Theology of Christendom

Anabaptism, to me, is one of the few beacons of hope that Christianity can still be relevant and authentic. Anabaptism is one of the few strains of Christianity that has not been completely co-opted. However, I still find myself in an awkward place that makes it somewhat problematic for me to call myself an Anabaptist openly.

First of all, I think that I am more than just an Anabaptist. Yes, I believe in the priesthood of all believers, voluntary believers baptism, the centrality of Christ, and I love the first few generations of Anabaptists, but I also love the Diggers, Unitarians, Universalists, Congregationalists, modern progressives, and so many other groups. I could be defined as an Anabaptist, but then there is also a lot more to it that I love. The fundamental difference between these other radical groups and the generic Anabaptist today seems to be one of theology.

The Anabaptist tradition has always been critical of how church is done in both established Protestant and Catholic churches, but the other traditions that I list are also critical of how theology is done in established churches. In the other traditions that I draw from, some “fundamental” of traditional Christian theology is called into question (hell, the trinity, patriarchy, etc.).

My major issue with Anabaptism is that I do not see this. There is a proud critique of imperial ways or practicing Christianity, but I have not seen very much criticism of the imperial theology that produced the Christendom paradigm. I have seen Anabaptists who will gladly reject the partnership of church and state, but then go on using the Nicene Creed, which is the product of a state-church partnership. In many expressions of Anabaptism that I have seen, the prophetic reviving of the gospel just does not go far enough.

My Anabaptist Christianity then seems to be a mix of two strains of radical Christianity: the first is an Anabaptist praxis that is critical of traditional ways of doing church, and the second is a Unitarian and Universalist Christianity that is critical of traditional ways of thinking about God. In many ways, this puts me into the same place as the first generation of Anabaptists. Some, such as Hans Denck, were both Anabaptist and Universalist.

I wholeheartedly feel called to the Anabaptist tradition. However, I am also cautious of it because I identify with other radical traditions too, and because I see a lot of the same Christendom theology present within some expressions of Anabaptism. On the other hand, many theological radicals then went on to have the Christendom state-church paradigm when it came to church (e.g. the Puritans). Perhaps what is needed is a mix of the two, a revival of Hans Denck’s kind of Anabaptism — one that is both radical in church structure and theology.

Kevin Daugherty

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9 Responses to “Theology of Christendom”

  1. TimN Says:

    Kevin have you come across the After Christendom series written by members of the Anabaptist Network in the UK? Faith and Politics after Christendom: the church as a movement for anarchy by Jonathan Bartley is the book that probably goes deepest into looking at the “imperial theology that produced the Christendom paradigm.”

  2. KevinD Says:

    Thanks for the link Tim. I am going to give it a look now.

  3. Tim B Says:

    Sounds like all your various “isms” aren’t jiving. Might wanna look into that.

  4. DavidC Says:

    Kevin,

    J. Denny Weaver has been arguing for an anti-Constantinian (and anti-Nicene) theology for decades. Check out his book, The Nonviolent Atonement, for example. I think you’ll find the further you read into academic Anabaptist theology, the more you’ll find that resonates with your concerns. Then there are also those (like the late A. James Reimer) who want to separate classic orthodox theology from the imperial politics that helped give rise to it and thus are OK retaining the former while critiquing the latter. (And, of course, there is nothing about the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity that requires any position on the secondary doctrines you mention: hell, universal salvation, and patriarchalism).

  5. MJMcEvoy Says:

    Kevin,
    Along with most anything by J.Denny Weaver, also look at Ted Grimsrud (http://peacetheology.net/).
    For a more historical point, try _Pilgram Marpeck: His Life and Social Theology_, by Stephen Boyd.

  6. KevinD Says:

    Thanks DavidC for the names. I will be sure to look them up.

  7. AllenG Says:

    Kevin wrote:

    In the other traditions that I draw from, some “fundamental” of traditional Christian theology is called into question (hell, the trinity, patriarchy, etc.).

    My major issue with Anabaptism is that I do not see this. There is a proud critique of imperial ways or practicing Christianity, but I have not seen very much criticism of the imperial theology that produced the Christendom paradigm. I have seen Anabaptists who will gladly reject the partnership of church and state, but then go on using the Nicene Creed, which is the product of a state-church partnership. In many expressions of Anabaptism that I have seen, the prophetic reviving of the gospel just does not go far enough.

    This is something that is very debatable, on one hand you have Anabaptist scholars arguing that the early groups were non-creedal and that they did concern themselves with articulating the Trinity for instance. Their evangelistic endeavors and praxis overrode any deep articulation on these matters nor did they think they were a priority. They felt obedience to Christ took priority over drawn out theological articulation. Some academicians in the past raised the question of whether the Anabaptists even believed in the doctrine.

    In addition, you have present day scholars and theologians that go out of their way to present the Anabaptist as lively evangelicals and how they believed the same as the Magisterial Reformers, which is reaching to say the least. A prime example of this is A Contemporary Anabaptist Theology: Biblical, Historical, Constructive by Thomas N. Finger.

    Within time as things began to settle down and all the truly radical members was martyred they started developing thought-out confessions and writings. A good example is The Dordrecht Confession of Faith of 1632. From my understanding, it has been the Mennonites that has strived to line up to Christendom’s theological standards out of the desire to be considered just another part of the Evangelicalism. Their “forefathers” are rolling in their graves…

  8. Bob Says:

    sounds like you don’t really know what you are.

  9. Jerry C. Stanaway Says:

    I am an Anabaptist (a member of the Mennonite Church)that rejects the doctrine of the Trinity as unscriptural and believes in universal salvation. Some of what I believe is similar to what Adam Pastor and the Polish Brethren believed in the 16th century. I can certainly relate to Kevin Daugherty’s article since we seem to believe in so many of the same things.

    It’s interesting that the Confession of Faith does affirm trinitarianism but nevertheless has an article for God followed by an article for Jesus and then an article for the Holy Spirit. A consistent trinitarian confession, it seems to me, would have a separate article for the Father, but the Confession shows us that most people mean the Father when they say “God” without qualification. If we ever rewrite the Mennonite Confession of Faith I’d like to suggest that we write about Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in a way that can be accepted by both unitarians and trinitarians.

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