Engaging Anabaptism John D. Roth, editor Scottdale, PA/Waterloo, ON: 2001
Engaging Anabaptism provides a perspective on Anabaptist theology in the words of thinkers from a variety of traditions. Almost universally the conversation with the Anabaptist tradition was couched in terms of interaction with John Howard Yoder, who is credited with re-introducing the Anabaptist voice to the current theological conversation. McClendon describes his experience of reading Yoder’s Politics of Jesus as a second conversion (21). Variations on this sentiment was echoed by other conversation partners. While the emphasis on Yoder’s work is understandable, it does mitigate the value of this book as a conversation with this radical tradition. Whatever one’s evaluation of Yoder’s representation of Anabaptist values, this radical tradition consists of more voices than only Yoder.
The well known emphasis on community and an integrated care for the poor and powerless are prominent themes. The peace stance linked to a concern for justice was a frequent point of entry into Anabaptist thought for the contributors (76f). Most noteworthy, however, is the recognition that ultimately Anabaptist thought is persuasive not primarily of the basis of convincing argumentation, but on the strength of a deep resonance with the biblical text (33, 77).
What I take to be the most decisive factor in Anabaptist thought, the hermeneutic which takes the life and teachings of Jesus to be the primary lens for understanding all of scripture, is contrasted with the comparatively weak centrality of Christ operative in much of Christian theology. Marshall notes that “all Christian traditions are Christocentric, which is what makes them Christian in the first place,” but “it is Anabaptism’s central commitment to the paradigmatic significance of Jesus’ life and teachings that offers the soundest basis for genuine integration to occur” (46f). Murray cites the difference in the hermeneutic as Christocentric rather than Christological (98). Whereas Christological methods interpret scripture with references to doctrines about Jesus, the Christocentric approach recognizes Jesus as God Incarnate, and reads all of scripture in consideration of the life and teachings of the God we see in Jesus.
This book is a worthwhile read for those who are interested in how theologians from other streams view the Anabaptist tradition. The caliber of contributions in this volume range from fairly short testimonials to more extended interactions and critiques. They also range from fuzzy feel good affirmations to strong endorsements to maintain our eminently biblical commitments because we supply a voice that the broader Christian community needs to hear.