Weaver, John Denny. Becoming Anabaptist: The Origin and Significance of Sixteenth-Century Anabaptism, 2nd ed. Scottdale, Pennsylvania: Herald, 2005.
JoWeaver, John Denny. Becoming Anabaptist: The Origin and Significance of Sixteenth-Century Anabaptism, 2nd ed. Scottdale, Pennsylvania: Herald, 2005.
John Denny Weaver’s introduction to the Anabaptist tradition is a work with two primary emphases. He sought retell the narrative of the first generation of Anabaptists in the sixteenth century up to the death of Menno Simons and then to discuss the significance of that tradition in the contemporary context. As such, Weaver’s Anabaptism is not a history but also a continuing narrative as heirs of the tradition seek to live out their faith consistently with the principles developed over four hundred-fifty years ago.
The structure of the historical section is based on the polygenetic model of Anabaptist origins (168), covering the Swiss, South German/Moravian, and Low Countries lines. The telling of those stories is fairly standard fair, but Weaver did bring out several trends throughout that narrative. A recurring theme was the tendency toward giving a place to the disenfranchised (33, 46, 51, et al.). The general focus was on people and events, yet certain theological matters, e.g. community of goods and melchiorite Christology, received attention also.
Weaver did not tell the story of where Anabaptism went after these generations but rather skipped forward to the present day. His chief concern was to appropriate the meaning of the Anabaptist tradition for contemporary existence as the church in the world. Although Weaver fully embraced the polygenetic account as determinative for the historical origins of the movement, he nonetheless sought to go beyond that account and assign meaning to the movement with a greater sense of unity than that from which the historical diversity might draw attention (168). Also, Weaver does well to open the fountain of Anabaptism beyond those who come to the tradition by birthright (as Mennonites can claim a historical linkage) but also those from the outside who embrace the tradition. Both have a place in the continuing story of Anabaptism (161-163).
The Anabaptist Vision was the guideline for Weaver’s own vision of the central characteristics of Anabaptism. Weaver went on to put his own spin on the Vision, going beyond Bender’s three-part schema of discipleship, ecclesiology, and the love ethic characterized by nonresistance. While Bender would later refine the Vision to just discipleship, Weaver turned that discipleship, following Jesus, toward nearly being synonymous with nonresistance. He wrote, “Discipleship—Jesus as ethical authority—received a specific application in the _rejection of violence and the sword . . .. The voluntary community founded on discipleship to Jesus is perforce a peace church that rejects the sword of war—as Jesus did” (170). Weaver did highlight other distinctives, such as swearing of oaths, but the remainder of his discussion of the meaning of Anabaptism placed pacifism and nonresistance at the fore.
That nonresistance is played out within the Anabaptist conception of ecclesiology. That ecclesiology describes a church that is separated from society–sometimes antagonistically and at other times is a peaceful coexistence that Weaver terms “dualism.” These two modes of relating to the state is born out of Weaver’s understanding, following Gerald Biesecker-Mast, of the early Anabaptist tension between maintaining a dualistic relationship or an antagonism with the state. Just as Anabaptism has historically taken various “manifestations and expressions (176), so also must current outworkings take various stances on dualism and antagonism within particular contexts (204). The general rule, Weave described, is that “the church in benign and tolerant situations should pursue the more antagonistic strategy” (205).
Weaver constructed his idea of discipleship with its focus on pacifism as a way of following Jesus. Following Jesus, for Weaver, is to “loop back” to Jesus (177), which is to constantly return to the narrative of Jesus in matters of ethics. The Anabaptist biblicism in history was to read Scripture as the “source for the life and teaching of Jesus” (160). Beyond this, however, Weaver tended to ignore the biblicism that was characteristic especially of the early Swiss Anabaptists. It becomes not altogether clear whether the move of viewing Scripture as the means to knowing the story of Jesus is a move that instead justifies downplaying the biblical account of Christ in favor of “looping back” to a Jesus molded in the Anabaptist image. Weaver’s treatment of the exhortations to turn the other cheek and to go the second mile are reinterpreted not as mere nonresistance but as means of empowering the oppressed, who by these actions actually call attention to the inequality being imposed by the oppressor (182-184). Giving both the cloak and the coat as payment of a debt results in a nakedness that does not shame the one who is naked but rather the one to whom the debt was owed for having caused the nakedness by his unjust demand.
The book concludes with an essay on interpretation, which is essentially a response to C. Arnold Snyder’s interpretation of the core of Anabaptist theology. Snyder had identified the core of Anabaptism in three categories, areas of agreement with creedal orthodoxy, participation in the broader Reformation movement, and tenets exclusive to Anabaptism. Weaver gave multiple arguments against Snyder’s interpretative schema. He rejected Snyder’s starting point of identifying the core of Anabaptism with the strands of Christendom that came before it. For Weaver the more appropriate stating point was the differences with Christendom. Among them was pacifism, which, as the prominent characteristic of Weaver’s identification, he pointed out Snyder had omitted from the category of uniquely Anabaptist traits. Weaver’s preference for the core of Anabaptism was the acceptance of the authority of the life and teachings of Jesus, i.e. discipleship (230). In this he shows his affinity for Bender’s Vision. The implications of both Bender’s Vision and Weaver’s core are a voluntary ecclesiology and nonviolence. The difference between Bender and Weaver is the prominence Weaver gave to nonviolence.
The historical sections of the book serve as a sufficient introduction to the movement, but the later sections do not serve this purpose as well. They are more imbedded in contemporary debate over Mennonite identity that do not give a balanced enough perspective for readers at an introductory level, especially for those coming from an outside perspective. However, they do play an important role in viewing that debate when read in correspondence with the other perspectives....more
Baylor, Michael G. The German Reformation and the Peasants’ War: A Brief History with Documents. Boston: Bedford St. Martins, 2012. For students of theBaylor, Michael G. The German Reformation and the Peasants’ War: A Brief History with Documents. Boston: Bedford St. Martins, 2012. For students of the Radical Reformation, the Peasants’ War is a movement in the background that is not entirely understood, especially as it related to those involved with the rebellion who would later join the ranks of the Anabaptists. Dr. Baylor’s latest publication, intended for high school curricula but also appropriate as an introduction at the collegiate level before continuing on to broader treatments. The advantage of Baylor’s work is that the larger themes explaining the movement are not lost in detailed historical narrative. This is helpful for students whose focus is elsewhere but need a basic understanding of the war, which is often referenced but not fully explained in Radical Reformation scholarship. Several significant themes come to the fore. The sense of dissatisfaction among the peasants arose from changing population dynamics. In the late medieval period populations declined, resulting in feudal lords offering better working conditions in order to attract from among a smaller pool of labor. In the latter half of the fifteenth century, populations rebounded from earlier losses such that lords returned to many of the practices that had formerly worked to the peasants’ disadvantage (3ff). It was this loss of some of the privileges temporarily enjoyed that led to the discontent that fulminated in the mid-1520s. Baylor’s focus was on the peasants’ revolt’s relationship to the Lutheran Reformation. He recounted the polemic of the Catholics, who had blamed Luther’s teachings with fomenting social unrest yielding rebellion. Luther countered by insisting that he had consistently warned against violent action taken established governments (3). Also, the peasants sometimes saw themselves as a social movement but at other times saw themselves as enacting the teachings of the Reformation in their calls for social reform (15,21). The relationship with the Anabaptists was not described except to point forward toward the future involvement that many of the peasants would have in the then nascent Anabaptist movement (30). The discontent that was felt toward the Established churches that supported the princes was continued in the Anabaptist protest against those same Established churches. The bulk of the book consists of primary source documents, mostly abridged. They are divided into sections representing documents from before Luther’s Reformation, those representing the views of the Catholics and Protestants, those written by peasants and their supporters, and lastly those on the debate between the relationship between the German Reformation and the Peasants’ War. The documents contain a nice mix of texts and pictures. The abridgement does cause a problem in one place, though. The abridgement of Exsurge Domini skips between the third and eighteenth error listed in the bull without correcting for the change of anathematizing what is denied to what is affirmed (48). So, for the student not sufficiently acquainted with the differences between Catholic and Protestant doctrine might be confused as to whether the doctrines from eighteen on are approved of or condemned by the bull. ...more
Eugene TeSelle’s Augustine: The Theologian is a survey of the breadth of Augustine’s development as a theologian. The purpose is not simply to describEugene TeSelle’s Augustine: The Theologian is a survey of the breadth of Augustine’s development as a theologian. The purpose is not simply to describe the theology of Augustine but rather to appreciate the dynamic growth of a theologian’s mind as he participated in the flow of theology and philosophy that preceded him. The primary goal for this work is not simply to act as a reference to the many elements of Augustine’s theology but to investigate where Augustine may have learned his ideas and by whom his mind was shaped.
Generally, TeSelle was not interested in entering debate with scholarly commentary on Augustine, whose theology has been constantly digested by academics. This is especially true of the earlier parts of the book. This presentation therefore on the whole seeks to access Augustine’s theology directly from his writings. Only occasionally did TeSelle call attention to differing viewpoints or indicate dependence on another’s interpretation as he had, for instance, Jean Rivière’s thesis that Augustine’s atonement theology was basically the ransom theory yet also containing precursors of an Anselmian satisfaction theory (167ff).
TeSelle took a diachronic rather than a synchronic approach. While either approach may be appropriate, one must recognize the limitations of each. The diachronic approach is better suited to the question of the state of Augustine’s theology at any point in time and recognizing in time how the controversies in which he was engaged sparked his thought. On the other hand, the approach is not as well suited to the question of what Augustine thought about any particular issue. Though the interest of many readers may be toward that latter question, a purely synchronic approach is not possible anyway because it does not take into account the development of Augustine’s thought.
TeSelle was aware of the lack of homogeneity within Augustine’s theological formulations (341). As examples given in the book demonstrate, Augustine clarified or retracted certain positions while also coming to greater or lesser certainty about others. Since discussion of Augustinian doctrine therefore must not be separated from temporal development, TeSelle’s diachronic method is not without merit. This especially serves TeSelle’s purpose of identifying moments of influence on Augustine’s thought as he did, for example, in dating Augustine’s reading of Porphyry’s On the Philosophy from Oracles at 400, thus identifying a point after which such discussion began to inform Agustine’s theological enquiry (125-126). The overarching understanding of how certain works operated as influences is consistent with TeSelle’s purpose to show that Augustine, creative thinker though he may have been, was not entirely independent in his thought. Teselle wrote that he “did not operate entirely without suggestion and encouragement from earlier thinkers, both philosophical and theological. But he was the one who succeeded in working through these suggestions consistently and thoroughly” (117). This thesis is especially well served by the diachronic approach.
A successful example of this comes in TeSelle’s exploration of De Trinitate. Subjecting the work to form analysis and redactional criticism, TeSelle identified the developments that took place during the long period of the book’s writing. He could then compare then earliest form to the finished product. His analysis of the first stages of the work revealed that the work did not begin with much unity but rather was “fragmentary” (236). Following another scholar, TeSelle could thus identify the impetus for the more mature theological reflections on the Trinity found in books V though VIII of De Trinitate (294). Responsible for this was the ideas found in new readings of earlier church fathers on the subject. In both Trinitarian theology and anthropology, Teselle concluded that Augustine integrated Platonic speculation into a biblical context (309). This exemplifies TeSelle’s project of identifying points of influence in Augustine’s theology.
Early in his discussion of Augustine’s intellectual beginnings TeSelle made an uncomfortable comment about Augustine’s pre-conversion intellectual awareness. He said that what Augustine knew of Christian theology was “nothing” except whatever he may have picked up while with Ambrose in Milan (55). To say that Ambrose was Augustine’s only source of Christian theology before his conversion is to ignore much from Augustine’s early history. In Carthage, Augustine attended a Bible study, even if only for the mischievous purpose of meeting girls. He was nonetheless exposed to Christian teaching. His mother also was insistent on advocating the Christian faith to her son. It is clear that she was greatly concerned about his faith and this likely would have included instruction and admonition in Christian belief. Even in Augustine’s Manichaeism, he would have caught a glimpse of at least shadows of Christian theology. Mani had appropriated some aspects of Christian teaching in the development of his religious path. Later, his followers in Christian contexts, such as the North African context in which Augustine discovered the religion, would integrate Christian themes into their doctrines in order to form a syncretistic blend of religion that would have found greater appeal to a Christian audience. Though Augustine’s exposure to Christian theology may have been ignored, incomplete and distorted, it is not entirely accurate to claim that Ambrose was the only pre-conversion influence on Augustine regarding Christian theology.
The importance of accurately identifying the elements of Augustine’s theological prehistory is of great value considering that TeSelle’s goal is to identify the influences on Augustine’s thought. By erasing the traces of Christian theology that may have been impressed on Augustine aside from Ambrose’s influence TeSelle thus presents a distorted portrait of Augustine’s turn of thought to Christianity. Such a presentation is inadequate either by presenting Augustine’s moment of conversion as providing a clean slate onto which an unadulterated theology was inscribed or by opening the door to elevating the prominence of other thought forms such as those by which Augustine’s nascent understanding was molded. Accurately gauging the Christian foundation on which Augustine stood even in the earliest period is thus of vital importance. However, TeSelle’s assessment in its minimization of a Christian prehistory casts doubt on the weight that he assigned to Neo-Platonism and other systems on Augustine’s theological development.
At times, Teselles’ eagerness to identify influences from other writers appears suspect. In discussing the possibility of Tyconius’ influence on Augustine’s theology of predestination (180-182), Teselle relied on the work of Alberto Pincherle, whose description of Tyconius’ influence was limited, at least in Teselle’s presentation of the argument, to pointing to certain Scriptural texts. The authors then wonder why Augustine was reticent to mention Tyconius even as Teselle admitted that “Tyconius did not furnish the crucial propositions” but only highlighted certain scriptural texts from which to formulate a theology of predestination (182, emphasis in original). Unless there are other ways to demonstrate Tyconius’ influence on Augustine in this matter at that time in Augustine’s life, to so readily nominate Tyconius as the fountainhead of Augustine’s predestinarian theology would rob Augustine of a genuine creativity in handling the scriptural texts. If both Augustine and Tyconius were facing the same issue and using the same starting point, Scripture, as the chief informant to their theologies, then there should be no surprise that their use of Scripture would have areas of overlap. More must be demonstrated and this casts doubt on the confidence one might have in Teselle’s project to identify such influences.
Although not every conclusion is without uncertainty, the overall scope of the project is successful in showing that Augustine is not a theologian who can be responsibly studied without an awareness of the ideas with which he interacted. TeSelle has demonstrated that Augustine was not only creative in his interpretations of Scripture and his responses to the controversies of his day but was also an effective compiler and processor of the philosophy and theology of his predecessors. He was an able critic of earlier thought and utilized it in the formulations of his own unique brand of theology and scriptural interpretation....more
Hinlicky, Paul R. Luther and the Beloved Community: A Path for Christian Theology after Christendom. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2010. 405 pp.Hinlicky, Paul R. Luther and the Beloved Community: A Path for Christian Theology after Christendom. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2010. 405 pp. $45.00.
Paul Hinlicky’s Luther and the Beloved Community is a systematic theologian’s pathfinding for theology in creedal traditions confronting post-Christendom. Drawing inspiration from Luther, or what he calls, “my Luther,” by which he means the emphases he draws from Luther, Hinlicky conversed with several disputable issues in this transitory time. His vision for appropriating Luther for contemporary theology is not limited to the Lutheran tradition but hopes to extend to inform all creedal Christianity in order to develop an ecumenical direction of thought to face post-Christendom.
The book is not for the uninitiated. Consistent use of untranslated Latin and many undefined terms suits that audience but unfortunately terminology specific to Hinlicky’s project is also left undefined. Readers unfamiliar with Hinlicky’s work are thus left without resource to understand the meanings of “beloved community” or “critical dogmatics” (which I can best describe as theologization rejecting synchronic systemization, favoring a diachronic approach mindful of ecuminical creedal orthodoxy). Also, this is not intended to be a work of historical theology but rather an appropriation of an historical figure’s thought in dialogue with contemporary issues. As such, church historians and systematic theologians both will have the delight of encountering new ideas that can stretch their attempts to appropriate historical theology or to find historical inspiration for theology.
As in Paths not Taken, Hinlicky used the path metaphor for the direction of Christian theology. Luther and the Beloved Community intends to set up a starting point for the continued path of theological enterprise; a veritable prolegomena to any future theology. Hinlicky majored on setting Luther’s thought, or at least his vision of Luther’s thought, against post-Christendom thinking, but Hinlicky did not present a unified vision for how theology should proceed. It is as though the path has been obscured by the wild brush of such thinkers as Josiah Royce or William James. Dissapointingly Hinlicky approached the obfuscated path with a theological machete, albeit a particularly sharp one, not to cut away the foliage but merely to point to each branch in the way and to declare that there is a path underneath. While there is value knowing where the path is and what problems are in the way, this must be understood as only an initial task doing little path clearing itself.
This is not to say that the book is unorganized, but direction is elusive. Even the last chapter, “By Way of Conclusion,” provides little conclusive direction for the path to be taken but rather presents a few other issues more briefly than the other issues addressed. The impression is that the work is not to stand alone but serves as a part of a larger project, including Paths Not Taken, since the chapters are Hinlicky’s settings of Luther, or at least his conception of Luther, as interlocutor to several issues with a common goal in mind for each. The book as a whole seems, then, to be setting some groundwork for what direction Hinlicky may have in mind for post-Christendom theology but his final answer is not found here. One is left picking through the book for the occasional nugget like his insistence that preaching should not be based on human persuasion but rather on the exaltation of the cross (138).
Although Luther was Hinlicky’s theological “resource,” Luther’s authentic voice is often not heard. Rather than citing Luther specifically, Hinlicky often stated his view of Luther’s theology without grounding those inferences in any specific writing from Luther. For instance, speaking of correlations between Anselm, Luther and Paul on the atonement, Hinlicky thoroughly cited Anselm and the text from Paul from which Luther derived his idea but merely stated what Lutheran belief has been (90). Further, using Luther as a resource rather than a guide allowed Hinlicky divergence from Luther’s thought. One must question the use of “my Luther” rather than an attempt to discover Luther himself. Initially, the concept of the beloved community takes a much more directive role in Hinlicky than in Luther. Meanwhile, Hinlicky draws conclusion from some of Luther’s ideas that Luther would certainly object to. When writing advising churches to recognize homosexual unions because homosexuality is a disorder of the Fall like a disease rather than a sin (215-216) one must wonder whether Luther would appreciate sexual immorality parading as a God-ordained institution being an anticipatory model of eschatological community? More suspect are instances when Luther, even in interpretation, is left out of the conversation. For instance, he is notably silent for most of the discussion on the New Perspective.
Hinlicky has invested serious thought into many issues but the full formulation of his thought remains forthcoming (xv). This book would be better read as a collection of essays rather than as a monograph since most of the materials are of independent origins (xxiii). Without the end yet in sight, however, it remains difficult to grasp the full import of what is presented. ...more