Previous | Next

Spring 1991 · Vol. 20 No. 1 · pp. 121–22 

Book Review

Vision, Doctrine, War: Mennonite Identity and Organization in America, 1890-1930

James C. Juhnke. Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1985. 394 pages.

Reviewed by Bruce Entz

This third volume in the series “The Mennonite Experience in America” is by James Juhnke, Professor of History at Bethel College. Beginning with a colorful account of Mennonite responses to the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, the author traces North America societal interaction with the Mennonite community. He further explains the impact of this interaction on inter-Mennonite relations, chronicling the resulting range of perspectives on the acceptability of various societal influences.

Juhnke’s work demonstrates that lines separating conservatives and progressives are historically ambiguous and fluid. For example, his references to the often-forgotten early North American Mennonite women ministers echo the emerging broader scholarship of authors like Janette Hassey and Tony {122} Campolo. That fact suggests that the phenomenon of women ministers is much older than commonly believed. Readers acquainted with current Mennonite Brethren reluctance to engage in civil disobedience may also be surprised at the account of World War I Krimmer Mennonite Brethren draft resistance.

The volume is notable for its fairness in explaining the significant issues represented by seemingly petty controversies, such as a visit to the Chicago stockyards, the adoption of Sunday schools, or the use of pulpits. Some may take offense, however, at the author’s description of a bishop’s statement supporting conservative dress as “embarrassingly hysterical.” Noteworthy is the sympathetic attention given to those who have left the Mennonite fold and are making significant contributions to the larger society.

Juhnke challenges the popular assumption that conservatives lack vitality and influence. He notes how they provide disenchanted members for more progressive groups. He also questions conventional views that progressives are younger, that wealth erodes conservative ideals, and that schism lowers membership rolls. For example, he explains that independent mission outreach, though often short-lived, invigorated missionary activity in general due to additional fundraising and geographic scattering. Juhnke traces the significant differences between the 19th-century Protestant-style of Mennonite missions and the more sectarian 16th-century Anabaptist approach.

Grammatical errors (pp. 183, 247, and 254) and occasionally poor quality illustrations detract from the overall quality of the book. Historical inaccuracies appear (e.g., implication that the General Conference Mennonite Church received its current name at its founding (p. 29), and the incorrectly given Christlicher Bundesbote’s last year of publication (p. 318). These shortcommings, however, are significantly outweighed by the above-mentioned strengths. This book provides a helpful historical context for lay persons in the present discussion of inter-Mennonite ecumenicity.

Bruce Entz, Librarian
Tabor College
Hillsboro, Kansas

Previous | Next