My response to Stuart Murray’s presentation from his book, The Naked Anabaptist.
Stuart, I am not as surprised as you are that The Naked Anabaptist has become popular in North America. In North America, and maybe Canada in particular, we have a love affair with things British. If it has a British accent we will devour it like dessert during Lent. Why else the popularity of Tolkien & Lewis, the Beatles, Alpha, Harry Potter, and Adele?
But more seriously, the reason the book has caught on and you are here is that I think you have told us something we needed to be hearing at this time. The time is ripe for the world to hear the Anabaptist message. In the UK you are further along the journey of post-Christendom but we are well on the way and you are correct in observing that Canadians find themselves stuck in between the UK and US contexts.
Not all in NA embrace the post-Christendom transition and Christendom looks different here. Many, especially those more influenced by American conservative evangelicalism, bemoan the loss and long for Christianity to be in a place of influence and power. I appreciate your articulation of the shift towards post-Christendom and I see this as a wonderful opportunity for a new articulation of what it means to follow Jesus.
You have done us a favor by helping us to see Christ-centered discipleship and peace theology as our primary witness, rather than an option on the peripheral of our faith. I concur that it is indeed disturbing that in some Anabaptist denominations there is a tendency to downplay the peace witness. The world is crying for the Gospel that we embrace. Why keep it quiet? You have given us new courage.
How Anabaptist of you to say, “seven core convictions, not a new creed.” I have to confess though, that even Mennonites have too often used our confessions like weapons of theological warfare or walls of exclusion.
We utilize the seven convictions in The Naked Anabaptist as a resource for discussing Anabaptist theology in my classes. The emphasis on following Jesus as the underlying theme is appreciated. We are always following but we have not yet arrived. It is a message of hope and direction.
Since you have dared to use a provocative title, let me continue to play with the analogy a little. At the risk of offending you or any Anabaptist voyeurists and exhibitionists among us, I would like to proclaim that I believe that there is no such thing as a naked Anabaptist!
It is indeed a noble task to seek to defrock the so-called ethnic Mennonites of their cultural clothes accumulated through generations of life on at least two different continents. It is true that much of our theology has been cloaked in the separatist colonies of Russia or the farms of Lancaster county or more recently in the trendy t-shirts of American evangelicalism. To strip Anabaptism of these clothes has done us a favor, but thankfully, you have not left us embarrassed.
After taking off our cultural clothes you have hurriedly measured us for a new suit in a new culture. You have not left Anabaptism naked as claimed but have re-outfitted Anabaptism in the jacket of British post-Christendom toward which we are also moving in NA.
Our faith will always be wrapped in our culture and that is not something to bemoan. Jesus was also dressed in human flesh and first century Jewish culture. Anabaptists sought to incarnate the message of their Lord in the peasant clothes of the 16th century. I believe you have redressed us well for a relevant witness in the emerging post-everything culture of the 21st century.
I agree that western post-Christendom is ready for the radical message of 16th century Anabaptism. But that radical message leaves us with some additional questions and challenges:
- Are we willing to be evangelized as we are to be the evangelists?
- Are we welcoming to the table and listening to those on the margins in our society?
- With a government in Canada that is increasingly arming itself, are we giving witness to the Gospel of Peace?
16th century Anabaptism was an attempt to shed off the robes of Christendom built up over a millennium and it is by its very nature simply and sparingly attired, but it is never naked. We are always dressed in the raiment of a particular culture and it behooves us to be aware of that. The caution is that we should be careful where we go clothes shopping!