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Spring 1987 · Vol. 16 No. 1 · pp. 83–84 

Book Review

Land, Piety, Peoplehood: The Establishment of Mennonite Communities in America, 1683-1790

Richard K. MacMaster. Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1985. 343 pages.

Reviewed by Marlin Adrian

As the first volume in the series “The Mennonite Experience in America,” Richard K. MacMaster’s Land, Piety, Peoplehood should fill each of us with great anticipation for volumes yet to appear. This work is a fine beginning for such an ambitious undertaking.

MacMaster disputes those who see early American Mennonite communities as “static.” He calls the view that Mennonites lived among other Americans pure and unchanged by their environment, “an unlikely possibility.” It is here that his analysis of the influence of Pietism on American Mennonites is especially perceptive. His suggestion is that it would “be a mistake to see Pietism too simply as an alien influence,” instead of part of “a gradual change in the Amish and Mennonite people’s own piety.” This change can be seen as an attempt to come to grips with the paradox of “how to maintain a Christian life and ethic built on the concept of suffering when suffering was no longer the fact.” He introduces very important issues of cultural adaptation and influence that should challenge us all to rethink the relationship between Anabaptist/Mennonite thought and other religious movements.

His excellent exploration of Mennonite involvement in colonial politics and the Revolutionary War proposes that the rebellion of the colonies precipitated a separateness of the {84} Mennonites from their neighbors which was not particularly important in colonial America. It was not simply their pacifism which caused this increased separation, but the inability of Mennonites to come to terms with the “paradox” of their wealth and their pacifism. This was added to the fact that “Mennonite thought offered no theology of revolution.”

One of MacMaster’s specialties is the study of public tax and land ownership records, which allows him entrance into the social and geographical history of the Mennonite communities. This approach could imply another tedious “social history,” but this is far from the reality. The author has used this approach to produce a highly readable book with interesting insights into the spiritual and religious life of American Mennonites.

Marlin Adrian
Graduate Student
University of Virginia

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