Anabaptism

the UNkingdom of GOD: Embracing The Subversive Power of Repentance by Mark Van Steenwyk – Book Review

(This post was originally posted at http://drewgihart.com/2013/08/28/unkingdombookreview/)

Mark Van Steenwyk has written a thoughtful reflection on the significance of Jesus and his in-breaking Kingdom as an alternative way of being in our society that is marred by evil forces, social structures, death-dealing oppression, and coercive violence. the UNkingdom of God is a subversive and anti-imperial vision for a repentant life concretely following after Jesus, that doesn’t attempt domestication or try to mince words. The book reflects the radicalism of an Anabaptist vision, as well as a liberative and prophetic witness that takes seriously the abandoning of empire while walking humbly in the footsteps and Way of Jesus.

One of the most important things about the UNkingdom of God is the way that he exposes how America and Christianity have merged so profoundly, being so deeply intertwined, that it has merely become an imperial puppet and tool. This is primarily done through personal stories as he retells his own story of being indoctrinated with American Christianity, awaking from it, and then ultimately repenting from it. It is primarily his own lived experience being told, often humorously, that I believe will resonate with many that consider themselves Christian while also a part of the dominant culture. For example he begins in the introduction explaining his infatuation with America and its ‘Dream’, and how he responded when he heard the song “God Bless the USA” as he watched fireworks in the sky. He explains:

At this point, I could no longer sing along. With tears in my eyes and a sob in my throat, I broke down weeping. I was overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude and pride. I wept as the song played out, and I continued to weep as the fireworks began to fill the night sky. It was like a mystical experience.[1]

Clearly, Mark Van Steenwyk understands what it is like to be enthralled with America and American Christianity. However, he didn’t remain there. The goal of the book is to call people to repentance. And this is the particular strength of this book. I am not sure I have read a book that has so clearly and powerfully called people to repentance in a way that resonates with the way that Jesus did so. We are challenged to repent of our Christianity and how we have been unwilling to experience God because we have him figured out already. He names the issue. It is that “We think we are open to learning the way of Jesus, but our cup is already full of our own ideas.”[2] It is something that we are not conscious of, therefore, we go on engaging scripture and sermons as though we are growing in Christ, when in reality our cups are already full, so everything else just spills out. Steenwyk reminds us that “We need to empty our cups. We need to repent of the myths that crowd our imaginations. We need to repent of our Christianity.”[3] Ultimately, Steenwyk describes that we need to even release and let go of our image and understanding of Jesus before we can truly “be the love of Christ in our world.”[4]

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“I once was raised, but now I’ve found” featuring Drew GI Hart

Today continues with the series, “I once was raised… but now I’ve found…” where some of my favorite authors, bloggers, scholars, and theologians explain the transitions they have encountered along their own faith journey. As the series continues, you’ll find me interviewing the guest bloggers below, as they answer questions I’ve posed about their experiences.

My interview with Drew proved to be too intense and too important to try and cram into one long blog post, so I’ll be posting part II in the near future. I hope you enjoy it, and learn from them as much as I have.

c080aa545d1fe8b9368b6379e87a272a“I once was raised African American Evangelical, but now I’ve found Jesus through the Black Prophetic Church tradition and Anabaptism.”–Drew G.I. Hart


Tyler- Evangelical is a word thrown around a lot in the media and in Christian circles. One rarely hears the phrase “African American Evangelical”–can you share what makes African American Evangelicalism and what its like being raised in that environment?

Great question, although in reality, I think people are probably a lot more familiar with what I call ‘African American Evangelicalism’ than they realize. However, I will start with a definition before I go there. As I see it, African American Evangelicalism is the by-product of Evangelical theology and African American experience blending together. So, in this sense, African American Evangelicalism would not be an exact duplicate of most dominant cultural expressions of evangelicalism. And yet still, they are closely related. Most African Americans share a lot in common theologically with evangelicals already, which is no surprise given that Black faith at the core is significantly shaped by the reinterpretation of white southern Baptist and southern Methodist traditions, in which Africans converted to in mass in the midst of slavery. (more…)

I once was raised a Feminist, but now I’ve found Feminism

This post was originally featured on The Jesus Event, and is part of a series entitled “I once was raised… but now I’ve found…” where some of the author’s favorite writers, bloggers, scholars, and theologians explain the transitions they have encountered along their own faith journey.

Below is an interview with The Jesus Event’s Tyler Tully and the Femonite’s Hannah Heinzekehr

Tyler- There are a lot of misconceptions out there about being a Mennonite and being raised as a Mennonite. You seemed to have been raised by parents who made room for good theological frameworks. How would you explain what it is like being raised as a Mennonite?

Hannah- Well, for me, being raised as a Mennonite didn’t mean looking “outwardly different” at all. For me, what it meant to grow up Mennonite was that there was always an emphasis on Jesus’ story and what that meant for how we lived. And some of the ways that this got expressed were through baptism later in life — baptism occurred when you were old enough to make a conscious choice that you have to make on your own to follow Jesus. It also included an emphasis on peace and nonviolence as part of the way that we were meant to live in the world. For my family, being Mennonite also meant being pacifist and resisting violence in all its many forms. This doesn’t mean that we are passive — I think we also strongly believed that we were meant to protest against injustice in the world — but we weren’t going to use violence to do this work. And the third thing that I often think of is that being Mennonite, for my family, meant being part of a church community that was active in each other’s lives and not just on Sundays.
I think there was a strong emphasis on communal decision making and being willing to give and receive counsel to one another.

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Wanted: Stories of Women & Leadership in Mennonite Church USA (which I always think sounds like a sports team)

“I will tell you something about stories . . . They aren’t just entertainment. Don’t be fooled. They are all we have, you see, all we have to fight off illness and death.”
~Leslie Marmon Silko

I truly believe that sharing our stories–including the actual process of writing them out–is one of our most powerful tools–a small act that starts a transformation in ourselves and the world around us. What if sharing our stories could help future generations of both men and women? What if a story could “overturn a table” in the various Temples of our day– including in the bellies of our own communities and congregations? Social media’s given more women affiliated with Mennonite Church USA a chance to get a glimpse of the diversity and reality present in our national congregations and communities–a reality and diversity that’s not always heard or lived out, let alone celebrated.

Let’s change that. Every step and every story counts.

Wanted: Stories from any woman or girl who considers herself Mennonite or shaped by the Anabaptist-Mennonite traditions. Check out the newly launched Mennonite Monologues web site where stories can be told through essays, poems, art, songs, photographs, and other forms of creative expression. The Women and Leadership Project needs stories that speak to your truth and experience: joy and gratitude, as well as stories of lament and pain. Multiple stories are encouraged. Whatever story you wish to tell, it is welcome. All will be collected on our blog and may be submitted with a name or anonymously.

“Women have often felt insane when cleaving to the truth of our experience. Our future depends on the sanity of each of us, and we have a profound stake, beyond the personal, in the project of describing our reality as candidly and fully as we can to each other.”
~Adrienne Rich


Prompts to help get you started

-As a woman, what are the stories that have shaped your sense of leadership?
-What are your experiences of being called (or not called) to leadership in Mennonite Church USA?
-How have you been empowered by the church to lead?
-How have you been discouraged from taking on leadership roles?
-Do you think there is a difference in the ways women and men are cultivated to be leaders?
-Did you grow up seeing women in leadership?
-Who were your mentors?
-What is your ideal vision of church leadership in the future? Where do you fit in?

YAR, we need your awesomely radical selves! Thanks for helping to spread the word. ~Women in Leadership Project, Mennonite Monologues team

Jesus’ bad example: Overturning tables in Phoenix

Image by Dave King www.flickr.com/photos/djking/3728775956/

Oh how I wish Jesus had set a better example!

Let’s be reasonable here. He should have proposed his prophetic action in consultation with the religious leadership far in advance of the Passover feasts. This would have reduced so much stress for the Pharisees and scribes.

He shouldn’t have made his case using sacred scriptures. Too risky, too radical, too much playing his religion card like he knew it all. Why did he have to bring Isaiah or Jeremiah into this, crazy activists claiming God’s house for foreigners, eunuchs and the like! One issue at a time now! How dare he come to the temple with an agenda!

He certainly should have worked within the structures to ensure no one would be offended, no one would risk the chance at dialogue due to untimely, unvetted mention of certain outcasts. Didn’t he know that if you want to include these people, you have to exclude those people.

He should have toned it down at least a little, no name-calling nor blocking pedestrian traffic in the temple. And what’s with the whip of cords!?

Read more and get involved over at overturningtables.org!

My Day With the Mennonites

I have been identifying with Anabaptist Christianity since some point last year. There was so much I loved about that particular approach to Christianity, and that is still the case. When I first found out what Anabaptism was, and I seriously wanted to identify with it, I quickly realized that I was in a black hole of the Anabaptist tradition. The Brethren churches formed a circle around my area, but there was not one in my area. When it came to the Mennonites, there were a few churches, but they were not close enough for me to attend regularly. At first, I thought I was stuck, but recently I was finally able to get in touch with some of the Mennonites in the area. Today was particularly special in that I was able to visit one of the Mennonite churches.

At first, I thought that I would not be able to visit because of my limited access to transportation, but then I started talking to one of the members of the church. First, they got me in touch with some Mennonites who are operating closer to me than I thought, and I have made plans to work with them in the near future. I still, however, wanted to visit a Mennonite church beforehand. I have heard a stereotype that Mennonites are supposed to be hospitable people. Well in this case, the stereotype proved correct, because my friend offered to take me to visit his church, even though it would mean an hour drive. So, we arranged for me to visit. (more…)

Establishment Anabaptists, part 1: David Joris’ authority and Menno Simons

This multi-part post is the first in the Anabaptist Streams series here on Young Anabaptist Radicals, in which we’ll be looking at different streams of early Anabaptism and making connections with our own context. The series will feature different authors over the coming months and is loosely based on Rodney Sawatsky’s model of four streams of Anabaptism. It will feature different authors over the coming months, each looking at a different stream.

In this article (and two following) I’ll focus on the Davidites, a little known Anabaptist sect that had a tremendous impact on Menno Simons and the group that became the Mennonites, what Sawatsky identifies as the establishment stream. The Davidites were the followers of David Joris, an urban prophet responding to massive disruption of the traditional social fabric, what Ferdinand Tönnies called Gemeinschaft (Graham and Haidt, 376). Understanding Joris can help us understand Mennonites and how they became who they are today. I’ll be drawing heavily on Gary Waite’s David Joris and Dutch Anabaptism, 1524-1543.

David JorisDavid Joris, painted between 1635 and 1665. From Wikipedia

We’ll start by looking at how Joris established his authority as a leader. Anabaptists as a movement rejected traditional sources of authority, so the question of how to organize their own communities was constantly evolving.

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The Kingdom of God and America (Crosspost)

Yesterday being Father’s Day, I naturally got to thinking about my father. I love him dearly, but he is literally the exact opposite of almost everything I stand for. To give you a rough picture of who he is, he listens to Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, Sean Hannity, and Glenn Beck on his radio daily; he used to be a police officer, then a constable, and now he is a TSA agent. That is only the tip of the iceberg. What often gets me thinking, and the reason I write this post, is the sort of fusion of cultural Christianity and American patriotism that I find with people like my father. In this context, Christianity is not so much a way of life, but more like an ethnic heritage and set of social customs that are merely used to reflect the American way of life.

Though it was my father who got me thinking about this subject, it is something that is found globally. Every empire for the last 1700 years has been turning Christianity, or at least the facade of Christianity, into a religion that can be used to reinforce the imperial way of being. I think a great example of what this kind of Christianity is pretty much any state church in western Europe. Most of these churches have almost lost every single legitimate believer, but a shell of Christianity remains as part of the historical and national heritage. Church is for baptisms, confirmations, weddings, funerals, and presidential inaugurations, but very little of it is used for everyday Christianity. I also suspect that Mainline Protestantism will be in a similar situation either very soon, or it is already there. (more…)

Remembering Thomas Müntzer

I was reminded that today, this Memorial Day, marks the anniversary of Thomas Müntzer’s death. He was executed by beheading on this day in 1525. Whatever your thoughts on Müntzer are, he is still part of the Anabaptist tradition, and I will probably be mentioning him in a couple weeks with a post on transformationist Anabaptism. While I do not like Müntzer’s advocacy for violence, there is something that we can certainly learn from him — he took the economic teachings of Jesus and the apostles very seriously. In our day of capitalism, individualism, and greed, his call to return to the economics of Jesus is certainly something we can admire.

Grafting streams: from Church of Christ to Anabaptist

I grew up in Church of Christ, a branch of the Stone/Campbell movement (along with the Christian Church and Disciples of Christ with the Church of Christ being the most conservative). If you think of them as Southern Baptists without a formal denomination structure or musical instruments in worship, you would have a fair approximation. I grew up conflating Christianity with America, the Republican Party (particularly the Libertarian wing) and the military.

Among the strengths of the church were the desire to do the will of God, a strong theology of the priesthood of all (unfortunately just male) adult believers, and the willingness to be counter-cultural. They are officially non-creedal, but they have collected a set of traditions, especially of which parts of scripture are enshrined and which are explained away that can be at least as powerful as any written creed. (more…)

Becoming Franciscan

When my Christian faith first began to radicalize, I became very interested in the Franciscan tradition. The advocacy for radical discipleship, peace, and social and environmental justice that is associated with the ministry of Francis of Assisi naturally appealed to me. At first, I did as many do, and associated the Franciscan tradition with Roman Catholicism, but as I studied more, I found that the Franciscan movement is actually surprisingly diverse.

Back when Francis first started out, there were already a few different sects that identified with his movement, and some were so radical that they were even expelled as heretics. To be honest, I am surprised that Francis was not expelled as a heretic, like so many similar figures were. Even today, there are multiple Franciscan orders in the Roman Catholic Church, and there are numerous Anglican, Lutheran, Old Catholic, and ecumenical Franciscan orders. When I first started investigating the Franciscan tradition, and considered joining it, it was the Order of Ecumenical Franciscans that appealed to me. I actually planned on joining this order. I had spoken with one of their members about it, and even had the application ready to send in, but other events in my life caused me to put that on hold. I started to study other radical traditions, such as the Anabaptists, instead.

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Gelassenheit: Radical Self-surrender

As Anabaptism emerged in 1525, opponents of this new movement described those who became a part of this movement as “radicals.” They even described it as “the Radical Reformation.” Why did they describe this movement as “radical”?

In one way it seems fitting. The early Anabaptists did not seek to reform the church but to restore it to the way of Jesus—the way in which the community of Jesus was gathered and was taught. This way meant taking the teachings and life of Jesus seriously; to live according to his example. For example, given that Jesus was the Prince of Peace, it was a call for his followers to live by this same peace. When Jesus taught to love one’s enemies, it was a call to not seek ways of killing someone. Jesus, the kingdom that he inaugurated, and his invitation to participate in this kingdom is radical. Therefore to live by his example would be very radical!

There were several particular reasons why the Anabaptists were described as “radicals” in the 16th century. One reason was that to follow in the ways of Jesus required one to live according to his example. Menno Simons wrote in 1539 that “Whosoever boasts that he is a Christian, the same must walk as Christ walked.” A follower would need to make a voluntary decision to follow the way of Jesus. Second, was the conviction that to follow Jesus, the Prince of Peace, meant also being people of peace. This meant practicing nonviolence even if confronted by violence. “Pacifism” is the word used to describe this path of discipleship. They believed that God’s shalom (peace) would not come through violence. Third, the ways of Jesus, his kingdom, and thus the ways of the community—the church—seeking to be faithful to Jesus and the kingdom would lead to practices that would conflict with the principalities and powers. The focus of these principalities and powers was not, and would not be, the pursuit of the kingdom of God. This becomes apparent in that “the powers” normally use a top-down, authoritarian form of ruler-ship and power, whereas the Anabaptist understanding of church assumes a bottom-up, servant attitude towards the other. Also, the state could not depend on these radicals to participate in the call to war and killing. This was revolutionary. The call of the disciple of Jesus was to follow his will even if that put them into conflict with the will and desire of the state.

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Community and Tradition

I was not raised in the Christian religion. Like many from the First World, I was raised in a Christian culture, but I was not raised in the church or with a knowledge of the Christian religion. I spent most of my childhood as an agnostic with some Buddhist flavor, and when I was exposed to the Bible, it was through a children’s storybook. As a result, I associated the Bible with fairy tales. This would eventually come to change as I felt the desire to actually study religion. Part of it due to my brother’s influence.

My brother was like me. He was not raised in Christianity, but later converted to it as a teenager. He originally came to Christ through the Pentecostals, then he became an Evangelical. It was when he was attending an Evangelical Free church that I first came to truly appreciate Christianity again. It was also during this time that I got my first Bible, which was the New Living Translation. I did not believe in Christianity during this time, but it was something interesting to study and do on the weekends.

One thing that I learned from Evangelical Protestantism was that everything is personal and private. We are supposed to have a personal relationship with Jesus. We are supposed to personally convert to Christianity, and salvation was all about personal redemption from sin and death. Even the Bible was to be read and interpreted privately. Even in economics, Evangelicals tend to stress capitalism and enterprise over community and charity. Then, I began to study Catholic theology, and I started to use a New American Bible.

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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.

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Hardly Anabaptist

As mentioned I did some research on the issue of whether the SBC or Baptists in general were Anabaptists or had any historical connection with them. The following is what I uncovered on the matter.

Years ago, when I started investigating Anabaptistica the Anabaptists were still the pariahs of the Reformation. Church History texts relegated them to the inquisitional dungeons of Christendom in the form of an obscure sentence or paragraph generally accompanied by the terms “heretic” or “aberrant”.  Now everyone appears to taking on the Anabaptist moniker as mentioned previously principally the Baptists.

Not too long ago Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary held the Anabaptism and Contemporary Baptists Conference in which the speakers praised Anabaptism and they passionately made the claim that contemporary Baptists were descended from this group.

However, many scholars find very little connection between the two groups in any significant sense. Contemporary Baptists originated from two streams or individuals namely John Smyth (c. 1565 – 1612) and Thomas Helwys (c. 1570 – c. 1615) around the 17th century.

Just because the designation Anabaptist has “baptist” in it that does not signify that, they are associated or originated with Anabaptists. There is not definitive relationship to the “Anabaptists” but the Waterlander Mennonites briefly influenced John Smyth whereas Helwys (Smyth successor of sorts) had reservations about the Mennonites specifically their Christology thus he severed bonds with the group.

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