Our 21st-century convictions
By John A. Lapp
On my desk is Embodying the Way of Jesus: Anabaptist Convictions for the 21st Century by Ted Grimsrud, published by Wipf and Stock, Eugene, Ore., 2007, 254 pages, $27.
Ted Grimsrud is one of the most creative minds dealing with the Anabaptist-Mennonite perspective in recent years. He teaches at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va., and previously pastored congregations in Oregon and South Dakota. He has written books on understanding the Bible, including God’s Healing Strategy and Triumph of the Lamb, a study guide on Revelation.
Grimsrud refuses to be a specialist. He dares to understand the Bible in its entirety, connecting this to the theology and history of the church. He applies this rich tradition to the nitty-gritty realities of our time — war, violence, militarism, ecology and economic inequalities. The risk in being so wide-ranging is that these varied topics are not as well-developed as they could be. But Grimsrud is not superficial. His bibliography includes classic theology and contemporary political analysis.
Grimsrud views himself as a constructive theologian, ethicist and pastor. He proposes to develop a practice-oriented theology that reflects on the stuff of actual life. He seeks to use “the biblical mode of focusing on people’s actual lives, applying theological convictions directly to practices that sustain a people’s faithfulness to their vocation as agents of God’s shalom.”
The 15 chapters deal with topics in theology, biblical hermeneutics, Anabaptist history and eschatology. The chapters on academic freedom and Christian calling and church-sect typology don’t quite fit the overall scheme.
One chapter explores “Constructing an Anabaptist Theology in a Congregational Setting.” Another traces Anabaptist history from “the 16th century to Mennonite Church USA.”
I especially liked “Anabaptist Faith and American Democracy,” which wrestles with how pacifists address the realities of living in a nation that takes on the characteristics of an empire.
In several chapters Grimsrud develops a series of “practice-centered” beliefs, including those on Scripture, Jesus Christ, discipleship, baptism, the community of faith, nonconformity, evangelism and service.
The pages on these convictions are vigorously presented. They fit well into contemporary discussions. Because Grimsrud wants theology to be practice-centered, I expected he would provide more illustrative material with suggestions on the how and when of these practices. I would have liked reference to worship, the processes of Christian nurture and the shape of a conviction-based spirituality.
A chapter on Civilian Public Service highlights the significant role of community support that draftees felt. He quotes a Methodist, Richard Hunter, who served in a number of Mennonite-sponsored camps. Hunter observed that “Mennonite” was more than the name of a denomination: “It was a church-centered culture which commanded far greater loyalty and allegiance among its constituents than I ever experienced.”
Grimsrud frequently refers to community or the community of faith. I wish he would have connected this material to the Pauline image of the church as the body of Christ. He could have elaborated on what church practices are useful, even requisites, for nurturing embodiment.
This book offers a thought- provoking contribution to making our Anabaptist tradition relevant to 21st-century North American religious life. The insights and questions demonstrate good reasons for strengthening and renewing an alternative church.
John A. Lapp, of Akron, Pa., is a former executive director of Mennonite Central Committee.