Monthly Archives: August 2011

Sketching a Contemporary Anabaptist Theology

Ted Grimsrud—Presented at the London Mennonite Forum, September 2009[1]

Theology is important, and it’s human work. The best theology, I believe, motivates and guides peacemaking. In my essay, “Contemporary Theology in Light of Anabaptism,” I propose that theology in light of Anabaptism should be “practice-oriented” more than “doctrine-oriented.”  I suggest that such a focus will distinguish Anabaptist theology from mainstream ecumenical and evangelical theologies—especially when it is Jesus-centered, pacifist theology.  In this sequel, I will flesh out a bit the kind of theology I have in mind.

Theology and Our Hierarchy of Values

I believe that our “theology” is made up of the convictions that matter the most to us.  We each have a hierarchy of values.  At the very top of this hierarchy is our god, or gods.  The term “theology” literally means “the study of God (theos).”  To understand the actual theology we live by, we should ask first of all how we order our lives.  What in practice are the priorities in our lives that reflect what we truly accept as ultimate?  These priorities tell us a lot about what our actual god or gods are.

Think back to your earliest memories. What did you value? What would you have said about what was most important in your life?  How we answer these questions reveals a great deal about what we could call our “embedded” theology.[2]  This theology did not come to us through our own choices.  It was given to us; we inherited it.  Then, when we face the world as bigger, when we suffer, when we face questions that shake us up, when we are asked by someone else what we believe and why, we will be pushed to move from embedded to “deliberative” theology.  Then we think and apply and expand and understand and articulate.  Continue reading

Contemporary Theology in Light of Anabaptism

Ted Grimsrud—Presented at the London Mennonite Forum, September 2009

During the last half of the twentieth century and now into the twenty-first, many Mennonites and other Anabaptists have realized we need more intentionally to articulate our distinctive convictions. Perhaps for the first time in our now nearly five hundred years since the first Anabaptists, we have an abundance of intellectually rigorous, overt doctrinal theology being written by Anabaptists.

This production has been stimulated by a sense that things have changed in the modern world.  Many of the close-knit communities that made it possible for Anabaptist convictions to survive without self-consciously constructed doctrinal theology have weakened and even disappeared altogether.  We operate now in the arena where people choose to believe (or not).  So, it’s more important to bring beliefs to the surface.

Theology in Light of Anabaptist Distinctives

The question of how best to articulate theological convictions that reflect the core commitments of Anabaptists is hotly contested.  How should we approach theology in light of the distinctive characteristics of Anabaptist Christianity? I believe these characteristics center on an integration of theology with ethics. The ethical commitments of the 16th century Anabaptists such as pacifism, an emphasis on economic sharing, and rejection of the subordination of the church to nation-states reflected as distinctive theology—a theology that we may still learn from.

Recent writing on sixteenth century Anabaptism highlights extreme diversity in the first fifty years of the Anabaptist movement.  Such writing helps correct simplistic generalizations about Anabaptist uniformity.  However, it provides little clarity for those who seek to draw upon that movement as we negotiate our current challenges.  What might we mean by “Anabaptism” as an affirmative label for faith today with genuine content that also links with its 16th century origins?

Let me suggest a parallel for how we might work at identifying core Anabaptist convictions.  Scholars of the “historical Jesus” point out that the one certain fact about Jesus that is not dependent upon the reports of his followers is that the state executed Jesus as a political criminal. Whatever we might say about Jesus needs to be understood in light of that one fact. So, they assert, we start in analyzing Jesus’ life and teaching asking what led to his execution. Continue reading