Tag Archives: Conversation

Why more books?

It was rather surreal to see the book in print. In case you missed the tweets and Facebook posts, we rolled out the first book of a new constructive theology series from a Brethren perspective. Kate Eisenbise-Crell pulled together a fantastic volume on atonement (how we are made one again with God). The book is called Cooperative Salvation, and is a helpful study of various theories of atonement. Kate summarizes the history of salvation thinking, including a look at Anabaptist thought, and names significant critiques from a range of feminist thinkers. Her final chapter is an interesting discussion of the human problem, the role of Jesus, and the call of the church in effecting social salvation by putting Anabaptist/Pietist writers along side feminist and Process perspectives. To see how this comes together, you just have to get the book here. While some may not agree with Kate, or might question some of the sources she uses, the goal has been to put a voice into the conversation. Through her excellent summaries of the various theories, Kate walks us through the questions and gives us a point of conversation. (Please take a moment to support Kate’s work here.)

Kate’s book is the first fruit of several years work. Noting a lack in Brethren voices in contemporary theological debates, a small group formed an editorial board to open space for Brethren theologians to contribute to these wider theological discussions. The group, comprised of Kate, Denise Kettering-Lane, Andy Hamilton, and myself presented a series proposal to Wipf and Stock publishers and received the green light. Though the list of books is open ended and still a work in progress, Kate jumped right in. Over the course of a year and a half she prepared the manuscript, the series editors all had a first read with comments and suggestions, and the book went to print. As we say in the series introduction:

This series seeks to add Brethren voices to the contemporary discussions of faithfulness in Post-Christendom. Scholarship among the Brethren in the last century was decidedly historical in method. Constructive theological contributions have been few, and this series seeks to fill that gap. This series then hopes to reach two audiences. First, it aims to provide a Brethren perspective on Anabaptism to the conversations among Neo-Anabaptists. Second, it seeks to contribute a constructive theological resource for the Brethren themselves.

So, then, why publish more books, especially for a tradition that has had a healthy skepticism of theological discourse? Therein lies the intent. As more and more pastors and theologians turn to the Anabaptist traditions to understand another way in the new day of Post-Christendom, we need to put our voices out there. What do Brethren have to say? How do we understand our own stream of Christianity? What does our tradition have to offer in response to the questions of our time? While I still believe our first mode of action is to live our faith in the Gospel as individuals and communities, publishing offers a voice beyond the confines of our tradition.

I remember when I started my studies at another seminary. As we read John Howard Yoder and Stanley Hauerwas I remember vividly how interesting it was to hear people talking about my stream of Christianity. All of these Methodists and Baptists echoed what I had learned in the course of worshiping and studying in living communities of Anabaptists. They were talking my language, and all without actually walking with us! And all of this was because some guys published a few books. At the same time, I found myself correcting, or at least tempering, some of what was being repeated. If only, I thought, we had a few books from Brethren to point to in the conversation. Where was our voice of an Anabaptism/Pietism in the conversation?

So here it is! While it is just one book, I am excited by the opportunities. As more and more people look to the Anabaptists as models of new faithfulness, I am convinced the Brethren have a unique contribution to share. Some may worry that these books might set down some kind of official doctrine, or speak too much of one kind of “Brethren.” Yet, that is far from our intention. We have worked to have a range of perspectives, even within our small editorial group. And we are committed to finding many voices, following what Stuart Murray Williams has called “a multi-voiced” model. Rather than turn to just one or two people, like Yoder or Hauerwas, we aim to seek out thoughtful and articulate voices that can engage both our tradition and our culture. What an exciting time! I am so thankful for the work of the editors, and especially for Kate’s hard work and tenacity to jump right in. I am also thankful to Wipf and Stock for picking up such a venture. All I can say is this— May there be more to come!

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Meet the NuDunkers

In the past week a series of blog posts have introduced a collective called the NuDunkers. This group has taken shape through the conversations between Dana Cassell, Andy Hamilton, Brian Gumm, and myself. Each of us is posting a take on the project. 

In the early 18th century a group of German Radical Pietists gathered together to study scripture together. Though it is often assumed that Pietism was rooted in Enlightenment individualism, these folks gathered together to explore the inner workings of the Holy Spirit and the outer words of the scriptures together. Eight of them decided that their discipleship to Jesus Christ called for them to baptize one another. Soon, they became known as the Neu Tauffers, or New Baptists. Those of the imperial churches, however, categorized them with disdain as Anabaptists, or Re-Baptizers.

In our day, many theologians and church leaders are returning to these Anabaptists thanks in part to the work of John Howard Yoder and Stanley Hauerwas. These Neo-Anabaptists seek to articulate a kind of Christianity not beholden to the magisterial thought and practice of Christendom traditions. Yet, Yoder’s vision of Mennonite theology and Hauerwas’ idealized community only speak of one segment of the Radical Reformation traditions. The denominations that emerged from the Dunkers of the 18th century, The Church of the Brethren and The Brethren Church among them, present a form of Anabaptism that differs noticeably from that presented by readers of Yoder and Hauerwas.

It is this synthesis of Radical Pietism and Anabaptism that we as NuDunkers are seeking to articulate. The NuDunkers are a collective of practitioners who are seeking to understand our context and faith together. Our method of theological reflection is first dialogical across the miles using digital media as a vehicle for conversation. As partitioner theologians we speak from our experiences in ministry by working systematically through traditional categories and specific questions. In our desire to understand our faith lived out in these days, we are necessarily interpreters of scripture, experience, and heritage, all the while remaining missional in posture.

Four things are important to fill out here:

Theology is a Conversation– Whether we are continuing the dialog through the ages or are working out our faith today, we engage in a conversation. Just as the original Brethren gathered around the scriptures to discern their faith, the NuDunkers seek to make the conversational nature of theology explicit. By gathering a few “organic intellectuals” to reflect publicly about a question or topic, and then extending the conversation through blogs, we hope to encourage the conversation. With digital media we have an opportunity to model a vision of the church as a “multi-voiced” tradition.

Theology is Contextual– The greatest danger to theology or doctrine is the temptation to elevate it beyond the experiences of life. While truth is not relative, our understanding is. Just as the first Christians gathered in Jerusalem to recount the acts of the Holy Spirit among the Gentiles, it is important for the partners in the conversation speak from their experiences of ministry. As we gather across the miles we seek to follow the pattern of testing our experiences against the outer words of scripture and the gathered community.

Theology is Seeking Understanding- The conversation then, is hermeneutical in method. By bringing together our contextual experiences we seek to understand what God is doing in the world. Following the maxim of Anselm, our faith is seeking understanding.

Theology is Missional– The Anabaptist witness through the ages has been to question the Christendom model of being the church. Though some elements of the Anabaptist traditions have adopted an Enlightenment vision of Christendom, the NuDunkers seek to be explicit about the Missional nature of the church in whatever context it resides. The church’s acts- both of peacemaking and evangelism- emerge out of the Missio Dei. Rather than assuming cultural hegemony is the means of change, the NuDunkers take seriously formation of persons in the Upside Down Kingdom of the church.

These are the NuDunkers. Join us in the conversation.

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