April 2006 In This Issue


In a short novella titled Cecelia’s Sin, the Southern Baptist minister and peace activist William Campbell tells the story of a young Anabaptist woman in the Netherlands who is determined to document the martyrdoms of her fellow believers by committing their stories to print. When the authorities hear of her project and begin a relentless search for the manuscript, Cecelia becomes almost obsessed with her mission to gather and preserve the documentary evidence of the Anabaptist martyrs. Yet in the climactic ending of the book, Cecelia makes a stunning decision to burn her manuscript, page by page. The martyr story, she concludes, is not a “thing” to be possessed. Rather, true witness is always embodied in action-in the act of martyrdom itself. In the opening essay in this issue of MQR, historian Keith L. Sprunger explores the creative tension between the printed text and the “living word” in the Dutch Mennonite tradition, focusing especially on Dutch martyrologies. Though a “lived faith” was clearly at the center of Anabaptist theology, the development of print technology, Sprunger argues, provided a crucial text-oriented supplement to this living testimony. His essay deepens our understanding of the rich, sometimes competing, theological traditions behind the publication of the Martyrs Mirror.

In the popular imagination, few objects are more closely associated with the Old Order Amish than the quilt. Indeed, within the growing Amish-oriented tourist industry, quilts have emerged as favored consumer items-both as art objects valued by fashionable collectors and, more recently, as souvenirs powerfully imbued with nostalgic associations to a more simple, rural past. Janneken Smucker, an emerging expert in the field of Amish quilts and textiles, argues that Amish quilts have played a central role in the rapidly-expanding tourist economy in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Smucker traces both the growing public fascination with Amish quilts, and the intimate association of quilts with the rise of Lancaster County tourism. That the Amish are now mass producing quilts to meet this new consumer demand is a recent development that only complicates this already fascinating story.

Although the early Swiss Anabaptist movement had its beginnings in urban areas, its roots took hold mostly among farmers and day laborers in the countryside. Given this close association with peasant culture-along with a literalist approach to the Ggospels and an on-going need for divine legitimation-one might have thought that miracles would have figured prominently in Swiss Anabaptist theology and experience. Yet, as Sydney Penner suggests in his study of “Swiss Anabaptists and the Miraculous,” miracles were simply not a central feature of the Swiss Anabaptist story. Despite several dramatic exceptions, the group generally avoided a focus on miracles in their biblical commentary, theological reflection orand historical chronicles. This skepticism, claims Penner, was motivated in part by a desire to disassociate themselves from the Catholic cult of the saints; even more, the Swiss Anabaptist’s consciously legitimated the authenticity of their church in the moral and ethical character of the community’s life together, rather than in an appeal to supernatural deeds.

Future historians will undoubtedly take note of the remarkable flourishing of theological writing, reflection and debate that unfolded within the North American Mennonite church at the turn of the twentieth century. Among the many voices in this theological renaissance, few have been as creative or as controversial as A. James Reimer. Paul Heidebrecht offers MQR readers a very helpful summary of the central themes of Reimer’s theological corpus, focusing especially on his engagement with “modernity.” Building on these themes, Heidebrecht then suggests how Reimer’s work might be enriched, and even enhanced, by closer engagement with the works of philosopher Charles Taylor and theologian Louis Dupr. Heidebrecht’s critique of Reimer is clearly appreciative, concluding with suggestions for future research.

Finally, Werner Packull, a familiar name to readers of the journal, offers a short essay that sheds new light on the spread of Swiss Brethren congregations into Hesse during the second half of the sixteenth century. Focused on the background events leading up to Hans Pauly Kuchenbecker’s 1578 confession of the faith, Packull’s study painstakingly pieces together a fascinating story of Swiss Brethren theology, worship practices and regional connections in Hesse. His essay is a reminder of the rich source material-still not fully tapped-that remains in the published volumes of the Tuferakten.
This issue of MQR begins and concludes with essays by two senior scholars-both Sprunger and Packull are emeriti at their universities. Between these essays, however, we are delighted to include contributions from three graduate students, each writing out of a different disciplinary perspective on topics that are quite different from each otherdistinct. Surely this is a healthy sign for the future of Anabaptist-Mennonite scholarship. May the conversation-across the generations and across the disciplines-continue!

– John D. Roth, editor

The Mennonite Quarterly Review
The Mennonite Quarterly Review