Previous | Next

Fall 1994 · Vol. 23 No. 2 · pp. 128–29 

Book Review

Mennonites and Baptists: A Continuing Conversation

ed. Paul Toews. Winnipeg, MB and Hillsboro, KS: Kindred, 1993. 261 pages.

Reviewed by Anna K. Juhnke

This splendid collection, edited by Paul Toews of Fresno Pacific College, gives historical substance to what is perhaps a “re-energized conversation.” It was published in the year when one of its contributors, Abe J. Dueck, together with Baptist Daniel McGee, edited the final report from the first theological conversations between Baptist World Alliance and Mennonite World Conference. The dialogue teams had drafted the report in Amsterdam in 1992, almost 400 years after John Smyth’s beleaguered little group, the first Baptists, fled from England to Amsterdam, where most of them joined the Mennonites they met there.

Mennonites and Baptists might more accurately be entitled “Mennonite Brethren Interaction with the Baptists,” because seven of the eleven essays are heavily or entirely dependent on Mennonite Brethren sources. None of the essays focuses on the Mennonite influence on Baptists after the John Smyth era. The final contributor, James Wm. McClendon, Jr., however, describes an Anabaptist or “baptist” vision, which in Volume I of his Systematic Theology he attributed to reading John H. Yoder’s Politics of Jesus, a book that “changed my life.” And the first essay is by William R. Estep, a strong advocate among Baptist historians of Anabaptist-Baptist connections. {129}

The essays are scholarly, but most of them are gracefully written and will appeal to a wider audience. Unfortunately, the first two are the heaviest; they argue from extensive quotations and may discourage further reading. Estep loses his focus in trying to cover too much, and Abraham Friesen’s survey of the nineteenth-century Baptist historians focuses on Ludwig Keller’s theory of free-church “apostolic succession” rather than on Mennonite-Baptist relations.

There are three excellent essays on the relationship of the German Baptist and Mennonite Brethren, both newly emerging in the eastern Europe of the 1860s and 1870s. Peter J. Klassen, working from German sources, tells the Poland-Prussia story, a story perhaps not well known to English readers. Albert W. Wardin, Jr., gives the German Baptists of Russia their due in a well-balanced assessment of “affinities and dissimilarities” with the Mennonite Brethren. John B. Toews, who brings the Russia story up to the 1930s, shows that the interaction really transcended the level of “beginnings.”

Clarence Hiebert continues the story of “beginnings” on the Kansas plains, with a masterful analysis of why the flow of members, leaders, and mission money from the Mennonite Brethren to the German Baptists became so much more of a problem in North America than it had been in Russia. The most moving essay is Walter Sawatzky’s “Russian Mennonites and Baptists (1930-1990),” disclosing what happened to the Russian evangelical movement, born of pietistic German settlers of South Russia, during the successive Soviet rule. Howard J. Loewen's detailed discussion of how John A. Toews taught the Baptist Augustus Strong’s Systematic Theology at Mennonite Brethren Biblical College for twenty years is a vehicle for analyzing a time of ambiguity and transition in Mennonite Brethren theology. Like other contributors to this volume, Loewen approves the trend since 1900, noted in several essays, of Mennonite Brethren leaders moving further from Baptist theology towards a historical Mennonite approach.

Anna K. Juhnke
Professor of English
Bethel College, North Newton KS

Previous | Next