptists choose? What topics attracted their attention? Texts and topics in Reading the Anabaptist Bible have been weighted as they were by the Anabaptists themselves. Thus, it comes as no surprise to discover that the Anabaptists, for whom following Jesus was central, depended much more heavily on the New Testament than the Old Testament. The Gospel of Matthew is the single book cited most often, with the Gospel of John coming second and the Gospel of Luke not far behind (the Gospel of Mark gets short shrift in this collection). The epistles are lavishly represented’taken as a whole, they outweigh even the gospels. What is surprising, however, is that the Psalms and the Book of Sirach from the Apocrypha tie for the next position (as nearly as I can recall, no one ever read from apocryphal books in the church of my childhood). Other Old Testament books cited with some frequency are the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah. Finally, the book of Revelation makes a respectable showing as well.
Among the texts selected are those modern Anabaptists would also consider important. The Beatitudes are included (from both Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospels) as well as the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:35-40) and texts emphasizing Christian community (Acts 2:44-45, Acts 4:32-35 or James 5:16-20). God’s love of the world expressed in John 3:16 is included as well as the call to love from I Corinthians 13. Other favored texts focus on abundant promises of God’s presence and goodness, such as Psalms 34:7-8, Psalms 46:1-3, Isaiah 43:1-3, Matthew 29:18-20, John 6:35 or Romans 8:35-39; rigorous calls to commitment, such as Isaiah 55:6-9, Joel 2:12-13, Matthew 10:34-49 or John 3:3-8; and assurance of the triumph of God’s justice, such as Psalms 17:1-3, Matthew 19:27-19 or John 16:33. Texts that might show up less often today among North American Anabaptists are warnings against pride, such as Proverbs 16:5 or I Peter 5:5-7; calls to keep separate from sinners, such as I Corinthians 5:9-13 or II Corinthians 6:14-17; and warnings against the Anti-Christ, such as Romans 16:17-18 and I Peter 2:1-3.
Though it is indeed fascinating to discover which books or texts most nourished the Anabaptists or were considered most essential for faith to grow to maturity, what is also illuminating is the thematic or topical focus of the selected texts. Representing a kind of ?rule of life,? the topics outline the stages in the life of an Anabaptist believer. Beginning with the fear of God, the journey moves through repentance, rebirth, baptism, the Holy Spirit, persecution, bearing witness, not being afraid, patience, love, hope, prayer and many other pertinent themes, and concludes with judgment, vengeance, the reward of the pious, punishment of the godless and, finally, child rearing. The topical outline holds up a mirror to central doctrinal commitments and a vision for faithful Christian living.
How does one use such a resource? Though valuable to scholars, the book is even more valuable to the church in offering a wide view of what mattered most to our ancestors in the faith. Their familiarity with scripture and commitment to disciplined Christian living challenge the church to faithfulness. Just as our ancestors kept these verses in their hearts, we too may be inspired to meditate on scripture and let it work its transforming way in our lives.
An introductory essay called ?Reading these texts prayerfully,? by Arthur Boers, an assistant professor of pastoral theology at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, offers guidance for such meditative reading. Boers suggests practical steps such as finding the best time of day and a welcoming place for reading and prayer, covenanting with others to follow a daily discipline of reading, learning to read contemplatively and memorizing key phrases or words.
Boers also notes the difficulties of reading material from the sixteenth century:
These texts are often written in poetic and unfamiliar styles. The sentences are long, the ideas ponderous at times, and the phrasing complex. This is a far cry from the pared-down, simple (and often simplistic), bare, factual prose of our daily newspaper. But for that no apology is needed’Precisely because they are so different and so other, these unfamiliar words invite us into a slower style of reading, absorbing, and pondering (19).
Beyond the unfamiliar style, however, may reside an even deeper challenge. The radical character of faith in a time of persecution may jolt and disturb us. The implicit trust in scripture may judge our apathy with regard to serious study of the Word. And the humility and yieldedness of these Christians toward God and one another may strike us as naive. Yet because of growing interest among Mennonites in the Daily Office, this daybook of Anabaptist sources may receive more attention than it might otherwise have garnered. Given a careful reading, these long-ago voices may yet renew the vision of holy living for which many Anabaptists gave their lives.
The book is dedicated ?to all who seek the living Word and to Father Thomas, with thanks.? The editor’s preface notes that without the commitment of Father Thomas, then known as Gilbert Fast, to translate the Concordance text from German to English, the book would not exist. Fast became a monk in 2002 at Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Brookline, Mass., where he received his new monastic name.
A valuable appendix includes short biographies of Anabaptist witnesses quoted in the book. An index of scripture texts cited would have been useful as well.
Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary MARLENE KROPF
Obedient Heretics: Mennonite Identities in Lutheran Hamburg and Altona during the Confessional Age. By Michael D. Driedger. St. Andrews Studies in Reformation History. Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate Publishing Co. 2002. Pp. 224. $99.95.
In recent decades historians of the Radical Reformation have made significant progress in elaborating on the complexities of sixteenth-century Anabaptist beginnings. This book advances the field of scholarship by examining subsequent developments in post-Reformation religious life in the Mennonite community living in and around Hamburg and Altona in north Germany. The author, Michael Driedger, who teaches at Brock University, Ontario, has joined a growing number of scholars who have begun to pay attention to the process of identity formation typical of churches during the confessional age (c. 1550-1750). While the discussion surrounding the topic of confessionalism has usually focused on the structural similarities between Catholic, Lutheran and Reformed institutional cultures, Driedger is one of the first to bring Mennonite confessional developments into this larger discussion and, in the process, has raised important questions related to current methods of historical research and interpretation.
The research presented in the book provides new information concerning how the Mennonites survived as a minority people in a time of significant transition and change. In the seventeenth century, Mennonites held on to certain traditional Anabaptist distinctives, yet at the same time they became increasingly involved in the broader socioeconomic order and demonstrated an increasing level of conformity to the political order (hence the oxymoron ?obedient heretics? in the title of the book). In this context conflicts ensued, not only among Mennonites but also between them and other religious groups. A central argument of the book is that when Mennonites experienced periods of conflict, rather than weakening Mennonite identity, the conflicts actually strengthened their self-understanding. Mennonite identity was strongest precisely in times of public controversy. Conversely, as controversy diminished, standards of identity became more flexible.
A main assumption of the volume is that it is normal for groups to change. Older approaches to historiography have assumed that early sixteenth-century Anabaptism ?embodied the timeless, true and pure expression of Anabaptism: all later forms which differed from this supposedly pure, original form were bastardized and corrupted? (5). Driedger believes that this approach is unhelpful to historians because it interprets diversity as a problem; it implicitly frowns upon historical development and insists that religious groups must have an unchanging core character. While Driedger believes that some dimensions of Mennonite belief have remained relatively constant over time, it is fair to say that groups change. Historians should, therefore, be wary not to develop false intimacies with the past or succumb too easily to golden age theories that support their own ideological convictions and commitments.
The volume contributes a healthy mixture of historical narrative and analysis. The opening chapter begins with a description of the transition of the Hamburg and Altona Mennonites, from a persecuted minority group to a minority group that found growing acceptance in an increasingly tolerant milieu. The second and third chapters of the book draw attention to the internal challenges that Mennonites faced as they sought to adjust to their new context. Driedger brings to light a largely forgotten history concerning the Dompelaars, a group within the Mennonite community advocating baptism by immersion. He also takes into account the various ways in which Mennonites secured religious practices that gave routine to their way of life. For instance, they practiced adult baptism and developed a system of lay leadership, which came to fulfill a role similar to the clergy of the other churches. They also developed institutions and administrative bodies to strengthen local congregational life and to promote inter-Mennonite cooperation. A central dimension of Mennonite confessionalism was the adoption of confessional statements summarizing the essential beliefs of the community. The Mennonites of Hamburg and Altona joined some of the Dutch Mennonite networks that advocated strict adherence to confessional statements, but Driedger observes that not all Mennonites gave equal weight to the significance to these documents. Evidently ?there was not merely one but rather several brands of Mennonite confessionalism? (74).
The fourth chapter attends to the paradigm of confessionalization, which is a recent elaboration of the concept of confessionalism. Advocates of confessionalization, such as the German historians Heinz Schilling and Wolfgang Reinhard, have noted the close relationship between the formation of state churches, on the one hand, and nation-building and modernization, on the other. In their view, rulers and state authorities used the churches to transform society at all levels, which accelerated the pace of Europe moving towards modernity. Driedger sees value in this paradigm in that it avoids parochial and partisan approaches to church history and more clearly establishes linkages between religion and its broader context. It also provides a framework for specialized scholars and gives them a wider forum in which to discuss their work.
In the end, however, Driedger is critical of this approach because it concentrates too narrowly on institutions and the intentions of rulers and state bureaucracies, and tends to overlook local histories and minority groups such as Mennonites. Further, the paradigm assumes that Mennonites were not seriously involved in the process of identity formation and that they really did not participate in matters related to the society and the state. This ignores the fact that many of the very earliest Anabaptist reformers actually attempted to transform society and culture on the basis of a Christian model, and that northern European Mennonites, especially in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, were often major participants in the wider economic, social and political milieu. Driedger’s alternative to the paradigm is not to propose a new concept of confessionalization but rather to return to the older, more basic meaning that points to ?the process of religious identity formation’?which suggests that ??confessionalization? and `confessionalism? need not be taken to mean anything very different? (105).
The remaining chapters of the book give attention to the doctrines of nonresistance and oath swearing, as well as to the growing Mennonite practice of marrying outside community boundaries. Driedger not only pays attention to the official statements and positions of the Mennonite community but also examines the way Mennonites actually practiced their faith in daily life. He believes that studying the official standards alone gives an incomplete picture of Mennonite life. By focusing too narrowly on official pronouncements, historians overlook the contradictions between rhetoric and actual lived experience. His research highlights the fact that Mennonites often experienced a tension ?between official standards and the daily practice of faith? (129). Moreover, Mennonites did not always define themselves on the basis of confessional affiliation. Often other affiliations’familial, ethnic, professional and political’took precedence. By drawing attention to the varying degrees by which official standards in the Mennonite community were accepted, the book implicitly suggests that the degree to which one ought to attribute importance to confessional norms in the process of defining group identity is itself dependent on historical context.
Based on impressive archival research, Obedient Heretics sheds new light on important details about Mennonites in northern Europe and also brings to the surface older material that has long since been lost to English-language historiography. Overall, the book advances the discussion on questions related to method and interpretation and contributes admirably to the perennial question of Anabaptist-Mennonite identity.
Canadian Mennonite University KARL KOOP
?Verschooninghe van de roomsche afgoderye’: De polemiek van Calvijn met nicodemieten in het bijzonder met Coornhert. By Mirjam van Veen. Volume LX of Bibliotheca Humanistica & Reformatorica. ?t Goy-Houten (Utrecht): Hes & De Graaf Publishers, BV. 2001. Pp. 282. ? 96,20; $122, U.S. (approx).
As readers of The Mennonite Quarterly Review know, in the sixteenth century discussions about religious tolerance were limited to whether Anabaptists should be executed or merely exiled, while dissenters had to decide if and when to take a stand that could cost them their lives. Some suggested that good Christians could hide their dissenting beliefs while conforming to mainstream religious rituals, a posture known as Nicodemism. Such a position was a serious threat to distinct religious communities, and leaders like Menno Simons and John Calvin sought to stem its spread. Nicodemites responded by arguing that no ceremony or confession was worth dying for. This polemical battle is the subject of Mirjam van Veen’s carefully researched and balanced book.
Van Veen’s monograph is her Ph.D. dissertation (?proefschrijft’); in the Netherlands, dissertations are published as is. The format and style are therefore more academic than North American books originating from dissertations. The numbered subheadings, extended footnotes and narrowly focused introduction are typical. On the positive side, Van Veen’s monograph contains a detailed English summary and a useful index of proper names. Quibbles over format aside, Van Veen has produced a groundbreaking and important study of the polemical writings on Nicodemism around midcentury.
Other scholars have tackled this polemical discourse, most famously Perez Zagorin in his Ways of Lying: Dissimulation, Persecution, and Conformity in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge, Mass., 1990). The great value of Van Veen’s study is in both her very careful rereading of Calvin’s polemic’to which she devotes more than half of her book’and her serious analysis of Nicodemite writings. Furthermore she moves beyond the well-trodden path of Calvin’s anti-French Nicodemite polemics to the much lesser-known debate between Calvin and Dutch Nicodemites, especially the famous Dutch writer and spiritualist Dirck Volckertsz Coornhert. Coornhert’s 1560 unpublished manuscript advocating Nicodemism’?Verschooninghe van de roomsche afgoderye? (?Apology for Roman Catholic Idolatry’)?so worried Calvin’s Dutch adepts that they translated it and begged Calvin to respond, which he did in his Response ? un certain Holandois. Van Veen builds up to this climax very carefully with an extremely detailed’perhaps excessively so’explication of Calvin’s anti-French Nicodemite writings. She then explores the comparable situation in the Low Countries, where there were explicit proponents of Nicodemism and organized Nicodemite groups, such as the followers of David Joris and Hendrick Niclaes? Family of Love.
Van Veen clearly reveals just how hardline Calvin’s position was on the ?tolerance? spectrum, and yet she also notes that he was not alone, as prominent French reformers, such as Guillaume Farel and Pierre Viret, likewise argued that merely to share the same space with a Catholic ?idol? or to be an observer at Mass was to allow oneself to be soiled by the devilish pollution of the antichrist. They therefore forbade Calvinists to attend Catholic marriages, baptisms or funerals. Despite often horrific persecution, Calvin consistently argued that corporal worship could not be separated from spiritual attitudes, as the spiritualists or ?Libertines? argued. Van Veen shows that Calvin’s position did not substantially change between his Epistolae duae of 1537 and his anti-Coornhert tract of 1560. Throughout, Calvin enjoined his followers to stand up for their faith or to go into voluntary exile, as he had. There could be no compromise.
Van Veen’s study becomes most interesting for MQR readers when she turns to the debate over Nicodemism in the Low Countries. This was pioneered by Anabaptists, not Calvinists, with the anti-Nicodemite Menno Simons opposing the Nicodemite Joris and his son-in-law Nicolaas Blesdijk. Menno, like Calvin, insisted on an open confession of faith, even to the point of martyrdom, while the Davidites argued that no ritual act was important enough to die for, since true spiritual life was an inward matter. Thanks to the work of Samme Zijlstra (?2001), this debate is well known, but Van Veen makes a critical contribution by detailing what happened to the arguments in the 1540s to 1560s. She proves that Coornhert’s spiritualism was heavily influenced by Joris and Blesdijk, and strengthened by the writings of Sebastian Franck and Caspar Schwenckfeld. By 1560, such spiritualism was commonplace in the Low Countries, and Calvin’s supporters in the region had every right to be concerned.
Coornhert incited Calvin’s ire by arguing that Calvin’s and Menno’s views were of a piece and directly responsible for the needless deaths of their followers. Calvin’s reply was particularly vicious and personal as he finally had a specific Nicodemite to rail against, although he allowed Coornhert’s arguments to dictate the terms of the debate. Ignoring many aspects of Coornhert’s spiritualism, such as his belief in the perfectability of the devout Christian, Calvin concentrated on Coornhert’s dangerous notion that those who suffer on account of ceremonies ?die for the devil? (p.189). For Calvin, compromise with Baal was impossible, nor was there a halfway house between Catholic idolatry and Protestant identity.
Van Veen concludes with an all-too-brief discussion of the relative influence of Calvin’s and Coornhert’s respective notions in the Low Countries. She examines church consistory records and decisions from Keulen, Wesel, Emden and the refugee church in London, discovering that, Emden and London aside (both outside of the Netherlands proper), Reformed consistories proved more moderate and compromising than Calvin himself, allowing members to attend Catholic weddings or funerals, for example, without risk to their spiritual health. Here Van Veen makes a very lucid point: Calvin’s position of taking a firm stand (or enduring voluntary exile) was valid only so long as there was explicit persecution. Coornhert’s posture, however, was applicable long after persecution had ended, and helped to shape enduring popular opinion on the relative importance of ceremonies and confessions. Calvin’s influence on the Dutch in such matters, she concludes, must not be overestimated, while Coornhert’s has been for too long neglected.
Van Veen’s book adds another piece to the puzzle of the unique approach to religious toleration taken by the Dutch Republic. Here, she suggests, several different reform groups had managed to survive, including Catholics, Lutherans, Mennonites, Zwinglians, Calvinists and Jorists, and there remained a relatively permeable boundary among confessions. Yet, while she recognizes the widespread distaste for Charles V’s placards and inquisition, Van Veen does not fully appreciate the extent to which a number of civic governments cooperated with the persecution. That caveat aside, she reveals quite nicely how spiritualistic and Nicodemite notions thrived under such confessionally-confused circumstances.
Van Veen’s book includes a critical edition of the surviving manuscript of the Verschooninghe that circulated long before the tract was included in the 1633 printed collection of Coornhert’s writings. She carefully notes the variations between the manuscript and the later printed version, successfully arguing that the manuscript is closer to Coornhert’s now lost original than the printed edition. Coornhert’s work deserves more attention, and to this end a translation of his key writings would be extremely valuable. Van Veen’s book should help raise such interest in this understudied writer, and it therefore deserves to be read by scholars of both the Radical Reformation and Reformed traditions.
University of New Brunswick GARY K. WAITE
Preface to Theology: Christology and Theological Method. By John Howard Yoder. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brazos Press. 2002. Pp. 431. $34.99.
That Brazos Press has published John H. Yoder’s Preface to Theology: Christology and Theological Method is a mark of the boldness of their commitment to publishing substantive theological works. Originally written as the content for a course Yoder taught at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminaries from 1960 to 1981, Preface saw limited circulation outside the classroom in a paperback edition marketed by the seminary bookstore. This edition is given a lengthy and helpful introduction by Stanley Hauerwas and Alex Sider. They do a masterful job of explaining the significance of these lectures for an understanding of Yoder, and also helpfully explain aspects of the book that are somewhat dated by the fact that they represent Yoder’s thought and the state of scholarship circa 1960. They are right on target in suggesting that the reader whose primary knowledge of Yoder is the exegetical and ethical work The Politics of Jesus will get a much fuller picture of his thought by reading this work, which is a sustained, patient engagement with the history of doctrine. The editors have also done valuable work in adding footnotes that clarify some obscure points or references in the text.
In an ?Introduction? written for A.M.B.S. bookstore publication in 1981, Yoder makes it clear that he is serious about theology and does not accept the modern subjectivization of theological judgments. Instead, he writes, ??it is our duty to come to terms with the existence of a solid and sizable body of tradition: a host of terms whose precise definition makes a difference, a wealth of experience with ideas whose validity is not strictly correlated with whether they happen to turn me on or not, and a story of both intellectual combat and consensus that challenges our capacity for insight and empathy in the most creative cross-cultural research.? (43) No one is a more capable practitioner of this kind of research.
Preface is a workbook, and is most profitably read as such. Most chapters begin with a ?preparation guide,? which may consist of questions about assigned scriptures, or questions about the ?supplementary readings? in systematic theology textbooks that his students were required to read alongside Preface. Part 1 of the book is a sketch of the development of Christology in the New Testament. Part 2 is a study of the post-apostolic development of canon, forms of ecclesial authority and creeds. In Part 3 Yoder deals with eschatology, atonement and revelation, using the conventional format developed by the Reformed tradition of addressing the work of Christ under the headings of King, Priest and Prophet.
It is noteworthy that Yoder’s treatment of the New Testament begins with a study of Acts and the apostolic kerygma. This should lay to rest the misunderstanding that Yoder really operates on the basis of a ?historical Jesus? hermeneutic. His Jesus who calls and teaches disciples is the Jesus who is proclaimed as risen Lord. Particularly brilliant and worthy of close study are chapters 4 and 5, where he traces how the writers of Ephesians, Colossians, Hebrews and John contextualize the particularity of Jesus within their respective cosmologies. 
One of the unifying themes that Yoder traces through various strands of the New Testament is what he often calls ?the logic of solidarity’; that is, the literature always assumes the unity of the disciple-believer with Christ. What he is pointing to is obviously correct, but one wonders whether the semantics of the phrase ?logic of solidarity? doesn’t skew his reading of this reality and not do justice to some aspects of the faith union between Christ and believers. What if instead one were to use the phrase ?new life through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit’? Certainly Yoder would be quite capable of giving this phrase definite historical Christological rootage, concrete ethical content and communal character, and protecting it from subjectivistic and individualist misreadings. But to talk about life in the Spirit would also incorporate dimensions of biblical story and Christian experience that ?the logic of solidarity? leaves out. There is nothing in Yoder’s reading of scripture that would argue against this formulation.
His use of the ?logic of solidarity? also leads to a misreading of I Corinthians 15. Paul does not argue (as Yoder suggests) that if Christ is raised then we will be raised, but that if there is no general resurrection of the dead then Christ has not been raised either. Paul understands Jesus? resurrection within the horizon of the common apocalyptic understanding of salvation as resurrection of the dead at the end of the age. Paul seeks to do more than interpret Jesus to the Corinthians in a contextually relevant way; he argues that the Gospel comes with a salvation cosmology from which it cannot be withdrawn without grave distortion. Resurrection of the dead is not a deduction drawn from the logic of solidarity, but a structural presupposition of the meaningfulness of the Jesus story, which Paul insists that Corinthian believers must accept. This is no small point. It raises the question of whether Yoder’s tendency to pare down the Gospel to the Lordship of Jesus and its correlative of discipleship, which can be freely translated into a variety of contingent cosmologies, but does not itself carry any necessary and therefore universal cosmological assumptions, is adequate.
Throughout the book Yoder shows that his primary academic training and his personal sensibilities are those of a historian. Dip into his work on any theme’be it the virgin birth, the Trinity or the atonement’and he displays the habit of carefully sorting out what biblical statements would have most likely meant (or could not possibly have meant) in their own context; why the statements developed in later context were deemed necessary, and how they affirm things that are not what scripture was saying, and how that variance in itself is not necessarily a sign that they are not true. What is impressive is how carefully Yoder sifts through the logic of the Creeds, and of Anselm’s theory of atonement. While his criticisms of Anselm’s satisfaction theory are very foundational, he is never dismissive of his attempt to deal with the seriousness of sin and divine wrath. It is noteworthy that Yoder suggests that any attempt to restate the doctrine of atonement must ?take sin as seriously as does Anselm? (308).
He is, however, abrupt in his dismissal of universalism, or theologies that don’t take sin seriously. This is another part of his emphasis on ?particularity.? God respects our freedom to become what we become. To say that God’s grace steps in at the end and nullifies our freedom and our history of rebellion would be inconsistent with agape love. Universalism annuls history and makes it meaningless (317-320).
Throughout Yoder practices a kind of practical discipleship focused hermeneutic. Classic doctrines are read for how they undermine, marginalize or (positively) make visible Jesus? call to discipleship. But it is important to note how remarkably different Yoder’s ?practical? criterion is from that of Kant and post-Kantian liberalism. Yoder believes that the meaning of doctrines is inseparable from the behaviors and the historical context with which they correlate. Like Kant, he engages in a practical critique of all theological metaphysics. But here is where the similarity ends. For Kant theoretical statements are true only to the extent that they teach a universal moral principle that is in fact knowable on other grounds. Yoder never for a moment abandons the rootage of Christian ethics in the particularity of Jesus as the Christ of God.
The implication of Kant’s practical critique of dogma (which he unflinchingly plays out in Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone) is that those parts of Scripture or traditional doctrine that do not teach his idea of universal moral law have to be critiqued by this higher external norm. In this work Yoder never criticizes Scripture or, for that matter, the historical tradition of doctrine, by some higher, more enlightened criterion, or even by some ethical norm abstracted from scripture. His norm is consistently revelation as it is attested to in Scripture. Yoder exercises a respect and patience with both Scripture and tradition that is far removed from current efforts, even among Mennonite theologians, to purge those elements of Scripture that are troubling to tolerant-minded moderns, or to engage in a wholesale abandonment of the Creeds because they are politically tainted.
Yoder is clearly not impressed with the idea that we stand at a superior vantage point, or with the idea that there is some kind of linear progress in the discipline of theology. His strategy is always to circle back to the tradition, albeit with new questions gained from the tradition.
Given that this is a preface to theology it would be fair to ask why a theology did not at some point follow. But after reading this work one is left without any doubt that what you see is what you get. Learning to persistently ask finely honed questions that are sensitive to historical context and development, testing tradition with the question of how it makes the claims of Jesus visible and makes the call to discipleship inescapable (or fails to do so), and learning to deflect the various false polarities with which theology so often is saddled is theology in Yoder’s understanding. He writes:
One reason the faithful church must have theologians is that all the other churches do. The function of theology is to be suspicious of theology. We might like to short-circuit that suspicion by claiming to have no theology, but that is of course not a possible solution. The anti-intellectuals and antitheological people have a theology too. They are just not careful about it. Liberals who want to accept all positions also have a theology. The one kind of theology they reject is the one that draws lines like Jesus did (Preface, 395).
These lectures show that Yoder is the master of this kind of historically aware, tradition-critical theological reflection. One could ask whether he is not too dependent on this critical over against stance vis–vis the tradition. Preface engages in a lot of heavy brush clearing, but at most points only hints at the shape an adequate restatement of faith should take. In an era when many are dismissive of Christian tradition without giving it a serious reading it has become perhaps more critical to risk a positive restatement of Christian doctrine. Nonetheless, these lectures are a contribution to theology that will keep on giving after most of the systematic theologies that have been written in his lifetime are regarded merely as interesting period pieces.
Lithuania Christian College, Klaipeda, Lithuania STEPHEN F. DINTAMAN
Ephesians. By Thomas R. Yoder Neufeld. Believers Church Bible Commentary. Waterloo, Ont., and Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press. 2002. Pp. 400. $29.99, U.S.; $46.79, Can.
Writing a review on a biblical commentary presents an interesting exercise, since the reviewer has likely read the work in a way that other users will not’straight through from beginning to end. So first, to commend this commentary to its normal users, it must be noted that Yoder Neufeld does a fine job of dealing with the text segment by segment, including thoughtful and well-developed sections on the Text in Biblical Context (T.B.C.) and the Text in the Life of the Church (T.L.C.), both established features of the Believers Church series. The commentary opens according to tradition, offering comments, brief according to the series pattern, on themes, structure, authorship, date and historical context of Ephesians. After the section-by-section commentary, this work includes ten articles on concepts and terms that play a critical role in Ephesians’apocalypticism, authorship, cosmology, Gnosticism, ?head,? ?in,? Pauline letter structure, Powers, pseudepigraphy and Wisdom. An extensive bibliography and a short list of resources at the end may be consulted by those who want to pursue further study of the letter.
A feature that sets this commentary apart is the author’s own ?schematic translation? of the entire letter (326-338), which makes visible the grammatical logic of the entire text. Since most translations of Ephesians attempt to simplify in this area, this translation is especially useful for those who wish to take seriously as part of their reading the complex syntax characteristic of the Ephesians author. In a related gesture to users, Yoder Neufeld regularly refers to other English translations, in particular those of the New International Version and the New Revised Standard Version, likely the most widely used in the churches served by the commentary series. These comments both note and at times critique the choices made by other translators, a helpful way of assuring that students of Ephesians take seriously the reality of working with a translated text. They also allow the author to underline issues that he finds critical to the letter’s message. For example, Yoder Neufeld pushes beyond a strict place definition used by the N.I.V. and the N.R.S.V. to translate a term frequently used but unique to Ephesians, ?the heavenlies,? referring either to heavenly matters or places (42). This usage points to his more thorough discussion of the cosmology in Ephesians (344-346), and underlines his insistence that the saints in Christ are ?everywhere in the cosmos’?experiencing God’s blessing and presence while still encountering evil powers in their everyday lives.
This commentary also does well what commentaries are intended to do, but what readers frequently miss’that is, to record a multi-leveled conversation the author is carrying on both with scholars and with other serious students of the text. True to its labeling, the commentary first of all takes very seriously the conversation within Believers Church communities. For example, Yoder Neufeld deals with the uneasiness within that tradition over standard Protestant interpretations of biblical language about election and predestination (Eph 1:5) by quoting James McClendon and J. C. Wenger. Nevertheless, he also insists on creating space for the ancient writer who conveys most of all ?wonder, gratitude, and assurance (rather) than theological precision? (63).
His discussion of the Household Code (Eph. 5:21-6:9) is essentially a summary of the work of previous Believers Church scholars, who have consistently emphasized the servanthood model of Christ to argue that these codes destabilize traditional roles of dominance and subordination. Included here is a discussion of the work of John Howard Yoder, with whom he is closely connected in both scholarly and personal terms, on the concept of ?revolutionary subordination.? Following Mary Schertz, and in contrast to Yoder, Yoder Neufeld distinguishes the ?argument underlying the use of the Code in 1 Peter from that in Ephesians (and in earlier Colossians)? (287). That is, Ephesians and Colossians are describing relationships within the Christian community, while 1 Peter, where ?revolutionary subordination? is a more useful description of what is prescribed, assumes relationships in a household not shaped by the commitments of that community.
Yoder Neufeld is keenly aware that the ?subversive? explanation of the instructions in the Household Code does not satisfy everyone, certainly not within the scholarly world, and not even among Believers Church readers. Throughout his commentary, he also records an ongoing conversation with feminist scholars, in particular the work on Ephesians of the feminist theologian Letty Russell. His gut-level inclination, however, cannot be hidden’he loves the text and wants to take seriously what it says, but he also wants it to be liberatory. Here he makes what I find an important move, allowing experience to play a central role in shaping interpretation. So, on the Household Code, he concludes: ?We cannot settle this argument (about ?cementing? or subverting patriarchy) apart from how real people read this text and live it out in the varying social configurations we call ?family.? Nor can it be settled apart from who the Christ is, the one who is encountered in the text and followed in life? (286).
Elsewhere, Yoder Neufeld challenges the contention of Rodney Sawatsky and Scott Holland that ?evangelical separatism? must lead to self-righteousness: ?Our text (Eph. 2:1-10) leaves no doubt . . . that the solution for the difficulties of the narrow path should not be sought on the freeway? (103). He describes the struggles of Anabaptists, both traditional and contemporary, over what to do about boundaries in the context of Ephesians? description (Eph. 2:11-22) of Christ breaking down walls (134-136). And he uses Anabaptist hymns and homilies to connect Ephesians on the armor of God (Eph. 6:10-20) to a Believers Church understanding of ?baptism as enlistment? (315-316). It was somewhat jarring to read, in his discussion of the questions surrounding authorship of the letter, ?most scholars, including many evangelical [my emphasis] scholars, consider it more than likely . . . that some [biblical] documents bear the names of those who did not write them? (359). One wonders whether on this matter a different conversation is going on, and if so, who the partners are.
Yoder Neufeld rises to a climax in his discussion of Ephesians? closing call to put on the armor of God (Eph 6:10-20). Here, although he does not say so, a major part of the conversation is with other Believers Church scholars over how to describe God in relationship to biblical use of militaristic language. Throughout the commentary he has been pointing to the divine warrior motif in Ephesians, and to his own work elsewhere on that topic. Linking the Ephesians text with Isaiah 59, he notes the shocking demand of this New Testament text that the saints are to put on the armor reserved for God in earlier scriptures (308). Thus central to this motif in Ephesians is the intimate intertwining of God and the church, in the struggle against the powers. He rebuts Markus Barth’s claim that the term ?struggle? (Eph. 6:12) reflects pacifist understandings (296), and insists that Ephesians ?militarizes? its language in comparison with parallel Colossians material (305). Yet he also underlines this language use as ?highly ironic,? and, with a nod to those who might disagree with the place he allows for the image of God as a warrior, he adds, ?We must ask . . . whether this metaphor of God’s armor, however truthful, is appropriate for a ?Christian? imagination that has been deeply militarized and is thus incapable of seeing its irony? (312).
Yoder Neufeld’s writing is clear and passionate, and this work provides ample material for conversations about Ephesians and its word to us, for years to come.
Eastern Mennonite University NANCY R. HEISEY
The Free Church and the Early Church: Bridging the Historical and Theological Divide. Edited by D. H. Williams. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans. 2002. Pp. 183. $16, paper.
The early church has been problematic for the free churches. Free church scholars and layfolk alike have been concerned to be biblical and to accord primary authority to the life and witness of the apostolic church. Although they have at times made courteous comments about the early church, they in practice have vaulted across the centuries to the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century, at which point ?church history,? as they conceive it, begins. Hence the free churches (with one exception, as will emerge later) have largely left scholarship in the early church to scholars in the Catholic traditions.
This useful book signifies a change. Its writers’Baptists, Campbellites and a Mennonite’indicate various ways in which insights from the early church are being appropriated by contemporary free church thinkers. Editor Daniel Williams, a Baptist, argues that free church Christians today need the resources of the ancient church in order to ?construct a uniquely Christian vision in our present day.? Williams uses the language of ?rediscovery? and ?recovery? in a way that will be familiar to Mennonites. Among Mennonites the ?recovery of the Anabaptist vision? has been a potent impetus for renewal of thought and praxis. Does the early church hold out a parallel source of renewal for free churches, including Mennonites?
Many articles in this book indicate the benefits that can come to the free churches by learning from the early church. One is coherence, especially regarding sola scriptura. The eminent patristics scholar Frederick Norris, who argues that the scriptural canon is the product of the late fourth-century church, asks provocatively: ?Does it make much sense to say that the fourth-century was making very good decisions about the Bible but mostly poor ones about everything else’? Since the canon is situated within the church, Norris would have us draw wisdom from other aspects of the church’s life’episcopacy, councils, creeds and ethical canons. A Mennonite theologian, Gerald Schlabach, in a penetrating study of Augustine, argues that Augustinian themes of grace and caritas can do much to correct the gracelessness and ?blunt voluntarism? of free church ecclesiology.
Schlabach also opens up another theme that deserves more development in this book’the benefits to the church catholic when scholars schooled in the free churches study the early church. Schlabach’s sensibilities, shaped by Mennonite upbringing and theology, enable him to argue that Augustine’s use of force to coerce erring Christians into the Catholic church represents an aberration from Augustine’s own theology of continence’?an act of incontinence, not trust, of a pride that was surely subtle but hardly the christlike humility that had converted him.? Schlabach, who has drunk deeply from Augustinian wells, is nevertheless able, precisely because of his Mennonite roots, to see things in Augustine that are new and profound and have ecumenical resonance. When he invites other free church thinkers to engage in ?the debate that is Augustinianism,? I wonder what response he will get.
Another contributor, Church of Christ scholar Everett Ferguson, has for many years been at the center of the worldwide guild of patristics scholars. Learnedly and winsomely he points out what scholars in the Catholic traditions generally fail to see, or to view as immature’that the polity of the church through the mid-third-century was ?congregationalist.? Congregationalism, of course, has its own problems. But in these days when Catholics are struggling with the pastoral backwash of over-centralized power, perhaps free church scholars such as Ferguson can help them rediscover aspects of their early history that have a perennial power to heal.
Ferguson represents the one free church tradition that has produced a distinguished school of early church scholars’the Campbellite churches or the Disciples of Christ. In this volume, William Tabbernee writes not about the Montanism in which he is a world authority but on the tradition begun by Alexander Campbell. He notes that, although Campbell was committed to a movement for Christian unity based on a ?restoration of New Testament Christianity,? Campbell also was a disciplined and knowledgeble student of the early church. It is fascinating to think of the effect of Campbell’s pioneering work upon the careers of successors in his tradition’Norris, Ferguson, Michael White, Ronald Heine, Abraham Malherbe’and thus upon early church scholarship in general. Something similar may happen when other free church traditions discover that the early church is not only problematic but a source of pastoral and theological fruitfulness.
A volume like this is important because it begins discussions, not because it ends them. I would have liked more discussion about areas in which early Christian thought and practice are enriching the life of Christians today. Notably absent is a discussion of worship. The Campbellites, learning from the early Christians, could have written about the centrality of communion in the life of free churches. Are other dimensions of free church life being transformed by the study of the early church? On the other hand, I would also have liked more exploration of insights that free church scholars can bring to all Christians through their study of the early church. Schlabach discusses coercion and warfare; Ferguson points to ordination and ecclesiology; Tabbernee alludes to baptism. What other areas can free church scholars explore for the benefit of all Christians? Finally, I would have liked some discussion of what the ?early church? means. Is it ?the first six hundred years of church history’? Or were there nodal points within the six hundred years at which qualitative changes took place that might make other ways of periodizing more helpful?
But these are quibbles. Daniel Williams has assembled a collection of essays that will further important debates. His own thinking, in both the introduction and his essay, is significant in helping us ponder anew the role of tradition in the life of the church. And I believe his central conviction will be borne out by the church history of the coming century’that ?rediscovering the roots in the church’s early spirituality and theology? will lead, not to a loss of free church distinctiveness, but rather to an appropriation of ?resources necessary to preserve a Christian vision? in a deeply troubled world.
Elkhart, Ind. ALAN KREIDER
Prof. Paul Doerksen, 228 Maplewood Ave. Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
R3L 1A5. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Prof. Ted Grimsrud, Bible and Religion Dept., Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Road, Harrisonburg, VA, 22802-2462. E-mail: email@example.com
Emily Hershberger, 1113 S. 12th St., Goshen, IN 46526. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Prof. Joon-Sik Park, Methodist Theological Seminary in Ohio, 3081 Columbus Pike, Delaware, OH 43015. E-mail: JPark@mtso.edu
Prof. Douglas H. Shantz, Dept. of Religious Studies, University of Calgary, 2500 University Drive NW, Calgary, Alberta, Canada T2N 1N4. E-mail: email@example.com
. The argument Yoder developed in Chapters 4 and 5 are the basis of his essay ?But We Do See Jesus,? The Priestly Kingdom (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984), 46-62.
Return to Text
. This ?logic of solidarity? is what Yoder plays out at length in The Politics of Jesus, most notably in chapter 7, ?The Disciple of Christ and the Way of Jesus? (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1972).
The Mennonite Quarterly Review