Previous | Next

Fall 1986 · Vol. 15 No. 2 · pp. 80–81 

Book Review

One Lord, One Church, One Hope, and One God: Mennonite Confessions of Faith in North America, An Introduction

Howard J. Loewen. Elkhart, IN: Institute of Mennonite Studies, 1985. 369 pages.

Reviewed by Keith L. Sprunger

In the 1966 Menno Simons Lectureship at Bethel College, I was much interested as lecturers Robert Friedemann and J. P. Jacobszoon presented differing positions on the role of theology and creeds in early Anabaptism. Friedemann argued for a noncreedal “existential” view of Anabaptism while Jacobszoon presented a somewhat contrary position based on circumstances rather than ideology, that Anabaptists had written little systematic theology due to the pressure of persecution rather than lack of theological concern. Others have raised this issue many times. Howard John Loewen’s recent book on Mennonite confessions of faith has added substantially to the study of Mennonite theology and creeds.

This book is a “reader” or collection of Mennonite confessions of faith, background and explanatory essays. Section I, orientation, gives a historical and theological survey of the topic (37 pp.); Section II, the texts of the confessions themselves, is the heart of the book (177 pp.); Section III, documentation, gives comparative data in table form (25 pp. A Bibliography is also included).

Loewen’s study leads to a discussion of several interesting issues: the theological relationship of various Mennonite groups to each other, the theological relationship of Mennonites to other Christian groups, the purposes for writing confessions of faith, the theological essence of Mennonitism, and many others. A further question, which might well be raised but is not discussed explicitly, is the effect of theology on the ordinary Mennonite member. As Loewen demonstrates, Mennonite preachers and professors of theology avidly write and discuss confession of faith but with what effect?

It is often asserted that Mennonites are non-creedal. Loewen, himself a professor of theology at the Mennonite {81} Brethren Biblical Seminary in Fresno, demonstrates that the Mennonite leadership, at least, is much concerned with creedal propositions; “the authority of confession is not zero in the Mennonite tradition” (p. 47).

The texts of about thirty-five confessions are printed, two from the sixteenth century. Although the title page states these are “in North America,” several are, in fact, European. The collection would be even richer with the inclusion of more of the early Anabaptist confessions, as for example, by the one Hans de Ries and John Smyth. By excluding so many of the early Anabaptist writings, certain issues are passed over, notably the role of Hoffmanite-Mennonite doctrine of the incarnation of Christ (hinted at in the Dort Confession, article 4.) It is to be hoped that a volume of early Anabaptist-Mennonite creeds will also appear in due time.

Loewen and the Institute of Mennonite Studies have made a fine contribution to Mennonite scholarship with this book. The volume brings together a wide collection of texts, otherwise hard to assemble, and presents a brief, but helpful, analysis of them.

Keith L. Sprunger
Bethel College, N. Newton, Kansas

Previous | Next