[The following is an edited version of my response to Stuart Murray’s presentation in Abbotsford in the spring of 2012]
I am not surprised that The Naked Anabaptist has become popular in North America. One of the reasons 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. 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. It is true here also that not all embrace the post-Christendom transition. Many, especially those more influenced by American conservative evangelicalism, bemoan the losses 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 embarrassing 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 Mennonites have embraced for centuries. Why keep it quiet?
How Anabaptist of you to say, “Seven core convictions, not a new creed.” My observation is that although we call our statements confessions, we unfortunately often treat them like creeds and then use them like weapons of theological warfare or walls of exclusion. I appreciate your theme and mindset of following and journeying with Jesus that underlies the seven convictions. Along with a 16th century text I utilize the seven convictions in The Naked Anabaptist as a resource for discussing Anabaptist theology in my classes. However, at the risk of offending you or any Anabaptist voyeurs 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 is cloaked in the separatist colonies of Russia 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. Our faith will always be wrapped in our culture and that is not something to bemoan.
Just as Jesus was dressed in human flesh, so too, Anabaptists sought to incarnate the message of their Lord in humble every-day working clothes. To paraphrase the famous saying of Hans Denck: “If we want to be dressed in divine robes we must wear the denim of every-day life.” I believe that Stuart Murray has dressed us well for a relevant witness in a culture that is moving away from the Christendom of our European past.
But this clothing will probably only last a generation, and it should. The European Mennonite cultural clothes of the past have long since worn out their usefulness. Stuart Murray’s vision is not naked Anabaptism but it is a new outfit for a new time in the western world. We do however have other clothing designers we must also listen to as we seek to be faithful to Jesus in a global culture. We must also listen to listen to our brothers and sisters in the southern half of the world, to their cry for liberation, to their message of Pentecostalism, to the witness of independent ecclesial communities in both Africa and South America, and also to marginalized voices in our own country.
Although 16th century Anabaptism was an attempt to shed off the robes of Christendom built up over a millennium and is by its very nature simply and sparingly attired, I believe there is no such thing as a naked Anabaptist or a naked Christian for that matter. 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!
[Stand by for my new book entitled, Spirituality With Clothes On, to be coming out in January, 2015]