Disillusioned conservative evangelicals in Texas drawn to Anabaptism

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.

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4 Responses to “Disillusioned conservative evangelicals in Texas drawn to Anabaptism”

  1. AllenG Says:

    TimN

    I think this is reason why Anabaptism needs to be defined within certain parameters. There are somethings that is explicit while others can be nuanced.

  2. KevinD Says:

    Correction:

    A lot of them have embraced open theism and universalism. A few are flirting with “unconventional” views of the Trinity.

    I think you just described my entire theological evolution in a single sentence.

  3. mountainguy Says:

    “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.”

    Interesting that Kierkegaard and some of his “unorthodox” followers reacted against theological liberalism; they just were not conservative usamerican evangelicals

  4. TimN Says:

    Mountainguy,

    Thanks for your observation. It’s helpful for me.

    I’m not a theologian or historian, but my sense is that there are lots of Christians out there who are drawn to Anabaptism precisely because it allows for a critique of theological liberalism.

    In the conversations on this blog terms like “liberal” and “conservative” get thrown around very imprecisely and so it’s easy to forget that the most prominent living Anabaptist theologian in the United States today, Stanley Hauerwas offers a very strong critique of liberalism:

    My problem with liberal political arrangements is not that they are liberal, but rather that Christians confuse such arrangements with Christianity. Wells notes that not all of my criticisms of liberal social and political practices depend on specific theological claims. That is true, but when I develop criticisms of liberalism using what I have learned from non-theological sources (Wolin, Coles, Connoly) I do so because I think liberalism is not only bad for Christians but also for liberals. It is so because the self that is formed by liberal practice lacks the substance to be virtuously habituated to acknowledge our character as ‘dependent rational animals’ [MacIntyre].” (p. 148-9)

    From Hauerwas’s Problem with Liberalism

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