What Hath Anabaptists To Do With Evangelicals?

PICKWICK_TemplateA few years ago I wrote an essay in a book, edited by Jared Burkholder and David Cramer, titled, The Activist Impulse: Essays on the Intersection of Evangelicalism and Anabaptism.  Since I self-identify as an evangelical, work at a college with Anabaptist roots, and study American evangelical movements, I have had an informal interest in this subject for a long time.

Cramer is a pastor and seminary professor who works at the intersection of these two Christian movements.   I met him for the first time in the Fall when I spoke about Believe Me at the Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana.

Cramer writes about that visit in a post at his new Patheos blog “Anabaptist Revisions.”  Here is a taste of “Does ‘Anabaptist Revisions’ Belong on the Evangelical Channel?“:

“Are you sure you belong on the evangelical channel?” the Patheos director of content asked me over the phone. It’s a fair question.

A couple months ago over breakfast a pastor friend from my evangelical denomination expressed his concern with what he called my “Mennonitism.” He seemed to think Anabaptist theology is incompatible with evangelicalism and to equate Anabaptism with liberalism.

The irony is that the denomination in which we both pastor was started by Mennonites who had been kicked out of the Mennonite church for their progressive methods and ideals—like singing four-part harmony, holding tent revivals, and embracing women in leadership.

The suspicion can run both ways. Last fall evangelical historian John Fea spoke at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS, the seminary where I work) and was told in no uncertain terms by one Mennonite theologian in attendance that evangelical theology is itself responsible for the violence and racism prevalent in American society. After the interaction Fea wrote that he “realized that Anabaptism and Evangelicalism are quite different, especially when it comes to the theology of the atonement and the role that doctrine plays in Christian identity.”

Read the rest here.

The *Believe Me* Book Tour Rolls Through Elkhart, Indiana and Holland, Michigan

Hope College

During the Q&A session at Taylor University on Tuesday night someone asked me if my work at a college with Anabaptist roots (Messiah College) influenced what I wrote in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald TrumpIt was a great question–one that I have thought a lot about.  Historian Jared Burkholder made the same observation a few months ago.

This question was on my mind again on Wednesday afternoon when I spoke to a group of faculty, students, and staff at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS) in Elkhart, Indiana.  During the conversation following my talk, I realized that a lot of my thinking about religion, politics, justice, and public life is very compatible with the views of my Mennonite brothers and sisters, especially when it comes to the Christian nationalism that drives so many white evangelicals.  I felt at home at AMBS.  At the same time, I also realized that Anabaptism and Evangelicalism are quite different, especially when it comes to the theology of the atonement and the role that doctrine plays in Christian identity.  After talking to folks at AMBS, I realized that I need to go back and re-read Burkholder and David Cramer’s book The Activist Impulse: Essays on the Intersection of Evangelicalism and Anabaptists.

Fea at AMBS

Thanks to Janna Hunter-Bowman for the invitation and thanks to everyone who came out for the talk, including David Cramer and AMBS president Sara Wenger Shenk.

After the AMBS visit I drove up to Holland, Michigan for an evening talk at Hope College in Holland, Michigan.  We had a great turnout and one of the more engaging Q&A sessions of the tour.  Thanks to Jeanne Pettit of the Hope history department for the invitation.  It was also great to see my old friend and Hope historian Fred Johnson and meet so many Hope professors, including Lynn Japinga, Aaron Franzen, Wayne Tan, Mark Baer (who is leading a church reading group on Believe Me), Janis Gibbs, Steven Bouma-Prediger, David Ryden, and Virginia Beard.

I tweeted about my favorite moment of the night:

On to Calvin College for the meeting of the Conference on Faith and History. See you there.

The *Believe Me* Book Tour is Coming to Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana

AMBS

I will be talking about Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS) in Elkhart on October 3, 2018.  The event is part of the AMBS Noon Lunch Forum and will take place in the Lambright Dining Hall at noon.

The event is open to the public, but the organizers ask that you RSVP if you wish to enjoy the meal ($6.50) that will be served during the talk.  If you are coming for lunch please send an e-mail by Monday to lkvandrick(at)ambs(dot)edu

Jared Burkholder Reviews *Believe Me*

Believe Me Banner

When you get a chance, check out the new look at Jared Burkholder‘s blog The Hermeneutic Circle.

Today he is running a review of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.

This is my favorite review so far! Not only is it a positive review, but I appreciate the way Jared connects Believe Me to some of my earlier work in the history of 20th-century evangelicalism and fundamentalism and my experience as a student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.  I am also guessing that he will be the only reviewer to suggest that the Anabaptist heritage of Messiah College may be rubbing-off on me!

Here is a taste:

Historian John Fea gets back to his roots in explaining the “81%.” (The percentage of evangelicals who supposedly voted for President Trump.) Though he has a long list of accomplishments in mainstream historical circles, Fea’s original forays into writing about history was as a graduate student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he studied the history of fundamentalism and evangelicalism under old-school church historian, John Woodbridge. I got to know John after he moved on from Trinity, but it was through the influence of him and others like him that I enrolled in the same program. In fact, when I had Woodbridge as a professor, our class used a bibliography on American fundamentalism that Fea had compiled while he was a student. While at Trinity, he completed a thesis on hard-core conservative fundamentalists. So while Fea has moved on to weightier topics such as the American Revolution, the early Republic, and Christian nationalism, he knows a thing or two about conservative evangelicals and the roots of the Religious Right. Fea draws on all these experiences in writing about how evangelicals helped to put Trump in office and why many continue to support the president, despite the president’s lack of Christian virtue.

Read the entire review here.

Can Progressive Evangelicals Claim the “Anabaptist” Label?

mennonite

Alexanderwohl Mennonite Church: Goessel, Kansas (Wikipedia)

Richard Beck of Abilene Christian University has written a very interesting piece explaining the difference between progressive evangelicalism and Anabaptism.   The election of Donald Trump has led many progressive Christians to claim the Anabaptist mantle But as Beck explains, this progressive approach to politics does not always conform to Anabaptist political teaching.

Here is a taste of Beck’s piece at Mennonite World Review:

The story starts in 2003, with George W. Bush and the invasion of Iraq. Many progressive Christians mobilized against that war. At the time, social media was just exploding. Blogging was in its Golden Age. Twitter would show up in 2006, just in time for the 2007-2008 Presidential campaign where we debated the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, torture and Guantanamo Bay.

As these debates raged on social media, Anabaptist theology, with its criticisms of nationalism and war, became a powerful theological tool in the hands of progressive Christians to level indictments at the Bush administration.

In addition, emergent and post-evangelical expressions of Christianity were going strong. Many disaffected and disillusioned evangelicals were looking around for theological positions that critiqued how evangelicalism had been co-opted by politics. With its strong criticisms of Constantinianism, Anabaptist theology also fit that bill.

And so it was during these years that many progressive Christians, in using Anabaptist theology so effectively to critique the Bush administration and the politicization of evangelicalism, convinced themselves that they were Anabaptists.

But they weren’t Anabaptists, not really.

Why weren’t progressives Anabaptists? Two reasons.

First, there’s more to Anabaptist theology than its peace witness. Anabaptist theology also espouses a robust ecclesiology, the church as the locus of life and political witness. This aspect of Anabaptist theology doesn’t sit well with many progressive Christians, who would rather work as political activists than invest in the daily life of a local church. To be sure, many post-evangelical progressive Christians harbor nostalgia for the local church, memories of hymn sings, youth camps, vacation Bible school and pot luck casseroles. But at the end of the day, progressive Christians tend to think calling Congress, community organizing and marching in protests are the best ways to make the kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

Second, the robust ecclesiology of Anabaptist thought and practice works with a strong church-vs.-world distinction. This contrast has been famously captured by Stanley Hauerwas: “The first task of the church is not to make the world more just but to make the world the world.” In Anabaptist thought the church is set apart from the world, its goal to be a witness to the Powers by making a stark contrast between the kingdom of God and Babylon.

Read the entire piece here.

The Author’s Corner with David Weaver-Zercher

MartyrsMirrorDavid Weaver-Zercher is Professor of American Religious History at Messiah College. This interview is based on his new book, Martyrs Mirror: A Social History (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016).

JF: What led you to write Martyrs Mirror?

DWZ: Anyone who studies Anabaptist groups (i.e., Amish, Mennonites, and Hutterites) knows that Martyrs Mirror—Thieleman van Braght’s thousand-page martyr book, first published in 1660—shows up at every turn. I’ve long been interested the book’s staying power (a thousand newly printed copies are sold every year), as well as the way different people and different groups have appropriated the martyrs’ legacy. The martyrology itself is fascinating, but to me, the conversations the book has generated over the centuries are even more interesting.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Martyrs Mirror?

DWZ: More than any other text, Martyrs Mirror has shaped the way Anabaptists conceive of Christian faithfulness, forcing generations of readers to take stock of their own lives vis-à-vis the sixteenth-century Anabaptist martyrs. Competing interpretations of the book both reveal and reinforce divisions in the Anabaptist world; at the same time, the book’s presence in conversations about faithful living provide a common thread that connect contemporary Anabaptists who have little else in common. 

JF: Why do we need to read Martyrs Mirror?

DWZ: For religious historians, my book provides a unique overview of Anabaptist history (especially in North America), using the tradition’s classic text to trace both the unity and diversity that has existed in the tradition from the very beginning. For historians of print culture, my book offers a case study on how texts help to create communities, and how religious communities use texts to create and sustain memory.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

DWZ: When I was in seminary, church history courses were always my favorite courses. I often found myself reading more than I needed to, just for fun. And when I came across a book or article that was especially well written, I began thinking that I’d like to do that someday.

JF: What is your next project?

DWZ: I continue to be interested in the imaginative lives of religious people, particularly as they imagine themselves to be inhabiting places of peril. For my next project I hope to expand my frame beyond Anabaptist groups to look at twentieth-century evangelicals who used danger, real or imagined, to refine their faith (or the faith of others, particularly adolescents).

JF: Thanks, David!

The Anabaptist Turn in American Evangelical Historiography

50f82-worthenIn some respects we are all Anabaptists these days–at least those of us who are bothered by the way politicians tend to conflate the church and the United States of America.

I don’t know what the prevalence of Christian nationalism today has to do with recent trends in the historiography of American evangelicalism, but I am confident that future historians will make this connection.

My colleague Devin Manzullo-Thomas, the Director of the Sider Institute at Messiah College and a Ph.D student in American history at Temple University, has a nice review in The Conrad Grebel Review of three important books on the history of American evangelicalism.  They are David Swartz’s Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism; Brantley Gasaway’s Progressive Evangelicals and the Pursuit of Social Justice, and Molly Worthen’s The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism.

Here is a taste of his piece, “The Not-So-Quiet in the Land: The Anabaptist Turn in Recent American Evangelical Historiography.”

In the historiography of North American Anabaptism, evangelicalism typically functions in one of two ways. Some Mennonite-produced analyses have depicted evangelicalism as a threat to Anabaptist distinctives, infiltrating and infecting thought and practice on peace, simple living, and the gathered church—a so-called declension thesis. By contrast, other scholarship—often produced by Anabaptist groups outside the denominational orbits of the (Old) Mennonite and the General Conference Mennonite churches—has envisioned evangelicalism as an ally to Anabaptist values. It Gasawayargues that shared convictions have guided the two traditions toward mutual influence and fruitful dialogue—a kind of integration thesis.  Whether focusing on corruption or cordiality, though, these two divergent historiographical models share at least one conviction: Given evangelicalism’s demographic and cultural dominance within North American Christianity throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the Anabaptist story cannot be told without some reference to this larger tradition.

Yet for all the attention paid to evangelicalism by scholars of Anabaptism, scholars of evangelicalism have paid little to no attention to Anabaptists. Mennonites and Brethren in Christ rarely feature as actors in narratives of evangelical experience in America.  A variety of factors shapes this historiographical reality, including Anabaptists’ own ambivalence about their status as evangelicals. Perhaps the most significant factor in the absence of Anabaptism in evangelical historiography is what historian Douglas A. Sweeney has termed the “jockey[ing] for historiographical position” among two factions of scholars that he terms the Reformed and Holiness schools of evangelical history.  The historiographical models proposed by these two schools have dominated the literature on evangelicalism as it has emerged over the last three decades. In effect, they have so determined the actors in histories of evangelicalism that related groups—including groups like Anabaptists that do not always claim the evangelical label yet nevertheless moved through the 20th century in related ways—have been excluded from the narrative.

7b96a-swartzEven so, in recent years the prevailing models of evangelical historiography have proven too limiting. Several studies of post-World War II American evangelicalism published since 2012 exemplify the emergence of a new trajectory that moves beyond the “essential evangelical dialectic” of the Reformed and Holiness schools. It constitutes an Anabaptist turn in recent evangelical historiography, as scholars have inserted Anabaptists as key figures in the history of American evangelicalism.

Read the rest (with the footnotes) here.

"The Search for Piety and Obedience" Moves To a New Location

Devin Manzullo-Thomas

Some of you are familiar with Devin Manzullo-Thomas‘s blog “The Search for Piety and Obedience.” It just came to my attention that this great blog on the Brethren in Christ Church and the connections between Anabaptism and evangelicalism has moved to the website of the Brethren in Christ Historical Society.

Devin also runs The Sider Institute for Anabaptist, Pietist, and Wesleyan Studies at Messiah College and coordinates the Ernest L. Boyer Center Archives.

If you are interested in American religious history, the history of evangelicalism, or Anabaptist I highly recommend “The Search for Piety and Obedience.”  I also recommend Devin’s recent articles on Anabaptism and the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities.  You can read them at The Pietist Schoolman here and here.

Is There An Anabaptist Vision of Sport?

Does look like an Anabaptist celebration?

Over at The Pietist Schoolman, Chris Gehrz gives us a preview of his forthcoming presentation for the 2015 Baylor Symposium on Faith and Culture: “Anabaptist Visions of Sport: Separation, Accommodation, and Transformation.”

Gehrz sings the praises of Messiah College athletics:

…But no Goshen program has achieved anything approaching the competitive results of the two soccer teams at Messiah: the Falcon men have won ten national championships since 2000 and the women five. (The softball, track and field, and wrestling teams have also won national championships.) Earlier this year Messiah was named the 8th best college for female athletes, higher than any other Division III school (Wheaton came in at #18) and edging out D-I powerhouses like Alabama, Florida, Michigan, and Oklahoma.

In 2009 USA Today ran a feature story on Messiah athleticsin which student-athletes, coaches, and administrators made clear that personal development and fellowship were more important than winning. (“I don’t really think God concerns Himself — or Herself, however you want to say that — with who wins or loses,” said then-campus pastor Eldon Fry.) But reporter Erik Brady did pick up on the seeming tension between Messiah’s Anabaptist roots and its latter-day embrace of sport:
Given the school’s pacifist roots, what’s with the fierce falcon mascot? “This is not a dove,” [president Kim] Phipps says. “We’re talking here about competition.”

Brady identified Messiah more in terms of evangelicalism, as did Messiah professor John Fea, in a blog post commenting on the article: “Most of our students come from evangelical backgrounds. Many of them are very pious and this often translates into their performance on the athletic fields.” So perhaps all this tells us is that the school has moved further away from its Anabaptist heritage.

Since Chris quotes me here, allow me to make a very quick observation about our athletic program.  I hope the folks in the athletic department will take this as the musings of a fan and outsider observer rather than as an expert who knows how to run an athletic program.

Does Messiah College promote a distinctly “Christian” view of intercollegiate athletic competition? Yes–absolutely.  Most of the coaches that I know are evangelical Christians.  Most of the players are also evangelical and those who are not quickly adjust and adapt to the evangelical culture of the team and the college.  Messiah College athletes pray together, they have Bible studies, they do team-bonding activities that are both fun and spiritual.  They go on mission-oriented trips around the world.

But is there some way in which Messiah College athletics is distinctly “Anabaptist” in nature?  I don’t think so.  The Messiah athletic facilities fly an American flag and the National Anthem is played before games.  (The only places on campus where the flag can be found).  The college now plays NCAA tournament games on Sundays.  I also wonder if they wear uniforms or use equipment made by poor, underpaid laborers in countries around the world. (I would be happy to be corrected on this). They promote themselves in a way that is no different than any other sports program.  And they have a pretty slick (definitely not “plain”) website.

I am not sure if all of this is good or bad, but I do think that one would be hard pressed today to call the Messiah College athletic program “Anabaptist” in nature.

Of course historians study change over time.  And Gehrz’s piece is interesting in the way it compares an older vision of Messiah athletics with its current manifestation as an NCAA Division III powerhouse and one of the best places in the country to be a student-athlete.

Quote of the Day

I’m not a Mennonite, but I resonate with this:

It’s interesting being a Mennonite and an academic. Sometimes I find my Anabaptist-Mennonite sensibilities grating against the norms of academia: my “priesthood of all believers” mentality against intellectual elitism, my discipleship/faith-without-works-is-dead mentality against the divorcing of theory from practice, and especially, my appreciation for the “plain sense” and the poetry of Scripture (in the vernacular!) against the inaccessibility of academic language.

From Susan Guenther Louwen, a in a Mennonite World Review article, “Being a Mennonite Academic.”

HT: Devin Manzullo-Thomas

Ernie Boyer for Peace

You cannot spend any length of time at Messiah College without hearing about Ernest L. Boyer.  Boyer was a Messiah alumnus, the Commissioner of Education in the Carter Administration (this was before the creation of the cabinet position known today as the “Secretary of Education”), the Chancellor of the State University of New York system, and the president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.”

As Devin Manzullo-Thomas notes at his excellent blog, “The Search for Piety and Obedience,” Boyer was also a member of the Brethren in Christ Church.  Manzullo-Thomas has posted a clip of an interview with Boyer in which he discusses the importance of peace.  I am guessing it was conducted sometime in the early 1980s.

Sunday School at Slate Hill Mennonite

I spent the last three Sundays teaching Sunday School at Slate Hill Mennonite Church, a local congregation in the area where I live.  I was invited by my friend and colleague David Weaver-Zercher (check out his new book, The Amish Way) to do a three-week series on Was America Founded as Christian Nation: A Historical Introduction.

I don’t know what the “students” in the class thought about the course, but I really enjoyed  bringing some of my research to the lay Christian audiences I hope to reach with my book. The material led to some fruitful conversation and discussion on the topic and the adult churchgoers in the class seemed very engaged with the subject.  (Of course it also helped to have five or six Messiah College faculty members in the class!  I joked that I had never taught a Sunday School class with so many Ph.Ds in the room!). 

As Mennonites, many of those in attendance seemed fascinated, and probably a bit disturbed, by the way in which the founding fathers often linked Christianity to the general well-being of the American republic.  Folks like Franklin, Washington, Jefferson, etc… believed that Christianity was essential to a successful republic. The state needed Christian churches to flourish in order to make the United States a virtuous nation. In other words, these founders seemed more interested in Christianity as a means of serving the state than they were as a means to draw closer to God.

I think I might become a Mennonite!