Creed and Conscience: Essays in Honour of A. James Reimer
ed. Jeremy M. Bergen, Paul G. Doerksen, and Karl Koop. Kitchener, ON: Pandora, 2007. 306 pages.
Creed and Conscience is a Festschrift in honor of A. James Reimer’s sixty-fifth birthday. Reimer is a Mennonite theologian who has sought to retain and preserve his Anabaptist identity while simultaneously marrying it to classical catholic theology. In particular, he has sought to make the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation foundational for social ethics. The editors of this volume have organized it around several themes that reflect Reimer’s own interests. The themes seem at first disparate, but cohere well when understood as facets of Reimer’s core endeavor.
The foreword, preface, and first section are all warm reflections on Reimer’s life and work. The entire book, indeed, is aglow with effusive praise for Reimer’s contributions and personal character. The second section is unquestionably the weak link in the volume. The two essays in this section are worthy calls for open and honest dialogue on the issue of homosexuality, but add little of value to the discussion itself.
In the third section, titled “Engagement with the Anabaptist Tradition,” Karl Koop offers an interesting critique of the Anabaptist ideal of an exclusive, separated, purified church. He suggests, instead, that Anabaptism is one of many valid Christian traditions, each of which has its own unique gifts to contribute to the catholic synthesis that is the Body of Christ. Koop’s essay is followed by a piece by Brian Cooper on the role of natural law in the theology of Pilgrim Marpeck. Among other things, Cooper denies that Marpeck was a pacifist.
The fourth section, on “Engagement with Modernity,” includes a sympathetic interpretation of Thomas Muntzer as a Christian, socialist revolutionary and a fascinating essay by Christina Reimer on Freud, Jung, and the Trinity. Reimer helpfully treats the Trinity as an archetype rather than as a dogma.
The fifth section is the lengthiest in the book. Titled “Engagement with the Ecumenical Tradition,” it includes two insightful essays on the life and work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, one excellent (if somewhat out-of-place) essay on Origen’s doctrine of the incarnation, and three reflections on aspects of Trinitarian orthodoxy. The most helpful of these last three is Peter C. Erb’s argument that the Nicene Creed should function as a pedagogical tool and a liturgical act of communion rather than as a list of propositions or a demarcation of theological boundaries.
The volume finishes on a high note in its sixth and final section on “Political Theology.” Denis R. Janz offers a positively magisterial summary of Martin Luther’s social and political ethic, a task he accomplishes in a mere sixteen pages. This is followed by a fascinating reflection on and critique of the political philosophies of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke by Harry J. Huebner. Unfortunately, the “messianic political theology” Huebner offers as a corrective to Hobbes and Locke is poorly developed and therefore disappointing. The final essay, by Paul G. Doerksen, is in my opinion one of the most interesting. It juxtaposes the views of John Howard Yoder and Oliver O’Donovan with respect to Constantinian Christendom and, somewhat to my surprise, finds fault with Yoder’s negativity toward it.
Ultimately, this volume will be most helpful for readers with an interest in the work of A. James Reimer and to Anabaptists looking to draw upon theological resources from outside their own tradition but without abandoning their Anabaptist identity.