Book Review: The Anabaptist Vision
Author: Harold S. Bender
Publisher: Herald Press ISBN: 9780836113051
The Anabaptist Vision is essentially the transcript of the presidential address before the American Society of Church History in 1943. The “book,” if one can call it that, is very small and a mere 36 pages in length. Do not let its diminutive size or length fool you. This could be one of the most clearly articulated definitions of Anabaptism that I have read to date. Personally, I have read numerous essays, many church history textbooks detailing the Anabaptist movement, and a couple books (A Contemporary Anabaptist Theology by Thomas N. Finger and The Naked Anabaptist by Stuart Murray). Until this little book-essay, I was still a slightly perplexed as to how I might formally position the Anabaptist principles.
Typically, or perhaps it is more accurate to say stereotypically, people will most often categorize the Anabaptists with the Amish or the Mennonites. I suspect from a purely historical perspective, this is true. On the other hand, there are guiding principles that I think form the foundation of Anabaptist theology and it is these principles that I have been specifically seeking to identify. I believe I have finally found what I was looking for in Harold Bender’s The Anabaptist Vision.
First, let me share a little more about the structure and content of the book. As I have mentioned it is very concise. This works to the reader’s advantage since it can easily be read, even a couple or more times, in a single sitting (this is what I did). Another point to make about its concise nature is that Bender does not use many unnecessary words making his points clear and easy to understand. He has included some historical markers and detail, but it is not overwhelming or boring. He uses only the necessary details to provide the perspective needed to guide the relevance of the principle points that distinguish the Anabaptist vision.
The following are the principle points of the Anabaptist tradition as I noted (and highlighted) in my reading:
- Great emphasis placed upon the actual personal conversion and regeneration of every Christian through the Holy Spirit.
- Strive to follow the footsteps of the church of the first century and to renew unadulterated original Christianity.
- Concerned and focused on living “a true Christian life,” that is, a life patterned after the teaching and example of Christ.
- Transformation was/is inclusive of the entire way of life of the individual believer and of the society so that it should be fashioned after the teaching and example of Jesus Christ.
- Voluntary church membership based upon true conversion and involving a commitment to holy living and discipleship is absolutely essential.
- A commitment to the ethic of love and nonresistance as applied to all human relationships (peacemaking and pacifism).
- Belief that the Sermon on the Mount is a vision and ethic that Jesus taught for his believers/followers to live out today, empowered by his grace and following in his steps.
I think many, and maybe all, of these principles are embraced by the Amish and Mennonite communities; however, I do not think they need be restricted to them. I find myself embracing these core principles and am hopeful of finding a community of like-minded individuals who will embrace them with me.
note: I believe the entirety of the essay can be read online here