A Mennonite Family in Tsarist Russia and the Soviet Union 1789-1923. By David G. Rempel with Cornelia Rempel Carlson. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. 2003. Pp. 356. $70, Can.
The noted Mennonite historian David G. Rempel worked on this book for over twenty years before his death in 1992, at age 91. Originally written as an account of his ancestors and personal experiences intended for reading by family and relatives, the still incomplete manuscript eventually grew to over a thousand pages. As with a great deal of Rempel’s writings it remained a work in progress, constantly being added to with extra snippets of information, corrections and endless revisions. His family inherited a large manuscript, mostly typed but also amended in Rempel’s fine hand. Using the manuscript and a few other sources, his daughter, Cornelia, has carefully crafted a very fine account of Mennonite life in Russia and with the assistance of the University of Toronto Press brought Rempel’s work of love and passion to a wider audience than perhaps he ever intended. Harvey Dyck provides an introduction, as the book is included in the Tsarist and Soviet Mennonite Studies Series of his research program.
Although the title suggests the book covers the period from the 1789 founding of the Khortitsa colony until the emigration of the first contingent of Khortitsa refugees to Canada in 1923, the bulk of the book deals with the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century period, roughly 1880 to 1920. The earlier period is covered mainly through a consideration of Rempel’s ancestors viewed through the separate descent lines of his father and mother. The Rempels were early settlers in Nieder Khortitsa, the village in which David was born and raised. His matriline connected David to a richer and wider world than his patriline. His mother was a Pauls from Rosenthal and was connected with key figures in the founding and development of the Khortitsa colony. These included Jacob Hppner, one of the original delegates who negotiated the first Mennonite settlement with the government and the Hildebrandts of Insel Khortitsa. Through this connection David was linked to the Frisian church tradition, whereas before his marriage his father belonged to the larger Flemish congregation. The Pauls were also connected to wealthier and more educated Mennonites than most of the Rempels. It was mainly through his Pauls grandmother that David’s imagination was opened to the history of the region, and his subsequent career and this book are a result of this early exposure to the Mennonite past. The information on his forebears is carefully contextualized and illustrated with anecdotes and family stories, the whole supplemented by genealogical details supplied in separate appendices.
The next part deals with Rempel’s memories of growing up in Khortitsa. It is of particular importance as he depends not just on his own memory, but also utilizes published sources, contemporary diaries and the recollections of older siblings, other relatives, friends and surviving neighbors. Here one can see the mind of a professionally trained historian at work. The result is more than just an account of his personal development. The reader is presented with an immensely rich social history of a Mennonite village and the larger world as Rempel’s experience expands with his physical development. There are details on local village identities and rivalries, variations in language, the role of women, domestic roles and youth groups-all material unlikely to be found in official archives and government documents. While in places the account is affectionate, it is also frank and honest. It reveals a richer, more complex and in places ugly world than many of the numerous simplistic, saccharine memoirs produced by Mennonites celebrating life in the old homeland during the “good old days.” Here is a world of birth, death, remarriage, fosterage, abuse, alcoholism and gross social inequality. Accounts of the good are matched by the evil, all presented clearly, without compromise or pious pronouncement.
Rempel’s vivid description of inequality and class conflict in Nieder Khortitsa provides an excellent account of this neglected aspect of Mennonite life. Before the Revolution this was a world where rich farmers looked down on middle farmers, tradesmen and the poverty-ridden Mennonites employed as teamsters and boatmen who were drifting away from the Mennonite world. Beyond the village existed even poorer and more exploited Little Russian peasants whose lives contrasted with those of wealthy Mennonite estate owners, some of whom were Rempel’s relatives. I well recall Rempel supplying me with a copy of his description, which I read out loud at a symposium in Winnipeg in 1989 to illustrate the emergence of social inequality and class in the Mennonite world. His description and my analysis were met with anger and denial by some present, including academic experts who wished to preserve an image of a Mennonite idyll before the Revolution, where egalitarianism ruled and daughter colonies cared for the Mennonite landless (rather than for the sons of rich farmers as Rempel indicates in his account). Some elderly Mennonites, raised in Russia before the Revolution, rose to defend the accuracy of Rempel’s description. Now that his account is available in print, readers can judge for themselves.
The final part details the historical events that tore the Mennonite world apart, resulting in the death of his parents and brother and destroying his own future in Russia. The text moves slowly through the pre-World War I period and his father’s business struggles, especially after he assisted poorer Mennonites in acquiring land under the Stolypin land reforms and was blackballed by the richer farmers for his actions. It deals with the war years, the threat of land appropriation and the slide into revolution and civil war. The two chapters on the occupation of Khortitsa by Makhno and his followers are among the most vivid, dramatic and chilling I have read on this period. They also show that Rempel’s literary talents extended beyond mere historical narrative. The typhus epidemic that followed these events left him orphaned and, following the subsequent famine, forced Rempel and his brothers and a sister to seek a new life in North America. David did not finish the final chapters on the coming of American relief, for which he was eternally grateful, and the debates and decision to emigrate, but his daughter provides a brief sketch using other sources.
I spent twenty years involved in an intensive exchange of information and views on Mennonite life with Rempel and reading the book produced a very pleasant sense of dj vu. Cornelia Rempel Carlson has wonderfully preserved her father’s voice: clear, informative and challenging, yet eager to qualify and to check judgment with wisdom and caution. The book, therefore, is greater than its content as it also captures the mind of a leading Mennonite intellectual talking directly to future generations who might have no knowledge of the way of life, people or events he is discussing. This book should appeal strongly both to the academic and the lay reader, and serve as a splendid teaching tool. It is highly recommended and I hope it will be republished in a less expensive paperback edition so it can reach a wider audience. Cornelia Rempel Carlson, her family and relatives deserve a vote of thanks for bringing us this book of a Mennonite historian whose life and work needs to be better known.
Victoria University of Wellington JAMES URRY
Choosing Against War: A Christian View. By John D. Roth. Intercourse, Pa.: Good Books. 2002. $9.99.
Trying to explain Christian pacifism to anyone, religious or not, is a difficult thing, partly because many people find it hard to believe that one actually, really, truly is a pacifist, but also because many threads of explanation must be picked up in order to offer anything like a coherent picture of this minority Christian view. Choosing Against War is a first-rate guide to Christian pacifism, one that avoids facile platitudes that are prone to engendering reactions of incredulity, but also manages to resist the temptation to treat pacifism merely as a technical, academic issue. This is a clearly written book that sidesteps scholarly apparatus without sacrificing conceptual depth.
Roth’s self-described purpose is to explore the possibility that there are other options open to the believer than patriotic unity or a steely determination to exact an eye for an eye. The book is a “straightforward argument that the gospel of Jesus Christ should lead all Christians to renounce violence and to love all human beings. . . . At an even deeper level, it is an invitation to live more fully and joyfully in the Christian conviction that ‘God’s love is stronger than our fears (9).'” He begins his argument by putting forward the well-known WWJD? (What Would Jesus Do’) question, insisting that it cannot be ignored or blunted. Roth’s own answer to the question comes in the form of five basic principles of joyful Christian discipleship that act as a framework for a practical Christian life. Having set this groundwork, Roth goes on in subsequent chapters to build his case for Christian pacifism. He addresses the old (and tired) assumption that pacifists are out of touch with reality in his chapter entitled “Realism or Idealism'” Underlying the question of realism is the issue of a proper understanding of reality, which is highly contested. Roth is troubled by what he sees as an almost total triumph of a Nietzschean worldview that sees chaos and violence as primordial. Such a view undergirds many Christians’ so-called “realist” view of the world, which in turn leads to typical responses such as the just war theory, modernity’s faith in reason or the myth of redemptive violence.
Roth goes on to argue that Christians have something different to offer-reconciliation with our enemies, which is not merely part of the Gospel, but is the Gospel, “the very heart of our faith which Christians are called to embody in their daily lives and to share freely with all those who are not yet in fellowship with God” (64). This is really the heart of Roth’s book, and he proceeds then to explore and expand on the meaning of the heart of the Gospel. He does not ignore the Old Testament in his search for the heart of the Gospel, and indeed uses the notion of Shalom as a central Old Testament image that is fully revealed in the message and meaning of Christ. This biblical and theological rooting of the pacifist life is never far from view as Roth explores various dimensions of pacifism such as humility, the dilemmas of Christian citizenship and the transformed politics of Christian citizenship.
One of the many strengths of Roth’s book is that it is written in a manner that is consistent with its content. That is, Roth writes about confession, invitation, humility and so on as being part of a Christian pacifism, and then proceeds exactly in those ways-professing early his own commitment to Christian pacifism, inviting the reader to consider the alternatives that he is describing, displaying humility by acknowledging his own shortcomings (he uses himself as an example of inconsistency in living out his pacifism) and recognizing that avowed pacifists are nonetheless implicated in violence in ways other than direct involvement in warfare. In fact, Roth’s treatment of what he calls “pacifist humility” is in my view a very compelling part of his argument. He recognizes a problem that seems to be intrinsic to pacifism-that of self-righteousness-and refuses to simply shrug it off by some appeal to a human propensity to make mistakes. Rather, Roth’s discussion of several dimensions of humility-eschatological, epistemological, ethical, in respectful dissent and action-is a brilliant chapter that shows just how deeply a commitment to pacifism permeates our lives, well beyond the question of war. After all, as Roth points out, the Christian faith is invitational, not coercive, and humility in the various manifestations described here allows us to proclaim a noncoercive Christ without making claims about the effectiveness of pacifism in yielding specific results or pretending that our own lives are free from violence or coercion. Roth’s ability to find resources within his own life and tradition for both positive and negative examples of the pacifist faith is one of the obvious strengths of this book.
Other dimensions of the book also contribute to its overall quality. Roth’s discussion of particularly American issues of Christian citizenship is especially interesting. For example, his detailed analysis of the American dollar bill brings into relief the competing loyalties facing citizens of a country whose currency baldly claims its trust in God. This and other concrete examples are used as part of his argument, not merely as “illustrations”; concise and clear treatments of the just war theory, Romans 13, redemptive violence and so on invite the reader to reject any dualism between negative and positive pacifism, and perhaps even more importantly, any false distinction between theology and ethics.
My enthusiasm for this book is tempered somewhat by several factors. It seems to me that the title is a bit misleading on two counts. First, Choosing Against War leads one to think that this book about pacifism is primarily about avoiding involvement in war, which seems to reinforce the truncated notion that really pacifism comes down to avoiding war. But, as I have tried to show, Roth’s book is about much more than that, and rightly so. Then, the word “choosing” is also problematic, and brings to view a tension that is not quite overcome in the book. Roth’s work seeks to refuse the separation between belief and action, and yet he focuses considerable attention on what he terms “worldview,” suggesting that pacifism is arrived at by way of developing a certain kind of a worldview, which suggests a primarily intellectual activity. And yet, the argument of the book resists this very thing by describing pacifism as something that is learned by living it within a peaceful community. In other words, the emphasis often has much less to do with choosing the pacifist option as one of many choices than it does with living the Christian life in a certain way. As I say, this tension is not fully resolved, but Roth emphasizes a way of life much more fully than he does the category of choice. I wish the subtitle of the book, “A Love Stronger Than our Fears,” was the title, since this more accurately reflects the focus of the work.
Further, Roth’s discussions of the problems of Christian citizenship are focused almost exclusively on citizenship in the United States. The first chapter, for instance, is ostensibly about being a Christian in North America, but this is not the case. The context of the material is American, and so is the intended audience, it seems to me. For example, the discussion of the American dollar bill is fascinating, but leaves me a bit cold as a Canadian Christian, as I ponder the theological significance of our dollar coin affectionately referred to as the “loonie.” Christians in countries other than the United States also ask what it means to trust in God in the context of citizenship, but the question takes different shapes in whatever country, which needs to be acknowledged more fully in the book.
I also find the first chapter of the book somewhat puzzling. Roth structures the chapter around a discussion of the ubiquitous WWJD question. He claims that many contemporary Christians are inclined to avoid the question, to evade hard thinking about the concrete teachings and example of Jesus and instead reformulate the essence of the Christian faith in terms that are more amenable to our current cultural practices. Thus, there are a number of ways in which varieties of the Christian faith practiced today find means of blunting the difficult challenge posed by the WWJD question. However, one could argue, as John Howard Yoder does in the second edition of The Politics of Jesus, that asking the question itself ironically often serves as a way of blunting the force of it. That is, the question may not be the right question, and may result in facile answers (For example, my young daughter and her friends apparently would use the question from time to time as a way of motivating someone to share candy that they really wanted. The conversation went something like: “Can I have some candy'” “No.” “Well, what would Jesus do'” Presumably, Jesus would have distributed the treats, or so the thinking went.); or it may lead to finding ways to turn the question into something other than what is presumed to be the question. Yoder calls the use of the question a “nave approach,” since it tends to assume an immediate connection between the work or words of Jesus and what it would mean today to be faithful. So the first chapter gets the book off to an unnecessarily slow start, since the WWJD question is accepted at face value, with responses to it then forming the structure for several lists of heavily qualified premises and principles.
One more small observation amidst what I consider to be a very helpful discussion of the realism of pacifism, and the contested understandings of reality, lies in a truncated view of Western society. Roth makes a compelling argument for an understanding of Western culture as primarily Nietzschean, and in doing so opens up a number of avenues of self-evaluation for Christians. Roth is very good here at uncovering the extent of unknowing Christian absorption into pagan patterns of life and thought. But it is also the case that much of Western society is very religious, a factor that is especially important when considering the question of violence. Here we have to face questions of mission, of ecumenism, of religious roots of violence-all areas of concern for Western society.
I conclude by returning to where I began-the fact that I like this book very much. In fact, the book brings to mind Donald Kraybill’s recently reissued The Upside Down Kingdom in terms of clarity, focus, economy of writing, simplicity without being simplistic and depth of content without undue complications. I expect that Roth’s book will have some of the same kind of longevity that Kraybill’s is having, since there is a certain quality to it that goes beyond being only current. Some books try to be popular and “relevant,” but succeed mostly in being timebound. Roth’s book is a fine contribution to the recovery of and witness to a Christian pacifism that calls us to a “love stronger than our fears.”
Mennonite Brethren Collegiate Institute PAUL DOERKSEN
David Toews was Here 1870-1947. By Helmut Harder. Winnipeg, Man.: CMBC Publications. 2002. Pp. 347. $24., Can.
Helmut Harder, a Mennonite institutional leader of the latter twentieth century, has undertaken a critical biographical assessment of David Toews, perhaps the foremost Mennonite institution builder among the Canadian “Russian” Mennonites in the first part of that century. Harder taught theology at Canadian Mennonite Bible College (now part of Canadian Mennonite University) from 1962 to 1990. He then served as general secretary of the Conference of Mennonites in Canada until retirement in 1999. He was one of the strongest Canadian voices advocating the two-country denominational model that culminated in the recent formation of Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Church USA.
His own background as a church bureaucrat provided Harder, a “father” of Mennonite Church Canada, a unique insight into the life of David Toews, a “father” of the Conference of Mennonites in Canada. Harder’s personal history also suggests why this biography has a more institutional focus than, for example, Esther Epp-Tiessen’s recent biography of Toews’s younger Canadian Mennonite colleague, J. J. Thiessen.
David Toews began life in the emerging Mennonite colony of Am Trakt, just east of the Volga River in Russia. However, his early teen years were spent as part of Claas Epp’s ill-fated trek into Central Asia in search of a millennial “place.” Toews’s family finally left the trek, and immigrated to Newton, Kan., in 1884. David became a school teacher after studying at Halstead Seminary, and soon moved to Gretna, Manitoba, at the invitation of one of his former Halstead teachers, H. H. Ewert.
In 1898, Toews moved to the Mennonite communities north of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, where he remained the rest of his life. He played a leading role in the formation of the Konferenz der Mennoniten im mittleren Kanada, which evolved into the Conference of Mennonites in Canada, and the development of Rosthern Junior College, and he served as an elder in the Rosenorter church, which included ten places of worship when he was ordained.
Despite this formidable list of responsibilities, Toews became best known beyond the conference for his role in facilitating the immigration of Mennonites to Canada from Russia in the 1920s through the Canadian Mennonite Board of Colonization and his personal “guarantee” of the loan provided by the Canadian Pacific Railroad to pay the travel expenses of Mennonite refugees without their own adequate resources. Initially this loan was intended to reach a credit limit of $400,000, but the total credit extended by the C.P.R. to Mennonite immigrants exceeded $1,700,000. As the Mennonite leader who symbolized this debt, Toews worked hard to retire this Reiseschuld. He died soon after the final debt payments were made in 1946.
Helmut Harder writes in a straightforward narrative style, organizing his material chronologically. Comprehensive research in archival collections closely linked to David Toews is evident on virtually every page. Harder’s care with detail seems evident throughout, despite the unfortunate misidentification of David Toews’s mother that is outlined in an errata sheet inserted in the volume.
This focused narrative approach works well for persons interested primarily in the life and work of David Toews. Harder provides fascinating insights into Toews’s relationship with other leaders like H. H. Ewert, A. A. Friesen and J. J. Thiessen. His description of significant events in Toews’s life can be gripping (the 1926 fire that killed his daughter, Irene), and his portrayal of the burdens of leadership in the face of vociferous criticism (the Braun-Friesen trial) is first-rate.
Harder also provides a thorough-going description of Conference of Mennonites in Canada developments and issues during the years that Toews was in leadership-from 1903 until 1940 (he served as C.M.C. moderator for 25 of those years). Harder’s appreciation for Toews’s ability to provide a “centering effect” in unifying the conference is evident.
Readers seeking illumination on the broader Mennonite world through the life of this widely known leader may find the narrow focus less satisfying. The General Conference Mennonite Church comes into view only around the person of David Toews. Other Mennonite bodies (e.g. the Mennonite Brethren) are less visible than might be wished. A review of the bibliography suggests the author mined deeply in the Toews and Conference of Mennonites in Canada sources, but did not wander far beyond them.
Despite such gaps, Helmut Harder has provided us with a biography of this major Canadian Mennonite leader that is not likely to be surpassed.
The layout and photographic reproduction in David Toews was Here are only serviceable, reflecting the tendency in the age of desktop publishing to use simple design templates with modest photographic reproduction in the interests of minimizing costs. Less defensible was the decision to omit an index.
Conrad Grebel University College SAM STEINER
Surplus at the Border: Mennonite Writing in Canada. By Douglas Reimer. Winnipeg: Turnstone. 2002. Pp. 206. $22.95, Can.
Mennonite writing in Canada is, unarguably, an extraordinary literary phenomenon, one that has not yet received the extended critical attention it deserves. Surplus at the Border is Douglas Reimer’s response to this critical absence; in it, Reimer proposes to survey Mennonite writing in Canada and to situate that writing in the larger context of Canadian literature. Of the book’s seven chapters, five focus on individual writers: Sandra Birdsell, Di Brandt, Patrick Friesen, Armin Wiebe and Rudy Wiebe. The other two chapters address the work of less well-known writers: David Bergen, Lois Braun, David Elias, Sarah Klassen, Delbert Plett, Al Reimer, Miriam Toews and John Weier.
Reimer ostensibly grounds his analysis of the writers and their texts in Gilles Deleuze’s and Flix Guattari’s theories of “territory,” “deterritorialization” and “reterritorialization.” He begins his study by quoting their claim that “minor literature”-by which they mean literature written by a minority in the language of the majority-“is affected with a high coefficient of deterritorialization.” Notwithstanding the fact that Deleuze and Guattari use the terms in relation to the actions of capitalism, the spatial metaphors inherent in “(de)(re)territory-ialization” promise to underpin a generative study of writers grappling, directly or obliquely, with the Mennonite community’s history of both geographical dislocation and deliberate separation from secular society.
In Reimer’s usage, however, Deleuze’s and Guattari’s formulations are quickly rendered as superficial thematic claims. In the first several pages of his introduction, Reimer declares in quick succession that “Rudy Wiebe . . . radically reterritorializes Mennonite Canadians with the idea that their own violence towards Aboriginal Canadians must cause them to reconsider their beliefs in pacifism”; “Armin Wiebe . . . reterritorializes Mennonites with a depiction of the community’s appetites for sexual encounters and stories, for food and drink, and for the wild and burlesque”; and “Sandra Birdsell’s fiction reterritorializes Mennonites with a vision of their alien, dysfunctional life in the new land.” In the absence of clear working definitions-and the study is bereft of such definitions-“reterritorialization” sounds suspiciously as if it could be replaced by a theoretically-weightless term like “presents” or “addresses.”
When Reimer extends his globalizing claims to individuals like David Bergen, who explicitly refuse the designation “Mennonite writer” (“In the reterritorialized Mennonite community that [David] Bergen’s fiction creates, men live subjected to their wives and other women about them”), he reveals, moreover, a dubious determination to fit the texts to the theory, a determination he articulates at various points. “I choose Armin Wiebe for the subject of the third chapter because his material, strongly minor style . . . helps me to explain and define material literature,” he announces, for instance, and, “John Weier’s novel, Steppe, exemplifies his method very well for my purposes.”
Regrettably, Reimer’s purposes quickly get lost in extraordinarily impenetrable writing. Baffling sentence fragments (“So vital is the lie to the solidarity of this group, and likely to that of all large groups”) combine consistently with convoluted syntax (“Peace Shall Destroy Many presents the earth as if the fault lies with her somehow that men toil on her” or “Though at times major in its themes and conventions, as in this quest-for-the-father motif, much more importantly as a minor text The Salvation of Yasch Siemens zooms in on the Mennonite ‘interior'”) and unnecessarily repetitive constructions (“The Mennonite love of the physical is always kept subordinate to the need to subordinate the love for the physical and so Thom and the other members of the Mennonite community are stuck landless, without a rootedness in the land to which they have moved”) to obscure the sense of Reimer’s various claims.
Clear ideas are, in fact, at a premium in this text, which sets up a series of binary oppositions between “major” / “English” / “lyrical” / “anti-material” / “closed” texts and “minor” / “non-lyrical” / “material” / “open” texts. The oppositions quickly collapse in on themselves, however, as they do in this astonishing assessment of Di Brandt’s work. “Di Brandt’s writing,” Reimer claims:
is minor writing. It has a high coefficient of deterritorialization (albeit a “rich,” and so ineffectively minor, deterritorialization which actually is a reterritorialization), it automatically speaks for community values (even when she speaks against them), and it is visibly political. She is minor over against the major. . . . Brandt’s poetry does not . . . deliberately impoverish English at every turn, but she does so accidentally. She does so accidentally because she strives to write a poetry acceptably great in its allusiveness and lyrical strength, restrained in its expression, economic in its suggestiveness, symbolically rich, in other words, in the conventions of major writing. She practises a poetry of symbolic reterritorialization and so is de facto not deliberately subversive of the major. Accidental impoverishment of English (deterritorialization of English) just as effectively reforms that language as does deliberate impoverishment. Paradoxically, besides this accidental minor quality, and symptomatic of it, her poetry is actually major in that her models, as I have said earlier, are the great poets.
Incomprehensibly, Reimer proceeds with his analysis as if the fundamental contradiction of this paragraph-is Brandt’s poetry “minor” or “major”?-were lost on him.
One final, run-on sentence fragment, from Reimer’s discussion of The Salvation of Yasch Siemens, will be allowed to speak for itself. “At a few critical points in this otherwise minor English novel,” Reimer writes:
which deterritorializes major English through steady mistranslation of English meaning by supplying a laughable and outrageous coinage (such as the constant “what is loose” standing for “what is wrong,” which derives from the low German vaut ess louse, meaning precisely in Low German “what is loose” but not meaning that, or not meaning much of anything, in context in English; except, of course, that whenever something is wrong, there is a powerful sense of looseness of what gives meaning in the world, the looseness of the individual subject’s connections with the group, the looseness of the connections between things, ideas, and meanings, which before made perfect sense and seemed more tightly connected).
A sustained, critical study of Mennonite writing in Canada is long overdue. Regrettably, Reimer’s work is not that study, failing, as it does, to provide either a clearly-explicated theoretical apparatus with which to approach the writing or intelligible, engaging and generative analyses of individual texts.
University of Winnipeg KATHLEEN VENEMA
The Work is Thine, O Christ. In Honor of Erland Waltner. Edited by June Alliman Yoder. Elkhart, Ind.: Institute of Mennonite Studies. 2002. Pp.160. $10.
This Festschrift in honor of Erland Waltner-beloved pastor, biblical scholar, educator, churchman-offers a significant window of insight on the momentous changes occurring in the life of Mennonites during the past half century. The book was edited by June Alliman Yoder, associate professor of communication and preaching at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary. The Work is Thine, a book of modest length at 148 pages, is organized in a thoughtful three-part arrangement: first, five biographical essays; second, eleven sermons, addresses and articles by Waltner; third, ten essays by his former students. Finally, in an epilogue Waltner shares a benedictory meditation. This format commends itself for replication in other Festschrifts.
Of the 27 brief essays or chapters, all significant, I single out several for special comment. My first selection is James C. Juhnke’s biographical sketch, “Preparation of a leader: Erland Waltner from Dakota to Elkhart.” Erland Waltner was born in 1914, the year of the outbreak of the Great War. We note his rootage in a devout General Conference Mennonite farm family in South Dakota, his ancestry including a Hutterian Anabaptist tributary. We observe his spiritual nurture in a congregation of Volhynian Swiss and his early love of Scripture. We witness him visited in his youth by deacons from his congregation who observe in him pastoral promise. We follow his educational path from Freeman Junior College in his home community to Bethel College in Kansas to New York Biblical Seminary. Along with intense biblical study comes romance. In 1939 he marries a fellow student, Winifred Schlosser, a Free Methodist of a missionary family. Pastorates in Philadelphia and Mountain Lake, Minnesota, follow, and then teaching Bible at Bethel College. The year 1956 was pivotal in his career: his acceptance of the presidency of Mennonite Biblical Seminary, the decision of the General Conference to seek seminary affiliation with Goshen College Biblical Seminary and his election to the presidency of the General Conference. Indicative of the breadth of confidence Waltner enjoyed in the church, he was approached early in his Bethel tenure by Grace Bible Institute in Omaha, Nebraska, to become its president. One speculates as to how his life might have unfolded had he accepted or been accepted for that position.
In another significant article, “President of Mennonite Biblical Seminary,” Cornelius J. Dyck reviews Waltner’s 21 years as administrator of the seminary transplanted from Chicago to Elkhart, Indiana. He quotes in full the chair of the seminary board, Arthur S. Rosenberger, who in his charge to the 43-year-old Waltner at the 1957 inauguration, eloquently captures the sense of the moment-the vision and promise of cooperation in inter-Mennonite seminary education. Dyck sketches Waltner’s poised leadership, which spanned the turbulent 1960s and the fragile diplomatic process of integrating Mennonite Biblical Seminary and Goshen College Biblical Seminary into what was to become Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary. Of his administration, Dyck writes: “Waltner had a wrench on every nut, i.e., he knew what was going on both on campus and in the churches, seemed to enjoy (or at least endure) endless committee meetings, and still managed to maintain a sense of humor. He worked hard. He seemed not to carry grudges. His classes were well attended, his personal relationships seemed to be excellent. . . .” Meanwhile, he also carried with aplomb the presidency of the General Conference of Mennonite Churches, 1956-1962, and the Mennonite World Conference, 1962-1972.
Essential to understanding Erland Waltner’s seminary presidency is the chapter that consists of his address “Education for apostleship,” delivered on the occasion of his inauguration, Oct. 26, 1958. Following in the wake of Harold Bender’s 1944 address, “The Anabaptist Vision,” with its focus on discipleship, Waltner lifted up apostleship: “If the essence of Christian discipleship is obedient dedication of the whole life to Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord, then apostleship is but the acceptance of further responsibility which Christ places on the shoulders of those he calls into a special ministry of proclamation and service. While the disciple is in essence the obedient learner, the apostle is in essence the obedient messenger.” He drew on Wilbert Webster White of Biblical Seminary in New York for a vision that the seminary would “produce a type of Christian leader who will . . . conspicuously combine the characteristics of saint and scholar.” Again he found in White support for a related conviction that the seminary curriculum must be “biblio-centric.” In summarizing his vision he called for a “community of learning which is also a community of faith.” He added, “In one sense church and school here become one. Here we seek truth but here also we confess faith.”
In seeking to understand Waltner’s core values, one who lives and moves and has his being in Scripture, his chapter on 1 Peter, drawn from a volume coauthored with J. Daryl Charles, 1-2 Peter, Jude, in the Believer’s Church Bible Commentary Series, gives insight into his biblicism. This is my fourth selection. Throughout his career Waltner combined the roles of administrator and teacher. He writes, “During four decades of teaching . . . I have not tired of listening to the texts.” He adds: “In reading and interpreting Scripture, I have moved away from an either-or analytic approach (the truth must be either this or that), and toward more of a both-and approach (truth, paradoxically, may have more than one dimension). . . . I have followed a hermeneutic of trust more frequently than a hermeneutic of suspicion. In short, I have tried to let the texts speak for themselves.” In a related article, Waltner quotes G. K. Chesterton, “Christianity got over the difficulty of combining furious opposites by keeping them both and keeping them both furious.”
It is intriguing to observe a professional person’s effort to shift from one career to another. Following Waltner’s retirement from the presidency of Mennonite Biblical Seminary, he moved into the field of medical care as the half-time executive secretary of the Mennonite Medical Association (M.M.A.), serving in that capacity for 13 years, 1979-1992. In a chapter, “A biblical/theological perspective on pastoral care,” he found in the Hebrew word Shalom a key to a pastoral approach to health care: “In Jesus Christ, Shalom (peace) and Shalem (health or wholeness) come together. . . . . In Jesus Christ we find that peace-making and health-making, community-making and person-making flow from the same deep fountain in God-the ultimate source of peace and health and our salvation.” In one chapter a physician, Willard Krabill, reviews Waltner’s role as pastor to some 500 physicians, who are members of the M.M.A. One senses that Waltner’s immersion in the world of medical care had been a natural transition and deeply satisfying.
It may be a rarity when a church leader admits others into the inner sanctum of his or her spiritual life. Erland Waltner does that. I single this out as the sixth selection. In this essay, “From road to river spirituality,” reprinted from Godward: Personal Stories of Grace, he is sensitively self-disclosing. He has been losing his eyesight because of macular degeneration and now after more than 50 years of ministry, thousands of sermons and even more classroom hours, he writes of his spiritual journey. He reflects: “I was a hard driver, sometimes driving family and colleagues into undue stress. I called mine a ‘spirituality of the road.’ Now I am beginning to see my relationship with God as being more like a river which . . . helps carry me along from day to day. . . . I am experiencing God as One who is not only daily present with me but One who is in motion, bearing me up, sustaining, renewing, enabling me.” This “spirituality of letting go” admittedly runs counter to “currently popular moods of self-assertiveness and self-actualization.” In another chapter, “An office by the river,” Nina Bartelt Lanctot describes Erland Waltner’s “spirituality of the river” and his contribution as a personal mentor to many in these disciplines.
The final third of the book is devoted to sermons by ten who have been influenced by Waltner’s teaching ministry, one of the writers being his daughter Rose. This section is typical of a Festschrift in which the writings do not relate explicitly to the person honored. However, Waltner’s influence is implicit. A host of other students and colleagues of Waltner could have appropriately joined in contributing sermons and articles.
I would have welcomed a chapter on Erland Waltner, ever busy in Kingdom work, as family man-husband and father. Winifred, his wife, undoubtedly played a significant role in sustaining and nurturing family life in the home with an often-absent father. It is intriguing to reflect on how Winifred has supported and sustained her husband’s spiritual life. Could it be that Erland, nurtured in a devout Mennonite home where faith may be understated, was helped to a more outgoing spirituality by Winifred, who brought to their marriage a warm Wesleyan piety?
As one of a handful of the most influential Mennonite leaders of the twentieth century, Erland Waltner merits a full-orbed biography. The reader wants to know more. The Work is Thine, O Christ invites this task to be undertaken.
In an expanded biography of Waltner I would look for an analysis of controlling themes in his preaching and writing. One could anticipate finding a consistently biblio-centric and Christo-centric focus. This surely empowered and endeared him in his many roles as Mennonite churchman. Recognizing his consistently Anabaptist-mindedness, one would assess the relevance in his preaching of the use of the Anabaptist story and canon, as his friend and colleague Harold Bender was wont to emphasize. One would look for analysis of how Waltner responded to the movements demanding attention in the past half century: peace and justice activism, feminism, the charismatic movement, anti-racism, biblical hermeneutical questions and more. Among additional questions for the biographer might be these: What role did he play in inviting John Howard Yoder into the Mennonite theological world and beyond? Is there a style and form of General Conference leadership that is analogous and yet different from that of the Mennonite Church (Old Mennonite)? Does this relate to patterns of church polity? For a man of modest demeanor, the book is lean on tributes, which would be abundant for the gathering. We could expect assessments of leadership, personality and legacy in that hoped-for biography.
In a full biography one would anticipate a depiction in depth of the crises and controversies Waltner encountered: the politics of integrating two seminaries, student unrest of the 1960s, contending expectations for the Mennonite World Conference, dissenting congregations and factions within the General Conference, behind-the-scenes steps and barriers to the integration of two conferences, dialogue with other Mennonite conferences for inclusion in A.M.B.S. and the emotion-laden issues from the wider religious community pressing to be on the conference agenda.
The Work is Thine, O Christ is a mine of insight for further writing on how Waltner, the respected centrist, used his gifts as a leader-servant of his people. The Festschrift is a welcome gift of inspiration for the reader and an invitation to scholars not to tarry in writing a biography of a Mennonite who has been a tower of strength among his people.
North Newton, Kan. ROBERT KREIDER
Ruth, Jonah, Esther. By Eugene F. Roop. Believers Church Bible Commentary. Scottdale, Pa., and Waterloo, Ontario: Herald Press. 2002. Pp. 304. $24.99, U.S.; $38.99, Can.
When the intention to publish the Believers Church Bible Commentary series was first announced publicly, some people within the believers church tradition dismissed it as unnecessary. Why, they asked, do we need our own series of commentaries? There are plenty of other fine commentaries on the market, both scholarly and churchly. We believers church folk do not arrive at such uniquely different interpretations of biblical texts than people in other traditions that we need our own set of commentaries. Let’s just use what is already available elsewhere!
This argument has some truth. Writers of the Believers Church Bible Commentary series are trained at the same pool of graduate institutions as writers of other commentaries. They sift through the same set of exegetical issues and draw on the same reservoir of scholarship. However, as this fine commentary by Eugene Roop illustrates, subtle but significant differences among series of commentaries are enough to justify the creation of a new series. Written for use broader than fellow scholars (such as Hermeneia), less concerned about technical translation issues (such as the International Critical) and less idiosyncratic in interpretation (such as some volumes in the Interpretation series), the unique contribution of the Believers Church Bible Commentary series may very well lie in its respect for the role of local congregations in biblical interpretation.
With Ruth, Jonah, Esther, the sixteenth volume to be published, one no longer needs to justify creating this series. Given editorial persistence and scholarly sweat, the series will some day be finished. Perceptive users of these commentaries will soon discover that the sweet honey of God’s word has a slightly different aftertaste than when consulting other commentaries. In an essay entitled “The Interpreting Community of Faith” at the back of this volume, Roop, president of Bethany Theological Seminary and Wieand Professor of Biblical Studies (and the author of Genesis in this same series), deftly outlines how people in the believers church tradition approach biblical interpretation differently than people in the Roman Catholic and Reformed Protestant traditions. “Neither creedal doctrine nor academic commentary can finally determine the interpretation of Scripture,” says Roop. “The believers church tradition encourages all voices in the community, past and present, to offer their best understanding, creating a conversation within the interpreting community . . . . It runs counter to the believers church tradition to expect elders, clergy, or scholars to identify a single meaning and message of the text” (267).
By this standard, Roop is highly successful. Throughout his discussion of Ruth, Jonah and Esther, he shows remarkable interpretive restraint. Where other commentators tip the scales to favor one interpretation over another (or in some cases, argue passionately for one interpretation over against other reasonable interpretations), Roop restrains himself, allowing the text to speak with multivocal possibilities.
An example is his treatment of one of the more evocative yet enigmatic of texts in the entire Bible: the night encounter between Ruth and Boaz in Ruth 3. The exegetical issue that bedevils many interpreters is whether the Hebrew text means to say that Ruth uncovers Boaz’s feet, genitals or whole body from the waist down-or even whether Ruth uncovers herself. Were they chaste that night, or did they have sex? Roop is forthright in explaining what the Hebrew may or may not mean, while at the same time suggesting that the narrator “draws a curtain of darkness, a fairly opaque curtain, between readers and the threshing floor” (57). Noting that many people have tried to clarify what happened that night, some by insisting that the character of Ruth and Boaz would be compromised by any sexual contact, and others by insisting that maybe they really did have sex, Roop chooses neither option, instead observing that “it seems best not to pry where the narrator will not take us” (60).
Another illustration of Roop’s steady hand comes in his discussion of the opening verses of Jonah. A long and wide interpretive tradition unequivocally condemns Jonah for buying passage on a ship bound for Tarshish and disobeying God’s command to go to Ninevah. Roop, however, creates room for other interpretations. “We are well advised to withhold judgment, even to show a bit more compassion. God does not condemn Jonah” (111). With these kind words, Roop leaves harsh evaluations behind and gently directs readers to consider nuanced readings of the text. The result is a moving meditation on the paradoxical relationship between God’s justice and God’s compassion.
In his discussion of the royal edict permitting Jews to defend themselves against their enemies in Esther 9, a text of great violence that vexes pacifists, Roop once again refuses to offer easy interpretations. Neither dismissing this incident as part of the old order that Jesus supplants with a new ethic of love, nor accepting it as justification for violence against enemies, Roop suggests we reflect on the motif of reversal. He reminds us that God’s ability to reverse events is a prominent theme in both Old and New Testaments, ranging from the exodus out of Egypt, to Israel’s prophetic oracles against enemy nations, to the song of Mary in Luke 1. Indeed, reversal “lies at the heart of the good news (gospel) for those who are oppressed” (254). Rather than skipping over difficult narratives like Esther 9, we might instead listen to their terror, their rage, in order to understand better the misery God sees and the agony God hears.
Roop writes gracefully. Without being pedantic or arcane, he masterfully incorporates scholarly insights into his discussion. His unobtrusive, gender-neutral language for God will please readers who care about such things without offending those who do not. By naming all reasonable interpretive possibilities without telling readers which one they must accept, Roop creates a space of grace in which the church can play with polyvalent meanings, searching in the power of the Spirit not for one “right” interpretation, but for a transformed community of faith.
Goshen, Ind. DANIEL P. SCHROCK
A Way Was Opened: A Memoir. Ruth Brunk Stoltzfus, with Eve MacMaster. Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press. 2002. Pp. 344. $24.99, U.S.; $34.99, Can.
By nature, it is difficult to critique autobiography-doubly so when the subject is still living and has left so strong a mark on the historical record of women in ministry in the (Old) Mennonite Church as has Ruth Brunk Stoltzfus. Her memoir is of interest for the U.S. social historian as a commentary on Mennonite women’s shifting roles from the mid-twentieth century into the present through the lens of one gifted woman living through an extraordinary time of change for women in the church. It is also compelling to read.
For source material the book draws on 8,000 pages of Brunk Stoltzfus’s correspondence, journal writing, poems, newsletters, sermons, family papers and personal reminiscences. Editor Eve MacMaster, Brunk Stoltzfus’s friend of thirty years, faced the daunting task of condensing data into a readable narrative, a task in which she has largely succeeded. The book’s helpful index makes it easier to track important people and topics.
Brunk Stoltzfus’s humanity comes through in the book’s honest inclusion of those aspects of her family life that brought her personal pain-a son’s period of agnosticism, a daughter’s loss of a limb to bone cancer, her husband’s clinical depression-and in the occasional tart reflection from her journal about others’ reactions to her. It also describes the poignancy and stress of maintaining a family life of integrity while speaking about home and family concerns across the church.
The period from Brunk Stoltzfus’s husband’s death through her own ordination, 1974-1989, during which her public speaking ministry gained wider recognition in the Mennonite church, is rich in historical detail. Her role in raising the issue of women’s leadership at Mennonite Church biennial general assemblies, beginning in 1973-and including the historic assembly in Bowling Green, Ohio, in 1981, which appointed a committee to “study and facilitate the full participation of women in leadership ministries of the church”-as well as her involvement in the grassroots Women in Ministry conferences, helps chronicle the sea change that was breaking over the denomination in relation to women’s roles.
This latter part of the book not only describes the way the larger church grappled with questions of women’s leadership, but also how these issues played out personally in the context of her relationship with her brothers-in-law and brothers, most of whom opposed her pastoral ministry, and her nephews, most of whom supported her ministry, a situation she described at one point as “civil war” (337).
Carolyn G. Heilbrun, in Writing a Woman’s Life, has written of autobiography that “women of accomplishment . . . in trying honestly to deal in written form with lived past lives, have had to confront power and control,” because change for oppressed groups does not otherwise occur. Brunk Stoltzfus was aware of this. At age 67, seven years before she was finally ordained, she told the conference, “I have been a church woman since age fifteen, and something is wrong, either with Virginia Conference or with me, that Virginia Conference officially has nothing to do with me.” In writing power into their memoirs, argues Heilbrun, women have had to confront the charge that they are being unwomanly-a charge that has kept many women from writing the kind of narrative that we have here.
Her nephew Truman Brunk is quoted in the book as saying that Brunk Stoltzfus served to “plow the way” for other women to be ordained, but breaking a path through that rugged Virginia soil was not easy. Brunk Stoltzfus had felt herself to be “ordained by God” since 1950, when she began the “Heart to Heart” radio broadcasts out of a personal sense of call, long before the church saw fit to ordain her. The memoir’s emotional high point is Brunk Stoltzfus’s formal ordination to pastoral ministry in 1989, when she was 74, an event which came after interim, associate and co-pastorates, making her, as Brunk Stoltzfus quips in the book, “the Grandma Moses in the art of preaching.” Since Brunk Stoltzfus’s ordination, forty-seven women have been ordained to date in Virginia Conference, or roughly 17 percent of the total.
While frank in its discussion of obstacles to Brunk Stoltzfus’s ministry, the book skirts other conflicts. The memoir hints at her need to justify being on the radio to family and friends (“I will have to do as I feel God’s directing me no matter what [some] people think. . . . I feel the sin would be if I turned down the opportunity” ), without clarifying that, at the time, the use of radio, though no longer specifically prohibited by conference, was still suspect in the eyes of many. Other controversies are omitted from the book-most notably the estrangement of her brothers, George and Lawrence. The Brunk brothers and their evangelistic campaigns are mentioned in the 1950s, as is their reconciliation forty years later, but nothing of the intervening years of conflict, which must surely have affected Brunk Stoltzfus deeply, and about which she undoubtedly had an opinion.
Like most Mennonite women of her generation, Brunk Stoltzfus eschewed regular paid employment to be home with her young children, although she worked at a variety of entrepreneurial ventures from home. She also hired household help (though not without some guilt) at a time when few women did so, in order to pursue her mission endeavors. Yet she recognized the irony of the numerous speaking engagements that took her away from home. As she relates in the book, “Once when I was taking off by plane for speaking appointments, I said to the woman beside me, ‘See my husband and children by the fence? I am leaving them to go to Kansas to tell those mothers to stay home with their children'” (108).
As a historian of midcentury Mennonite women, I wished for more detail about the 1950s and 1960s. During this time Brunk Stoltzfus started her “Heart to Heart” radio broadcast, began a churchwide speaking ministry, dropped the cape from her dresses, changed congregational membership and published a book on family concerns, yet these are discussed primarily as personal decisions apart from the wider Mennonite reference group. Interesting detail is provided about “Heart to Heart” (which later merged with “The Mennonite Hour” to create Mennonite Broadcasts, now Mennonite Media) and the early financial struggle to keep the show on the air, with Brunk Stoltzfus soliciting money from family members and other donors. But the book chronicles the period from 1958 to 1974 as much in relation to family issues and the weddings of her children as to the growth of her own ministry. Brunk Stoltzfus makes brief mention of Mennonite antiwar activities (of which there were some) and antiracism initiatives (of which there were few) in which she and her family were involved, but does not place these in relation to the wider church’s stand on the issues. While not a scholarly work, the book would have been strengthened by the addition of editor’s notes providing historical context on the wider Mennonite and American social milieu of the times.
It is intriguing to speculate on the contribution of Brunk Stoltzfus’s family connections to her accomplishments. Catherine Wessinger, editor of the book Women’s Leadership in Marginal Religions, suggests that gifted individual women-often the daughters or wives (or additionally, in Brunk Stoltzfus’s case, the sister) of prominent male religious leaders-can achieve wider recognition and church leadership without necessarily opening the doors for ordinary women. The editor writes that such “exceptional women can successfully claim authorization to exercise religious leadership in patriarchal structures that subordinate and marginalize all other women.”
Certainly this is true to some degree for Brunk Stoltzfus. In 1984, prior to her co-pastorate at First Mennonite Church in Richmond, Virginia, when members most likely to object to a woman minister were polled, they said, “We don’t object if it’s Ruth” (283). She was once introduced as “the daughter of George R. Brunk I, sister of George R. Brunk II, and the wife of Grant M. Stoltzfus” (100), by a male pastor in Johnston, Pennsylvania, and it is likely that most people in her audiences over the years knew her family connections. Her brothers Truman (a bishop in Virginia Conference), George and Lawrence offered financial support and encouragement (90); and she spoke at the Brunk tent revivals (96). Without underestimating her own vision, faith conviction and business acumen, undeniably some of the credibility her early ventures in radio broadcasting and public speaking received was due to the high regard afforded her brothers, husband and father. Though he died before her marriage, her father, a prominent Virginia bishop who traveled widely and served on many denominational committees, gave her pointers on scripture texts and speech delivery. She felt that “Papa had groomed me to be a public speaker” (224).
Brunk Stoltzfus married a man, Grant Stoltzfus, who was unusually supportive of her work compared with many men during this period, and who “always encouraged me in my church work and never said one negative word about it. He shared the parenting of the children and some of the housework at times” (288). Brunk Stoltzfus began “Heart to Heart” while living in Scottdale, Pennsylvania, where Grant was employed as an editor at Mennonite Publishing House. Later he taught at Eastern Mennonite College, and he and Ruth gave public talks together. One guesses that Brunk Stoltzfus was such a thorn in the flesh to Virginia Conference in large part because, unlike women leaders from less prominent families, she could not easily be dismissed. Hard as her path was to conference acceptance, it would have been harder without these family connections.
Ultimately, however, Brunk Stoltzfus’s life and ministry did open doors for other women. Encountering her pastoral gifts helped others change their minds about women in pastoral leadership, and was invaluable in overcoming resistance in the Mennonite church. Literature on changing attitudes toward women in ministry consistently shows that resistance to women pastors is best overcome when people are in contact with an effective female pastoral leader. In one of several examples related in the book, after Brunk Stoltzfus preached the morning message at a church near Lansdale, Pennsylvania, a listener commented, “No honest person listening in their right mind could say women don’t belong in the pulpit” (319).
In many ways, Brunk Stoltzfus is akin to the women pastors profiled in Sally Purvis’s book The Stained Glass Ceiling. Like these women pastors, Brunk Stoltzfus was traditionally feminine in dress (including plain dress) and comportment, yet she capably handled her vocation with strong leadership (her dealing with an American flag controversy as interim pastor at Grace Mennonite in Pandora, Ohio, is particularly interesting) and powerful preaching-both traditionally masculine attributes. Brunk Stoltzfus fulfilled the conventional expectations of herself as a woman and as a minister, even when they were in conflict. As Purvis has written, by embodying “roles that involve socialization processes that may be contradictory,” women pastors actually challenge unexamined assumptions about both women and clergy. When, before her first pastorate, Brunk Stoltzfus was told, “You come on strong,” a good attribute for a pastor if not for a woman, she replied, “I feel that men have been acculturated to prefer women to act weak . . . and even strive for incompetence. I need to be careful that I do not threaten them” (227). As the quote illustrates, Brunk Stoltzfus needed to balance expectations of herself as a woman with the competency required to fill the pastoral role.
Brunk Stoltzfus’s negotiation of these gendered expectations for herself as female and clergy can help us better appreciate her contributions. Her life story is an interesting example of conventional roles lived in unconventional combinations: wife, businesswoman, mother, radio personality, public speaker, grandmother, entrepreneur, minister and the title she preferred, “radical, evangelical Anabaptist” (352). As she herself put it, “I should warn you that traditional-looking persons sometimes have untraditional ideas, even radical ideas-as radical as the Bible” (243).
University of Maryland BETH E. GRAYBILL
Mere Discipleship: Radical Christianity in a Rebellious World. By Lee C. Camp. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brazos Press. 2003. Pp. 208. $14.99.
Lee Camp begins Mere Discipleship with a powerful narrative of the 1994 story of Rwanda. Some observers had heralded Rwanda as “the most Christian country in Africa,” “a case study for the success of ‘Christian missions,’ ” a “Christian Kingdom.” Estimates suggested that 90 percent of the population was Christian. Yet in 100 days, one tenth of the population, 800,000 men, women and children, would be hacked, shot and beaten to death. Camp writes, “The genocide demonstrated-in a graphic and horrific way-that the Western Christianity imported into the heart of Africa apparently failed to create communities of disciples.” As “Christian Hutus” massacred “Christian Tutsis (and vice versa)” something appears to have been lost in the meaning of the term “Christian.” Camp queries, “Could it be that ‘Jesus is Lord’ has become one of the most widespread Christian lies'” “We American Christians, are we any different'” he asks quite hauntingly; “could we do the same thing'” (italics his). From the vantage point of David Lipscomb, the founder of the university where Camp teaches, he asks, “How, Lipscomb wanted to know, could southern Christians slaughter their northern Christian brothers? How could northern disciples make widows out of their southern sisters in Christ'”
In three sections, Camp investigates what it means to be a disciple. He first works at “reenvisioning discipleship,” then focuses on core doctrines and concludes with practices of a reenvisioned discipleship. In a rapidly changing American culture with a majority Christianity that allows for mutual extermination, Camp concludes that something has gone wrong with discipleship. He makes a diagnosis and offers a prescription.
Following John Howard Yoder (and others), Camp first identifies the emergence of the church-state alliance during Constantine’s reign as the beginning of the end for discipleship. He labels the problem the “Constantinian Cataract.” Drawing primarily upon the tradition of the church, reenvisioned discipleship must be first and foremost “radical.” Camp disagrees with a Christianity that holds the view that the “ends justify the means” and that says the “way of Christ is simply not a relevant social ethic” in contemporary society. Disciples must expose the “Eusebian school of history,” which baptizes the state version of the past and how it relates to the present. Allegiance is first and foremost to the kingdom of God, not a nation, tribe, government or economic system. Discipleship is defined as “taking seriously the way of Christ in all our affairs and concerns” (italics his). Camp recognizes that naming Constantine as a point of decline, trashing a mainstream Christendom ethic and demanding total allegiance to Christ in radical discipleship has historically gotten people killed.
Second, Camp presents three core beliefs of radical disciples: a gospel of repentance, a crucified savior and a believers church. He builds his case in this section primarily from the witness of Scripture. He links the gospel message with the kingdom of God and takes a dualist, two-kingdom view of reality. This gospel proclaims an eschatology that declares an already evident kingdom of God that is not yet present in all its fullness. This gospel of the kingdom is not equated with human history and its social systems or relegated to a future hope. The reign of God, in Camp’s analysis, is a repentant people following a risen Lord in radical discipleship who witness of a transformed life to a defeated kingdom. The savior, Jesus the Messiah, provides the full revelation of God to humanity. Christ died for us and calls us to die with him as a consequence of and a witness to the world’s sin. In contrast to the Christendom approach, Jesus calls his followers to take up their cross, wherever that might lead, regardless of the cost. The church, in obedience to the gospel and in following the savior, confronts “the rebellious principalities and powers to beat them at their own game.” This community of the Spirit, however, engages the power and violence of the kingdom of the world by following “the way of weakness, suffering, and marginalization.” This way lives in stark contrast to power, wealth and privilege.
Lastly, Camp details what radical disciples do. Drawing on a diverse array experiences from Scripture, church history and contemporary life, he presents five practices for disciples: worship, baptism, prayer, communion and evangelism. Camp links worship to both allegiance and ethics. Worship means bringing a gospel of reconciliation and peace to enemies all the while humbly acknowledging individually and corporately our own need for a savior. Taking the believers church model, “Baptism inducts us into a new humanity” that radically disagrees with national allegiance and uncritical patriotism. With prayer, the “new humanity” wields its most powerful weapon against the principalities and powers of this world. The illogic of prayer counters the reasoned stratagems of dominance, privilege and exploitation. Communion reaches outside the comfortable confines of an inward-looking community ritual to an outward-looking solidarity with the poor and dispossessed by shared wealth and economic justice. Disciples of the new humanity, finally, are required to persuade an unbelieving world by a word that is in concert with their deeds.
Camp designed this book to “rattle cages,” including his own. He is successful. He writes as a fellow traveler on the way, not as an already arrived master. Disciples who take Camp seriously will likely find themselves in conflict with social institutions, established churches, economic systems and standing governments. Firm stands against injustice, racism, materialism, nationalism, war and exploitation have tended to be unpopular with the established church and the state.
From an Anabaptist frame of reference, there is a lot to like in this book. Camp builds his challenge to American culture and American Christianity (or German or French) around the works of John Howard Yoder, the Politics of Jesus and other writings. He agrees with a view of church history that admits a Constantinian decline of the church, and disagrees with the Niehbuhrian conclusions that the ethics/politics of Jesus are irrelevant. Camp agrees with Stanley Hauerwas on the priority of allegiance to the kingdom of God and the importance a “Christian colony” living in radical discipleship and with Walter Wink on “engaging the powers.”
As a popular entrance into Yoder’s thought, Mere Discipleship is clearly a step in the right direction, but it may not have quite achieved the ease of accessibility that C. S. Lewis reached with his reasoned access to Christianity through Mere Christianity. Camp’s consistent employment of narrative throughout the text, however, is helpful and applauded. The final chapter on evangelism felt unfinished and, as a result, the book seemed to lack a conclusion. Of great interest would have been Camp’s rendering of Yoder’s thoughts on Jubilee. These few suggestions aside, Mere Discipleship would make a good choice for an introductory theology class.
Mere Discipleship adds to the growing body of material with direct connections to Yoder’s thought. Camp has provided a readable and significant twenty-first century apologetic for radical discipleship that is consistent with Anabaptist thought. Coming from outside contemporary Anabaptist traditions, this book continues another notable and exciting trend within academia. Camp unabashedly embraces an Anabaptist theology without feeling the need to claim the label or the tradition.
Lanc. Menn. Hist. Soc. and Messiah College BRINTON L. RUTHERFORD
Peacemaking: Practicing at the Intersection of Law and Human Conflict. By Douglas Noll. Telford, Pa.: Cascadia Publishing House; copublished with Herald Press. 2003. Pp. 480. $34.95, U.S.; $51.95, Can.
Douglas Noll has an ambitious and worthy goal: He wants to reshape legal education and practice in the United States. In Peacemaking, he argues that we should abandon the adversarial ideology that undergirds the U.S. legal system and replace it with a model that helps restore broken relationships rather than simply “settling” disputes.
His five-part book is intended to serve as a text for law schools, graduate programs in psychology, and conflict resolution courses at both undergraduate and graduate levels.
In “Part One: The Law and Peacemaking,” Noll begins by describing and critiquing current conflict resolution systems. While he acknowledges that the existing “legal system is better than the violence of self-help” for resolving conflicts (31), he laments that the system’s adversarial foundation often results in lawyers being “trained for conflict making, not for peacemaking” (45). In Noll’s paradigm, “When faced with disputes and conflicts where relationships are at issue, lawyers should be problem-solvers, not conflict escalators”(47). Noll acknowledges that litigation as we currently know it might still be necessary for cases in which relationships are not at issue or in which there are substantial power imbalances.
Noll also criticizes current mediation practice as too often trying to resolve a conflict without taking time to understand its roots or to restore broken relationships. Peacemaking, on the other hand, is “resolution-as-process instead of resolution-as-object” (58). Peacemaking provides the parties in a conflict with the tools they need to understand the roots of the conflict and to do the work of resolving a dispute and restoring a relationship. Sustainable solutions, truth-telling, imagination, creativity, safe haven, accountability, risk-taking and courage are themes incorporated into Noll’s “Ten Principles of Peacemaking.”
In “Part Two: Conflict Resolution Processes,” Noll compares Ron Claassen’s four-way process-oriented conflict resolution model (coercion, outside authority, mediation and negotiation) with the “power, rights and interests” model developed by W. L. Ury, J. M. Brett and S. B. Goldberg. He credits Claassen with synthesizing these two models into a “peacemaking model” that combines the best of both. Noll then offers an extensive historical and theoretical framework of mediation.
In “Part Three: Understanding Conflict,” Noll delves into the roots of conflict, addressing a broad range of factors including human nature, the neuropsychology of conflict, identity issues, religion and conflict, conflict and culture, conflict and behavior, and various theories of justice. This is by far the most lengthy, and perhaps least focused, section of Noll’s book.
The fourth section of the book, “Conflict Analysis,” summarizes several primary theories of conflict, including an interesting section on how game theory might help produce strategies for cooperation. Unfortunately, however, this section includes only a half-page on conflict mapping-a concept that seems foundational to Noll’s peacemaking paradigm.
In “Part Five: Peacemaking,” Noll describes some of the ethical and legal challenges lawyers will confront in attempting to incorporate peacemaking principles within the constraints of the current legal system. For example, can a lawyer incorporate concepts of apology and forgiveness while zealously representing her client’s legal rights? Noll concludes his book with a chapter summarizing the peacemaker’s leadership role in the conflict resolution process.
Noll’s book provides a window of hope for those who may think that an adversarial legal system is the only way to remedy disputes. His book will be of particular interest to those who are considering law school, attorneys who are tired of traditional practices and other professionals in the conflict transformation field. His section on apology and forgiveness is excellent and points to the heart of the current legal system’s limitations.
Noll has written a virtual encyclopedia on conflict resolution, summarizing an impressive array of theories, research and information. For this reason alone it is a valuable resource for practitioners. However, he does not always tie the material together in the most coherent fashion or help the reader make applications.
Noll’s peacemaking approach seems most suited for protracted, relationship-intensive conflicts ranging from certain domestic cases to congregational rifts to international disputes. His approach is not as useful for the significant portion of the cases in the judicial system today in which the parties have no relationship or simply want their “day in court” to get compensated for a harm they have experienced-auto accidents, property crimes, products liability or consumer fraud cases, for example.
Noll’s book could be strengthened. On the most basic level, the introduction does not track with the book’s table of contents, which makes it confusing to get a quick overview of the book before launching in.
More substantively, Noll says that he set out to write a text that combines theory and practice. However, I experienced his book as heavy on theory and short on practice. For example, after spending nearly 200 pages on the roots of conflict, Noll devotes barely a page to “conflict mapping”-a technique that would be invaluable for practitioners. In my judgment, the text would also be helped by significantly more case studies that illustrate the new paradigm that Noll is attempting to describe. This would especially be useful to law students who are trying to distinguish the peacemaking approach from the traditional practice of law. Some readers will also wish that Noll would have given more attention to international dispute applications.
Noll seeks to present a multidisciplinary understanding of the roots of conflict. One wonders whether a multidisciplinary text would better be coauthored with a psychiatrist, a sociologist and a theologian. Furthermore, such an understanding of conflict would presumably suggest that it would be desirable to have multidisciplinary teams, not lawyers alone, working together as peacemakers. Noll says little about this.
As one trained as both an attorney and mediator, I asked myself while reading: “If someone is interested in Noll’s approach, is it necessary to be a lawyer'” And, “Is Noll suggesting that lawyers attempt this approach within the existing legal system, or that they open to ‘peacemaking practices’ outside the existing system'” Noll did not answer these questions to my satisfaction.
Given that the current legal system is fraught with procedures and restrictions that militate against the kind of creative and restorative approach that Noll offers, I rather expect that peacemakers will choose to operate at the fringes of, or outside, the existing legal system. Rather than trying to pour new wine into old legal wineskins, it may be both more satisfying and more successful to simply create new wineskins.
Mennonite Central Committee, Washington, D.C. J. DARYL BYLER
Peace and Persistence: Tracing the Brethren in Christ Peace Witness through Three Generations. By M. J. Heisey. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press. 2003. Pp. 320. $45.
M. J. Heisey’s recent book explores the relationship between a small community as it struggles to maintain its distinct identity and the larger society in which it finds itself. The Brethren in Christ community provides her case study as she investigates this relationship. In focusing her research, she looks at the expression of nonresistance between 1914 (when World War I required conscientious objectors in the United States to establish a clear, documented stand) and 1958 (when discipline ended for members who joined the military). Heisey contends that the practice of nonresistance among the Brethren in Christ actually drew the community into contact with other communities more than anyone at the time thought.
The author comes to this conclusion not by looking primarily at the official statements and documents of the church but rather by studying the lives of church members-their daily activities and contacts, their letters home, their diaries and other memories gleaned from the author’s interviews and questionnaires. Her research largely confirmed for her what many already suspected: the practice of peace was learned more from mundane interactions than from formal teaching of the church.
However, outside forces disturb the persistence of peace most clearly in everyday locations vital to the persistence in the first place. Heisey writes, “[I]f daily life is the medium in which countercultural ideas persist, it is also where the world invades.” We should not be surprised at this. After all, the word “countercultural” describes a culture, a way of life. No culture (mainstream or counter) exists outside the realm of the everyday. The practices of daily life are the medium as well as the content of culture so that two cultures cannot meet in any space other than the everyday.
As Heisey leads us through the relevant quotidian history we discover the untidiness of the peace witness in a complex world. Church members struggled with the appropriateness of buying war bonds. Some Brethren in Christ members had sufficiently close relationships in the wider community that they attended the funerals of veterans or welcome-home ceremonies for soldiers. Some spoke against profiting from war. These untidy areas of daily life led to disagreement among members about what shape the peace witness should take. A 1917 statement on nonresistance that equated peace with church unity may have been in part responsible for conflict and disagreement in the church.
While on the one hand disagreements arose within the Brethren in Christ community, on the other hand members became increasingly connected to other communities. Whether in military service or alternative service, young people found themselves in close relationships with others, even in foreign countries. Interaction among the historic peace churches exposed the Brethren in Christ community to the ideas and practices of their theological cousins. In this context of broader connections, Heisey notes that talk about citizenship, democracy and human progress made its way into the community and that Brethren in Christ members reflected national trends regarding interracial marriage and anti-Semitism. The hardships experienced by white members due to the practice of nonresistance during World War II “pale in relation to the intolerance and violence visited on racial minorities when their presence and aspirations were not conducive to the prosecution of a pragmatic, materialistic war.” In spite of its struggle for nonconformity, the Brethren in Christ community had assimilated into white American culture to a significant degree.
With increasing assimilation into the culture of American democracy, the Brethren in Christ community faced greater conflict between the church’s historic understanding of the corporate nature of belief and practice and the role of individual convictions. Some voiced their concern that tolerance toward individuals who refused the nonresistant witness would lead to the loss of community belief. Others, including conscientious objectors in alternative service, grew more accepting of individual differences in certain practices such as dancing and drinking alcohol, and in biblical interpretation. How much individual tolerance can a community accept and still maintain its distinct identity? The question remains vital.
Heisey draws out women’s particular practice of nonresistance more than do many treatments of the subject. Because of gender expectations and the fact that they were not subject to conscription, women’s participation in nonresistance differed from that of men. Though they often lacked formal recognition (and therefore much of their work is forgotten), women joined C.O. men in various positions of service. Often women understood their nonconformist dress as an expression of faith related to nonresistance. Heisey relates the story of a teenager who wrote a letter to the denominational magazine describing her initial refusal to wear a head covering to public school and her later acceptance of the practice. Less than two years after her letter was published she quit school due to pressure to salute the flag. The young woman never wrote about the latter, but Heisey suggests a connection between the two incidents.
The author concludes that ordinary lives must be taken into account to reveal the complexity of a small community’s beliefs in relation to the larger society in which it lives. The everyday existence of community members reveals the varying beliefs, attitudes and practices within that community. In these variations, one can see connections and relationships bridging the community with the outside world.
Heisey’s reflections on the Brethren in Christ church at the end of the twentieth century demonstrate her love for the community and its historic doctrines, and draw the reader in by showing the book’s relevance. In her introduction, the author notes that a 1998 doctrinal statement called for “active peacemaking” but gave no clues as to its importance for members. While some members maintain the peace witness and while academics mourn the loss of Anabaptist values in the community, Heisey wonders if these voices are heard. And why, she asks in the concluding pages, have individuals failed to remember the extent of support that the community gave to conscientious objectors and the alternative service programs? Apparently the Brethren in Christ have an undeveloped sense of collective memory.
This reader found especially interesting Heisey’s musings on memory scattered throughout the book. The author points to the community’s birth and development within the American context (as opposed to the Mennonites’ European context) as central to the problem she calls “historylessness.” As the Brethren in Christ grew within a young nation focused on future expansion and as the denomination gradually embraced a soteriology that looked primarily toward an afterlife, the past seemed less important than the future. A community over-focused on the future draws near forgetfulness, and practices depend on memory to persist.
Heisey’s study, as helpful as it is, would be bolstered by a more rigorous account of memory in relation to practice. Often, the author writes of memory as a cognitive act, inscribed in language and accessed by conversations and records-formal and informal, of the dramatic and the everyday. A cognitive account of memory marginalizes performative memory, the memory contained in, not only expressed by, practice itself. Memory does not merely sustain the practice of peace, but the practice of peace is itself a memory. Paul Connerton’s book How Societies Remember argues that collective memories persist in traditions and rituals, an area at best skimmed over by Heisey’s study. What current practices of the Brethren in Christ community’s worship continue (or fail) to embody its memory of peace between and after the World Wars? What family rituals caused peace to be persistent through generations? Such an account of performative collective memory could help answer the question posed by the author’s study: In spite of the practice of nonresistance in everyday life, why has much of the memory and witness of peace faded three generations later?
Heisey leads her readers in the right direction by taking seriously the matters of daily life. We take from her book a renewed commitment to the practice of peace in our daily lives. For peace to remain persistent in our community we must remember it not primarily as an idea for agreement but as a way of life for practice.
South Bend, Ind. PHIL MORICE BRUBAKER
The Amish: Why They Enchant Us. By Donald B. Kraybill. Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press. 2003. Pp. 48. $7.99.
Donald Kraybill’s slim and colorful book provides an introductory overview of Amish culture while examining the popular reaction to their alternative lifestyle. Kraybill, perhaps the best-known scholar writing about the Amish for a broad audience, briefly outlines the geographical location of the Amish and their history, theology and community life. In keeping with Kraybill’s scholarship, the book portrays Amish customs simply and directly while exploring why outsiders continue to be fascinated with their culture. Full-color photographs supplement this accessible summary of who the Amish are and why they live as they do.
Mennonite Alternative Service in Russia: The Story of Abram Dck and His Colleagues, 1911-1917. By Lawrence Klippenstein and Jacob Dick. Kitchener, Ont.: Pandora Press. 2002. Pp. 163. $17.
Klippenstein and Dick divide this study of Russian Mennonites’ alternatives to military inscription into historical and biographical sections respectively. Dick recounts the story of sharing his father’s alternative service photographs with other Russian emigrants’ children; this book originated when Klippenstein urged Dick to gather and annotate the collection that resulted. Klippenstein, a Russian history scholar and former archivist for the Mennonite Heritage Centre, provides a historical survey of the establishment of alternative forestry service in late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century Russia. Dick then narrates his father’s life in forestry through family photos of rakish young men in curled mustaches. A final section collects other photographs accompanied by the subjects’ own comments. This charming book provides a brief survey of alternative service in pre-Communist Russia as well as a personal glimpse into an important chapter in Russian Mennonite history.
Building Communities of Compassion: Mennonite Mutual Aid in Theory and Practice. Edited by Willard M. Swartley and Donald B. Kraybill. Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press. 1998. Pp. 319. $15.99.
This volume, a collection of papers originally presented at a 1996 conference, addresses the history and practice of Mennonite mutual aid. The essays examine the biblical foundations of mutual aid, theological and ethical foundations, historical case studies, and contemporary issues and practice. Topics include mutual aid in the book of Nehemiah; mutual aid as harbinger of the kingdom; and a critical examination of the corporate practice of Mennonite Mutual Aid, the contemporary Mennonite insurance and financial services agency. The book, dedicated to J. Winfield Fretz, a visionary promoter of Mennonite mutual aid in the modern era, contains work by thirteen contributors.
Fifty Years, Fifty Stories: The Mennonite Mission in Somalia, 1953-2003. By Omar Eby. Telford, Pa.: DreamSeeker-Cascadia. 2003. Pp. 141. $14.95.
Mennonite missions in Somalia have been difficult, dangerous and fruitful. This coffee-table-sized book, filled with photographs and memories, tells the story of Mennonite mission efforts there. The book is divided into decades, each highlighting important historical events and significant individuals working with the Somalis under a government that proscribed teaching any religion but Islam. Missionaries established schools, health care clinics and bookstores under the watchful eye of the Somali government and the sometimes violent rhetoric of extremists. The book includes an account of Merlin Grove, director of missions, who was killed by a man who believed Mennonites were harmful to the Islamic faith. Underlying these personal and sobering stories are important lessons about long-term commitment to peoples and nations, and the nature of mission in dangerous and sometimes inhospitable areas.
Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary JEREMY GARBER