In my role as administrator for the Young Anabaptist Radicals, I sometimes get emails from people with general questions about Anabaptism. Two weeks ago, I got an email from a professor at a college in Texas who shared the following thoughts with me. The questions I asked the professor are in bold.
For more background on these themes, see my post, Anabaptist Camp follower revisited.
Two of my students have recently found a spiritual home in the radical Anabaptist tradition, having both become disillusioned with conservative non-denominational evangelical Christianity.
For what it’s worth, I’ve had several students over the past several years who have been leaving more conservative churches (Southern Baptist and Evangelical, in particular) for progressive peace churches. I don’t know what to attribute this to, but I certainly welcome it.
Could you share any more about this?
Well, this is a very conservative area, as you can imagine, and the vast majority of students at my university belong to extremely right-wing Southern Baptist and evangelical churches. Since I started working here in 2008, I’ve had something like eight or nine students come to me expressing their deep dissatisfaction with these kinds of churches. In at least two cases, the students were actually expelled from their congregations for questioning the pastors’ teachings.
Of these students, pretty much all of them have turned to various forms of Christianity ranging from the emerging church to UCC. About six of them (that I’m aware of) have been exploring Anabaptist Christianity—which is really hard, since there aren’t any Anabaptist congregations in the area.
The most liberal churches are Disciples of Christ and United Methodist, and neither of them are especially engaged with peace and social justice issues. This is a turn-off to these students, as they really want to live their faith through service to others.
In at least some cases students have changed their views as a result of studying philosophy, particularly the writings of Kierkegaard and other liberal (or just plain "unorthodox") Christian theologians and philosophers. I’ve personally directed a lot of these kids to Yoder, Eller, Ellul and the like.
If they are in any way representative of larger trends in American Christianity, then I, for one, am very heartened.
Can you say more about what they find attractive about Anabaptism?
It’s a combination of things. For one, I believe that students are generally attracted to what they perceive as the inclusiveness, open-mindedness and tolerance of progressive Anabaptism. For another, they are very interested in living their faith by serving "the least of these" and working for peace and justice in the world.
Beyond this, I think they are looking for a Christianity that is more deeply rooted in the Gospels. They are disillusioned with the inordinate emphasis on "salvation without works" that predominates in the conservative churches. They are interested in being disciples. They are not interested in condeming people to hell.
A lot of them have embraced open theism and universalism. A few are flirting with "unconventional" views of the Trinity. I guess Anabaptism is just more amenable to these kinds of spiritual explorations.