October 2006 Book Reviews


Hutterische Konfession und Tradition (1578-1619). Etabliertes Lebens zwischen Ordnung und Ambivalenz. By Astrid von Schlachta. Verffentlichungen des Instituts fr Europische Geschichte 198. Mainz: Verlag Philipp von Zabern. 2003. Pp. 459. 51 Euros.

In this historical dissertation completed at the University of Innsbruck, Astrid von Schlachta analyzes Hutterite history in Moravia between 1578 and 1619 from the perspective of the “confessionalization” paradigm introduced by Wolfgang Reinhard and Heinz Schilling. She does so in three steps: first, by presenting the essential facts of economic life, political relationships and religious confession of the Hutterite colonies during this period (13-96); second, by reflecting on abstract concepts essential to how the Hutterites viewed themselves-namely “order” (Ordnung), “common good” (Gemeinnutz) and “community” (Gemeinschaft)-and determining what role these played in the “establishment of a Hutterite confession” (97-291); and third, by dwelling on the more problematic and dysfunctional aspects of the Hutterite communal experiment as it attempted to adapt to change throughout this difficult period (293-404).

The result is a fascinating book that never ceases to captivate the reader, particularly because von Schlachta allows the Hutterites to speak for themselves, frequently quoting from the abundant late-sixteenth-century sources she scoured in European and North American archives. To be sure, this is no triumphalistic history of an embattled Hutterite faith remaining firm in the midst of tribulations. On the contrary, von Schlachta clearly writes from the detached perspective of the secular historian and deliberately reads her sources against the grain, applying a healthy dose of hermeneutic suspicion (e.g., she interprets the inordinately vigorous defense of community of goods in three major Hutterite works written between 1593 and 1605 as an indication that this practice was being seriously called into question) and sometimes even a touch of slightly malicious gratification over their shortcomings (she dwells repeatedly on the inconsistency of Hutterites-themselves a people with a history of persecution-having to be admonished by their superiors to stop attending the public spectacle of executions taking place in their vicinity). The portrait of Hutterite life that emerges is one of a group of people thoroughly human in their innumerable quirks, frailties, contradictions and inconsistencies-but all the more likable precisely because of this. In fact, this intentionally “disrespectful” study of Hutterite reality from a sociological and historical perspective opens readers’ eyes (perhaps more so than theologically edifying narratives are capable of) to the astonishingly precarious and open-ended nature of this Anabaptist communal experiment, which more than once was threatened with disappearing into the crowd of historical anonymity, whether because of persecution or prosperity.

While admitting that one essential element-the social disciplining state-is absent, von Schlachta succeeds in convincing the reader that the confessionalization paradigm provides a satisfactory explanation of Hutterite reality between 1578 and 1619. This was a period during which institutions and traditions gained clear contours and were firmly established. An increasingly institutionalized hierarchy of offices and professions emerged. Communal ordinances (Gemeindeordnungen) became instruments of an internal social discipline parallel to that exercised by state authorities in their own confessionalization efforts. Von Schlachta convincingly emphasizes the seminal importance of a core group of sources from the early sixteenth century that gave the movement its raison d’tre throughout the centuries, something to rally around in difficult times, by drawing them back to community of goods again and again each time this practice was on the brink of disappearing.

While describing the Hutterite Moravian settlements as a state within a state, von Schlachta also succeeds in eloquently describing the extent to which the fortunes of these colonies were intimately intertwined, both economically and politically, with those of the local nobility on whose lands they lived. This could take on the curious form of a flourishing symbiosis between a Catholic prince-bishop (e.g., Cardinal Franz von Dietrichstein, bishop of Olmtz) and his Hutterite subjects. Indeed, Moravian noblemen took great pride in the economic vitality and the skilled craftmanship of “their” Hutterite settlements, showing off Hutterite “technology” to outsiders (Hutterite knives appear to have been prestige objects), staying overnight in Hutterite colonies (rather than in dirty inns) when traveling through their own territories, consulting Hutterite doctors and sometimes even sending their own children to Hutterite schools. Then again, this success and privileged status called forth the resentment of local non-Hutterites, who attributed the catastrophes that ensued at the beginning of the seventeenth century to the Hutterites, who were much better equipped to withstand these crises on account of their thrift and legendary accumulation of wealth (von Schlachta points out obvious parallels to the scapegoating of Jews in times of crisis, calling for further research on this topic).

A Hutterite experience that rings familiar in a time of global migration and clashes of cultures is the remarkable sociological phenomenon of integrating a constant stream of Hessian, Palatine and Swiss immigrants into Moravian lands, with all the misunderstandings and conflicts one would expect in a similar experiment today (including that of a tiny group of Italian Anabaptists who gave up and left after four years of Moravian sojourn, citing “the difficulty of the German language” [la dificult de la lingua todesca]). At times, von Schlachta gives the impression that Hutterite missionary preaching could contain just as much praise of the thriving economic conditions promised by the Moravian colonies as invitation to take on the cross of Christ. The ambiguity of community of goods comes across convincingly in the Swiss Brethren criticism of the enormous economic security and the collective selfishness represented by these burgeoning colonies in Moravia, which many Swiss appear to have joined simply because they wanted to leave the abject poverty of their home country. Many a newcomer seems to have been taken aback by the Hutterites’ brusque confiscation of the property they had brought along (which was not returned if they decided to leave the colonies) and the immediate separation of children from their parents for schooling purposes. Newcomers often perceived the strict hierarchy within Hutterite colonies and the privileged lifestyle (including food and dress) of the leaders and their families as inconsistent with the emphasis on community. At times, Hutterite communities became victims of their own success, as their quality craftmanship and know-how became prized by wealthy non-Hutterite clients, leading surgeons and skilled artisans to work outside the colonies and enjoy a rise in individual prestige that threatened the sense of community (e.g., the Hutterite Balthasar Goller had a permanent position as Franz von Dietrichstein’s personal physician, a job that occasionally took him as far away as Constantinople).

While reading this book, it quickly becomes apparent that the author writes as a secular historian rather than as a church historian. At times one misses an inkling of sympathy for what it means to “believe,” an absence that tends to reduce all expressions of Hutterite religiosity to a sociological phenomenon. Nevertheless, the reality von Schlachta calls back to life is a fascinating one and, in the end, the Hutterites win out, conquering the heart of the sympathetic reader.

Bucer-Forschungsstelle, Heidelberg STEPHEN E. BUCKWALTER


Peter Riedemann, Konfessionsbildenes Tufertum im 16. Jahrhundert, Quellen und Forschungen zur Reformationsgeschichte. By Andrea Chudaska. Heidelberg: Verein Fr Reformationsgeschichte, Bd. 76. 2003. Pp. 420.

In this German-language study of Peter Riedemann’s life and works, Andrea Chudaska presents the fruits of her doctoral dissertation. She wrote the study for Gottfried Seebass, a professor at the University of Heidelberg in the evangelical-theological faculty and one of the foremost Anabaptist scholars in Europe.

The book is divided into three sections. The first surveys the history of interpretation and notes the primary sources for Riedemann’s life and works, including his two confessions, hymns and letters. The second, and largest, section discusses Riedemann’s biography and theology across three time periods. The first deals with the early Riedemann up to 1532; the second covers the years up to 1542 when he was a wandering missioner; and the third discusses his years as co-bishop of the Hutterite communities in Moravia to his death in 1556. The final section of the book consists of three bibliographies of primary and secondary materials, as well as an index of people and places.

Chudaska discusses Riedemann’s origins in Silesia. Although relatively unknown in Anabaptist studies generally, Silesia did have a vibrant Anabaptist movement for a few years, characterized by spiritualism, sabbatarianism and communalism. By 1528 the group had largely dispersed. Little is known about Riedemann’s relationship to this Anabaptist movement, including: what group, if any, he joined; who baptized him; and why and when he left the region. Chudaska presents the sketchy historical information that has been found, relying largely on Werner Packull’s Hutterite Beginnings.

The Hutterite Chronicle’s first reference to Riedemann is in 1528 when he was imprisoned in Gmunden, upper Austria. Remarkably, after three years he was released, not executed. While in Gmunden, Riedemann may have been influenced by a local Anabaptist group that Hans Hut visited on his travels through this area. While in prison, Riedemann wrote his first confession in 1529-1532. After his release, he went to Moravia, and joined the Tyrolean refugee communalist group in Auspitz. For the rest of his life, Riedemann served that group, first as missioner and then, for fourteen years, as co-leader.

Chudaska presents a very fine historical survey of Riedemann’s life. She places him in context, analyzes his letters, combs the Hutterite Chronicle for references to him and utilizes recent studies. Her discussion of Riedemann during his turbulent years as missioner are thorough and insightful. The reader gains a sense of the character of this most notable Hutterite. The discussion of Riedemann’s latter years is more sketchy because the sources for that period are scarce, likely reflecting a time of persecution.

Chudaska’s section on Riedemann’s theology makes an important contribution. The section is detailed, lucid and based on a thorough knowledge of the sources. One point she makes is that Riedemann in his Confession (Rechenschaft) of 1542 lays the basis for a theology in which the Hutterites are not sectarian; rather, it is the Lutherans and Catholics who have left the teachings of the major confessions of the church. The Hutterites are sancta ecclesia catholica, the holy catholic church (232). Although not acknowledged, this line of argument appears to be based on my introduction to Peter Riedemann’s Hutterite Confession of Faith (Classics of the Radical Reformation; Herald Press, 1999).

In extensive detail, and with considerable insight, Chudaska discusses various issues that Riedemann addresses, including the relationship of the Old and New Testaments, the place and role of law, and the meaning of baptism. In her section on marriage, she claims that Hutterite elders were involved in the choice of marriage partners. She fails to note that this was a practice that developed later, and that Riedemann’s text of 1542 does not mention this practice.

Riedemann’s view of the role of the spirit becomes a major theme in Chudaska’s study. She looks at his understanding of the relationship of the spirit and the letter, Christology, eschatology, millenialism and spiritualistic enthusiasm. She argues that although Riedemann has a high view of the Holy Spirit, he also considers external forms significant (328). The Holy Spirit, not human effort, makes it possible for Hutterites to keep the “Ordnung.” She aptly characterizes Riedemann’s theology as “institutionalized spiritualism” (329).

The study concludes with the observation that Riedemann’s Confession, since it stood at the beginning of Anabaptist confession building, served to separate the Hutterites from other Anabaptists.

Chudaska’s study is a fine and creative contribution to an understanding of Riedemann’s theology. It is comprehensive and deals with theological issues in some detail and with considerable insight and creativity.

Canadian Mennonite University JOHN J. FRIESEN


Separation and the Sword in Anabaptist Persuasion: Radical Confessional Rhetoric from Schleitheim to Dordrecht. By Gerald Biesecker-Mast. Telford, Pa.: Cascadia Publishing. 2006. Pp. 312. $22.95, U.S.; $35.95, Can.

Gerald Biesecker-Mast brings to the study of Anabaptist texts the tools of rhetorical analysis, and the results are certainly intriguing. However, whether this book “inaugurates a new epoch in Anabaptist studies” (15), as J. Denny Weaver claims in the volume’s preface, remains to be seen. Biesecker-Mast’s central thesis is that pacifism was a defining characteristic of early Anabaptism, and that Anabaptist statements of their commitment to nonviolence are rhetorically linked to their positions on separation from the fallen world. This connection gave rise to a complicated relationship with the state as an institution that was both outside the perfection of Christ, but also ordained by God. As a result, the rhetoric of separation in Anabaptist texts ranges from “antagonistic (engendering a mutually exclusive relationship to a broader social order)” to “dualistic (constituting a mutually tolerant relationship to the world)” (28). The tension between these positions is crucial to both Anabaptist self-understanding and to the Anabaptists’ witness to the world.

The first two chapters of the book set the stage for Biesecker-Mast’s “close reading” of the texts being studied with a survey of historical writing on early Anabaptism and an overview of the Reformation context in which the movement arose. The author is critical of revisionist literature on early Anabaptist history, which has dominated the field since the early 1970s, and he is especially intent on refuting the polygenesis model of Anabaptist beginnings. In place of the “polygenesis hypothesis,” whose imminent demise he anticipates, he suggests a resuscitation, albeit with some modifications, of Harold Bender’s “Anabaptist Vision.” Rejecting Bender’s search for the “essence” of Anabaptism, Biesecker-Mast instead defines the movement as “an array of christologically oriented historical practices,” which took on a variety of apparently different forms in a “rich and dynamic field of struggle and of contested commitments” (69). Biesecker-Mast’s description of the Reformation, the “opening through which the Anabaptists walked in their search for a true, restituted Christian church” (69-70), focuses not on Zwingli and the events in Zurich, but on Martin Luther and the social and political upheaval characterizing the communal Reformation leading up to the Peasants’ War of 1525. Within this context, the Anabaptist approach to separation and the sword appears as a middle course between the Scylla of Luther’s two kingdoms doctrine and the Charybdis of the peasants’ revolutionary antagonism, here derived from Thomas Mntzer’s “Sermon to the Princes.” Drawing on the conclusions of Abraham Friesen’s Erasmus, the Anabaptists and the Great Commission (1998), Biesecker-Mast argues that in charting this course the early Anabaptists took as their guide the biblical humanism of Erasmus, albeit without Erasmus’ neo-Platonic distinction between life on earth as it is and as it should be.

Chapter 3 investigates statements on the sword in The Brotherly Union of Schleitheim and several other important early Anabaptist texts: Ambrosius Spitelmaier’s answers during his interrogation in Nuremberg, Hans Denck’s Concerning True Love, Balthasar Hubmaier’s On the Sword, Clemens Adler’s Judgement on the Sword and Pilgram Marpeck’s Uncovering of the Babylonian Whore. Biesecker-Mast argues that The Brotherly Union’s designation of the sword as ordained by God undermines its own logic of the antagonism between the world and the perfection of Christ; in other words, article VI on the sword qualifies the seemingly absolute character of article IV on separation. The result is a rhetorical instability that also characterizes statements on the sword in the other Anabaptist texts under consideration here, including the classic statement of the Schwertler, Hubmaier’s On the Sword.

Chapters 4 through 6 trace how this rhetorical instability plays out in subsequent Anabaptist writings among Hutterites, Melchiorites, and Dutch and Swiss Mennonites. In a collection of essential Hutterite texts, which includes Peter Riedemann’s Account of our Religion, Leonard Dax’s Confession of Faith and The Great Article Book, Biesecker-Mast finds a consistently greater emphasis on how the sword is outside the perfection of Christ than on the fact that it is ordained by God; the relationship between the faithful and the world is characterized more as an antagonistic than a dualistic one. In the Melchiorite Anabaptist texts he traces the evolution of a rhetorical genealogy from apocalyptic antagonism in the writings of Melchior Hoffman and Bernhard Rothmann to quietist dualism in Menno Simon’s Reply to False Accusations and Dirk Philips’s The Congregation of God. Menno’s and Dirk’s rhetoric of dualist coexistence is enshrined in the Dordrecht Confession’s unprecedented “affirmation for the magistracy,” although writings from the Amish division and the War of the Lambs suggest that variant readings of Dordrecht persisted throughout the seventeenth century.

This book is an interesting addition to the growing literature from post-revisionist scholars of Anabaptism searching for common elements shared by early Anabaptists whom polygenesis historians have assigned to distinct traditions. The breadth of Anabaptist texts investigated is impressive, and Biesecker-Mast’s readings of them are often compelling. At times, however, the way in which he contextualizes those readings is not so convincing. His reliance on Mntzer’s “Sermon to the Princes” as a statement of peasant attitudes regarding the sword is problematic in light of recent research into both Mntzer and the Peasants’ War. Similarly, his reliance on Concerning True Love as the cornerstone of Denck’s thought requires addressing more directly the disputed question of Denck’s authorship of important parts of that work. In contrast to some post-revisionist scholars, most notably Abraham Friesen in recent years, Biesecker-Mast is willing to treat problematic works such as the writings of Hoffman and Rothmann as Anabaptist sources. The effect of this approach, however, is qualified somewhat by the “provisional conclusion” that authors like Hubmaier and Rothmann were closer respectively to Luther and Mntzer in their thinking than to other Anabaptists.

Of probably greater concern, however, is Biesecker-Mast’s treatment of the currently dominant interpretive paradigm in Anabaptist history and of the historians who established that paradigm. He repeatedly challenges what he identifies as the specious claims of such historians to provide an objective rendering of past events, claims that he lampoons in Rankean terms of describing “what really happened.” Very few of those historians would claim to have the sort of absolute objectivity in their portrayal of past events that Biesecker-Mast suggests. Elsewhere he presents the conclusions of “social history” as providing a deterministic model for understanding historical events that allows no room for human agency. Behind these criticisms seems to lie an assumption that, at least in the field of church history, only confessionally-committed historical writing is legitimate historical writing. Biesecker-Mast’s call for scholars to establish a “form of historical identification and commitment urged by Martyrs Mirror” with the subjects of their research (66), and his apparent suggestion that an important goal of Anabaptist historical writing is to provide “a usable past for the church” (44, 69), seem to indicate that only the spiritual heirs of the early Anabaptists can or should write their history. Taken seriously, this program would, I fear, significantly reduce the range of discourse among scholars and impoverish Anabaptist studies in the process.

Augustana College GEOFFREY DIPPLE


A Contemporary Anabaptist Theology: Biblical, Historical, Constructive. By Thomas N. Finger. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press. 2004. Pp. 603. $35.

In this substantial publication, Thomas N. Finger offers an Anabaptist systematic theology that, more comprehensively than any other to date, considers biblical, historical and contemporary theological writings central to this tradition. Finger’s ecumenical purpose and Anabaptist commitments are clearly evident. Throughout the book he underlines shared convictions among his and other Christian traditions, while also naming and assessing differences.

After outlining in a succinct, evenhanded way the “tumultuous” context in which Anabaptism arose, Finger lays out his assumptions regarding the theological task at hand. Among other things, he describes his intended audience: educated North American church members interested in insights from an “oppressed, marginalized tradition.” He believes that articulation of “Anabaptist and similar movements’ theologies are crucial for the churches’ global mission,” specifically for relating to the numerous marginalized peoples “threatened by increasingly powerful expressions of modernity, especially globalization” (103).

Finger then offers a three-point intrinsically interrelated structure-personal, communal and missional-for describing biblical and historical Anabaptist perspectives and for assessing contemporary appropriations of them. He proposes a summary theological orientation and norm-God’s coming new creation-drawn from his reading of Scripture, perceived as consistent with historical Anabaptist concerns, and resonant with contemporary language (more responsive to feminist concerns than the frequently used alternative, kingdom of God).

In the personal section Finger focuses on the theme of justification, implicit in Anabaptist sources, he suggests, to an extent greater than scholars in this tradition have tended to recognize. He notes some convergences between Anabaptist understandings of salvation and those of other Christian theological traditions and identifies potential contributions that Anabaptism might make to ecumenical discussion. He specifically mentions in this regard ways in which Jesus’ life and teachings, ethics, social and cosmic perspectives on salvation, and eschatology might be emphasized by those from the Anabaptist tradition in intra-Christian conversations about justification.

Addressing the communal dimension, Finger demonstrates how a strong emphasis on voluntary ecclesiology shapes four essential aspects of the church: the theology and practice of baptism, the Lord’s Supper, discipline and economic sharing. Finger then addresses Anabaptist perspectives on evangelism and the relation of church and world in his section on the missional dimension of theology.

The last part of the book examines historical Anabaptist views and contemporary appropriation of three aspects of a “convictional framework”: the work and person of Jesus, including understandings of the Trinity; human nature; and last things.

The strengths and limits of Finger’s book, as an articulation of Anabaptist theology in an ecumenical context, deeply concerns the two of us as Mennonite theologians. From our particular standpoint we have chosen to address in this review Finger’s reading and use of Anabaptist sources and his interaction with several classical Christian theological categories.

Anabaptist theological tradition and its use. Finger’s reading and review of Anabaptist sources is remarkably widespread and his capacity to get at the essence of the historical sources, including their subtleties, is notable. Finger, however, begins his engagement with mid-twentieth-century North American scholars as if formal Mennonite theologizing began then. He does not mention theological leaders of the early twentieth century, such as the General Conference historian-theologians C. H. Wedel, C. Henry Smith and Edmund Kaufman, or the (Old) Mennonite systematician Daniel Kauffman. With a few exceptions in his reading of contemporary sources,[1] Finger’s overview of multiple sources-both historical and contemporary North American-provides a valuable guide to the range of Anabaptist thought. He draws upon not only the Swiss-South German and Dutch traditions, but also (and unusually) Polish Anabaptism, in his historical and theological reflection.

Finger does a particular service in making explicit the implicit theological assumptions of many Anabaptists, demonstrating that they were also participants in a longstanding theological tradition. In addition to their great and nave love for the Bible, Finger illustrates how their biblical language was shaped by the theological thought of the day. Marpeck’s emphasis on the inward/outward dimensions, for example, was not new. Marpeck’s christological views come out of a long medieval tradition. His claim that at the ascension the humanity of Christ was taken up into God’s being is hard to account for if one tries to locate it directly in the New Testament. But if one tracks christological debate through the centuries it is evident that, directly or indirectly, Marpeck is indebted to inherited schemes of thought.

When Mennonites look at their own tradition, they often fail to see that Anabaptists were participants in ongoing theological thought. Theology is interpreted as a tool of the oppressors/persecutors and Anabaptist use of it obscured. This contributes to skepticism about the value of theology today. A more positive attention to theology can increase Mennonites’ capacity to be self-critical about their movement between Scripture and culture, even as they testify to the presence and power of God in their lives, and express the beliefs and practices of the Mennonite Church today. This should assist ecumenical conversation.

Use of traditional theological categories and language. Finger identifies what he calls a “soteriological motif” in Anabaptism, which he characterizes by the terms “christomorphic divinization” or “ontological transformation,” terms that do not roll off the tongues of contemporary Anabaptist theological scholars, let alone church members. (see pp. 53, 121, 149 and also Beachy in index).

The term divinization does have some basis in Anabaptist thought.[2] Alvin Beachy, in some intriguing work that deserves more attention, identified this notion in several sixteenth-century sources. William Keeney also found significant evidence of this concept in the theology of Dirk Phillips. The concept is present in the thought of Hans Denck, and Menno Simons mentions it. Arnold Snyder (Anabaptist History and Theology) and C. J. Dyck (Spiritual Life in Anabaptism), both historians who think theologically, note it. But as Anabaptist-Mennonites have drawn from historical sources for their life and thought over the years, “divinization” has not risen to the top. Finger emphasizes a term that most scholars and church members have left secondary.

Finger’s ecumenical interests press him to try to recover this language because it may be fruitful for inter-church understanding. First, divinization can be used as a point of conversation with Orthodox Christians.[3] Second, Finger appreciates the way the term stresses God’s action as a corrective to those who hear Anabaptists say “discipleship” and think “works righteousness.”

One advantage of the strong emphasis on sanctification is that it can speak meaningfully of our “perfection in Christ.” But there is a shadow side to this as well: judgmentalism, self-righteousness, the difficulty of admitting failure to others and thus the lack of opportunity for the experience of forgiveness or grace. Finger suggests that christomorphic divinization is theological language that does greater justice to the phenomena of the Anabaptist tradition. But as a theologian, does he adequately describe and warn against the shadow side of “divinization” that has also marked this tradition?

Finger is modest in his formulations of what Anabaptists have to offer to ecumenical theological conversation and frequently underlines ways in which this perspective is incomplete. Yet he notes some significant points for ongoing conversation between Anabaptists and other Christians. He demonstrates the trinitarian framework employed by Anabaptists, pointing to common ground with other major Christian traditions. His critique of Lutheran and Catholic views of justification in Anabaptist perspective is serious and thoughtful. He underlines the importance of ecclesiology, calling Christians to consider the corporate dimensions of theological doctrine, including salvation, and the link between ecclesiology and mission.

A question might be raised whether the size, organization and detail of Finger’s project obscures a significant contribution that Anabaptists have made to the ecumenical church-witnessing to the belief that reconciliation is integral to the Gospel itself. Finger surely believes that God’s new creation is a just community, reconciled with God and one another, and that following the way of Jesus toward this end includes an ethic of nonviolence. But the comprehensiveness and complexity of his work and his decision to focus on creedal dimensions of Christology, anthropology and eschatology tend to hide the conviction that peacemaking is at the heart of the mission of the church.

Thomas Finger has undertaken an audacious task and in many ways succeeded at it. He has cataloged and systematized the major currents of Anabaptist belief in the sixteenth century and then brought the fruits of his research into dialogue with evangelical and mainline Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox theologies today. Our one significant regret is that Finger concludes with such a terse summary of his own theological scheme. His ambitious title, A Contemporary Anabaptist Theology, would have been brought to a more satisfying conclusion with a more nuanced and integrated presentation of his own theological vision.



Beliefs: Mennonite Faith and Practice. By John D. Roth. Scottdale, Pa., and Waterloo, Ont.: Herald Press. 2005. Pp. 170. $9.99, U.S.; $12.49, Can.

In his preface, John Roth, professor of history at Goshen College and editor of The Mennonite Quarterly Review, tells the story of an in-flight conversation initiated by a Japanese business executive about Roth’s Christian faith: “Can you explain to me, just what it is that Christians believe'” Beliefs is a literary conversation between a seriously interested inquirer and a Mennonite Christian. Roth states his purpose in the preface: “This short book is an effort to respond positively to this challenge of summarizing Christian faith and practice from the perspective of a believer.” In thirteen chapters the reader is first given a general orientation to the Mennonite way of faith and then guided in a reflection on the specific beliefs that shape Mennonites.

Chapters 1 and 2 set the historical and theological context, focusing on Mennonite doctrines and beliefs that are held in common with the broader Christian church. This exploration takes place in the context of the original Anabaptist movement as well as in a contemporary setting. Placing Anabaptist-Mennonite distinctives in the broader theological stream helps the reader understand the reasons for the Anabaptist movement. By taking pains to affirm the common ground between Mennonites and others, Roth builds a positive conversational spirit. He affirms that “Mennonites are first and foremost Christians who believe in the Bible, the Trinity, salvation in Jesus Christ and a host of doctrines that most Christians would regard as uncontroversial.” What emerges is a dialogue not only with seekers, new to Christianity, but also with those who inquire from other denominations.

Chapters 3-11 discuss the most basic Mennonite points of belief. These topics are handled in open dialogue with the greater theological context so that the reader is given a deeper grasp of Mennonite beliefs in their historical context as well as a broader appreciation of how these beliefs answer alternative theological voices.

The challenge of interpreting the Scripture through a Mennonite lens is handled in chapter 3, as Roth explores the centrality of the Bible, the role of the interpreting community, the centrality of Christ in the Mennonite hermeneutic and the study of the Bible for living (not just knowledge).

Believer’s baptism is discussed in chapter 5. After exploring the beginnings of the practice of rebaptism, Roth examines the theology and practice of baptism in our era. He likens baptisms to weddings, each the beginning point of a life together, to be valued as a union then lived out.

Chapters 7 and 8 feature discipleship. Roth sets the bar high: “A Mennonite understanding of faith . . . is always embodied; faith always finds expression in the world of flesh and blood.” Money, sex and power, the three great ethical grounds of our day, are explored. The issues of work, the simple life, sexual ethics and nonviolence are discussed in the context of the call to discipleship. Linking salvation and ethics, Roth notes that “salvation in the Mennonite tradition is not something you ‘have’ like an absentee landlord who keeps the deed to a property stored in a safe. Rather, salvation is something that must be lived. You own the property only if you actually live there, cultivate the land and make it a central part of your life.”

Chapters 10, 11 and 12 reflect on Mennonite belief and practice regarding the church. Included are Mennonite views on the church and state and the two kingdoms, and worship practices such as communion, foot washing, commitment to mutual aid and accountability.

In chapter 13 Roth concludes with a warm invitation. In this day of individualism, militarism and cynicism, he opens the Mennonite way to all who would come and see.

The book is conversational. There is an honest effort to face the questions and issues that the way of faith raises. Each chapter is followed by a related chapter, considering commonly voiced disagreements or questions. Roth accomplishes this with a spirit of openness, respect and fairness for the questioner and the concern raised. No Mennonite could find fodder here for antagonism or alienation in relating to a person from another faith tradition.

This book is successful in avoiding esoteric language, theological obscurities and other potential diversions from the task at hand. It is friendly to newcomers and lifelong Mennonites alike. One of the values of this book is that it brings these two groups together in the same room. And although the book ties into familiar nitty-gritty issues that often drive Mennonite debates, the reader is not allowed to take comfortable umbrage here or there. Rather, one is drawn to the open windows of a bigger perspective.

Many issues and questions are only introduced, without thorough treatment, which is understandable since the book is intended to introduce and to explain basic elements of the Mennonite way. The success of the book lies in its balance between words of witness and the experience of living and learning.

Mennonite Church Canada SVEN ERIKSSON


Proverbs. By John W. Miller. Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press. 2004. Pp. 342. $24.99, U.S.; $31.29, Can.

John Miller starts from the premise that the book of Proverbs consists of a first edition that reflects the Solomonic time period and a second edition compiled by “state-supported Levites” (20) during the time of Hezekiah. The first edition, in Miller’s judgment, was directed to young men who were preparing for civil service. Its distinct features include its explicit references to Solomon and its more secular leanings. The second edition is more theologically explicit and was intended to connect the reader to “the teachings of Moses in Deuteronomy” (21). Miller thinks that the Hezekian edition was meant to be used in home schooling. Based upon this thesis, Miller analyzes the text of Proverbs and presents his commentary.

The author extensively analyzes the structure of Proverbs, demonstrating how an earlier Solomonic edition may have been shaped by later Hezekian editors. Awareness of the structure of the book also directs one’s understanding of the content. An example is provided in the first few chapters. Miller’s outline begins with the Solomonic prologue consisting of verses 1:1-4, and 6. This prologue was meant to be followed by chapter 4, but it is interrupted by a Hezekian comment that appears in verse 7. The comment and the prologue acknowledge God as the source of wisdom. The Solomonic materials, on the other hand, are focused on human wisdom. The phrase “my son” (“my child” in the N.R.S.V.) as it appears in chapters 1-3 is taken literally to mean the offspring of a particular person, in this case Solomon. The wisdom of the Solomonic edition, Miller asserts, is that of David. This is what David passed on to his son, Solomon. The more general “sons” (“children” in the N.R.S.V.) that appear in chapter 4 refer to the young people who are being educated for civil service. Miller recognizes that “my son” is a literary convention, but he applies the terminology historically to Solomon. Not everyone will agree with Miller’s particular structural analysis, though scholars do understand Proverbs to be an eclectic collection.

The commentary switches to a thematic approach to discuss what Miller considers to be the “main collection” (10:1-22:16). Miller groups proverbs that share a common theme such as family or economics. This gives the reader a sense of the scope of what is said on a given topic though it requires effort on the part of the reader to find the commentary on a particular verse or passage. An outline of the entire scheme is provided.

Miller thinks that the “core theological or philosophical convictions” of the Hezekian edition are found in 16:2-6. He argues that when the scroll was opened in ancient times, these verses were always visible because they are in the middle of the scroll. He points out that each of these verses contains the divine name. Yet surprisingly Miller does not comment on the content of the poem as a unit. He saves his commentary on the verses of this poem for his discussion of the “main collection.” Each verse is grouped with verses that are topically similar. Therefore, one is not given a sense of the meaning of the whole.

Miller is conversant with both classic treatments of the book of Proverbs and more contemporary scholarship. He is not as familiar with feminist literature on the subject, but he has some thoughts of his own on the matter. Miller speaks to the treatment of women in the book of Proverbs and the issue of whether the language addressed to boys, such as “my son,” should be assumed to apply to girls, as well. He states that he does not find anything that is “demeaning to women” in the book. Since the book assumes that women have something to teach their sons, he argues that they must have learned some of the lessons taught to boys. Although the book is directed to boys, he thinks that girls can learn from it as well.

Miller might have placed more emphasis on positive female models in the text. For example, he interprets 7:4 to suggest that wisdom is like a protective sister. The woman as protector image in contrast to the woman as seductress image would be important to pursue. But instead of leaving it at “sister” he suggests that it may be any relative (84), thereby muting an opportunity to elaborate on a positive female image in the book. Miller argues that Proverbs 31 is a later addition based on Aramaicisms and a distinctly different kind of heading. He praises this model woman and notices that the scope of her work is wide. But he does not highlight where she departs from the traditional “ideal” role of woman, in, for example, having her own business. The woman of Proverbs 31 functions beyond the role of homemaker.

Miller is strongest in following through with his thesis and demonstrating that he can consistently support it through much of the book. In the “Text in the Life of the Church” section he sometimes embeds himself in the ancient world (following 5:14, for example, he discusses ancient Egyptian marriage) but more often he attends to recent issues. Drawing on John Eaton’s book The Contemplative Face of the Old Testament, Miller notes that some in the West are seeking spiritual growth in Eastern religious practices while unaware that the Wisdom tradition of the Bible also shares elements with Eastern religions such as the importance of a “spiritual director” (220). He also attends to issues of peace and justice as one expects in this commentary series.

In addition to reading the Hebrew text, Miller is primarily in conversation with the New International Version translation throughout the commentary. He points out where the N.I.V. went too far in adding a word or two that can change the thrust of the section. For example in 7:24, the N.I.V. reads “my sons” where the Hebrew simply has “sons.” This is helpful because he is speaking to readers who likely use the N.I.V.

The book is a bit dense for one directed to lay people, but, taken a chapter or two at a time, it uncovers a fresh way to understand the biblical book and reveals helpful insights. There is wisdom here, both in the biblical book and in the comments of the author. This book will be helpful to pastors and teachers as they prepare lessons and sermons from Proverbs.

Christian Theological Seminary WILMA ANN BAILEY


Building Peace: Overcoming Violence in Communities. By Mary Yoder Holsopple, Ruth E. Krall and Sharon Weaver Pittman. Geneva, Switzerland: World Council of Churches Publications. 2004. Pp. 109. $12.

Drawing from professional training and experience in theology, nursing, social work, counseling and international development, the three authors deftly weave their individual voices into an integrated, holistic, thorough illumination of community-based peace-building strategies. Their credo is, “We believe in developing a culture of peace through primary prevention measures, using a strength-based approach to community development. We encourage interdisciplinary collaboration that involves as many different individuals and groups as feasible within any given community” (26). They demonstrate their commitment to these ideas in multiple ways and on multiple levels throughout the book.

Yoder Holsopple, Krall and Weaver Pittman preface their practical applications in building peace and community by offering working definitions of violence and peace. They condense volumes of ideas into a few pages, articulating violence as both overt and covert, and able to occur on individual and/or structural-systemic levels. The authors embrace a similar complexity when defining peace. They describe both negative and positive peace, and highlight the importance of individual and collective actions in pursuit of “the development of non-exploitative social structures sustained over time” (20). Their definition of peace concludes with a description of peace-building as a “spiritual journey” (21). The authors assume readers will have a working understanding of structural-systemic analyses of violence and peace, and so move quickly through this overview. Some readers may need to supplement this section with further reading or discussion to fully grasp the complexity of the ideas. Finally, the authors explicitly draw connections between their convictions about peace-building and the domains of public health and community development.

With this conceptual framework in place, the authors proceed to examine six sectors of U.S. society, devoting one chapter each to education, health, faith communities, media, community-based organizations and the public. Each chapter strives to show how each sector can contribute to peace at the community level. The authors demonstrate their commitment to practical application by concluding each chapter with reflection questions “written specifically for application in a local community. The best way to use this book is to work collaboratively” (27).

Each of the “sector” chapters opens with a vignette drawn from the authors’ professional experiences. These vignettes locate the impact of violence prevention and peace-building at a personal, micro level. A critique of systemic and structural issues present in the specific sector follows. The heart of each chapter consists of peace-building recommendations framed as broad goals with specific, achievable, quantifiable objectives. Interspersed throughout are program and practice examples illustrating successful implementation. Some case examples are drawn from the authors’ experiences and observations while others are drawn from secondary sources, yielding both U.S and international examples.

The authors emphasize that peace-building must be pursued holistically. Their recommendations address individual, systemic-structural and political-legislative changes. The authors’ primary purpose is to bring the conversation about peace-building into readers’ local communities, and to invite readers to explore possible applications. Reflective questions included with each chapter encourage such exploration.

The concluding chapter, “If You Want Peace, Work for Justice,” presents community organizing strategies and tools. Here the authors again condense many ideas into a few short pages. Those already familiar with community development strategies will find a useful reminder and overview; those less familiar with this body of knowledge will likely need supplemental reading to fully grasp the complexities of community organizing, before actually “doing” the work.

Yoder Holsopple, Krall and Weaver Pittman intend to provide a practical guide to people and communities endeavoring to build peace right where they are. Every book requires compromise. In this instance the authors chose to keep the book accessible, reader-friendly, application-focused and fairly brief (109 pages) by summarizing vast amounts of theory into short introductory sections at the beginning of each chapter. When the reader is familiar with the concepts, this works well. But without a working knowledge of the constructs, a reader will likely need to independently unpack the ideas (perhaps with the assistance of additional sources) to be able to follow along.

The authors are well-versed in the theoretical literature in which they ground their applications. All references are cited by chapter at the end of the book. The authors chose not to use in-text citations, perhaps to appeal to a broader audience. Some academics may find this disconcerting.

As the authors note, “We are writing this book for people who want to create a culture of peace in their own settings. Our intention is to provide ideas that are practical and possible” (14). In this, they succeed.



Writing the Amish: The Worlds of John A. Hostetler. Edited by David Weaver-Zercher. University Park, Pa.: Penn State University Press. 2005. Pp. 351. $34.95.

Prior to his retirement in Goshen, Indiana, John A. Hostetler and his family lived in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania. Willow Grove was some twenty miles from the church that he attended in Blooming Glen-a safe distance from the larger Mennonite community, yet not in the city of Philadelphia where he taught at Temple University. Hostetler often placed himself in this sort of intermediate zone between worlds. In many ways he lived between the world of scholarship and the world of the church, between the world of the Old Order Amish and their more progressive cousins the Mennonites, and between the world of the analyst who describes a culture and the world of the activist who is determined to preserve it. And although he was trained as a sociologist, he was nearly always professionally identified, in his later life, as an anthropologist. Hostetler moved back and forth between worlds and often seemed to occupy a position that was never completely in any one.

This insightful and important book, which captures the life of a complex man, opens with a series of chapters by a daughter, colleagues and other scholars who have carefully followed the development of his career and influence. In her foreword, Ann Hostetler describes a man who was a devoted father, passionate about the world of ideas and committed to portraying the people he described in his work as accurately as possible. She characterizes her father as a cultural arbiter, standing between the Amish and larger society that both tried to understand the Amish and encroach upon their lives through commercial exploitation.

In an autobiographical piece (written with the help of Susan Fisher Miller), Hostetler summarizes major influences in his life, including the painful story of his father Joseph Hostetler’s excommunication from the Amish church in the Big Valley of Mifflin County, Pennsylvania. This tragic story is rife with internal Amish politics and strained personal relationships. In the next essay, a former Hostetler student and colleague, Donald B. Kraybill, describes his relationship with Hostetler at Temple and, later, as a peer in the field of Amish studies. He traces the trajectory of Hostetler’s theoretical arguments as they evolved in Hostetler’s writing over the course of his life, culminating in a creative use of Edward T. Hall’s ideas, by which Hostetler developed the notion of a uniquely Amish form of “silent discourse.” This conceptual breakthrough, according to Kraybill, is Hostetler’s most “creative, original and perceptive foray into Amish culture.”

Simon Bronner then describes Hostetler as a participant observer in two societies and makes the case that he had a special liminal location between societies. This position enabled him not only to describe the “little community” of the Amish, but also to offer a critique, based on direct experience, of what has been lost in the larger society with the probable disappearance of the folk society. In the last chapter in Part One, David Weaver-Zercher offers a carefully nuanced description of Hostetler’s “man in the middle” status. John A. Hostetler was a Mennonite, a scholar, a gatekeeper and an advocate. He patiently responded to many, many requests for information about the Amish and ways to gain access to them. Weaver-Zercher observes that Hostetler could make or break a fledgling scholar’s attempt to begin a research project, particularly in his role as expert referent to foundations and government programs for grant applicants. It is in the role of advocate that the complexity of the life of John A. Hostetler is most poignant. For example, Hostetler had to reconcile within himself the need for an authentic, well-made film about the Amish (eventually produced as A People of Preservation) with his awareness of the Amish preference not to be photographed. He also knew that his association with a film could jeopardize his relationship with Amish friends and relatives. Yet he went ahead, albeit with conversation with Amish leaders along the way, and acted as consultant for the film project. Weaver-Zercher concludes the chapter with a summary of the political role that Hostetler played in both the Supreme Court case that legitimated Amish schools in 1972, and in his attempt to stop the production of a Hollywood Amish film, Witness, in the early 1980s. In both cases he used the constitutional frame of religious liberty to argue for the right of the Amish to live unmolested in accordance with their beliefs. Wandering far from his Amish roots, Hostetler entered the world of power politics to advocate for the Amish. While few people contested his motives in battling for Amish private schools, some questioned his opposition to Witness, particularly his occasional implied role as the public spokesperson for the Amish.

The second half of the book is a selection of Hostetler’s articles drawn from the course of his career, and which editor Weaver-Zercher suggests best represent Hostetler’s role as scholar-mediator of Amish life. The first entry (the only work that has not been previously published) is a letter written in 1944 by the young John Hostetler to Amish bishops in Iowa, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Ohio, stating that he could not support the strict application of shunning in the form of a lifelong ban. In the letter, Hostetler accepts the traditional Amish rationale for shunning: discipline is an act of grace, an attempt to press the wayward sinner to change his or her life in order to regain a right relationship with God and the church. But he goes on to argue that if a person is truly repentant and joins another (non-Amish) church, the Amish should lift the ban and recognize such persons as devout Christians, despite their belonging to other denominations. As Weaver-Zercher points out, the appeal was based on theological principles, but Hostetler surely had his father’s painful history in mind as he wrote the letter. Once again, John A. Hostetler was playing multiple roles: an outsider speaking to his people, and mediator between his father, a former Amish man, and the community of his birth.

In each of the subsequent essays by Hostetler, his dual role of insider/outsider, as well as his role of mediator, is clear. These essays include public addresses at academic conferences, articles in Mennonite periodicals, scholarly journal articles and book chapters. In each one Hostetler provides the reader with insights-his special insights-about Amish culture. At times he is purely interpreter, but often he is also social critic, suggesting to the larger society that there is something amiss in the world that the Amish understand, and that if one only pays careful attention to the culture of Old Order society perhaps lessons can be learned about how to make the wider world a better place.

Goshen College THOMAS J. MEYERS


Anabaptists Meeting Muslims: A Calling for Presence in the Way of Christ. James R. Krabill, David W. Shenk and Linford Stutzman, eds. Scottdale, Pa., and Waterloo, Ont.: Herald Press. 2005. Pp. 566. $24.99, U.S.; $31.29, Can.

In October 2003 more than 200 people attended an “Anabaptist Consultation on Islam” at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. As the preface states: “Sponsored by the Mennonite Mission Network, Eastern Mennonite Missions, and the John S. Coffman Center of Eastern Mennonite Seminary, representatives from some fifteen agencies or church communities made presentations” (21). The consultation brought these presentations into the same space without trying to “homogenize” the results. Rather, participants joined in the plenary sessions and in fifteen seminars on “core concerns that engage Mennonites as they meet Muslims.”

A summary of this event within the confines of this review may be impossible. The preface states it best (22-23): The first section describes “The Big Picture”-“major themes that provide foundational understandings”; the next section gives “Learnings and Visions”-regional reports and stories, with resulting insights; the third section explores fifteen foci in “Issues and Themes,” ranging from “Reconciliation and Justice” to “Apologetics”; and the final section is a “Wrap Up” (“Here we attempt to hear questions that Muslims ask Mennonites and all Christians, and we ponder our response as Anabaptists to those questions”). The book closes with helpful appendices, including a bibliography, by James Krabill, of Mennonite writings on Anabaptism and Islam.

I content myself with two broad observations affirming the excellence of this volume. The first is to express gratitude for the quality of the procedures and of the editors. Krabill, Shenk and Stutzman are excellent guides, both by virtue of their own experience, study and writing, and by virtue of their standing within the Mennonite community. They bring expertise and clarity to the task of editing the volume as a whole.

The second is to marvel at the breadth of experience recorded in the book. One finds the testimonies of Ali Emmanuel and of Yakuta Abdo (459ff), stories that inspire and challenge our North American categories in equal measure. One finds a quite different story in Somalia (although next door to Ethiopia, the home of Yakuta Abdo). I note especially the decision of Mennonites to remain in Somalia after a Mennonite missionary was assassinated, and their decision to teach Islam in Mennonite schools (238). This radical practice of Christian presence, similar to the work that Christian Peacemaker Teams pursues, challenges missionary categories.

Quite different are the two essays on apologetics. The first (Abd el Rab and Adana Abd el Rab, 361) recommends developing relationships of trust and respect within which to address apologetic concerns. The second (Jay Smith, 370) argues for the use of confrontation and debate to present the true Gospel as against the teachings of Islam. The first essay fits with the theology of presence practiced in Somalia, Ethiopia and Palestine, while the second has been developed in the streets and universities of London, especially at Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park. These diverse approaches serve to illustrate the way that apparent differences are often a matter of context. In some contexts relationships must be primary, almost to the exclusion of any proclamation. But equally, activity in the university or on the street must begin before it is possible to build the kind of relationships the first essay envisions. Many of the objections we give to the sort of confrontation Smith suggests fail to see the importance of context in determining appropriate method.

In the “Big Picture” section one finds also a great deal of illumination. As one expects, essays by Woodberry, Bonk, Shenk and Sanneh (among others) lay the groundwork well. I appreciated so simple a thing as John Lapp’s brief outline of history by way of a chart entitled “Some Significant Moments” (113). These essays reaffirm the essential value of the total volume introducing the larger subject of Anabaptist interaction with Islam comprehensively. It surveys specific countries and regions helpfully, and it addresses pertinent issues that arise in the stories of the regions and people.

At the same time, one might say that this comprehensiveness is one of the volume’s few defects. The country-by-country survey helps to give an idea of the spread of Mennonite missions; but it is hard to absorb so much data. And knowing that one is only skating on the surface of the data does not help! This factor is, however, unavoidable in a project of this magnitude.

The other limitation I mention also derives from the size of the task. Many discussions are begun here-the relationship between confrontation and presence (noted above); the ways that Mennonites and Muslims deal with issues of peace and justice; the place of women in Islam and Christianity; the common desire among Christians and Muslims to see God’s reign come fully in this world. But one can only begin these discussions in so brief a consultation. More significant than the consultation are the initiatives that preceded it. More significant also is what we do from here on. This volume is the best possible introduction and spur to further activity. I recommend it highly within the church, the college and the seminary for all of us who seek to follow Jesus Christ faithfully in this world.

Providence Theological Seminary DARYL CLIMENHAGA


Becoming Anabaptist: The Origin and Significance of Sixteenth-Century Anabaptism. 2d. ed. By J. Denny Weaver. Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 2005. Pp. 273. $15.99, U.S.; $19.99, Can.

The first edition of Becoming Anabaptist (1987) sought to synthesize current scholarship on sixteenth-century Anabaptism into a readable narrative and to present from that history a call to contemporary faithfulness. This second edition gives new and extended attention to that second goal. Chapters 1-4, which narrate Anabaptist beginnings in Switzerland, South Germany, Moravia and the Low Countries, are only lightly revised from 1987, but now incorporate material on links between Anabaptists in various regions so as to move the story beyond polygenesis. In contrast, chapter 5, entitled “The Meaning of Anabaptism,” consists of almost entirely new material and is greatly expanded (now sixty-one pages). In this chapter Weaver argues that Anabaptism “was a new way to be the church within a particular sociopolitical context,” a way defined and discerned by “a continual looping back to the narrative of Jesus,” which provides “the authoritative source of truth” (170, 174, 177). Weaver then describes implications of this ongoing, Jesus-centered “recovery or restitution” and supplies contemporary examples organized around themes of discipleship, community, pacifism, atonement theology and pedagogy. Along the way he draws especially on the work of John Howard Yoder, Gerald Biesecker-Mast, Walter Wink, Glen Stassen and Neal Blough. Finally, a new nine-page appendix details the theological interpretation behind the book’s argument, stressing “distinctions and contrasts rather than commonalities between an Anabaptist perspective and the established churches of Christendom.”


Land of Revelation: A Reconciling Presence in Israel. By Roy H. Kreider. Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press. 2004. Pp. 376. $19.99, U.S.; $27.99, Can.

In 1953 Mennonite Board of Missions broke with conventional mission assumptions of the day and sent Roy and Florence (Cressman) Kreider to Israel with no particular assignment other than being a Christian presence. The Kreiders were not expected to initiate a new Mennonite church, but were to support existing Christian communities. In this memoir, Kreider recounts stories from the couple’s thirty-two years in Israel. The forty-six brief chapters intersperse firsthand accounts of historic and traumatic events, such as the Yom Kippur War, with personal reflections and discussion of ministry opportunities and surprises-especially those related to work with the Messianic movement (i.e., Jewish-Christian believers), which became a focus of the Kreiders’ relational ministry. Also important was work in peace and reconciliation between these Messianic believers and Arab Christians. In the book’s foreword, Wilbert R. Shenk sets out eleven missiological themes and insights that emerge from Kreider’s stories. These include the centrality of cultural context, the significant ministry of “suffering with” others, the importance of respectful dialogue and the need for mission to be adaptive.


Opening the Bible: Essays by Howard Charles. J. Robert Charles, ed. Elkhart, Ind.: Institute of Mennonite Studies; co-published with Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press. 2005. Pp. 290. $18, U.S.; $22.79, Can.

From 1950 to 1984, Howard H. Charles (1915-2002), who was a professor of New Testament at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, penned some 400 essays on the Bible and biblical theology as background material to aid adult Sunday school teachers. These pieces appeared in Builder, a quarterly teacher resource published by Mennonite Publishing House, and shaped the theology of countless Mennonites who otherwise had little or no formal theological training. Opening the Bible, edited by Charles’s son, Robert, makes available fifty of these essays from among those written after 1970. The contents are grouped in three sections: twelve essays on general themes (e.g., “Biblical Perspectives on Healing”), eight on Old Testament themes (e.g., “The Conquest and the Problem of Violence”) and thirty on New Testament themes (e.g., “Paul, Citizen of Four Worlds”). In the foreword, Willard Swartley describes the essays, which were known for their accessibility, as “arguably the most outstanding contribution a Mennonite professor has made to the life of [the] church.”


Changing Lenses: A New Focus for Crime and Justice. 3d. edition. By Howard Zehr. Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press. 2005. Pp. 292. $15.99, U.S.; $19.99, Can.

First published in 1990, Howard Zehr’s exposition of restorative justice was one of the first books to present the concept and practice as an alternative to the retributive justice model assumed by Western judicial systems. Zehr, who is a professor of sociology and co-director of the Conflict Transformation Program at Eastern Mennonite University, explains in this third edition of the book that “because my horizons have expanded rather than developed in different directions, I have made no changes in the text [from the 1995 second edition].” Instead, Zehr has added a lengthy new afterword and a new nine-page bibliographic essay highlighting recent and foundational works. In the afterword, Zehr details six themes he would address, or address more thoroughly, were he writing the book today. These themes include community representation and stakeholder issues; the psychology of criminal shame; the significance of the values of respect, humility and wonder that undergird restorative justice; and examples of new practices, such as defense based victim outreach. Zehr also discusses the “commonalities and mutual interests” between restorative and retributive justice models.

– Noted by Steven M. Nolt

Taira Kuratsuka Retires from Scholarship


Since 2002 Dr. Taira Kuratsuka, professor emeritus of Meiji University, Tokyo, has been retired from scholarship. He has been a good friend to scholars of the German Reformation in Europe and North America, particularly Werner Packull and me, for whom he facilitated academic exchanges with his university. We are taking this opportunity to express our appreciation of his scholarly career.

Kuratsuka received his higher education at the University of Tokyo in the 1950s, specializing in political studies. In 1967-1969 he received an Alexander von Humboldt fellowship to study with Robert Stupperich at the University of Mnster. In 1971 he translated Stupperich’s biography of Philipp Melanchthon into Japanese. In the following year he was chief editor of a book in Japanese on the radical wing of the Reformation (Tokyo, 1972). Always a public scholar concerned with the political and social impact of his scholarship, Kuratsuka worked with South Korean Christians in the 1980s in opposing militarism and advocating democracy, bringing the plight of political prisoners such as Kim Dae-jung, who later became the president of the Republic of Korea, to the attention of the world. His more recent scholarship focused on “utopian” facets of Anabaptism, specifically the Anabaptist regime in Mnster, 1534-1535, and the Hutterian Brethren. In 1985 Kuratsuka published an important article on the relationship of Mnster political elites and Anabaptists (“Gesamtgilde und Tufer”) in the Archiv fr Reformationsgeschichte. His “The Decline of Hutterite Community of Goods” appeared in English as the lead chapter in Radical Reformation Studies (Ashgate, 1999), edited by Werner O. Packull and Geoffrey L. Dipple. Most recently, he has translated into Japanese Heinrich Gresbeck’s Summarische Ertzelungk und Bericht der Wederdope, the most reliable account of what transpired during the Anabaptist regime in Mnster.

Always interested in religious utopian communities, Kuratsuka visited the Oneida Community in New York and a Hutterite community in Minnesota in a trip to North America in 1997.

Taira Kuratsuka has been a generous and stimulating friend to the community of Anabaptist-Mennonite scholars.

[1]. For example, his critique of John H. Yoder as overemphasizing the social dimensions of some of the “sacramental” practices of the church seems to ignore the context and purpose of some of Yoder’s writing on this subject.
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[2]. Finger’s use of primary historical sources appears to be more nuanced than his use of secondary sources on this point. He draws, for example, on the work of historians Werner Packull, Kenneth Davis and Alvin Beachy on the topic of “divinization” in Anabaptist thought without noting the different disciplines, and therefore assumptions, that mark each of their work. Davis-following in the path of Harold S. Bender, whose work was confessional, that is, done on behalf of the church-tends to read the historical material with a particular ecclesial eye. Packull, a Lutheran historian, on the other hand, is especially sensitive to how a confessional approach can be a mantle for being insufficiently critical in reading evidence. And Beachy, a Mennonite historian educated in systematic theology, brings a concern for theological coherence to the data. Finger weaves together their commentary without providing readers with perspective that might help them understand and weigh these voices.
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[3]. Finger is careful to note that the Anabaptists never saw this process as erasing the line between humans and God, an issue that the Orthodox did have to struggle with (e.g., does divinization make us participants in the inner being of God’).
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