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July 1978 · Vol. 7 No. 3 · pp. 44–46 

Book Review

Kingdom, Cross and Community

ed. J. R. Burkholder and Calvin W. Redekop. Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1976. 323 pages.

Reviewed by Abe J. Dueck

This volume is an eightieth-birthday tribute to Guy F. Hershberger, a man who has contributed much to focusing a distinctive Mennonite vision in an era when it could easily have been lost without such scholarship. Coming only about two decades after the publication of the book The Recovery of the Anabaptist Vision, in honor of the late Harold S. Bender and edited by Guy F. Hershberger, this volume is most easily understood as a sequel to the former and reflecting a more mature but also less confident and more complicated outworking of the earlier “Vision”.

Seventeen writers contribute essays on various themes, including a final essay entitled “Our Citizenship is in Heaven” by Hershberger himself. The writers include members of various branches of the Mennonite faith and of the Brethren in Christ. Although Hershberger’s influence has been felt most decisively in the (Old) Mennonite Church, the impact of his work extended not only to other Anabaptist and Believers’ Church traditions but also to broader streams of Christianity.

The volume is both less and more ecumenical in character than The Recovery of the Anabaptist Vision. The earlier work very deliberately focused on the essence of the sixteenth century vision and only in a secondary way suggested implications for the twentieth century. It articulated a vision which in many ways appealed to the {45} various twentieth century heirs of the Anabaptists and permitted them at last to feel that they had something distinctive and profound to say to “other” Protestant traditions. Kingdom, Cross and Community begins with the much narrower focus of the (Old) Mennonite experience of the twentieth century, which was often quite unlike the experience of other Mennonite groups during the same period. The subsequent essays are much broader in scope, however, and more consciously engage in dialogue with the twentieth century.

What the (Old) Mennonite Church experienced in the 1920’s is in many ways like the Mennonite Brethren experience in the post World War II era. The impact of higher education, the change of language and other aspects of acculturation, the influence of Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism are all factors that have created serious tensions in the Mennonite Brethren churches.

In the second section of the book, which is entitled “Foundations of Kingdom Community”, a number of writers examine elements of faith and practice that are essential to the creation of genuine Christian community. Particularly incisive and provocative are the essays by C. Norman Kraus and J. Lawrence Burkholder. Kraus, who is one of the best-informed scholars on the nature of American Fundamentalism and particularly its impact on the Mennonite community, examines the theological evolution of the Mennonites in the American context. His thesis is that the Mennonite alternatives of the period from 1925 to 1950 “represented a modification of the orthodox tradition in contrast to the new dispensationalism which was the heart of Fundamentalism” (106). He further points out that American Mennonitism had not really developed an explicit theology prior to this century. This perspective is probably also most helpful in understanding the gradual acceptance of dispensationalist eschatology in the Mennonite Brethren Church in Russia and America—it was accepted because of the theological vacuum rather than because it prevailed in the theological debate.

The essay “Nonresistance, Nonviolent Resistance, and Power” by J. Lawrence Burkholder, President of Goshen College, speaks to the central issue which Hershberger addressed in his many writings. Hershberger’s way of defining nonresistance has been generally accepted by many Mennonite groups. Burkholder questions, however, whether Hershberger’s statement is adequate in that it draws a sharp contrast between nonresistance and nonviolent resistance. Thereby the theoretical ground is cut from under those who would participate directly in social action. “By exalting the absence of conflict rather than the peaceful resolution of conflict, it encourages passivity” (133). Burkholder’s reminder that “those who withdraw from world conflict as {46} the ‘way of the cross’ seldom die on the cross” is a timely one for American Mennonites.

The third major section of the book deals with essays under the general topic of “Kingdom Citizens and the World”. The writers explore some of the obvious tensions which arise in a community which stresses ethical absolutes and separation on the one hand and mission and involvement on the other. John H. Redekop argues persuasively the need for selective involvement in politics. Emma La Rocque provides a rather unique perspective on the problem of ethnicity which continues to plague the Mennonite community—this time from the vantage point of another cultural minority in North America.

The final section includes three essays on “Expanding the Vision of the Kingdom”, concluding with a sermon given by Hershberger in 1971 on the theme, “Our Citizenship is in Heaven”.

Although it is impossible to comment on each essay in this volume, the collection of essays constitutes a fitting tribute to a man who has contributed so much. Those who knew Hershberger and his writings have been impressed by him as a man of the people—a man who successfully bridged the gap that often exists between scholars and the general church membership. In being practical, Hershberger did not lose his idealism.

The book is also equipped with a complete bibliography of the writings of Hershberger during the years 1922 to 1976 (a list of 287 items!), a general bibliography, and a general index.

Abe Dueck
Mennonite Brethren Bible College
Winnipeg, Manitoba

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