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Fall 2001 · Vol. 30 No. 2 · pp. 221–22 

Book Review

Anabaptist Theology in Face of Postmodernity: A Proposal for the Third Millennium

J. Denny Weaver. Telford, PA: Pandora Press U.S., 2000. 224 pages.

Reviewed by Brent G. Kyle

In this book, J. Denny Weaver, Professor of Religion and Chair of the Department of History and Religion at Bluffton College, describes the implications of postmodernity on the general Christian sensibility. He then offers a proposal for the Anabaptist/Mennonite peace church amidst this new era. His foremost suggestion is that “[t]he context of postmodernity offers Mennonites an opportunity virtually unprecedented since the early church: a chance to articulate and receive a hearing for a theology shaped specifically by the nonviolence of Jesus” (21).

Weaver defines postmodernism as the general loss of the assumption of a prevailing, universal truth. According to Weaver, this does not include the view that there is no truth or meaning; rather, it suggests that truth is not provable beyond its particular historical location. Weaver indicates that general Christendom theology is akin to modernism: it involves the idea that a prevailing truth can emerge from a universal philosophy. Anabaptist theology, however, has a unique affinity towards postmodernity because it purports to center its theology, not on the creeds of Christendom, but on a lived faith that is shaped by the story of Jesus.

One of Weaver’s primary philosophical moves is to suggest that the peace church should embrace postmodernism. This allows the church to reject the universality, while noting the particularity, of Christendom truth claims. His prime examples of such universal claims are Anselmian atonement and the Nicene/Chalcedonian creeds. Given the particularity of these doctrines, Anabaptist ethics and theology can be less concentrated on historical creeds, and more centered on the gospels. This acceptance of postmodernism ultimately refocuses our lens of interpretation.

However, the assertion that Christendom theological formulas are particular is not Weaver’s primary contention, for he acknowledges that “[p]eace church theology is also particular” (125). Instead, his contention relates to the point of reference for each formula. Christendom theology utilizes the formulas of the fourth and fifth century imperial church that accommodated the sword, while peace church theology rightfully points to the story of Jesus.

In a later chapter, Weaver observes that black and womanist theologies support his claim to discard Christendom as reigning universal truth. He also notes a correlation between Anabaptism and black and womanist theologies in terms of their opposition to an oppressive, monolithic church. {222}

The author gives an historical account of Anabaptist and Mennonite theology in relation to the core tenets of Christendom theology (e.g., justification by faith, atonement). He notes that, although many writers were influenced by the voices of their time, they were nonetheless cognizant of the differences they had with assumed general theology. Some theologians, like Harold Bender and Daniel Kauffman, suggested that the Mennonite distinctives (e.g., discipleship and nonviolence) are not mere add-ons to the core tenets, but are necessary conditions to a complete Christian faith.

Weaver discusses the fragmentation of traditional theology due to its understanding of Jesus through the lens of the Nicene/Chalcedonian creeds and Anselmian atonement. This understanding separates the believer’s assent to theological tenets from her obligation to the ethics of Jesus; that is, the acceptance of these creeds fails to necessitate an ethical component. Anselmian atonement, for instance, represents a legal transaction between God and the sinner, but has limited reference to the particularity of Jesus. “This transaction results in the sinner’s salvation, but does not change the ongoing life of the saved individual. Sanctification is separated from justification” (126). Weaver mentions his own view of atonement, Christus Victor, in which salvation is the sinner’s participation in God’s confrontation with evil. The life of Jesus exemplifies the victory of this confrontation.

The author’s final proposal is to discourage the assimilation of the Anabaptist/Mennonite church into the social order and the general church. He believes that the attempt to de-emphasize nonviolence, as a means of assimilating to the ecumenical church, “is actually a declaration that nonviolence and the rejection of the sword are not intrinsic to the teaching and example of Jesus.” Weaver challenges that within the postmodern era we should acknowledge the particularity of Christendom theology and confess the particular truth of the Anabaptist peace tradition. In doing so, the peace church can indirectly critique “Christendom’s violence-accommodating theology” (26-27).

Anabaptist Theology in Face of Postmodernity is a refreshing look at Mennonite theology and a bold proposal for the peace church in the postmodern era. Weaver keenly reminds the church of the distinctives found within peace church theology and rigorously challenges the tendency to lose these distinctives by conforming to the larger social order.

Brent G. Kyle
M.A.R. student
Yale University Divinity School, New Haven, Connecticut

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