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Fall 2002 · Vol. 31 No. 2 · pp. 242–43 

Book Review

Power, Authority, and the Anabaptist Tradition

Benjamin W. Redekop and Calvin W. Redekop. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001. 256 pages.

Reviewed by Valerie Rempel

The recent publication of Power, Authority, and the Anabaptist Tradition draws attention to what has often been a neglected topic within Anabaptist thought. Noting that the central “marker” of Anabaptism has been an emphasis on love and nonresistance, editors Benjamin Redekop of Kettering University, and Calvin Redekop, professor emeritus at Conrad Grebel College, suggest that this narrowed focus has led to “an evasion of full consideration of the centrality of power and its misuse in all human affairs” (xii). Using an interdisciplinary approach, this edited collection of essays seeks to provide an introduction to issues and questions that many Christians have been reluctant to explore.

The book begins with a helpful overview of the philosophical, historical and theological roots of intellectual discussion concerning power and authority. These essays, written by J. Lawrence Burkholder, Benjamin Redekop, James Stayer, and Lydia Harder, help position Mennonite responses within the larger Western intellectual tradition and demonstrate the variety of Anabaptist responses to issues of power and authority. They are followed by an examination of particular situations in which power or force has been used or, more often, misused. Jacob A. Loewen and the late Wesley Prieb look at class and labor relations in the Russian Mennonite Commonwealth period, Joel Hartman provides a case study of power wielded within domestic and congregational circles that centers around a diagnosis of HIV/AIDS, and Stephen Ainlay follows with an exploration of Mennonite “Culture Wars,” which focuses on education and publishing. These authors demonstrate how deeply involved Mennonites have been in creating and maintaining authority structures within the institutions of the church and community. The book also includes an essay by Dorothy Yoder Nyce and Lynda Nyce which explores gender and power in Mennonite ecclesiology, and Calvin Redekop provides a concluding chapter which suggests ways in which an Anabaptist understanding of power might resolve the paradox of “being” and “doing” that lies at the heart of the gospel. {243}

As Calvin Redekop notes in his conclusion, the difficulty for Anabaptist/Mennonite communities in confronting the problems of power has been the failure to take the issue seriously outside of the discussion of church and state relations. The strength of this book is that the authors take up the challenge to enlarge the discussion in ways that do take the use of power seriously within domestic, congregational, and communal life. It suggests that the traditional expression of Mennonite piety as discipleship, servanthood, and obedience has often masked the inequitable distribution and use of power within Mennonite communities. At the same time, it reminds its audience that while power can corrupt, the refusal to exercise authority in “pro-humana” ways is also unjust. Written primarily for an academic audience, this timely book provides a much-needed push to take seriously the questions of how power and authority are used within Anabaptist/Mennonite circles.

Valerie Rempel
Asst. Prof. of Historical and Theological Studies
Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, Fresno, California

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