July 2007 Book Reviews


Reading Ritual: Leviticus in Postmodern Culture. By Wesley J. Bergen. J.S.O.T. Supplement 417. Playing the Texts 9. London: T&T Clark. 2005. Pp. 140. $120.

In the seven chapters of his book, Wesley Bergen, an ordained Mennonite minister, discusses the underappreciated book of Leviticus, focusing on chapters 1-7 and its violent sacrificial rituals. Instead of trying to situate the book in the ancient context of Israelite religious practice, Bergen is concerned with its modern relevancy and use in the contemporary Christian church. In his introductory chapter, Bergen presents the category of ritual as a key to assessing the significance of sacrifice for contemporary theology in a postmodern culture. He believes that North Americans are able to read Leviticus only by analogy, given their cultural distance from its worldview. Thus, in three chapters, Bergen draws on practices in contemporary society that he views as examples of ritual: working in factories and eating in the fast food industry, watching Monday Night Football and sacrificing oneself in war (especially in the current situation in Iraq and particularly for the American military). In another chapter, Bergen contrasts the stereotypical understanding of Leviticus in North America with common interpretations advocated by scholars in African societies. Bergen contends that the similarities between the worldviews of the biblical text and contemporary African culture serve to illuminate even further the differences between the text and contemporary North American readings of it.

His extensive sixth chapter addresses the use of Leviticus 1-7-or better, the sacrificial system and language that it reflects-in the church, beginning briefly with the Old Testament Psalms and Prophets, continuing through the Gospels on Jesus (and especially his death on the cross), the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 C.E., the separation from Judaism, the practice of the Eucharist, the book of Hebrews, the suffering of early believers, the view of sacrifice held by the Church Fathers and subsequent centuries of Christian theology, and the equation of death in battle as a type of sacrifice (and even as a Christian virtue). This chapter concludes with a discussion of modern theological readings of atonement through sacrificial death with particular focus on the response of those, from a wide range of backgrounds, who advocate the position of nonviolent atonement.

The final chapter of the book consists of a running commentary on Leviticus 7 and the sacrificial system of atonement presented in that single chapter in the form of three voices taken up by the author as a type of introspective autobiographical reflection, which he labels as: the scholar, the pastor and the poet. Thus, Bergen presents three dynamic readings of the same text by the same person but beginning from different concerns, questions and priorities that are constructed in dialogue with one another.

Bergen communicates his major points well and usually in nontechnical language that is readily accessible to a wide readership. The chapters on sacrifice in Africa, in American society (especially in its military associations) and in the church are perhaps both the most scholarly and the most interesting. On the whole, the conclusions are supported by the evidence presented. The chapter “Animal Sacrifice Today” provides an entry point into the notion of ritual that Bergen is attempting to define and use in his study, but in some ways would be better placed after the chapter on Monday Night Football. This creative chapter portrays a (common’) ritual activity that bears directly on Bergen’s unique reading of Leviticus; in my opinion, his analogy in this chapter is much stronger and more effective than the ones more briefly outlined in the previous chapter.

Bergen’s work emphasizes the role of social location in the process of interpretation. Bergen significantly challenges the reader to reevaluate the context and presuppositions that shape the way one comes to the biblical text. Bergen demonstrates that ritual is not absent in contemporary American society, but only relocated; that the language of sacrifice in the Bible has been appropriated by the military in ways not supported by the Bible itself; and that the common Christian responses to the atonement, to texts like Leviticus and to sacrifice in general all need deeper reflection and discussion in the church.

While the book’s cost will limit the number of buyers, the issues it raises are relevant to a wide audience. Bergen has made a biblical text and a concept that are too quickly neglected or allegorized by Christians worth pondering once again.

Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary STEVEN J. SCHWEITZER


Radical Protestantism in Spinoza’s Thought. By Graeme Hunter. Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate. 2005. Pp. 296. $90.

In the early Dutch Enlightenment during the seventeenth century, several Mennonites, as well as members of other religious nonconformist groups, eagerly participated in the cultural, intellectual and economic flowering. One of the most famous of the participants, Benedict Spinoza, who was also one of the most vilified religious philosophers of the Enlightenment, was a close companion to several Dutch Mennonites. Spinoza’s written corpus was edited, translated and published by Mennonites who formed part of his inner circle of friends both before and after he was excommunicated from the Amsterdam synagogue in 1657. Despite an immediate consensus among Christian officialdom that Spinoza was a pantheist and modern destroyer of revealed religion, other Christians who were swept up in the excitement of rationalist philosophy argued that Spinoza’s thought was not antithetical to Christian faith. Indeed, over the centuries, some writers have argued that Spinoza’s thought complements and concurs with revelation. Graeme Hunter considers such arguments made to date to have been weakly constructed and “diffident” (4). In Radical Protestantism in Spinoza’s Thought, he intends to frame a more convincing case.

Rather than examine Spinoza’s connection to the so-called “radical Protestant” community around him, Hunter seeks to demonstrate that Spinoza, although not formally considered a Christian, developed and promoted his own alternative view of religion, which Hunter considers a form of radical Protestantism. Hunter can only admit that Spinoza found contemporary radical Protestants “congenial to his own thinking” (46). Although the book is aptly titled given the author’s purpose, the term “radical Protestantism” begs more clarification. Far from trying to prove that contemporary Christians loosely known as “radical Protestants” (including Mennonites, Quakers, Collegiants, Remonstrants and Socianian-Unitarians) actually influenced Spinoza, Hunter makes little effort to show how Spinoza came to hold such “radical Protestant” views within the context where he interacted with such radical Protestant groups. Believing that Spinoza’s religious views can be traced to an era in seventeenth-century Holland called the “second-Reformation,” Hunter credits the group of Christians who later formed Spinoza’s primary social community as having “warmly received” him and influenced his “intimacy with the New Testament” (38), which Hunter believes Spinoza held as a normative text for his own beliefs. At times it appears that by “radical” Hunter means the original intention of reformers like Calvin and Luther (76, 86, 103), despite the historical anachronism of implying that either Luther or Calvin were radical reformers. At other times it appears that Hunter means more commonly the idea of bringing Christianity back to its roots.

The content of Spinoza’s radical Protestantism, as Hunter defines it, consists of a single principle and seven dogmas that derive from and expound that principle, which Hunter calls the “Obedience Axiom.” Lacking evidence of Spinoza’s baptism, Hunter resists calling him a Christian, but remains nevertheless confident in speaking of Spinoza’s “Christianity” as compatible with imitatio Christi (83), and writes of “the entire Christian theology” (143) of “the Protestant Spinoza,” a “radical theologian” (182) who was seeking to “establish a version of the Christian faith that would bring Christians together, rather than divide them” (65).

In the first of three sections, Hunter deals with the context in which Spinoza lived, and here he is entirely dependent on secondary literature, making no use of original Dutch sources. This overview is helpful for Hunter’s argument by showing which biographical factors could present plausible evidence for understanding Spinoza’s eventual move toward radical Protestant positions.

Next Hunter describes what he regards as Spinoza’s Christian philosophy, and, in the third section, he reconsiders Ethics in light of his assessment of what he believes was Spinoza’s own position on certain issues, as found in the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, a work that he argues is far more theological than political (69f). Hunter’s reading of the work constitutes what he believes is the clearest expression of Spinoza’s radical Protestantism. Hunter does not reduce the thought of Spinoza to these religious elements; rather, he presents Spinoza as a radical reformer of both Christianity in its doctrinal sense and Christendom in its political sense without arguing that this religious character is the exclusive or even main constitutive element of his overall thought.

The major hurdle Hunter faces in arguing that Spinoza believed in a form of Christianity is that significant divergences can be found when comparing elements of Ethics and Tractatus Theologico-Politicus. The tendency to favor Ethics is an “unconscious and uncritical bias” of Spinoza scholars (141), who read an anti-Christian agenda into Spinoza’s writings, supposedly revealing his hidden intention-namely, his atheism, as later generations would read him (3). Hunter argues, however, that in order to read these works as being inconsistent at all, one needs to employ a hermeneutic of duplicity. That is, scholars who believe one must choose between Ethics and Tractatus Theologico-Politicus positions merely begin with a bias toward viewing Ethics as Spinoza’s personal view, and consider Tractatus Theologico-Politicus to have been written for a completely different audience and purpose. Hunter argues that Spinoza himself indicated that Tractatus Theologico-Politicus is the key and Ethics the code, that Tractatus Theologico-Politicus was written “to pave the way” for Ethics (124-126). Hunter’s own hermeneutic is that except when employing literary devices Spinoza “ought to be supposed to mean what he writes” (6). While recognizing that there are several points that argue against reading the two works as congenial, Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, as Spinoza’s version of radical Protestantism, is “consistent with the philosophical positions taken in the Ethics” (182). Concerning the application of Spinoza’s doctrinal views to his politics, Spinoza also wanted his version of Christianity to “be the official religion of a progressive modern state” (183), and it “would indeed have ended the hostility in the Church” (112). In demonstrating what Hunter calls the “logical compatibility” of Tractatus Theologico-Politicus and Ethics, he presents the “radical Protestant outlook” of Tractatus Theologico-Politicus as being in line with Ethics (146). This is indeed a very different picture of Spinoza than previously presented.

Whether Hunter succeeds in demonstrating that Ethics and Tractatus Theologico-Politicus can be read without attributing any contradiction to Spinoza is not entirely clear. Hunter’s reading of the two texts still does not provide a completely adequate account of how the two works can cohere as Spinoza’s own consistent thought; some of the old, vexing questions remain unresolved for this reviewer. It will remain the task of scholarship to test Hunter’s arguments and textual analysis. It is a clearly a provocative treatment of some difficult issues contained in Spinoza’s thought, which merit further discussion among those who take seriously Spinoza’s attempt to express ideas truthfully.

Toronto School of Theology JONATHAN SEILING


John Howard Yoder: Mennonite Patience, Evangelical Witness, Catholic Convictions. By Mark Thiessen Nation. Foreword by Stanley Hauerwas. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 2006. Pp. 211. $20.

Drawing upon both published and unpublished materials, Mark Thiessen Nation has written an indispensable introduction to the theology of John Howard Yoder. Written with such careful attention to Yoder’s thought, it also provides seasoned students of Yoder with insight perhaps otherwise unavailable.

Nation begins with a full chapter dedicated to Yoder’s Mennonite heritage. For those who are not Mennonite this chapter is helpful in tracing Yoder’s lineage of faith and practice, explaining some of the particularities of American Mennonite life. And yet Nation is concerned throughout the book that we see Yoder’s Mennonitism not as mere historical curiosity.

That is, the historical concerns of “Anabaptism” remained part and parcel of Yoder’s theological corpus, an observation that constitutes the subject of chapter 2. Therein Nation maintains: “One could argue that John Howard Yoder’s entire academic career was committed to communicating in broadly Christian terms what he learned through his studies of sixteenth-century Anabaptism in the 1950’s in Europe” (31). This historical study became the focus for Yoder’s writings in Concern, and highlighted themes dominant in Yoder’s subsequent work: the call to discipleship; the local congregation as primary locus of discernment and authority; the authority of the Bible in the church; distinguishing “church” from “world”; and the church as missionary, Spirit-led and ecumenical (45-46). In these first two chapters, Nation also spends significant space describing some of the inner-denominational dynamic surrounding Yoder’s work, such as Yoder’s continuity and discontinuity with his teachers Guy F. Hershberger and Harold S. Bender, as well as John D. Roth’s critique. Nation does so-from an outsider’s perspective at least-with what seems to be respectful tact and empathy.

Quite aware of the charges of “sectarianism” often leveled at believers’ church theologies, Nation is at pains to make clear that Yoder’s ecumenical work on behalf of the church catholic is not in spite of his commitment to an Anabaptist hermeneutic, but precisely because of this hermeneutic. Thus chapter 3 delineates the manner in which Yoder took seriously the unity of the church, a unity that cannot be manufactured, for it is a unity that is given, and that therefore demands our obedience. Nation notes that the only subject that occupied more of Yoder’s efforts was that of peacemaking: and even his work on peacemaking “was often quite consciously affected by his commitment to ecumenism” (77). In this third chapter, the reader begins to see most clearly Nation’s hermeneutical rubric. “Mennonite patience, evangelical witness, [and] catholic convictions” serves both as the subtitle and subtext running throughout the book.

Chapter 4 provides careful exposition of The Politics of Jesus, as well as a number of Yoder’s subsequent and related writings on nonviolence, peacemaking and social ethics. Reminding us that Yoder’s pacifism is not an “issue,” but part and parcel of traditional christological commitments, Nation again shows how the particularities of Yoder’s thought fueled his passions regarding these matters. Worthy of note is Nation’s observation that it was Yoder’s “Mennonite patience” that required him to take seriously not only those who articulated an understanding of pacifism that Yoder found wanting, but also the just war adherents with whom he so fundamentally disagreed.

Nation begins chapter 5-“Yoder on Christian Responsibility”-with a frank admission that it is “perhaps a surprising subject for an entire chapter” since Yoder was often understood as discounting “responsibility” (145). Yet those of us who have been influenced by Yoder and who subsequently, in our own ecclesiological and academic contexts outside the “peace churches” tradition, have taught others what we have learned from Yoder, are not surprised at such a chapter. Nation sometimes seems frustrated that there should be a need for such a lengthy discussion of the topic (“I was taken aback when . . .” [147]). But this need, of course, comes from the fact that so many have continued to read Yoder through a preconceived grid that leads them to conclude, along the lines of H. Richard Niebuhr’s old typology, that Yoder must mean we should “withdraw” from “responsibility.” Nation rightly points us to numerous instances in which Yoder insists that we must redefine the questions and redefine the terms. The question is not whether we should be “responsible.” Of course we should. The question is, among other things, what we assume “responsibility” entails. It is unfortunate, as Nation rightly sees, that so many have read and discounted The Politics of Jesus for reasons they assume Yoder did not address. But most of those objections he addressed very early in his career, particularly in Christian Witness to the State, which Nation gives needed and necessary attention.

Given the sheer volume of Yoder’s corpus, Nation had to be selective in addressing topics and materials. Within his chosen trajectory, however, it might have been appropriate to provide more explicit discussion of Body Politics, or the manner in which the ecclesiological practices described therein become, by analogy, social practices that Yoder describes as the church’s gift to the still-unbelieving world in For the Nations. That being said, Nation does consider at several points how Barth’s discussion of the church as social analogy influenced Yoder’s thought. On this note, Nation might have commented upon the degree to which Yoder saw (or not) his work as standing in some tension with-or perhaps better put, playing in a different key than-that of Stanley Hauerwas, whom Nation cites throughout the book. And if there is a difference, how much of it is due to Yoder’s “Mennonite patience,” as opposed to Hauerwas’s position as a recovering Protestant liberal?

There will undoubtedly be many more books on Yoder to plow such ground. Nation’s work fits delightfully alongside my favorite secondary sources on Yoder: Michael Cartwright’s introductory essay in Yoder’s Royal Priesthood; Richard Hays’s treatment of Yoder in Moral Vision of the New Testament; Jim McClendon’s chapter on “Resurrection Ethics” in his volume entitled Ethics; and Craig Carter’s The Politics of the Cross. Nation’s work complements these other works.

An unsympathetic reader might accuse Nation of indulging in hagiography, for example, in his multiple uses of the word “brilliant” in describing Yoder (122, 124, 197). Nation is most forthright in his deep admiration for Yoder in the concluding section, where a brief catalog of potential criticisms and shortcomings of Yoder’s work is qualified in this way: “It is precisely because of my admiration for Yoder that I would like for him to have developed his thought further in the ways I have suggested” (199). Then again-speaking, I think, not only for myself, but for those of us who knew him, studied under him and read him-Yoder was, as a matter of fact, brilliant. Thus we are indebted to Nation for his contribution; his extensive knowledge both of Yoder’s writings and Yoder’s life results in a book pointing us to Yoder’s gifts given in service both to academy and church.

Lipscomb University LEE C. CAMP


Strange and Wonderful Paths: The Memoirs of Ralph Lebold. By Ralph Lebold. Kitchener, Ont.: Pandora Press. 2006. $23.50, U.S.; $26, Can.

Between Worlds: Reflections of a Soviet-born Canadian Mennonite. By Harry Loewen. Kitchener, Ont.: Pandora Press. 2006. $31.50, U.S.; $35, Can.

These books are the most recent publications in the Mennonite Reflections series of Pandora Press in Kitchener, Ontario. The series is dedicated to the Mennonite experience, and both books are autobiographies of prominent Canadian Mennonites who are still making significant contributions within their respective communities.

In reading these books one can easily draw parallels and contrasts. Both men contributed significantly to the life, thought and practice of Canadian Mennonites, but on quite different paths. Both were involved within their respective Mennonite conferences, though again in quite different ways. Both were educators, but in distinct fields of research and practice.

Easily the single largest contrast between these two books is aptly stated by the title of Harry Loewen’s book, Between Worlds. The world Harry Loewen was born into and raised in-survived is perhaps more appropriate-could hardly be more different than the world of Ralph Lebold. Loewen experienced the crucible of Stalin’s Soviet Union and dramatically relates how he spent a good portion of his early life within the specter of famine, fear and flight as a refugee from his ancestral home in Ukraine. He thought himself a German initially, and knew almost nothing of his Mennonite heritage until much later. Lebold, on the other hand, grew up within the relative tranquility and self-awareness of an Amish Mennonite community in southern Ontario. While he experienced difficult times, such as the death of a brother, the struggle to make a living during and after the Great Depression, and, toward the end of his career, his ongoing battle with cancer, all along he relates these experiences within the context of a stable Mennonite environment in Canada.

Lebold grew up within the church. Almost from the beginning he wished to become a dedicated servant-leader of the church. As he notes, throughout his years as pastor, teacher and college administrator, servant leadership meant he was to be a servant first, and then lead by inspiring and energizing. This form of leadership, he says, builds trust. It is not about manipulation or coercing, but rather about carrying and embodying a vision. It was this approach and style of leadership that thrust him into the forefront of pastoral and leadership education within his conference and later into clinical pastoral education. And, following years of turmoil and fractious relations at Conrad Grebel College, Lebold was chosen to be the president of the college where he was able to restore stability. Throughout his career his leadership style, his solid theological underpinnings and his ability to work with people of vastly different opinions and goals opened a multitude of leadership roles to him. It was this approach, he feels, that thrust him into sensitive circumstances and he became a person who could ably initiate reconciliation where necessary.

Harry Loewen on the other hand encountered struggles of a quite different order. As a poor refugee child and youth with little knowledge of the English language, his assets were his mother’s leadership, training, courage and support (his father was shot to death when he was 7), and his own intellect and persistence. As far as I know he is one among only five of the thousands of post-World War II Mennonite refugees who came to Canada who chose an academic career. (Loewen eventually earned a doctorate in German literature and history). Most of these immigrants, once in Canada, became involved in various trades such as construction and manufacturing. What they have in common is unparalleled success-many became wealthy and contributed to the development not only of the Mennonite community in Canada, but also to the communities and provinces within which they settled. There was something within the immigrant mentality that strove for success and overcoming obstacles.

Both were men of the church. Lebold was born into the Amish Mennonite conference and from his earliest youth would have known the term “Mennonite.” Loewen, while born into a Christian family, lived as a Christian under the shadow of atheism. Therefore, he did not know the term Mennonite or that he was from that tradition. “Mennonite” in the Soviet Union was a religious moniker and therefore not used even within the home. Throughout his early years he thought himself to be German and Christian.

Lebold had a deep abiding love for the church as the people of God serving together in community. Yet within that strong sense of community, he also obtained from his Amish Mennonite upbringing a powerful view of leadership and the necessity thereof. The leadership he knew from his youth came without formal training, and he helped the church to develop more effective theological and pastoral education. The book provides a clear sense of the movement of a Mennonite community toward an embrace of formal leadership education in the last half of the twentieth century.

Both became leaders within their respective Mennonite circles and professors at leading institutions. For Lebold it was largely within the context of the Mennonite Church as pastor, chaplain and conference pastor, and, later, as professor and president at Conrad Grebel College in the area of clinical pastoral education. Loewen, on the other hand, became involved with the Mennonite Brethren Church in Canada and even though moving very quickly into the secular university academic setting, always remained a theological and historical critic and thinker within the church. He remains unafraid to challenge both leadership and institutions when he feels they waver from their Anabaptist-Mennonite foundations.

The leadership of both men was significant. Lebold was more pastoral and Loewen was more academic. Therein also lies a contrast within the biographies. One senses that Lebold encountered difficult issues within congregations and within the church conferences where he worked, but he is circumspect in his writing about such matters. Lebold is the preeminent church leader. He understands and still sees himself as such throughout the writing of this book. He is the peacemaker. Unfortunately he rather briefly passes over issues of conflict. At numerous points one yearns for more details and instructive insights as he acknowledges that he successfully navigated some very troubled waters. The one exception is when he is fairly open regarding the Conrad Grebel College story prior to his becoming president. Even here he is still rather circumspect, but he does leave little doubt as to what he sees as some of the major underlying issues.

Loewen, on the other hand, lays bare his soul. His book is far more engaging in the way he describes his involvements, feelings and thoughts on significant issues. He has a fearless academic courage (perhaps inherited from his mother) to bring his understanding of Anabaptism and Mennonite polity to issues that were relevant to the day and to his community. Throughout these issues, even when he was among but a few leading the charge, he never seems to have lost his commitment to the Anabaptist Mennonite church and its place within the broader Christian church. For him reconciliation implies understanding the issues and openly discussing them, even when potentially painful, to bring a sense of honesty, history and theological understanding to the matter. The reader is never at a loss to understand his position and his evaluation of people he encountered along the way. He is a secular academic with his heart in the church.

Autobiography, it is said, permits us to crawl beneath the skin of the issues of the day in a way that archival documentation never allows. Both books are well worth reading, perhaps side by side, as their contrasting perspectives present the reader with a sense of the broad spectrum of leaders within our Anabaptist Mennonite heritage who have made a significant contribution.

Centre for Mennonite Brethren Studies, Winnipeg KEN REDDIG


Mennonite and Brethren in Christ Churches of New York City. By Richard K. MacMaster. Kitchener, Ont.: Pandora Press. 2006. Pp. 366. $32, U.S.; $35, Can.

Among the many attributes of Mennonites who moved to New York City during the flurry of mission activity in the 1950s and 1960s, courage and trust stand out. One pictures Anna Buckwalter, who arrived wearing a plain dress and covering in 1950 to work at the Fox Street mission church in the Bronx. In time, fires destroyed buildings all around Fox Street, often started by unscrupulous landlords or by drug addicts who were trying to keep warm in rundown apartments. When a fire once damaged a building three doors down, Buckwalter took in an 89-year-old man and his 18-year-old grandson. By 1969, she was the only member of the congregation who actually lived in the neighborhood. With understatement, she wrote, “It is dangerous living here” (198).

Or one thinks of Gene and Martine Shelly, who moved to the South Bronx in 1967, when Gene Shelly became the pastor of Glad Tidings Mennonite Church. There too the scourge of drugs and gangs, the erosion of housing and the simmering of racial tensions created a desperate landscape. In 1972, The New York Times described the South Bronx in this way: “There’s a total breakdown of services, looting is rampant, fires are everywhere” (241). One result was a fleeing of many residents from the neighborhood. The Shellys, however, remained for many years, living with iron bars on their windows to prevent a repeat of early burglaries. In such a place, it was hard to be, as Gene Shelly said, “a healing factor in the community” (250).

Richard MacMaster, who was born in the borough of Queens and received his early training in history at Fordham University in the Bronx, is well suited to present this first comprehensive history of Mennonite and Brethren in Christ churches in New York City. The book is impressive in its scope and attention to detail. MacMaster tells the story chronologically, tracing highlights like the first official Mennonite mission trip and worship service in New York City (both in 1875); the ministry of Ann Allebach, the first woman to be ordained in any Mennonite denomination in North America (1911); the 400 Mennonites from Lancaster County who held a prayer-and-praise service in the Automat restaurant in Manhattan (1934); and Earl Witmer and the Crusaders Quartet, who spread the word using a loudspeaker atop a Studebaker (1949).

Most of the book, though, is devoted to the raising up of churches and programs beginning in the 1950s. MacMaster points out that the early outreach was driven in part by a desire to convert Jews. In 1952, for example, the Jewish Evangelism Committee of Lancaster Conference invited Jacob and Frances Thomas to begin a ministry in Jewish neighborhoods. Despite repeated efforts, though, the church found that most Jews were secure in their faith tradition, uninterested in conversion. Among the few Jews to embrace the Anabaptist faith were Sid and Sue Hyman, who, ironically, sought out the Mennonites unbidden at Glad Tidings.

Readers who are looking for an official history of church missions in New York, replete with numbers of church members, names of the baptized and dates of church plantings, will find this to be an authoritative offering. In using records to ground his research, MacMaster relied on sources like the archives of Eastern Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities, which became Eastern Mennonite Missions, a powerful agent in spreading the Gospel in the city. MacMaster painstakingly traces the evolution of churches across the city, a flowering despite many urban obstacles. Accounts are given in detail. We learn, for example, that Nelson Kauffman, John Smucker, Samuel Miller and Gladys Widmer met with members of First Mennonite Church in Brooklyn in 1960; that Guillermo Torres agreed to serve as a full-time pastor there with a subsidy of $400 from the Mennonite Board of Missions; that by October 1961 the church had fifteen members; that eight more were baptized in 1962.

In general, the book suggests a careful hand in editing. One of the few noticeable errors came in a caption for a photograph of a baptismal service at Camp Deerpark, with Gene Shelly officiating. The caption refers to “the lake” at Camp Deerpark (304). Though often cold enough to match the chill of Lake Superior, the body of water was actually contained in a faded-blue cement pool, continuously fed by a stream. Having committed my life to the church in that pool at age 15 on a chilly October day, I know it was baptism by ice water. Elsewhere, the author situates the Brethren in Christ camp, Brookhaven, in “Wertzboro,” which should be Wurtsboro. While the author and publisher are to be commended for the many photographs included, a reader might wish for higher quality reproduction. Photo credits would also have been welcome.

An editor should have questioned some word choices. For example, in a book that is largely the telling of mission labors by white males, many of whom were clearly capable of being decisive and strong-willed, it’s striking that a woman, Myrna Burkholder, is described as having “a strong personality” in her management of Menno House, a residence for Mennonite students (274). And more than once a dated construction is used to refer to both husband and wife, as in “the Thomas family went with the Clair Shenks to Alabama” (43).

As expansive as the book is, one can’t help but think that this is a history in need of a companion volume, one that would bring to life some of the personalities and the evangelistic derring-do of this mission enterprise. We learn, for example, that Siso Torres, a young man from the South Bronx, became assistant minister at Glad Tidings in 1970, with responsibility for youth programs. But interviews could have yielded a more nuanced portrait of Torres and other Hispanic and black youth who were eager for leadership roles to help shape the church that they likely saw as controlled by Lancaster County churchmen, or their surrogates, who guarded the purse strings. During one church retreat at Camp Deerpark, the exchanges were of such intensity that senior white leaders were brought to tears. Such scenes are missing, and this abridged history is the poorer for that.

In the end, what is one to make of these years of labor? Many of the churches struggled to become self-supporting, and some closed their doors. Good Shepherd Mennonite Church folded in 1986; Glad Tidings followed suit in 1988. For at least one reader, the epilogue, in which the author stepped back to gain evaluative perspective, is too short. In what sense did Mennonite and Brethren in Christ churches find success? In what ways did they fall short? The tendency is to pass judgment by counting up the numbers: of churches started, of members added. Once, speaking of New Life Fellowship in Staten Island, with membership holding below fifty, David Shenk of Eastern Board urged members to pray for growth, since “something begins to happen” when a group numbers eighty or more (312). Earlier, though, he had reflected: “The overall assumptions of Church Growth theory seem to be anchored on the premise that correct missiology will produce church growth. However, is it not true that from a kingdom perspective, faithfulness, not success, is the only valid criterion of authentic mission'” (308). This tension is apparent throughout.

It is tempting to view this era in bold church planting with nostalgia, and feel sadness for its passing. When Mennonite youth head to cities like New York now, it seems more likely that they will do so to advance careers and earn degrees, rather than invest their energies in caring for the worst of neighborhoods. To be sure, one could find self-serving elements in the flow of Mennonite youth to the city in the 1950s and 1960s (a chance for adventure, an opportunity to get off the farm); but there was also a powerful spirit at work, as these young people, in partnership with faithful native New Yorkers, tried to spread Christ’s light in the dimmest of places. Now, as then, that light is sorely needed.



Covenant of Peace: The Missing Peace in New Testament Theology and Ethics. By Willard M. Swartley. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans. 2006. Pp. 550. $34, U.S.; $38.55, Can.

This volume makes an important contribution to New Testament studies and to the study of theologies of peace, justice and reconciliation. Willard Swartley begins with an indictment of scholarship in New Testament theology and ethics for the marginalization of peace and ends the book with an appendix that analyzes the indexes and contents of twenty-five major works supporting his case. He adopts a canonical approach to refute the claim that the concepts of peace are too disparate from one book of the New Testament to another to assign peace a central position in New Testament thought. Swartley’s book-by-book analysis draws attention to significant consistency and a common core of themes-such as imitation of God’s grace rather than judgment, the call to seek reconciliation with enemies and restoration of justice, and a servant rather than warrior Christology-that have been severed from their context in the proclamation of the reign of heaven. Much of the volume contains analysis and arguments that will be familiar to students of the New Testament, but with fresh significance. For example, he shows how a recent focus upon the appropriation and subversion of the language of Roman Imperium by early Christians-as polemic against the imperial cult and empire-can be used to support his contentions.

The following is a review of most of the volume’s major arguments and discussions. The first chapter, “Jesus and Peace: The Gospel of the Reign of God,” argues that Jesus’ mission was informed by Isaiah 52:7 in which God’s messenger announces peace; therefore, peace is a defining component of the reign of heaven that Jesus proclaims. The chapter on Matthew refutes the allegations that this Gospel promotes violence by placing its polemic against the Jews in the context of an in-house argument and the critique of Israel’s shepherds found in Ezekiel 23. Swartley then argues that the Gospel subverts the Davidic notion of messianic rule that comprehends violence and condemnation and replaces it with a rule of mercy and service. In the discussion of Mark, Swartley picks up the familiar themes of discipleship and the way of the cross and connects them to the return from exile to show that Jesus’ messianic victory over evil is through nonretaliation. With regard to Luke-Acts, he draws the connection between Deuteronomy’s emphasis upon social justice and Luke’s emphasis upon the coming of salvation, joy and peace to earth in the Gospel and the portrayal in Acts of an alternative community that realizes the peace agenda of God’s kingdom. He makes visible the relationship between the structure of Acts as a series of conflicts and resolutions to a theology of reconciliation and an ethic of mutual aid. In response to the accusation of Luke’s complicity with the Roman Empire, Swartley demonstrates that Luke exposes the limits of the Pax Romana.

Turning to the epistles, he draws attention to the distinct Pauline title “God of Peace” and the emphasis upon restorative rather than penal justice. In his treatment of the Gospel of John, Swartley once more contends with the interpretations of particular passages and themes that have been used to deny the centrality of peace and nonretaliation to New Testament thought. For example, the Johannine call to love one another has often been treated as a departure from the instruction to love one’s enemies and even an invitation to hate one’s enemies. When set within the context of the story of Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman, Swartley shows that the call to love one another is about becoming a community that attracts rather than excludes. The chapter on the book of Revelation echoes much of current scholarship’s conclusions. The wrath of God is directed to those who become complicit in the economic and political exploitation of the Roman Empire. Swartley focuses attention on the centrality of worship and, thereby, shows that the rhetorical purpose of the book is to invite the reader to worship the true God and to respond to the violence of the world that does not acknowledge this God’s sovereignty by enduring rather than by retaliating.

The final chapters focus upon the centrality of the imitation of Christ and God to New Testament ethics. Chapter 13 is reprinted from Violence Renounced: Ren Girard, Biblical Studies and Peacemaking, edited by Swartley in 2000. Swartley demonstrates that the New Testament balances its exposure of the myth of scapegoat and mimetic violence with a model of self-giving love and a willingness to suffer that we are called to imitate. Chapter 14 deals with the issue of whether God’s judgment undermines or contradicts an ethic of peace. Swartley points to the fact that New Testament authors invite us to imitate God’s grace and warn against appropriating the divine prerogative to judge. He follows the position of Miroslav Volf and Scott Holland that God’s judgment is against violence and concludes that the categories of violence and nonviolence apply to human activity and are best not used to describe God.

On occasion, the editorial seams of this compendium of several decades of work are visible. Repetition occurs within chapters (e.g., quotation of Mark 10:42-45 on pages 106-107 and 109). At times, material is directed to a Mennonite audience familiar with people such as John Paul Lederach (p. 56) and at other times, to an academic audience familiar with the technical language of higher criticism. The section on communion is attached to the chapter on Acts, even though it is based upon a number of books and later Christian tradition, and its subtitle, “Jesus Makes the Covenant of Peace (Retrospect and Prospect),” could be more descriptive of its contents. The chapter on Revelation includes a worship service appropriate to the centrality of worship in the book, but it is not evident how it informs the understanding of the centrality of peace to the book. Given what this volume contributes, these are minor details that might come into consideration for subsequent editions.

While Swartley does not engage the issue of ethics at the philosophical level, his work opens the way for more reflection upon what the parameters of New Testament ethics contain. When ethicists turn from personal ethics to the public arena of politics, that is peacemaking and justice, they tend to seek universal principles within prescribed law. This path seems to lead inevitably to the conclusion that if one kills another in self-defense one ought not be judged. The New Testament call to be peacemakers is a unilateral call that demands that one believe that God will restore one to life if those who raise up arms against us kill us. Swartley makes it clear that New Testament ethics cannot be severed from a discussion of the mission of the Church. Swartley’s emphasis upon mimesis, humility and vindication through God’s exaltation begins to draw upon the anthropological categories of honor and shame. In his treatment of the Samaritan woman, however, Swartley argues against current tendencies to exonerate the woman from personal culpability for her marital status by saying that she would not feel shame if she had not done something wrong. However, the system of honor and shame is not predicated upon guilt or innocence. Perhaps future discussion needs to give more attention to the cultures of honor and shame presupposed by the Bible’s authors.

This book opens with a reference to events at the time of its writing, such as the war in Iraq and in Somalia, and Swartley hopes that those who pick up the volume will find the situation has improved by the time that they read it. The fact that things have gone from bad to worse as I write this review makes Swartley’s introduction all the more poignant and the redress of the marginalization of peacemaking in New Testament ethics imperative for scholarship. Although this book is potentially demanding for one who is not a New Testament scholar, readers who find themselves having to defend their commitment to peace as a part of their Christian faith, or who seek to fulfill the ethical demands of the New Testament, will be rewarded for their efforts.

Goshen College JO-ANN A. BRANT


Mennonites in Texas: The Quiet in the Land. By Laura L. Camden and Susan Gaetz Duarte. College Station: Texas A. and M. University Press. 2006. $35.

Mennonites in Texas: The Quiet in the Land, a documentary photo-text by Laura L. Camden and Susan Gaetz Duarte, provides a glimpse into the sometimes rugged conditions endured by two Mennonite communities in Texas. The Seminole faith community is located on the High Plains of West Texas, and the Lott congregation is set in the more humid east central region of the state.

Camden and Duarte supply the nearly fifty photographs illustrating the daily existence of Mennonites in these communities, and contribute narrative about the congregations as well. Mark L. Louden provides a lengthy summary of Anabaptist history to give context to the presence of the approximately 4,000 members in Lott, Seminole and other parts of Texas. Finally, Dennis Carlyle Darling delivers an overview of the documentary process at the end of the text.

Scratching out a living in the often drought-stricken part of Texas, the Mennonites of Seminole came from a variety of Anabaptist backgrounds, including many from Old Colony congregations in Canada and Mexico. Camden describes how they moved to this forbidding place in the late 1970s because of the availability of large tracts of land. Although the church is growing, the long-term viability of the Seminole congregation directly hinges upon the economic vitality of the region. If times turn bad, members are prepared to move to other locales, including returning to Mexico. Camden writes how congregants are tied to their faith, but not necessarily to this place in West Texas.

The members of the Mennonite enclave in Lott are drawn from the Beachy Amish, who traditionally have not had great numbers in the Southwest. They arrived in Texas about twenty-five years ago and have created a thriving congregation. Having moved to an area without Anabaptists prior to their arrival, Gaetz describes how those outside the faith have grown comfortable with this Mennonite presence. However, some Anabaptists in the Lott congregation regret their inability to have made a greater impression on non-Mennonites in town. One of the challenges to this successful congregation is what Gaetz describes as the “lunch-pail threat,” or schisms within households and the larger faith community because of the pressures caused by no longer being able to make a living off of the land. As is often the case within other conservative congregations, Lott’s members find the world pulling them from their faith. While the description of the Lott community is brief, Gaetz outlines how the successes and struggles within this congregation mirror those found in places where Anabaptists are far more numerous.

The photographs in Mennonites in Texas suggest an earlier era. During the 1930s, social progressives favored the documentary photo-text format, and these works were oftentimes illustrated by photographers working for the U.S. Government’s Farm Securities Administration. The photographs in Mennonites in Texas tend to outshine the narrative in large part because of the power of Camden and Duarte’s images. These pictures serve as homage to Depression-era American photographers like Walker Evans, who worked in the Farm Securities Administration and know how to create a sense of empathy. The similarity is startling between several of the photographs from Texas and those from Evans’s legendary work with James Agee in Fortune magazine (later published as the photo-text Let Us All Praise Famous Men). And the fact that several of Camden and Duarte’s images capture the intensity and economic fragility of the lives of some of these Anabaptist families makes their late-twentieth-century images all the more indispensable.

Apart from the photographs, perhaps the most compelling element comes when Camden and Duarte put down their cameras and share their impressions of their work and the time spent living in the two communities. These researchers saw themselves as both insiders and outsiders during their years of fieldwork research in Texas. With considerable candor they confront their position as investigators in relation to the subject. They come away from the project genuinely enriched, and readers greatly benefit from their honest reflection.

The reader may wish for more in-depth treatment of the ongoing struggles of these Mennonite communities. In this reviewer’s opinion, too much of this slim volume was devoted to a general overview of Anabaptist history that is readily available in other works. This tends to overshadow the compelling description of life in these unique Texas congregations. Nonetheless, the authors offer a fascinating, if brief, glimpse into the lives of people of Anabaptist faith living in comparative isolation in a U.S. state not widely known for this type of Mennonite presence.

Ottawa (Kan.) University STEVEN FOULKE

Meeting Our Multifaith Neighbors. By Brice H. Balmer. Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press. 2006. Pp. 195. $14.99, U.S.; $18.79, Can.

Brice Balmer’s book title anticipates content. To meet distinguishes the approach from academic study or lecture alone. People gather for an exchange of distinct or similar experiences-in religious practice and thought-that matter to each participant. Multifaith welcomes all religions present in a particular setting. Writing from Ontario, Canada, Balmer illustrates guidelines from faith groups that make up Interfaith Grand River of the Waterloo region. While our neighbors suggests proximity, it also implies interpersonal, shared activity. People discuss topics like water or light, vital to all religions, or engage in common projects.

The book provides pastoral wisdom to Christians; Mennonites, with a history of being separate, especially can benefit. As the number of people loyal to diverse faith traditions increases in North America, safe places or organizations (now over 500) appear for sharing complexities of worship, beliefs and practice. As we openly discuss our faith in ways equally concerned with respecting and learning from a neighbor’s faith, the spiritual journey of each moves toward trustworthy friendship. Such trust enables community tasks like a peace walk or retreat, or plans for a private room for caregivers of whatever religion at a local hospital.

For Balmer, the idea of Interfaith Grand River grew out of chaplaincy work with House of Friendship, a Christian agency that serves low-income people. Organized by the Kitchener/Waterloo Council of Churches, Interfaith Grand River enables leaders of diverse religions to show hospitality and cooperate during crises. Members become open to each other’s festivals and family events; although Christians may not understand the Arabic or Punjabi used in other worship settings, they meditate while observing what has meaning for their neighbors. They reflect on others’ spirituality and find their own faith renewed or deepened. From experience, I know such results.

Brice Balmer’s meeting with multifaith neighbors shows a deep understanding of issues like isolation, hostility and power. For genuine dialogue to transform people loyal to diverse faiths, being isolated-determined that one’s right truth frees one to dismiss others-needs to change toward partnership. Partners grant each other’s integrity, though different. To love God and the neighbor as the self recognizes the “image of God” in every person. Immigrants or those loyal to a minority faith often become victims of fear-filled hostility in the West. Majority people who wish to manipulate, or to create distance or a sense of superiority, expect others to assimilate. Such attitudes bring to mind Wesley Ariarajah, a noted Christian leader from Sri Lanka. He sees Christianity’s need for grace to be one among multiple ways that God chooses to enable people toward their destiny. Intent on mutually listening, being vulnerable and sharing power, Balmer calls people of faith to see others’ strength, to clarify rather than compete, to reflect or discern together rather than just declare one’s view. As Jonah needed release from his desire to destroy Ninehvites (toward whom he felt superior), so Peter’s judgment of those who differed needed redemption through a dream (Acts 10).

But Christians who are prone to bias may find the going difficult: “Multifath discussion and action cannot take place if a principal concern of participants is conversion” (73). Being intent on conversion often operates from a stance of superiority; it can fail to respect another’s sacred experience. The noted spiritual leader Henri Nouwen encourages people of diverse religions to combine an active seeking of and openness to God’s presence with a profound concern for all people. Such involvement enables dialogue; it counters debate. It values witness without arrogance. As not all people are teachers or preachers, so too not all people relate effectively with those who differ. Those gifted with the freedom to confess conviction with genuine openness-generous in crediting others for spiritual insights and eager to enrich personal faith-merit blessing for the holy task of exchange.

Balmer presents human experience, not theory or principle alone. One chapter finds Christian parents reflecting on their son’s marriage with a Muslim woman. As the younger ones remain firm in their faiths, the parents’ learn to accept difference. Many Hmong (500 refugees have been sponsored by Mennonites) and Sikh people have migrated to Canada during recent decades. Animist traditions continue to shape Hmong experience, traditions for others to respect even when not personally upheld. Sikhs have endured ridicule and false judgments, as from journalists who ignore complex cultural or religious traits-like five symbols important for men who practice Khalsa. Balmer also reflects out of his short, recent Middle Eastern sojourn with Cedar, a Palestinian Christian. Known as descendants of Philistines and Canaanites, her people find reading parts of Old Testament history to be difficult; they wonder about God’s compassion for Israel’s enemies.

Several literary features of this book to note: Questions for discussion end each chapter as a review of key ideas. While one might wish that readers were “beyond” the need to credit others’ religious strength, being invited to name ways that God already works among neighbors or noting signs of spirituality within people of other faiths can move toward deeper respect-always a key hope of Balmer’s. Four appendix sections highlight dialogue and action, a brief history and statement of purpose of Interfaith Grand River, and guidelines for religious ceremonies where multifaith groups are present. A good bibliography is included. Balmer takes time to define significant terms; I might wish that he had drawn from feminist interpreters of biblical accounts about women like Sarah and Hagar. Unfortunately, misspellings are apparent in the text, and the photos that appear at the beginning of most chapters are not identified.

Meeting Our Multifaith Neighbors is a timely resource for Mennonites. Decades ago the theologian Gordon Kaufman acknowledged that since no one possesses absolute truth, we must engage with religious Others; understandings benefit mutually. As Mennonites admit weaknesses of both isolation and presumed privilege, and welcome others to share their traditions in their own terms, community building follows. To promote community is the most important task for Christian theology, Kaufman believes. Balmer’s book is a practical example of the process. He proceeds without overstating either Mennonite or Christian beliefs.

A long-term Mennonite witness in France, Neal Blough, suggests (in Seeking Cultures of Peace) that the first century’s key church/mission question was “How do we live together with strangers or enemies'” He calls Mennonites today to more ecumenical relationships. He asks how peacemaking among communities is possible for those who might dominate others or claim that their way of understanding the world and God has ultimate truth. Balmer discerns how claims that call others’ truth inferior can violate sacred being.

Rabbi Marc Gopin (in From the Ground Up) realizes the risk of mild efforts to missionize that turn to demonizing the other who chooses to retain current loyalties or views. He observes that Mennonites involved in peacebuilding might perceive the danger of power over another as well as the deep need to understand Otherness. Balmer’s approach meets the Other not as stranger, convert or adversary, but as neighbor deserving of respect.

The preceding paragraphs lead me to comment on Stanley Green’s afterword in Meeting Our Multifaith Neighbors. I understand the Mennonite Mission Network executive director to endorse Balmer’s practical dimensions of relating with people of diverse faiths. He wants Mennonites to read this book. I also read his afterword as critique: Balmer fails to witness absolutely to Jesus’ final authority or revelation of God’s purposes. Without endorsing several implicit criticisms by Green, I commend the author’s answer that being a follower of and witness to Jesus in a multifaith society calls for deep respect (not Green’s term tolerance) and open engagement with others. Never did I doubt Balmer’s Christian witness to Jesus’ truth about God. What he expects in addition, that I miss in Green’s approach, is genuine expectation that people loyal to other religions will also teach him from their insight into God’s purposes, their movement toward wholeness, their unique experience with the Divine (in their own terms). Intent on following Jesus in his compassion toward others, Balmer reflects no need to express his confession of the Christ through judgment about the Other-by using terms like final, complete, only or extraordinary.

Indeed, meeting multifaith neighbors builds on radical, self-emptying solidarity.




Confessions of Faith in the Anabaptist Tradition, 1527-1660. Karl Koop, ed. Classics of the Radical Reformation, v. 11. Kitchener, Ont.: Pandora Press. 2006. Pp. 366. $33, U.S.; $36.50, Can.

In this volume of Classics of the Radical Reformation, a series presenting major texts to an English-language readership, editor Karl Koop assembled a representative collection of fourteen confessions of faith, many of which illustrate Anabaptist theologizing in the years after the movement’s first generations. The book is organized geographically with four confessions from Swiss and South German Anabaptism, written between 1527 and 1578, followed by ten Dutch and North German Anabaptists confessions, written between 1545 and 1660. Several of the confessions have previously appeared in English, such as the Schleitheim Articles, the Dordrecht Confession and the Swiss Brethren Confession of Hesse (1578); most appear here for the first time, such as the Kempen Confession of 1545, and the Prussian Confession of 1660. Koop provides an introduction to each confession that includes historical context, occasion for the confession’s writing and commentary on the confession’s unusual features (e.g., inclusion of Melchiorite Christology or omission of discussion on the sword). In an introductory essay to the entire book Koop surveys the study of confessions of faith in Anabaptist scholarship, the function and authority of confessions among Anabaptists (including a brief case study of the so-called “War of the Lambs” among seventeenth-century Dutch Anabaptists) and the confessions’ theological orientation. The volume also includes a comprehensive Scripture index.


Caspar Schwenckfeld: Eight Writings on Christian Beliefs. H. H. Drake Williams III, ed. Kitchener, Ont.: Pandora Press. 2006. Pp. 200. $20.50, U.S.; $22.50, Can.

Although historians have often described the Reformation figure Caspar Schwenckfeld von Ossig (1489-1561) as a “spiritualist,” Drake Williams argues that a close reading of Schwenckfeld’s doctrinal writings demonstrates that the reformer regarded both Scripture and the creedal tradition of the church as foundational to his theology. Schwenckfeld was a prolific writer, but few of his works have appeared in English. This collection brings together translations of eight of Schwenckfeld’s doctrinal writings, penned between 1529 and 1561. The longest, and arguably most significant, is his Deutsches Theologia (A German Theology for God-fearing Laity from Christ and the Christian Teaching of Godliness), which Schwenckfeld wrote to Philip Melancthon in 1560. Editor Williams provides a nineteen-page introduction to the creedal tradition and Schwenkfeld, as well as a historiographic appendix, “Twentieth-century Viewpoints on Schwenckfeld’s Theology.”

Goshen College Steven M. Nolt


Prof. Susan Biesecker-Mast, University of Dayton, Dept. of English, 300 College Park, Dayton, OH 45469. E-mail: bieseckermasts@bluff-ton.edu

Prof. Thomas Finger, 803 Monroe Street, Apt. 2, Evanston, IL 60202. E-mail: fingert@sisna.com

Helmut Harder, 77 Niagara Street, Winnipeg, MB, Canada, R3N 0T8. E-mail: hharder@cmu.ca

Joel Schmidt, 610 Cottage Grove Ave., South Bend, IN 46616. E-mail: jschmid8@nd.edu

Steven Siebert, 71 Mt. Hope Blvd., Hastings-on-Hudson, NY, 10706. E-mail: ssiebert@notabene.com

Jeff Wright, Shalom Ministries, Box CAL; 1539 East Howard Street, Pasadena, CA 91104. E-mail: wrightstuff@pacificsouthwest.org

Prof. Gordon Zerbe, Canadian Mennonite University, 500 Shaftesbury Blvd., Winnipeg, MB, Canada, R3P 2N2. E-mail: gzerbe@cmu.ca

The Mennonite Quarterly Review
Book Reviews
MQR 81 (July 2007)