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Clif's Book World

Adventures from reading books captured within short reviews.

The Naked Anabaptist: The Bare Essentials of a Radical Faith (Third Way Collection) - Stuart Murray This book is written from the view point of a neo-Anabaptist. That is a person who comes from a background of main-line Christianity, has witnessed the slow demise of the traditional world view of imperial Christendom, and has concluded that the heart of true Christianity can be found in the Anabaptist tradition. The neo-Anabaptist may appear to embrace their discovery of Anabaptism with an enthusiasm of a new convert which those of us who were raised within the Anabaptist tradition may find surprising, but gratifying. However, the neo-Anabaptists are not necessarily lining up to join the churches that trace their ancestry to Anabaptist origins. Many are willing to go by titles such as Methodist/Anabaptist, Catholic/Anabaptist or even Agnostic/Anabaptist.

The title of the book traces its origin to frustration with the traditions that many traditionally Anabaptist churches, such as Mennonite or Amish, have picked up over the years that have little to do with the basic concepts of Anabaptism. Thus, this book attempts to define Anabaptism that is "naked" of cultural or ethnic traditions.

There are some shades of differences in core values between neo-Anabaptists and those of historical Anabaptists. It's interesting to compare the core values stated in this book with those of the Schleitheim Confession of 1527. However, the spirit of first loyalty to a Jesus-centered faith over that of cultural, national and/or political obligations remains. The differences are a result of changed cultural circumstances over the past 500 years. For example, the issue of pastors and leaders having high ethical standards was important in 1527 because of prevailing immorality among the state church clergy of the 16th Century. Such an issue is still important, but it's an issue that neo-Anabaptists are not likely to included in core values of today. The neo-Anabaptists of today are more likely to emphasize the community of believers working together to determine how a Jesus-centered life is lived in the context of the 21st Century post Christendom world. And this, of course, is still consistent with the overall spirit of the 1527 Schleitheim Confession.

I won't take time here to list the seven core values of Anabaptism as listed in this book; you can read the book for yourself. But I will discuss two statements with which some Anabaptist may be surprised.

The first is the issue of nonviolence. The author acknowledges that the peace tradition, and pacifism or nonviolence has been one of the distinguishing features of the Anabaptist tradition. But he goes on to state that, "... not all Anabaptists today are pacifists." Well, technically he is correct, but many within the Anabaptist tradition would maintain that the peace emphasis is a central distinguishing feature of Anabaptist thinking, and that not accepting that feature is a compromised version of Anabaptism.

The second is the practice of adult baptism. The author indicates that he seriously considered not including adult baptism as an important practice for today's Anabaptists. That is ironic since the name "anabaptist" originated from the practice of 16th Century believers who asked to be baptized again as adults because they didn't think their baptism as a baby was legitimate. The thinking of the author is that since western society no longer considers failure to baptize infants as a sign of treason against the state, that its significance as a religious symbol is diminished as well. But in the end the author included adult baptism as a traditional symbol that remains important to Anabaptists of today.

The author is willing to recognize that there are weaknesses and limitations inherent with the Anabaptist tradition. There's even a section titled, "Anabaptism--Warts and All." But the author remains generally optimistic about the future of Anabaptism. He sees a future in which traditional Christianity will become increasingly marginalized. The author believes the fading influence of Christianity to be a positive change because it frees Christians from the inferred obligation to be a significant player within western culture. Thus freed it can become what the Christian Church should have been in the first place. The author sees the Anabaptist tradition as an unusually helpful lens through which to look at Scripture and discern the genuine heart of Christian faith and belief.