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Since I’ve been back from vacation, I’ve been admittedly distracted. For the most part, I’ve been distracted by the need to catch up on all the work I didn’t do during vacation! But I’ve also found myself distracted by the freedom of summer: spending time with family and friends, reading for fun (a novelty I haven’t experienced since before grad school), and doing other summer-related activities.
The result, of course, has been little forward progress on my “Born-Again Brethren in Christ” project. I didn’t work on the project at all during vacation. Since returning, I’ve been trying to get back into the swing of things by reviewing some of the pertinent secondary literature on Anabaptist-Evangelical intersections. Some of the titles I’ve been perusing are pictured above. Of course, I’ve read all of these before, but it’s always nice to revisit.
Referencing these books and their arguments in my article will be essential in addressing the “So what?” questions that accompany any research project. Why does this article matter? Why would we want to publish it in our journal? How does it advance knowledge in this particular area? I need to ensure that my project makes some relevant contribution to the existing historiography — and, more importantly, that it engages that historiography in its argument.
Basically, there are two schools of thought when it comes to the interactions between Anabaptism and Evangelicalism. The first “school” — which emerged in the 1970s and 1980s and counts luminary historians like Theron Schlabach and Beulah Stauffer Hostetler as its proponents — has tended to focus on points of tension between the two traditions. Employing colorful metaphors like the Trojan horse or a deadly virus, Mennonite scholars in this school have accused Evangelicalism of infiltrating or infecting Anabaptist thought on distinctive emphases like peace, simple living, and the gathered church. Furthermore, these scholars claim that many Mennonites have borrowed indiscriminately from Evangelical sources, thereby reducing Mennonitism to a “bricolage of Americanized religiosity,” as historian Steve Nolt has put it.
By contrast, a second school of thought has pointed to the congruity between Anabaptist emphases and Evangelical ethos. This is a newer approach to the subject, most recently typified by Jared C. Burkholder and David C. Cramer’s 2012 edited volume, The Activist Impulse: Essays on the Intersection of Evangelicalism and Anabaptism. (I reviewed this book here.) Anabaptist-Mennonite scholars in this camp have sought to make sense of Anabaptist-Evangelical hybrids and intersections, not just departures and dilutions. This school envisions the two traditions as linked by a shared “activist impulse,” both in terms of evangelism and social service. This shared “impulse,” though understood and operationalized differently in each tradition, has created a space for interchange, reconciliation, and mutual understanding between Evangelicals and Anabaptists.
Both models of Anabaptist-Evangelical interaction communicate important realities and rest on clear evidence. But — as I see it — neither full captures the full complexity of these Anabaptist-Evangelical intersections. If we’re imagining these intersections as a continuum, the current models stake claims on opposite poles — either tension or rapprochement, conflict or complementarity — without exploring the middle area in which tension and rapprochement occur simultaneously.
This “middle way” is, of course, muddier — more confusing, more complex. It’s the ground I intend to explore in my case study of the Brethren in Christ engagement with Evangelicalism in the mid-twentieth century. Stay tuned!