A Gentle Wind of God: The Influence of the East Africa Revival. By Richard K. MacMaster, with Donald R. Jacobs. Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press. 2006. Pp. 404. $14.99, U.S.; $18.79, Can.
A book on the ?reverse mission? of Africa to the Western world through the East Africa Revival, beginning in the 1930s up through the present, is long overdue. This is the exciting story of how a largely indigenous Christian revival movement, beginning in Rwanda and spreading throughout Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, influenced European and North American missionaries who, along with their African colleagues, took the message back home. Although other historical works mention the pervasive influence of this movement in East Africa, few comprehensive accounts of it exist.
This book tells the story from a particular Mennonite perspective, although that is not immediately obvious and, given the ecumenical nature of the revival fellowship, other faith traditions figure centrally. As a memoir of the unfolding events, this is primarily a book for those who have some personal contact with the movement. It is told chronologically and biographically, with an emphasis on the working of the spirit without regard for nation or culture. From an unabashed faith perspective, MacMaster describes ?how this mighty wind of God stirred and blew with great force? (19). The book includes many photos of revival fellowship leaders and long quotations from journals, memoirs and interviews. MacMaster chronicles each series of meetings or conferences that took place on three continents, tracing the ebb and flow of renewal. The book will serve as a cherished volume for those whose own lives were shaped by these events and a humble reminder to mission leaders not to assume that God follows their strategic plans, thereby opening the door to further analysis of this important movement in church history.
The East Africa Revival was never institutionalized, existing as a fluid network of people who gathered from time to time but who stayed connected to their own churches. Therefore it is difficult to get a sense of the extent and depth of this widespread movement that was generally associated with Pentecostal and charismatic movements. The balokole (?saved’) saw themselves as participants in a distinct kind of revival, connected by ongoing fellowship. They did not emphasize the gifts of the spirit, such as speaking in tongues, but rather a daily submission to Christ, first through confession, vulnerability and a broken spirit.
The book gives the impression that Mennonites played a central role in the East Africa Revival, but, without more research on the larger movement, that is hard to judge. Indeed the rationale for including the stories of some individuals instead of others is never clear. The movement took much deeper and more permanent form in East Africa, but fellowships still meet in North America and Europe and include Anglicans, Methodists and Presbyterians, among others. The role of the revival in opening the door to Mennonite involvement in ecumenical conversation is a story that needs further exploration.
Beyond its life-changing impact on many people, this story suggests that the movement may also have influenced significant long-term changes in the Mennonite Church and beyond. For example, the book demonstrates over and over how the movement was instrumental in healing racial divisions. White missionaries were able to confess before their black sisters and brothers and relax their grip on privilege and control. Some Mennonite missionaries in Tanzania asked Eastern Mennonite Board of Missions to stop sending their salaries so they would have to live by faith just as their Tanzanian colleagues did. American Mennonites welcomed the preaching mission of East African evangelists, such as Ugandan Anglican Festo Kivengere, into their home churches, traveling with them to revival meetings and African-American congregations during an era of segregation. The effect of the revival on gender relations is also startling. Women like Erma Maust or Sala Nagenda took leadership roles far beyond the comfort level of American Mennonites, who criticized their outspokenness at the time. Men testified to changes in their marriages as they humbled themselves to their wives. The ?saved? also seem to have transcended class differences, with many of the African evangelists coming from an elite, educated background and the Mennonites often of humble origin. The mission board viewed missionaries who returned from East Africa with suspicion and subjected them to intensive scrutiny before they were reappointed. These missionaries questioned rules that detracted from a focus on Jesus. Clearly the East Africa Revival challenged race, class, gender and authority structures in ways that must have had longer-term implications.
Certainly one important lesson of this book is that the Spirit blows where it will and brings about unexpected changes in people’s lives. Yet that does not mean that we have to chalk it all up to mystery. Rather, this amazing movement deserves more human analysis within a social and cultural historical context. The revival should be seen in light of the rich body of recent work on colonial rule, labor migration, resistance and the inculturation of Christianity in Africa that makes sense of the actions of African evangelists. Likewise, context is necessary to understand the reaction of American Mennonite missionaries who found freedom in the Spirit from the rules of their religious tradition. Why would East Africans and Americans find this particular form of Christian expression so appealing at this particular time? Why did the Spirit take this form? For example, the East Africa Revival distinguished itself by its emphasis on community; fellowship and accountability were central to an ongoing walk with Jesus. East Africans also maintained a consistent witness of pacifism and reconciliation through MauMau in Kenya and the genocide in Rwanda and Burundi. Can these distinctives be traced to African or Anabaptist proclivities, or is it a coincidence of the two? MacMaster’s analysis of the differences in the American Revival fellowships based on individualism only begins to tease out these factors.
MacMaster admirably seeks to tell the story in the words of those who experienced the revival rather than through his own voice. Yet ongoing work is necessary to find the larger meaning of this amazing moment when Africans ministered to Americans and changed their lives as well as the future of the larger church.
Goshen College JAN BENDER SHETLER
Horse-and-Buggy Mennonites: Hoofbeats of Humility in a Postmodern World. By Donald B. Kraybill and James P. Hurd. University Park: Penn State University Press. 2006. Pp. 362. $19.95.
I began writing this review after a short trip to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania to visit relatives. While I was reflecting on the book Horse-and-Buggy Mennonites, our group passed through tourist destinations that advertised ?Abe’s Buggy Rides? and visits to ?authentic? Amish barns. We patiently followed slow-moving vehicles from out of state whose occupants were on the lookout for horses plowing the fields, and who waved to young Amish children playing cards along the road. I was reminded of Clifford Geertz’s analysis of the human ?need for the gaze of the other? and how the ?otherness? of Old Order groups will continue to be an attraction for those of us who are Outsidas (outsiders). This aspect of human nature provides the rationale for excellent studies such as this one by Kraybill and Hurd, which helps us all move beyond the simplistic view of Old Order Mennonites.
Horse-and-Buggy Mennonites is a thorough community study of the so-called Wenger Mennonites (officially, Groffdale Old Order Mennonite Conference). Kraybill and Hurd buttress this study with a strong historical background, which will assist those who are less familiar with Old Order Anabaptist groups, as well as with an anthropological and sociological focus that will please social scientists. The authors admittedly state that their focus on ?values, identity, ritual and technology? (ix) may not be comprehensive enough for some, but most readers will find the writing to be quite complete, as the authors expound upon each of these four important aspects of Wenger community life with empirical detail and thoughtful analysis. While Kraybill and Hurd do indeed provide strong empirical basis for this book, their ?spirit of empathetic understanding? (ix) is evident throughout the narrative, making this a more enjoyable read than other studies of religious groups that attempt to be value-free.
Overall, the book flows well organizationally. Horse-and-Buggy Mennonites is divided into nine chapters. The first three provide important historical context for Anabaptist groups and particularly the Wenger Mennonites, as well as an overview of the culture and life of Wengers. Within this context is the debate over the use of cars, a conflict that Kraybill and Hurd argue is essential for understanding the belief system and lifestyle of this group. Chapters 4 through 6 provide an account of the everyday life of the Wenger community, including important ethnographic observations of social rituals, such as dating, weddings, and funerals, that not only serve as rites of passage for Wenger young folk but also function as a way for the community to preserve tradition and work out the constant tension between modernism and tradition. Consistently, the Ordnung (the traditional rules for order and guidance) is presented as a central document of both struggle and steadfast reliability for working out the larger issues of Wenger life. Chapter 7 focuses on the issue of work, addressing in particular adaptation to changes in the modern division of labor and the Wenger adherence to farming. The issue of work leads quite naturally to chapter 8, which was the highlight of the book for me, with its conversation regarding technology and social change. This is a conversation that can be instructional for the understanding of religious conflict, as well as the cultural rhetoric and symbolism that is involved in disagreement over deeply embedded values.
The final chapter focuses on the ongoing relationship between the Wengers and other religious groups within both the Anabaptist world and the larger Christian church in the United States. Some of these comparisons seemed too short and simplistic for the potential analysis that might have been done and could still be accomplished by the authors in the future. It is important that these types of religious community studies take the time to place their community of focus in relation to other Anabaptist communities in a more thoughtful way than this book accomplishes. I also thought that the authors missed a chance to probe the Wenger ideology on mission and evangelism. Other than the reported desire not to ?become like the Lancaster Conference? there is little reference to the lack of evangelism among Wenger Mennonites; surely, this topic possesses more depth than this comment conveys.
Still, this is an excellent study that should be replicated among other Anabaptist groups. Kraybill and Hurd thread a conversation throughout the book about the tension among the Wenger Mennonites between social mobility and the preservation of identity and difference. In this regard, the church community is not only interested in resisting modern technology but truly struggling with the role of faith and morality amid broader social change. As Kraybill and Hurd state, ?The process of social change involves the delicate work of moving cultural fences without tearing them down? (210). Modernity presents not only new technological tools and toys but also changes in the essential theology that guides authority in decision-making. The authors ask, ?Does [authority] reside in the collective decisions of the redemptive community or in the personal, subjective experience of an individual’? (226). The answer lies in the spirit of humility that must be nurtured by a personal salvation and grounded in the communal Ordnung.
The question of happiness and contentment is also contemplated in various forms throughout this book. The Wenger community reports that their struggle with modernity is not a constant source of frustration for what its members cannot obtain, as long as they are rooted in the redemptive community. Rather, their life is simple and satisfying, according to the Wenger respondents. When reading strong qualitative accounts of life satisfaction, we are pressed to accept such answers at face value. Yet, we also must acknowledge that communities have an innate desire to portray strength and stability. Kraybill and Hurd’s decision also to interview outsiders who work with the Wenger community provides a different view, as when a healthcare worker describes the depression that is sometimes seen in the community, particularly among women. This example demonstrates the importance of understanding the relationship between personal choice and happiness, as well as issues of gender and authority in Anabaptist communities.
This book is a valuable contribution to the sociology and anthropology of religion, as well as to Anabaptist studies. Furthermore, scholars of communications and rhetoric should also take note of this book as an empirical study of how community conflict is engaged and resolved. I appreciated Horse-and-Buggy Mennonites not only for its scholarly research but also because it helped me to understand the Wenger Mennonite people in a new way. The Wenger’s thoughtful approach to church and to the world is commendable, enabling them to stand firmly in the ground between what may be perceived as Amish steadfastness and Mennonite Church worldliness. Just as we can learn much about good research and writing from Kraybill and Hurd, so also can we learn about a life of intentional morality from the Wenger Mennonites.
Cabrini College JEFF GINGERICH
Stories: How Mennonites Came To Be. By John D. Roth. Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press. 2006. Pp. 245. $10.99, U.S.; $13.79, Can.
In this accessible and well-written introduction to Mennonite history, John D. Roth carefully and evenhandedly recounts the Mennonite experience from its origins in sixteenth-century Switzerland to its astonishing twentieth-century growth in Africa and Asia. Roth’s intended audience is primarily educated laypeople. Well-chosen and effectively narrated stories introduce each chapter, but (painfully for a scholar) no references or bibliography guide the reader to other more specialized studies. As a narrative-driven work written for nonspecialists, Roth avoids directly addressing the current debates of Anabaptist historiography, but students of Anabaptism will respect his fair treatment of contested areas in Anabaptist scholarship. While clearly written from a Mennonite Church USA perspective, Roth does include material on the Hutterites, Amish, Brethren in Christ and Mennonite Brethren.
Interestingly’and reminiscent of such early nonprofessional histories as J. S. Hartzler and Daniel Kauffman’s Mennonite Church History (1905)?Stories devotes slightly less than a third of the text to the history of Christianity before the emergence of the Swiss Brethren. Given Roth’s intended audience, this is a wise decision. As a movement reacting to real events occurring in real time, the concerns of sixteenth-century Anabaptists can only be understood when seen in a fairly broad cultural context. Especially effective is Roth’s first chapter, where he discusses six important early Christian commitments that reemerge in sixteenth-century Anabaptism. These include voluntary membership, sharing of possessions, church discipline (or more positively in Roth’s account, ?accountability to each other’), commitment to nonviolence, nonconformity to the world (again more positively described as the creation of a distinctive culture) and a mission-minded outlook.
In two concise chapters Roth recounts the rise of medieval Christendom and the emergence of the Protestant Reformation. Unlike earlier Mennonite scholars (and probably most North American lay Mennonites today) who depicted Anabaptism as Protestantism fully developed, Roth, like most current students of the subject, sees Anabaptism as a third way that emerged as an alternative to magisterial Christianity in its Catholic and Protestant forms.
The heart of Roth’s work are his three chapters on Anabaptist origins and its spread from Switzerland and south Germany into the Low Countries, north Germany, central Europe and southern Russia. Unlike many earlier works, Roth fully acknowledges the diverse and conflicting views of early Anabaptists and the remarkable role of Menno Simons in bringing unity to a divided, confused and greatly misunderstood body of people, who gladly took his name to disassociate themselves from the excesses of more radical Anabaptists.
Chapters seven and eight tell the story of the emergence of Mennonites in North America, and chapters nine and ten tell the story of the growth of Mennonites around the world. Special emphasis goes to Mennonite missions among Native Americans, African-Americans and Hispanics. Once a largely German-speaking ethnic group, Mennonite Church USA (like many North American-headquartered church bodies) is now part of an international fellowship with the exciting opportunities but vexing intercultural challenges that such a reality entails. Left unanswered is the question of the degree to which the impressive growth of Mennonites outside of North America is due to the power of the Anabaptist message. Are these new Mennonite churches merely indigenous ?generic? churches that remain largely rooted in their own local concerns? Or are North American Mennonites themselves an Americanized generic church?
In spite of radically different contexts one theme seems constant. As with early Christians, persecution and often poverty’whether in Reformation-era Switzerland, south Germany and the Low Countries, or later in Moravia and Russia, the Congo, or Ethiopia’seem to have less of a negative effect on Anabaptist groups than benign neglect and prosperity. As early Christians created the ?cult of martyrs? after the advent of toleration, so Dutch Mennonites published the Martyrs Mirror and North Americans sought to have it translated into German to keep the faith alive in times affluence.
As I am a Church of the Brethren scholar and faculty member at a Mennonite Brethren college, perhaps it is no surprise that I feel that Roth’s treatment of Pietism (not identified in the text) and such kindred movements as revivalism, fundamentalism and evangelicalism leaves something to be desired. In fairness, Stories does treat such renewal movements with more respect than has often been the case in Mennonite-authored histories. Its author knows that, without an evangelically inspired mission movement, Mennonites would have remained a marginal ethnic group. Nevertheless, one senses that Roth still sees experiential pietistic movements as guilty of promoting an otherworldly, individualistic Christianity that undermines nonresistance.
In fact, the reality has always been quite different than this caricature. It has been the evangelically inclined, such as Francke in Germany, Wesley, Wilberforce, and the Booths in England, or Finney in America who have placed serving the poor at the center of their ministries. And a decline in the peace position does not seem to be exclusively or primarily among evangelically influenced Mennonites. In fact, the hundreds of evangelicals attracted to Mennonite congregations because of the church’s stand against war should not be forgotten. As someone who lives in an environment profoundly shaped by sectarian strife engendered by Pietism and similar renewal movements (I refer to the Tabor College [Mennonite Brethren] and Bethel College [Formerly General Conference Mennonite] rivalry), which are frequently and intentionally misinterpreted for sectarian purposes by both sides, I find that an understanding of, and respect for, various renewal movements is perhaps the central theological task of Mennonites in the twentieth-first century.
While this criticism should not be understood as to detract from my overwhelmingly positive view of this book, I hope my next criticism of the publisher will be taken to heart. I must express real disappointment with Herald Press for not including a bibliography. By its very nature this is an introductory text that should introduce readers to other, in-depth studies’many published by Herald Press! I hope this omission will be rectified in future printings.
Tabor College WILLIAM KOSTLEVY
A Precarious Peace: Yoderian Explorations on Theology, Knowledge, and Identity. By Chris K. Huebner. Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press. 2006. Pp. 249. $18.99.
Political Worship: Ethics for Christian Citizens. Oxford Studies in Theological Ethics. By Bernd Wannenwetsch. Translated by Margaret Kohl. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2004. Pp. 402. $185.
It might seem strange to review these two books together. In some ways, they are very different. A Precarious Peace is a well-written book of essays by a Canadian Mennonite theologian. Political Worship is a very dense monograph that reads like the German doctoral thesis that I imagine it originally was (published in German in 1997). Moreover, it is written by an ordained Lutheran minister and university lecturer at Oxford, who probably formally affirmed the Augsburg Confession, which specifically condemns Anabaptists (a number of times) and officially sanctions engaging in just wars.
However, I would suggest that there are important links between these two books, links that could be named John Howard Yoder. Huebner signals by his subtitle that he is deeply influenced by Yoder. Like Yoder, he says he wants to get beyond common divisions in the Mennonite Church and in too much Christian theology’divisions between theology and ethics, mission and social justice. Wannenwetsch is not apparently dependent on Yoder, though he touches on him briefly in some of his writings. But he is also attempting to eliminate precisely these divisions, and in a way that is consistent with some of Yoder’s central concerns.
Yoder once said, ?Worship is the communal cultivation of an alternative construction of society and of history.? Echoing Luther, Yoder said on another occasion that the practices of worship ?are actions of God, in and with, through and under what men and women do.? Wannenwetsch’s passion, displayed richly and in considerable detail in this book, is to call the Christian community to note the twin claims contained in both of Yoder’s statements, making sure that neither claim is collapsed into the other.
Wannenwetsch is aware of various dangers even as he addresses the topic of ?political worship.? He seeks to name these as he discusses what it means to see worship as ?politics? or, as he phrases it repeatedly, ?ethics springing from worship.? He acknowledges that many will see his project as counterintuitive. After all, properly understood, isn’t worship really about what God does? And isn’t it, importantly, about our receptivity’hearing the Word spoken and receiving the bread and wine? So, what does worship have to do with our ethics, our politics? It is precisely this apparent incongruity that Wannenwetsch wants to highlight and with which he wants to work. For he wants us to wrestle with the claim that our ethics spring not from our inherent capacity, not even in community, but rather from what God has done in Jesus Christ’God’s salvific actions and our acknowledgment of God’s acts through worship. By naming this up front he hopes to avoid the ?ethnicization? of worship’what too often happens when writers connect ethics and worship. Wannenwetsch wants us to avoid the temptation to orchestrate the connections between ethics and worship. In a way reminiscent of Luther, with echoes of Karl Barth, he wants us to realize that worship is most fundamentally about abandoning ourselves to the acts and judgments of God. That is the beginning of wisdom; that is political worship, full stop (as the British say). Nonetheless, being attentive to the words and deeds of God forms us as a people who live certain ways rather than others. Our daily existence’as individuals and as a community’manifests the rule of God within our lives. Our worship of God is thus indeed political, affecting every dimension of our daily life.
Chris Huebner’s book is not about worship, per se. But it is, like Wannenwetsch’s book, about the identity of the Christian community. The central theme of the book is announced in the first chapter: ?My hope for the future of the Mennonite church thus turns on the ability to cultivate a more fluid and ambiguous conception of identity? (38). This theme dominates seven of the thirteen essays and figures somewhat in most of them.
This emphasis of Huebner is needed. He, as one who grew up Mennonite, knows better than I that the Mennonite Church has too often had a ?settled identity? that does not communicate openness or welcome to outsiders, strangers and aliens. Moreover, he is right to say that (1) too often ecumenism is undertaken either as a power move to bring others to our side or to force premature unity that brings closure; (2) a new realization of globalization, and the fears it evokes, can move us to grasp for control and mastery in a world that seems out of control; (3) martyrdom should not be confused with the language of heroes and victims; and (4) patience must accompany any witness that is worthy of the name of Christ. These are only some of the ways in which Huebner reminds us that peace, the peace of Christ, entails a fluidity, a willingness to live with an unsettled identity.
It would be worthwhile to discuss Huebner’s intriguing essay on his grandmothers and Alzheimer’s, as well as his essay engaging John Milbank. But let me comment on another. His essay on ?Mennonites and Narrative Theology? is not only the most carefully documented essay, it is also the essay in which Huebner most fully engages Yoder’s work. His own stance vis–vis Yoder’s relationship with narrative theology is thoughtful and carefully considered’arguing that Yoder is neither wholly for it nor against it. Huebner quotes Yoder’s concern about the possibility of a narrative method offering ?a new kind of universals, namely narrative forms, lying deeper than the ordinary events and sufficient to explain them.? What Huebner does not make as clear is that this claim, in Yoder’s essay ?The Hermeneutics of Peoplehood,? is preceded by biblical references to ?Abraham and Samuel, Jeremiah and Jesus.? For it is the biblical narrative that, for Yoder, is the central witness to our God, with an acknowledgement that Jesus is central within that story. No method should be allowed to eclipse the particularities of this biblical witness.
As I finished both books, I wondered how one related to the other and what each author would think of the other’s work. I know that Huebner is very philosophically oriented, albeit with theological concerns animating his creative use of postmodern thinkers. I wondered if this set of essays is not simply a ground-clearing work. If that’s what it is, I think it can be quite useful. We need repeated reminders’primarily in the context of worship’that we are not God and that our lives are gifts. Thus, in that sense, we are called to live with an unsettled identity.
But I wondered whether Huebner would like Wennenwetsch’s book. If worship indeed shapes us socially and politically, as the people of God, then we acquire a particular identity. It seems to me that, for most Mennonites (and other Christians) I know, the greatest need in the year 2008 is not to ?cultivate a more fluid and ambiguous conception of identity? (Huebner, 38), nor to believe that ?a Christian conception of peace is better captured by metaphors of fluidity and ambiguity than by those of solidity and stability? (37), nor to see martyrdom as fundamentally ?an approach to knowledge? and ?a way of life? ?which assumes that the truth of Christ cannot somehow be secured but is rather a gift received and lived out in vulnerable yet hopeful giving in return? (137). Certainly, a solid or stable identity ought, for Christians, to include a vulnerability and a patience that is made intelligible by our identity in Christ. Yet, it is also vital to remember that indeed ?martyr? (martus/witness) is an instrumentalist concept. Christian martyrs do not witness to themselves, even their vulnerability, but rather to Another beyond themselves.
As Yoder said on a number of occasions, it is important that we realize that our knowledge of the God revealed in Christ is in fact fairly solid. Precisely because of our life in Christ, we realize that truth questions are important. In fact, Yoder has said that one thing that goes wrong with polite ecumenical conversations is that truth questions are too often squelched. Moreover, it is important, he said, that terms like ?heresy? and ?apostasy? be terms with applicable meaning. Likewise, Wannenwetsch has, in another writing, said that we should acknowledge the possibility of an ethical status confessionis. To deny this possibility, says Wannenwetsch, may be to embrace ?a liberal idealogy that regards ethical matters as private or as a matter of socio-economic evolution and therefore always in flux.? Would Huebner disagree with this? How does it fit with his frequent tying of an unsettled identity with our inappropriate concern to ?secure truth’?
Eastern Mennonite Seminary MARK THIESSEN NATION
Testing Faith and Tradition: Global Mennonite History Series: Europe. Edited by Alle G. Hoekema and Hanspeter Jecker. Intercourse, Pa.: Good Books. 2006. Pp. 290. $11.95, U.S.; $13.95, Can.
This volume is the second in the Global Mennonite History Series, which originated at the thirteenth Assembly of the Mennonite World Conference in Calcutta in January 1997. The intention of this series is ?to tell the story of Mennonites and Brethren in Christ churches in their regional and global relationships,? with the goal of ?nurturing a sense of belonging together, promoting mutual understanding, and stimulating the renewal and extension of Anabaptist Christianity worldwide? (viii). The first volume, which covered Africa, was published in 2003. Three more volumes, each covering one continent, are projected.
The various chapters in Testing Faith and Tradition were written by many authors, most of whom wrote the original drafts in their native language to be translated into English. The first chapter, written by Diether Gtz Lichdi, gives an overview of Anabaptist-Mennonite History from 1525 to 1800. European political, economic and religious developments from 1789 to 2000 are discussed in chapter 2, which was written by Claude Baecher. Annelies Verbeek and Alle G. Hoekema tell the story of the Dutch Mennonites in chapter 3. Mennonites in Germany are discussed in chapter 4 by James Jakob Fehr and Diether Gtz Lichdi. The latter also wrote chapters 5 and 6, which discuss the Mennonites in Switzerland and France, respectively. John N. Klassen tells the reader about the fate of the Russian Mennonites in chapter 7. Chapter 8, written by Neal Blough, discusses mission efforts in Europe, and chapter 9, by Ed van Straten, pulls together some common European themes. The epilogue is written by editors Alle Hoekema and Hanspeter Jecker. The final pages include lists of European Anabaptist-Mennonite Conferences and abbreviations, a chronological chart of Anabaptist-Mennonite history, endnotes, a bibliography and an index. The book also includes capsule biographies of authors and editors, along with very attractive front and back covers, many maps, illustrations and interesting sidebars.
At one time, European Mennonites were the center of the Mennonite world. After all, it was here that the Anabaptist movement originated and spread to various parts of the world. In the twentieth century the center of gravity moved to North America. Currently, most Mennonites live in Africa and Asia. So how relevant and important are European Mennonites today? Are they now just an interesting relic or footnote of the past? This volume may or may not answer that question.
It was a good decision to include in chapters 1 and 2 brief surveys of Mennonite history from 1525 to 1800 and European history from 1798 to 2000. They are quite helpful for the general reader. Yet, such general accounts can be superficial and often fail to include what other historians consider important events and developments. This is especially true of Chapter 2, which does not fully discuss the impact of some of the momentous economic, social and political developments of that crucial period. Nor does it say much about the enormous impact of the Age of Enlightenment and the causes of dechristianization in Western Europe, which began in the nineteenth century.
In the last fifty years or so, European Mennonites have suffered considerable numerical losses, although in some countries, such as the Netherlands and Germany, the decline has been more serious. Is this decline part of Western Europe’s dechristianization? Perhaps, even though authors Hoekema and Verbeek offer hope as far as the Netherlands is concerned. Of course, the story of Mennonite ?decline? in the former Soviet Union is a different matter. Mennonites fled from there in the 1920s, eagerly seized the opportunity to escape during the German withdrawal beginning in 1943, and left when the Soviet regime allowed them to go in later decades. Most of them settled in Germany, others in North and South America. Yet, these Umsiedler did not swell traditional German Mennonite ranks. On the contrary, as John N. Klassen tells us in considerable detail, they preferred to remain separate or retain a separate identity, which is partly Baptist. One is tempted to speculate: if they had joined existing German Mennonite churches, would they have been able to reinvigorate them?
European Mennonites were somewhat invigorated by North Americans who arrived in the postwar period as relief workers, PAX volunteers, missionaries and students. Furthermore, many European Mennonites served as ?trainees? or studied in North America. Especially, the renewed interest among Europeans in the peace witness was in large part a result of North American influence. North American missionaries established small Mennonite communities in various parts of Europe. It is fascinating to scan the list of recently established congregations in Portugal, Spain, Austria, Belgium, Ukraine and elsewhere. Yes, there really are Beachy Amish in Ireland! Yet, one wonders if European Mennonites might not have also influenced their brothers and sisters in North America. For instance, could Dutch ?liberal? theology and the role of women in the church have affected their thinking?
Cooperation among European Mennonites has been extensive in the post-World War II era, although differences remain. Some interaction existed prior to World War II. For instance, some German congregations were members of the Dutch Algemene Doopsgezinde Sociteit (General Mennonite Conference), and Russian Mennonites were active in Dutch mission work in Indonesia since the beginning of the nineteenth century. Furthermore, Dutch Mennonites assisted Russian Mennonites who had left the Soviet Union after World Wars I and II. Postwar cooperation was complicated by very painful wartime experiences. Nazi domination of Europe left many wounds that even today have not completely healed. Authors Fehr and Lichdi make no apologies for German Mennonites? support of the Nazi regime. Yet, one still wonders how German Mennonites could have been so acquiescent. Was this the result of years of acculturation and a desire to be good Germans? Or were they, like so many others, misled by many promises? Even among Dutch Mennonites, who suffered under Nazi occupation from 1940-1945, were a few’including at least eight pastors’who were enamored with the New Order. Today, many Dutch Mennonites do not wish to discuss this delicate and painful subject. Fortunately, authors Hoekema and Verbeek do mention it. The chapter on Alsatian Mennonites, by contrast, does not mention this subject at all. Yet, one wonders if some Alsatian Mennonites welcomed the German return in 1940.
There are some serious and minor errors in this volume. Among the former are the alleged causes of the two World Wars as cited in chapter 2. World War I did not break out because of rivalry between France and Germany over Morocco. That conflict was no longer a major issue in 1914. It would have been better if the author had briefly mentioned the responsibility of all the major powers for the outbreak of that calamity in 1914, although some were more responsible than others. Also, the explanation of the origins of the Second World War is quite inaccurate. World War II did not break out, as alleged, because of the German annexation of Austria and the occupation of the Sudetenland and Prague (only Prague’). These events contributed to the outbreak of war but were not its principal causes. War came on September 1, 1939, with the German attack on Poland and with the British and French declarations of war two days later.
Chapter 3 contains a few minor errors. The French Revolution started in 1789, not 1787. The House of Orange was restored not in 1814, but in 1813, and church and state were not completely separated under the new regime. The Mennonite church in Nijmegen was destroyed not in June but on September 19, 1944, during Operation Market Garden, the code name of the failed Allied attempt to establish a bridgehead across the Rhine near Arnhem. Also, it would be better to translate Gemeentedag Beweging as Congregational Retreat movement. In various chapters throughout the book, authors seem to have difficulty distinguishing between emigration and immigration.
Testing Faith and Tradition was a real joy to read. In fact, at times it was difficult to put down! It is a story of survival of a faithful remnant who endured two major world wars, terrible revolutions, dechristianization and the onslaught of materialism. Yet, one is left with this haunting question: Is Europe’s experience awaiting North American Mennonites?
Normal, Ill. GERLOF D. HOMAN
Gracious Christianity: Living the Love We Profess. By Douglas Jacobsen and Rodney J. Sawatsky. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic. 2006. Pp. 140. $12.99.
Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense. By N. T. Wright. San Francisco, Calif.: HarperSanFrancisco. 2006. Pp. xii, 240. $22.95.
Christian primers fascinate me, in part because they have been so important to my own faith. I will never forget reading Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis as a young teenager’how thrilled I was to find a witty, intelligent case for Christianity, and how convicted I was as the chapter on ?The Great Sin? unveiled my own prevailing pride! Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton and Creed or Chaos? by Dorothy L. Sayers kept me chuckling with their paradoxical bon mots. Understanding the Christian Faith by Georgia Hearkness, along with Sayers, reminded me that women belong in the front row of Christian thinkers. Basic Christianity by John R. W. Stott presented a lucid summary of biblical doctrine. Confessions by Augustine, The Imitation of Christ by Thomas Kempis, the Lesser Catechism by Martin Luther, The True Christian Faith by Menno Simons, True Christianity by Johann Arndt and A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life by William Law were among the works that introduced me to riches from earlier eras.
New guides keep appearing, some designed for recent converts or for use as textbooks. Christianity 101 by Gilbert Bilezikian came directly from the seeker church Willow Creek Community Church. The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren gained wide circulation through clever promotion. The subtitle alone of A Generous Orthodoxy by Brian McLaren may have won some adherents to its emergent-church idea: Why I Am a Missional + Evangelical + Post/Protestant + Liberal/Conservative + Mystical/Poetic + Biblical + Charismatic/Contemplative + Fundamentalist/Calvinist + Anabaptist/Anglican + Methodist + Catholic + Green + Incarnational + Depressed-yet-Hopeful + Emergent + Unfinished CHRISTIAN.
The authors of Gracious Christianity and Simply Christian show a richly textured awareness of the genre, yet offer distinct perspectives. Well written, both books are closer to literary gems than to clumsily crafted textbooks. Both avoid pedantry, have a disarming modesty and are readily accessible to the literate layperson. Simply Christian distills the great learning of a contemporary biblical scholar who writes with fresh metaphors, while Gracious Christianity presents a winsome case for evangelical Christianity from an Anabaptist point of view. Wright covers a bit more ground than do Jacobsen and Sawatsky since he has many more pages at his disposal, but each book could be read in a single sitting by someone accustomed to sustained reading. Wright’s gentle wit is infectious, while his summaries of complex biblical and theological issues are simply masterful. Jacobsen and Sawatsky combine their different gifts to envision a flourishing life of Christian discipleship whose every dimension is infused by love and grace.
Wright begins by devoting four chapters to great longings humans commonly share’for justice, spirituality, relationship and beauty’proposing that each is a powerful pointer to God. Although he mentions truth, Wright shies from exploring similar quests for meaning, rationality, truth or eternity. He then suggests that the four desires he delineates find their fulfillment in vital relationship with the triune God of Christianity. The next six chapters examine the Christian notion of God, the history of Israel (a deft treatment crucial to the Christian story, material too often omitted elsewhere), the message (?the coming of God’s Kingdom’) and mission (?rescue and renewal’) of Jesus, and the person and work of the Holy Spirit. The final six chapters discuss facets of the Christian life, including worship (with a special focus on the eucharist), prayer, the place of the Bible and our interpretation of it, the Church, and the new Creation.
Wright says many things worth pondering. For example, he repeatedly contrasts pantheism and deism (two common temptations: in the first, God is too closely identified with creation; in the second, too distant from it) with biblical theism. He frequently extracts important themes from his own scholarly works, concentrating key ideas into a mere paragraph or two, yet without any direct reference to those treatises (there are no footnotes). He writes throughout with a graceful flair and good humor. For example, this is how he opens his chapter about the Bible:
It’s a big book, full of big stories with big characters. They have big ideas (not least about themselves) and make big mistakes. It’s about God and greed and grace; about life, lust, laughter, and loneliness. It’s about birth, beginnings, and betrayal; about siblings, squabbles, and sex; about power and prayer and prison and passion. And that’s only Genesis (173).
Whatever the limitations of Simply Christian, it would be churlish not to laud Wright for this masterful summary of Christian faith and life.
Jacobsen and Sawatsky, in contrast to Wright, possesses a thoroughly Anabaptist sensibility. While the substance of their work is first rate, the connotative messages are just as important, forming a subtext for Christian wholism. Meekness and community shine through their coauthorship: two people, one a college president, one a professor, blending their insights from sociology, theology and church history. Evident as well is grace in the face of human suffering’Sawatsky apparently knew from the outset that his very aggressive brain cancer was terminal, however hard he fought it. Nevertheless, he joyfully and courageously maintained his enormous love for people, life and scholarship to the end, seeing the manuscript nearly to completion. If this slim guide were his only legacy, it would still be a rich one.
Their basic thesis, which they sustain and reiterate through every page and paragraph in the book, is both simple and profound: Gracious love defines the core of God’s character, and gracious love defines the life and work of Christ. The more we understand that and the more we let those truths seep into our souls and color the way we see ourselves and others, the more gracious our Christianity will become (12).
They proceed to make their case for reviewing eight Christian doctrines (pertaining to God and creation, human nature, hearing God, salvation, Spirit and life, the church, the Bible, the future) from this perspective:
it refurbishes our theology, like polishing a tarnished silver set helps restore its original luster. Polishing a tea set does not change the shape of anything. Everything is still in the same place’spout, handle, feet, and lid’but the dullness is gone, and it shines like new. Polishing our Christian beliefs with the soft cloth of God’s love can help us renew our ways of thinking in a similar way (23).
This is an especially important task since ?religion is sometimes the cause of tension, tirades, and terror? and even some forms of Christianity are ?strident and shrill? (24).
Their approach shapes far more than they admit. If the primary focus is on God’s inscrutable sovereignty (Calvin), the church (the primary and controlling document of Vatican II), or mystical tradition (Eastern churches), the resulting theology may still be thought provoking, but it is in the end something very different. Sometimes the doctrines and practices which flow from other approaches, whether unconditional election (so-called ?double or nothing’) or nationalistic military crusades, seem very far indeed from the core message of God’s gracious love, from the one who dies even for his enemies and who calls his disciples to lives of sacrificial love.
So I am deeply grateful for Gracious Christianity. It reaffirms the basic doctrines that Christians across all major traditions have commonly believed, drawing insights, quotations and illustrations from widely scattered sources. But it does so in a manner that excludes ugly aberrations and rejoices in the message of our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ, the Son of the Living God. And it does so in a way that champions rather than modifies or qualifies his most radical teachings. While learning from Baptists, Pentecostals, Roman Catholics, predominately African-American denominations, Anglicans, Methodists, Presbyterians or the Eastern Orthodox, Jacobsen and Sawatsky never waiver in their own convictions about the core of the Gospel. For those steeped in Anabaptist or Pietist communities, they may just be restating the obvious, but from one who shares the beliefs of those communities but who has spent much of his life among Christians with very different viewpoints, let me assure you how refreshing this gracious Good News is.
Bethel College, Mishawaka, Ind. TIMOTHY PAUL ERDEL
Encountering the Eternal One: A Guide for Mennonite Churches. By Gerke van Hiele with Marion Bruggen, Ina ter Kuile and Frans Misset. Kitchener, Ont.: Pandora Press. 2006. $14.50, U.S.; $16, Can.
It is common for works of Mennonite scholarship and church materials to be translated from English into Dutch. This work represents the opposite. Encountering the Eternal One is a translation of Aangeraakt door de Eeuwige, published in the Netherlands in 2001, and is offered as a contribution from the Mennonite churches in the Netherlands to the English-speaking global Mennonite fellowship.
The purpose of the book for Dutch readers is well articulated and evidently appropriate for that context. Written by four authors, it is a ?guide to faith exploration? for individuals and groups. Material in the book is expressly presented in a manner so as to avoid conversation-ending pronouncements and propositional conclusions. Rather, the purpose of the book is to ?enable deep discussions? for Mennonites (and other Christians) in the Netherlands, whom the authors broadly characterize as seekers and searchers (20). According to the preface to the English edition, the reception of this book in the Netherlands has been enthusiastic and has resulted in both a reprinting and a second volume (13). That the team of authors consists of two ministers (Marion Bruggen and Gerke van Hiele), a biologist (Ina ter Kuile) and an accountant (Frans Misset) undoubtedly contributes to the theological coherence yet popular reach of the guide.
For the average reader outside the Netherlands to appreciate this book fully, a basic understanding of Anabaptism in the Netherlands is essential. Happily, Gabe Hoekema provides such an overview in a concise and informative preface to the English edition. Persecution of Anabaptists here was less intense and less prolonged than in other parts of Europe, allowing Dutch Mennonites not only to exist more openly in society but also to be more exposed to social changes. During the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, Dutch Anabaptists produced a number of confessions of faith, the best known being the Dordrecht Confession of 1632. From the latter half of the eighteenth century, however, as the Enlightenment swept through Dutch society and radically recast conventions of knowledge and belief, congregational autonomy and then individual freedom of belief rendered confessions obsolete, and they ceased to play a role in shaping Dutch Mennonite faith and identity (11). Now, centuries later, the Algemene Doopsgezinde Societeit (A.D.S.), an association of Mennonite congregations in the Netherlands, needed a work that provides more intentional articulation of issues of faith; thus, the A.D.S. Advisory Council for Spiritual Affairs initiated this book. Two ?missionary questions? precipitate this work: ?How can we explain to the next generation and to our neighbors what being doopsgezind means’; and ?Is it possible to clarify the position of sympathizing [i.e., non-baptized] church participants . . . [whose] gifts on committees and even on their church boards? are ?dearly needed? (13).
The authors organized the guide in a helpful and logical way. There are three parts with four chapters each. Part 1, entitled ?Called by Name,? has chapters on the meaning of belief, images of God, images of Jesus and growth in faith. Part 2, ?Coming Together,? covers the corporate practices of baptism, communion, admonition and mutual sharing. Part 3, ?Being Involved,? addresses involvement in other ecclesial practices: weekly gathering, practicing compassion, telling others about being Mennonite and living in Christian hope. Each of the chapters is laid out well for individual and group study. Chapters begin with quotations in the popular voice of potential participants, introducing the key issues. Each chapter has three parts for study: an introduction that provides historical and contemporary context for the issue; a section on ?Perspective (Spectrum),? which lays out a variety of definitions and concepts related to the topic; and ?Finding your own place,? which encourages the naming of intersections between personal and corporate belief and practice. Additionally, as aids to individual and group study sessions, the authors helpfully suggest two to four Bible passages which relate to the topic, questions for reflection, a ?creative workshop? suggesting ways to express one’s ideas, and a ?summary statement.? English readers will find a list of three to five songs from Hymnal: A Worship Book and Sing the Journey, the suggestions of Mark Diller Harder, pastor at St. Jacobs Mennonite Church in Ontario, Canada. The organization overall and within each chapter makes the book especially easy to use for group study.
How well does the purpose and format of the work translate into the North American Mennonite context? While few Mennonite churches would eschew the missionary impetus of this book, it is difficult to imagine that the majority of Mennonites outside the socially and theologically liberal Netherlands are going to find this book a sufficiently formative and informative tool. First, notably, a number of classical theological themes are absent or underdeveloped. The divinity of Jesus Christ is not addressed at all, baring a lament that one ?cost? of following a Jewish interpretation of scripture is the divinizing of Jesus (12). Jesus is at best a ?window on God,? alongside being a window on humanity and the world (34). The Trinity is not explicitly addressed, although a trinitarian structure can be discerned in a few places, such as in the ?Credo? at the end. The Spirit is largely ignored and discussion on salvation is minimal.
Second, the authors do not extensively draw on the Bible as a resource. If one compares it with the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective, for example, the scarcity of references to Scripture is striking. Chapter 4, on growth in faith, names the Bible as one of seven sources of faith, yet only one Scripture reference appears. While this book is clearly not meant to function as a confession, it does claim to be a guide for faith exploration. Certainly some learning comes from reflecting on one’s own experience and that of others, but articulation of the role of divine inspiration is hard to find here.
Third, despite the recognition at a number of points that Dutch society is largely postmodern and post-Christian, there are a number of elements of the book that are strikingly modern. The three parts of the book can be characterized as being about belief, belonging and behaving (in that order). However, as Stuart Murray has argued, the process by which postmodern and post-Christian Westerners come to faith typically alters that process, and now frequently belonging is the initial step (see Stuart Murray, Church after Christendom, 2004). Further, in the context of the modern and postmodern discussion, perhaps it would have been helpful for the authors to differentiate between personal and private faith. The authors articulate a concern that the Mennonite fellowship in the Netherlands has, since the nineteenth century, ?laid too much emphasis on the freedom and autonomy of individual believers,? leading to a lack of commitment on the part of its members, a feeling of emptiness and general decline of the church (111, from the original Dutch introduction, here in the Appendix). However, I imagine that the problem is not so much that faith has been personalized but that, as a result of Enlightenment thinkers such as Immanuel Kant, it has been privatized. Many postmoderns seek a faith that is personal yet transparent and embodied in the life of the community.
Fourth, although the authors are trying to reverse the trend toward defining belief as fluid and residing solely in the realm of the individual, for many Mennonites around the world there will still appear to be too much emphasis on searching over finding, on becoming over being.
Do these criticisms render the book useless outside the Netherlands? Certainly not. One crucial reason this book should be read is for the very reason it was published in English: to recognize that the Mennonite family is a global body and that each part of the body needs to be aware of other parts. The book is a valuable and highly accessible snapshot of the life of one of the oldest Anabaptist groups in the world. Another reason is that there are North American contexts in which this guide might be well received, such as liberal, urban and professional congregations. Finally, the guide is well laid out and easy to use, and can function as a model for structuring group study and discussion.
Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary ANDREW BRUBACHER KAETHLER
Psalms. By James H. Waltner. Scottdale, Pa., and Waterloo, Ont.: Herald Press. 2006. Pp. 835. $34.99, U.S.; $43.79, Can.
First, I express enthusiastic congratulations to Herald Press on this twentieth volume in the Believers Church Bible Commentary series. James H. Waltner’s volume on the book of Psalms is a welcomed addition to this wonderful endeavor.
The commentary begins with an introduction that immediately orients the reader to the most critical aspect in the understanding the book of Psalms. Waltner reminds those who wish to familiarize themselves with this extraordinary compendium of poems that the psalms are primarily about encountering God. While the introduction is relatively brief (17-28), it does offer a basic orientation to reading the psalms, including a brief hermeneutical primer, an outline of the major theological themes that are found in the Psalter, a section on the psalms in the New Testament and suggestions for the use of the commentary.
The book then proceeds to offer a short treatment of each psalm! At a time when the ideal length of a book is deemed about 250 pages, the editors of the series ought to be commended for their willingness to expand the usual space constraints to allow for significant interaction with the Psalter. Each analysis opens with a preview that offers a succinct summary of the psalm. A short outline of the psalm itself comes next, a feature that preachers, Sunday school teachers and small group leaders will appreciate. Then follows a set of explanatory notes, which is structured according to the outline of the psalm. Each analysis ends with a short section that seeks to set the poem in a broader biblical and historical context and to provide some direction as to the relevance of the psalm for today.
Following the commentary proper, a section regroups the outlines developed for every psalm. This is followed by a forty-page section, entitled ?Essays,? that offers helpful notes on a variety of topics that are regularly found in the psalms. Examples include ?Anointed, Anointed One,? ?Enemies,? ?Hebrew Poetry,? ?Imprecation,? ?Names of God,? ?Psalm Genres,? ?Superscriptions,? ?Torah,? ?War and War Images,? ?Ways of Reading the Psalms,? ?Zion,? etc. (Under ?War and War Images,? however, reference to Peter Craigie’s masterful treatment of war in the Old Testament is glaringly absent’see The Problem of War in the Old Testament [Eerdmans, 1978]). These essays are carefully structured and provide helpful suggestions for further reading.
The most striking aspect of this commentary is its readability and accessibility, which makes for an ideal devotional guide, one that can readily be used as a resource in an adult Sunday school or Bible study group. One of the book’s obvious strengths is its skillful blend of scholarly and pastoral perspectives. This is a commentary that reflects Waltner’s rich pastoral experience. He constantly reminds us that the book of Psalms is far more than a historical artifact or the mere remains of an ancient liturgy. The Psalms are a dynamic testimony to a people’s relationship with the living God.
Waltner’s insistence that the Psalter be read as canonical literature offers a helpful perspective on the various uses of the Psalter, including prayer and worship, but also preaching and teaching. The Psalter is more than just a repository of liturgy. It is intended to be an important instrument in teaching and preaching and thus a critical vehicle for the transformation of worldview.
The exegetical sections (?Explanatory Notes’) are well presented. Even within the space constraints of the commentary, the author consistently manages to provide an insightful explanation of the text. While the analysis offers judicious references to the underlying Hebrew language, it maintains a high degree of accessibility for the non-specialist. The author’s commitment to explaining the text as it stands is commendable. He consistently maintains a high degree of objectivity, reflecting his deep commitment to the text. For example, even though the author intentionally writes from an Anabaptist perspective, he does not shy away from the violent language that often peppers the psalms. The exegesis of Psalm 137, a community lament that utters a curse against the Babylonians? ?Happy will be those who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!? (N.R.S.V.)?is a good illustration of the author’s willingness to tackle honestly the language of violence that is regularly found in the Psalter. Waltner writes, ?This psalm reminds us not to gloss over rage, but to take it seriously. So it speaks for many victims of abuse, oppression, and violence today? (654).
From time to time, Waltner uses ancient Near Eastern material to shed light on a psalm, illustrating, for example, the first stanza of Psalm 19 with a parallel from the Hymn to Shamash (108) and, in his discussion of the shepherd imagery in Psalm 23, alluding to the role of the king as shepherd in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia (128).
I have immensely appreciated this commentary, but I do have some reservations about the sections addressing the psalms in the ?Life in the Church.? While I am most sympathetic to the general objectives of the Believers Church Bible Commentary Series to produce commentaries that reflect the Anabaptist perspective, I am not convinced that the reader is always well served by them. The necessity to introduce an Anabaptist illustration or to connect with so-called Anabaptist issues and concerns feels a little stilted at times. For instance, I find it difficult to reconcile such observations as found in Psalm 3:7b’?For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked’?with the attitudes of Anabaptist martyrs (p. 43; see also p. 99). And, while the purpose of imprecatory prayers may in fact be to teach us how to manage our destructive emotions (see S. Carney’s excellent article, ?God Damn God: A Reflection on Expressing Anger in Prayer,? Biblical Theology Bulletin 13 , 116-120), these texts also represent legitimate calls for justice to be done and the punishment of evildoers, something that should not be confused with the need for revenge. While the latter is to be frowned upon, the first is most legitimate.
The contextualization of certain psalms also appears more debatable when linked to issues that are presently fashionable in Anabaptist intellectual circles, such as environmentalism, unqualified antimilitarism, and anticapitalism. Although I believe much of Waltner’s commentary will stand the test of time, I have a suspicion that those parts that link too closely the application of certain psalms to these particular issues may soon appear dated. The future of the earth may not be as dismal as radical environmentalists propose, nor the exploitation of those resources as sinful as many suggest (e.g., pp. 60, 64, 135). To articulate a moral equivalency between Western military/police actions and international terrorism seems at best reductionistic (e.g., p. 74). As for our economic system, it may have its drawbacks, but we should not gloss over the fact that international trade, capitalism and the notion of private property have done more to pull millions out of the clutches of abject poverty than all foreign aid programs put together (e.g., p. 135). Given the difficulties inherent to the contextualization of Scripture, the suggestions the author proposes are often helpful and thought-provoking, but they are strongest when dealing with the most fundamental existential issues of life (e.g., pp. 82-83) and, in my opinion, more conjectural when hitched to specific ideological constructs.
This latest addition to the Believers Church Commentary Series represents an important contribution to the field of biblical studies and will prove to be, overall, of invaluable worth to the life of the Church.
Canadian Mennonite University and PIERRE GILBERT
Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary
Exiles in the Empire: Believers Church Perspectives on Politics. Edited by Nathan E. Yoder and Carol A. Sheppard. Kitchener, Ont.: Pandora Press. 2006. Pp. 266. $25.75, U.S.; $28.50, Can.
Exiles in the Empire is a compilation of papers originally presented at the Fifteenth Believers Church Conference held at Eastern Mennonite University in September, 2004. The conference, titled ?God, Democracy, and U.S. Power: Believers Church Perspectives,? asked participants to consider ?How . . . Christians in the Believers Church tradition, living in a democracy that is the world’s dominant power, understand their witness for God and their relationship to political authority? (173). The book contains eighteen answers to that question, ?loosely organized? into three sections: historical, theological and ethical (16). Each chapter is preceded by an abstract (all written by Carol A. Scheppard), which guides readers to the essays most interesting to them. One of the highlights of the volume is the sermon that begins each section, which provides the ecclesial and theological context for the project.
The volume begins with an introduction by Nathan E. Yoder, who helpfully defines terms and sets the tone for the volume. Yoder also pays tribute to the late Donald F. Durnbaugh, the co-convener of the early Believers Church Conferences, to whom the volume is dedicated. Yoder’s essay is an excellent introduction to his thought on the relationship between the believers church and the state, which he uses to frame the broader themes of the volume.
The historical section begins with Carol A. Scheppard’s sermon and then proceeds to cover a range of topics, including Baptist political involvement in early U.S. history, Abraham Lincoln’s dialogue with a Quaker during the Civil War, the history of the Church of the Brethren office in Washington, D.C., and the work of Mennonite Central Committee and Christian Peacemaker Teams in Israel/Palestine. Ted Grimsrud examines confrontations with empire in the Old Testament and the life of Jesus, while Gerald Mast focuses his historical analysis on Anabaptist wrestling with political engagement in the sixteenth century. Both essays seek to define political work as extending beyond the use of coercion (lest Anabaptist Christians be apolitical by definition) and to show how Anabaptist Christians have, and might, understand such a political witness.
The theological section begins with Dawn Ottoni Wilhelm’s powerful introductory sermon and Jim Hardenbrook’s personal reflection on serving both as pastor and chaplain for the Idaho State Legislature. Myron A. Penner then brings two seminal thinkers, John Howard Yoder and Alvin Plantinga, into unusual and helpful conversation. J. Denny Weaver’s insightful introduction to and critique of two-kingdom theology and his suggestion that there be an interaction, and even ad hoc collaboration, between the church and what he terms the ?non-reign-of-God? (180) concludes the section. Together the essays suggest many avenues for further reflection by theologians and philosophers in the believers church tradition.
The final section, on the ethical, consists mostly of personal reflections on the dilemmas of political involvement. The section begins with a sermon by J. Daryl Byler, director of the M.C.C. office in Washington, asking what it would look like for the church to seek the welfare of the empire into which we have been sent. The sermon is followed by three essays by Christians who have lived in vastly different political climates: Otonas Balciunas, who reflects on Lithuania’s experience under Soviet occupation; Wu Wei, who writes about the difficulties of church relations with the Chinese state; and Mwizenge S. Tembo, who examines the political dilemmas faced by Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda, a Christian sympathetic to the tradition of nonviolence. The essays are especially important contributions in that they remind us that questions about the relationship between Christians and the state, while perhaps particularly relevant in the United States of the twenty-first century, extend to the rest of the world as well. We have much to learn from Christian brothers and sisters who have lived under different political regimes (especially those with similar imperial ambitions). These voices need to be heard. Gerald Mast’s earlier essay is a further reminder to extend the conversation beyond the current time as well.
The section continues with an essay by Earl and Pat Hostetter Martin, who reflect on their experience as M.C.C. volunteers in Vietnam during the war and their subsequent political involvement in the U.S. The section concludes with two fascinating essays that point to very different forms of political involvement. Lloyd Harsch reflects on his journey as a participant in electoral politics, arguing that Christians have ?a moral obligation to vote? (239), and discusses his participation as an activist in the Republican Party. In contrast, John D. Roth asks us to consider conscientiously abstaining from voting. Lamenting the bitter partisanship and impoverished political discourse that he finds spilling over into the church, he suggests abstaining from voting and partisan involvement (at least for a time) and looking to engage the world and ?the healing work of reconciliation? so needed in our communities in ways that do not meet the ?narrow definitions of ?political involvement’? of our culture (250). In short, Roth asks us to engage politics ?not as Democrats or Republicans but as citizens of the Kingdom of God? (251). It is a fitting conclusion to a volume that asks us to consider what such a witness might look like.
Together, the essays in this volume provide significant attention to the political questions and dilemmas too often ignored in Anabaptist thought and scholarship. The essays are wide-ranging and address a variety of topics from an array of perspectives and disciplines. The book includes contributions from pastors, church workers and academics from disciplines spanning philosophy, theology, religion, history, sociology, peace studies and communications. For churches, the sermons and some essays provide places to begin thinking together about political engagement and involvement. For specialists, many of the essays provide helpful starting points for entering into new literatures and new conversations. The bibliographies of many of these essays point those interested in further reflection to a multitude of sources. The abstracts will help one pick and choose essays of interest (the essays need not be read in any order).
As a result of this impressive breadth, there is not sustained attention to many of the critical questions that are raised. That work falls to other scholars and practitioners, who I hope will follow and continue to pursue such questions.
Baylor University VICTOR J. HINOJOSA
Growing Up Amish: The Teenage Years. By Richard A. Stevick. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press. 2007. Pp. 247. $25.
Increasing interest in the Amish inevitably focuses attention on their cultural adolescence. Film and print documentaries and ?reality television? have sensationalized this developmental phase, to the detriment of a true understanding of this complex period in Amish life. Richard Stevick’s book is an effort to document and explain the intricacies of adolescence for these youth.
The author immediately acknowledges the diversity among Amish settlements and provides a broad-based overview of the forces of socialization and identity that both mold and bind youth in their adolescent years. He deftly interweaves the pressures to conform to the fabric of Amish life, highlighting the roles of religion, school, family and community. The book provides an overview of Amish adolescence and also serves as a more general primer for Amish life. Although the primary focus is the Old Order, the book refers to several other Amish subgroups as well.
The first three chapters outline differences between Amish youth and their mainstream counterparts and define quintessential aspects of Amish adolescence. Stevick aptly points to the paradox of the contrast between Anabaptist freedom of choice for these youth in their decision to be Amish and the cultural expectation that every youth will join the Amish church. The next five chapters outline the sociocultural forces that mold Amish youth: parochial schools, parents and peers. The integration of religion and spirituality in all aspects of the community is a unique phenomenon that further serves to bind the child, then adolescent, to Amish beliefs. The final three chapters focus on the process of integrating into the community via the decision to wed and raise a family. This is an important maturational stage, for it signals an ultimate blending into the community in a way that even church membership cannot achieve: the decision to become a member of one’s own extended family group. Stevick compares modern and historical practices, and identifies the schisms that led to various Amish factions; he also offers a brief commentary on the conflicts and tensions that are inherent between Amish groups and between settlements within the same group.
Chapters often consist of sociological, observer-based descriptions of cultural events, although the author does include some interpretations of these events and their importance for Amish youth. For example, the second chapter, ?Socialization: Passing on the Faith,? details the ambivalence and reluctance Amish youth may experience in their decision to join the church but provides little interpretation of how this uncertainty impacts the emerging identity of the individual youth or the settlement in which they live. In contrast, the third chapter, ?Adolescence: Testing an Amish Identity,? delves deeply into the paradox of individual identity in a collectivist society. The eighth chapter addresses ?Rumspringa: The Running-Around Years,? the most exhaustively discussed aspect of Amish adolescence in the popular media. Despite thorough coverage of the experience, Stevick again provides relatively little interpretation of the impact of such behavior on individual identity or on the collective identity of the settlement.
To his credit, Stevick includes clear and unflinching discussions of serious social problems among Amish youth, in particular the formation of gangs and the use of drugs and drug sales among Amish youth in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He documents efforts by parents to curb such destructive gangs, including the novel approach of parental involvement in adolescent activities, and the apparent success of these efforts from the 1990s to the present.
Ultimately, Growing Up Amish provides a perspective on Amish teens that serves as a useful counterpoint to the sensationalist media but falls short of its stated goal of revealing ?the world of Amish youth caught between the expectations of the traditional community and the growing pressures and temptations that accompany adolescence.? The difficulty is twofold. First, the ?tell-all? books on Amish life choose to highlight the more pathological or abnormal aspects of these plain communities. Such books are in demand by the public but do little to increase a genuine understanding of identity development among the Amish or of the conflicts and issues that arise as that identity unfolds. Second, the Amish themselves often serve as poor reporters on the experience of their identity conflicts and concerns. Unlike non-Amish American and Canadian youth, many aspects of their roles in life are preordained, and the time and effort they must spend considering the impact of vocational choices, marriage options and geographic relocation is minimal. In turn, there is little emphasis on the introspective discussions and philosophical musings that fuel much of the psychological/developmental literature for mainstream culture. The psychological observer of Amish culture, then, is forced to extrapolate from a small number of participants who are willing to engage in such discussions, or to impose interpretive assumptions on the process. Stevick has avoided either sensationalizing or over-interpreting’but at the cost of delving less deeply into the individual and collective adolescent Amish psyche.
The author also yields to an inevitable temptation when discussing ?the? Amish. Although his research involved interviews in multiple settlements, the majority of his examples, and the primary settlements he appears to address, are in Pennsylvania. The Amish, as he acknowledges, are a widely diverse group, with differing spiritual and social hierarchies, expectations for their youth and degrees of traditionalism. Any book that attempts to discuss a process such as adolescent development among all Amish, scattered as they are from Lancaster County to settlements throughout the United States, Canada and Central America, must by definition be superficial if it is to be accurate. Avoiding superficiality forces an author to focus on those Amish he or she knows best, which increases depth of knowledge, but limits breadth. The problem is endemic to research with such a diverse group.
Many of these shortcomings are apparent in any broad reference to the Amish. This criticism aside, Growing Up Amish serves as a comprehensive and thorough critique of Amish adolescence and fills a gap in the scholarly literature. The author is to be commended for a balanced, exhaustive first effort to explore the process of maturation as seen from the viewpoint of the Amish adolescent.
Cates and Associates, Fort Wayne, Ind., and JAMES A. CATES
Amish Youth Vision Project, Shipshewana, Ind.
Prof. Karen Johnson-Weiner, Department of Anthropology, SUNY Potsdam, 44 Pierrepont Ave., Potsdam, NY 13676. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Prof. Peter Martens. Yale Divinity School, 409 Prospect St., New Haven, CT 06511. E-mail: email@example.com
Prof. Tobin Miller Shearer, 326 Dempster St., Apt. #3, Evanston, IL 60202. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Prof. J. Denny Weaver, 3246 Stonecreek Drive, Madison, WI 53719-5250. E-mail: email@example.com
. My colleague John Haas pointed out a recent study sponsored by the Pew Forum that finds that 80% of ?religious Republicans? still think the invasion of Iraq was, to borrow a phrase from Oliver North, ?a neat idea.??See John C. Green, ?Religious Republicans: Hanging Tough with Bush,? The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, http://pewforum.org/docs/?DocID=229 (accessed June 22, 2007).
The Mennonite Quarterly Review
MQR 82 (January 2008)