There is a growing movement of pastors, church planters, and churches around the globe who have become convinced that the center of the Gospel is a Jesus-looking God who calls his people to partner with him to advance a Jesus-looking kingdom. They sense that God is pouring out “new kingdom wine” that is bursting apart the tired old wineskins of Christendom. They sense we are at the cusp of a rising kingdom revolution that is going to radically alter what people identity as “the Christian faith” and “the Church.” The majority of these leaders are both encouraged and discouraged. They are encouraged by the Jesus-looking kingdom revolution they see rising up, but discouraged by the lack of networking and partnership amongst others who share their convictions. –Greg Boyd and Mark Moore
Several weeks ago, Greg Boyd and Mark Moore hosted a network exploration meeting for Neo Anabaptist types in the hours leading up to the conference on “Faith, Doubt and the Idol of Certainty.” The conference, hosted by Woodland Hills Church, was slated to coincide with the recent release of Boyd’s latest book, Benefit of the Doubt. (which I hear is highly worth reading)
But it was the Neo Anabaptist “network exploration meeting” that became the basis of buzz amongst online Anabaptist circles as of late.
There certainly seems to be a need for cohesion among the emerging Neo Anabaptist churches and pastors across the country–something that goes beyond denominationalism, but can work in tandem with existing avenues (such as denominations) that many of us already have relationships with. Many think we have an opportunity to create a missional organization or association that empowers “the boots on the ground,” so to speak–a platform for Post Christendom theology and praxis.
Perhaps it is time to start bringing together minds and bodies in order to create a space for open resources, networking, and mutual affirmation. Still, the conversation thus far has given me pause, and so I want to highlight a few pitfalls to I think we should avoid as well as present a few proposals that cast some vision for the Post Christendom Reformation.
1) We need to acknowledge our privilege:
What I am not seeing so far is a space that creates agency for women, minorities, the marginalized as well as those who aren’t “big” theological personalities in the current Neo Anabaptist discussion. Let’s be honest: while I applaud Mark Moore and Greg Boyd for taking the initiative to invite Neo Anabaptist types into dialogue as an aside to this conference, I fail to see how hosting a “network exploration meeting” opens the space for the diversity the movement is already composed of, when the only ones who could attend such a meeting must have either
a) been conference town locals, or
b) have the time and means to fly to the Twin Cities and attend Greg’s conference.
Let’s have this discussion, but let’s not squeeze it in last minute before promoting a new book during a conference of the same name. While I have no reason to think that Moore and Boyd necessarily excluded disadvantaged types on purpose, I maintain that if we’re going to have a serious discussion about coming together to live out the vision of the Jesus-looking Kingdom of God, we need to be serious enough not to limit participation according to class and privilege since Jesus didn’t do that either.
So far, the Neo Anabaptist “conversation” has been instigated and lead mostly by white American males–hardly indicative of the national landscape of post-Christendom, post-colonial, and feminist Anabaptist theologies. We need to have a serious conversation about why that is, and what we are all going to do about it.
At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit didn’t descend only upon a bunch of educated, middle to upper class, straight, white males. [Mind you, that's not to say that the Holy Spirit doesn't work through them either]. In the upper room, not only the Apostles, but women were present too. There on the Temple Mount, there were more than just middle class white dude-bros. The YRR, Hipster Christianity, and other Evangelical manifestations currently dotting the American Christendom landscape are not only evincing their commercial priorities but also Who they worship, as can be seen when their leaders are homogenous in terms of class, gender, sex, and race, etc.
In other words, our God is not just the God of European men, but a marginalized peasant from Galilee. So, in that spirit, and in the spirit of our Anabaptist heroes like Barbara Rebstock (and many others), I think it entirely important that we see diversity in the leadership of any network/organization that might result from this. ESPECIALLY because, unlike the historical Anabaptists of the radical reformation– our own geographies and historic realities offer us the opportunity for such diversity. In other words, those European leaders of the Swiss Brethren couldn’t really embody these manifestations, but we can, and so I think we should, especially since Galatians emphasizes the racial/class/sexist reconciliation occurring in Christ.
We need to highlight universal voices here. We need post-Christendom, post-colonial, feminist theological thought represented. We need to hear what they have to say, and we need to let them say it! If a Church network or Anabaptist resource association comes together in the future and its leaders are only/mostly white, American, and male–then count me out.
2) What’s in a name?
A lot of possible names are getting thrown around. Conference and “networking exploration meeting” attendee Charity Jill Erickson calls it a “Peace Reformation, “ as does Zac Hoag. Such a name I’ve encountered before, as well as similar monikers like “Peace Movement,” and “Peace Church.”
In my opinion, “Peace Reformation/Church/Movement” is much too nebulous. What peace? Whose peace? Kingdom of God Peace? Soteriological Peace? Shalom? Hippie Peace?
We need better and more succinct definitions. Neo Anabaptist theology is not only about peace by worldly standards. If Anabaptistica is reduced to adult baptism and peace, then I fear we’ve already jumped the tracks. We need a set of core convictions, that leaves space for the many differences we have in Anabapist circles, while emphasizing what is most important to us–one that presents a clear vision going forward for us to rally around. Perhaps we can learn from the UK Anabaptitst Network, who operate under something just like this?
3) Protect against commercialism and co opting by interests
Erickson is spot on in her warnings concerning a Euro-centric, white, male dominated movement. She is also spot on in her critique of “commercial leadership.” I feel that any organic, grass roots movement is in danger of being co opted by commercial or political interests–even ones with the best of intentions. While I see no evidence for this happening yet, I fear that the emerging Neo Anabaptist movement in a Post Christendom America might yet get hijacked by those wishing to sell more books or tap into another emerging “Christian market.”
If we aren’t empowering the many, given the tools we already possess with the message we are attempting to present, then we are a bunch of hypocrites who don’t need to be listened to in the first place.
1) Let’s be the change we want to see:
If we’re going to emphasize the Jesus-looking Kingdom of God (and I hope we do) using an association/network of Neo Anabaptist theologians, pastors, and voices, then let’s represent God’s preferred. We need a leadership that is going to represent the vastly different, but uniquely similar theologies that all fall under Anabaptistica, but that also means we need to maintain a focus and solidarity with the poor and marginalized. This means we have more than just white, middle class, disaffected former Evangelical males in leadership. This means we have more than traditionally ethnic Anabaptist types. This means we have provided a space where others can participate regards of gender, sex, class, disability, and social location. We don’t need to spend money on a national conference that only a privileged few can attend. Utilizing the modern technologies at our disposal, it is entirely possible to have many come together for free, online, from all over the world.
2) Let’s empower those without a national platform, voice, or privileged opinion…
…while also listening to those who do. I don’t have any serious qualms with the Neo Anabaptist “leaders” who happen to have a platform of privilege. I do have a problem if those “leaders” dominate the discussion. Still, there are certainly many of these we can and should learn from, including those best selling authors and speakers who are usually ranked among the leaders of the Neo Anabaptist movement.
But how we support and affirm the marginalized bodies and voices of the emerging movement says much more to me than “what” we believe–and I think it will say much more about the God we worship also. Anabaptists have a long and storied history in affirming the priesthood of all believers, in both theological terms as well as practical ones. Learning from past mistakes, let’s create a new space where we affirm the unity we all have in Christ, who is disarming the walls that separate us according to class, gender, and race.
3) Let’s create a resource for free, accessible, Anabaptist education:
And I’m serious about this one. Instead of following the markets and commercial models of the world, let’s dare to be something different. If we want to raise up an organic and meaningful generation of Anabaptist leaders, then let’s dare to educate and empower them according to Jesus ethics, who didn’t rely on market interests in order to make the Gospel accessible. Let’s make Christian education accessible to any and everyone FOR FREE.
Let’s not make the same mistakes of other Evangelical movements. No using our collective platform to promote book sales. No selling conference tickets for hundreds of dollars a pop. If we can embody a network/association of Anabaptist pastors, theologians, and voices, then surely we must do so in the manner that Jesus did.
There are pitfalls and proposals, and I’m sure many more of you have ideas of your own. So let’s come together and make this conversation possible–BUT more so, let’s make this conversation worth having.
Tyler Tully is a Neo Anabaptist writer and blogger based out of San Antonio, Texas. A graduate of Our Lady of the Lake University with a BA in Religious Studies and Theology, Tully is currently pursuing an M.Div. from the Chicago Theological Seminary. You can also follow Tully’s theological blog, The Jesus Event.