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Fall 2016 · Vol. 45 No. 2 · pp. 234–236 

Book Review

The Anabaptists and Contemporary Baptists: Restoring New Testament Christianity

ed. Malcolm B. Yarnell III. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2013. 306 pages.

Reviewed by Brian Cooper

This festschrift honoring a self-described “gun-toting Anabaptist” (xiii) is intended to laud the life and work of a well-known Southern Baptist leader rather than make a major contribution to scholarship. However, the book does yield interesting and worthwhile insights, even for Anabaptists who consider themselves well acquainted with the received tradition of Anabaptist history and theology.

The essays in this volume originated as presentations at a 2012 conference at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary on the importance of Anabaptist theology for contemporary Baptist theology. They were collected and published to honor Paige Patterson, president of {235} Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary from 1992 to 2003 and president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary since 2003. Patterson has been a voice both for the restoration of conservative theology in the Southern Baptist Convention and also for the influence of Anabaptist theology on contemporary Baptist thought and practice. Editor Malcolm Yarnell is Patterson’s colleague at Southwestern, and many of the contributors are former students. Their essays are not earth-shattering in their import, but are competent contributions.

The book seems intended to give Baptists unfamiliar with Anabaptism a primer on significant Anabaptist principles that have carried over into modern Baptist life (or should). The volume is divided into three sections: the first on Anabaptist theology, the second a special focus on the work of Balthasar Hubmaier (Paige Patterson’s favorite Anabaptist theologian), and the third on elements of Anabaptist history. One note about the ordering of the material: There are some well-written short pieces by Michael Whitlock that are intended to be an introduction to Anabaptism, but they are scattered throughout the book. They are a distraction as much as a help and would have been more effective if consolidated into a single article.

Given debates among Mennonite Brethren in recent years about the merits of neo-Reformed theology and its compatibility with Anabaptism, it is interesting to read a volume written in praise of a leader who embodies a simultaneous commitment both to conservative Calvinist Baptist theology and Anabaptist theology. Rather than reopen a debate on Baptist origins, the book is intended in large part to help “contemporary Baptists discover their theological roots in the Radical Reformation and set sail for that noble destination on which many of the Radical Reformers landed” (3). The precise location of that “noble destination” may be debated, but the desire to follow the example of Anabaptist saints carries at least the promise of a good conversation about how to find it and how to get there.

The majority of the essays provide a perspective that is notably different from that of many Anabaptist authors in that it is the view of evangelical leaders who are accustomed to a prominent and influential role in cultural and political affairs rather than being a persecuted minority. As a result, the chapters by Michael Wilkinson on suffering (based on the life and thought of Leonhard Schiemer) and Thomas White on religious liberty (a survey of Anabaptist works on the subject) carry an undertone of prophetic omen relative to an American scene that is increasingly ambivalent toward public expressions of Christian community.

One contribution that may seem out of place is on the Anabaptist influence on church planting, written by megachurch pastor Rick Warren. {236} While not particularly deep, it seeks to be faithful to early Anabaptist teaching about the Great Commission. Warren has modeled his ministry priorities on Anabaptist intentionality around Christocentrism, holistic discipleship, and unflinching obedience. In short, Warren’s image of Anabaptism is more activist and multi-dimensional than is sometimes assumed in light of perceptions of Anabaptist separatism. There is much to learn from this outsider’s view of the tradition.

The remainder of the chapters address various aspects of Anabaptist theology and history—church discipline, the authority of Scripture, and influences on Anabaptist development, among other things. Seasoned Anabaptist scholars may not be surprised by the contents, but the value of this volume lies at a meta level, not in the individual parts. I note four major lessons. First, it is worthwhile to see those outside the tradition praise Anabaptists for making a major contribution to church history and to evangelical theology. Second, it is refreshing to see corroboration of what Anabaptists have long insisted about the soundness of Anabaptist theology, along with recognition of the unique emphasis on discipleship relative to other streams in the larger Protestant tradition. This is significant especially in light of conservative evangelical voices that are inclined to view Anabaptism as a degradation of good theology. Third, for readers unfamiliar with the Anabaptist tradition, there is content that can serve as a primer, helpful for locating Anabaptists in history and for identifying salient theological emphases. Fourth, there is the prophetic witness of Anabaptist theology that continually reminds disciples of the demands of following Jesus and the perils of accommodating cultural and political priorities in the interest of gaining a greater audience. For these reasons it may prove a worthwhile read.

Brian Cooper
Associate Dean, Assistant Professor of Theology
Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary Canada, Langley, B.C.

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