Hans-Jürgen Goertz. The Anabaptists. Trans. Trevor Johnson. New York: Routledge, 1996. Pp.
215. ($80.00) ISBN 0-415-08238-2
Hans-Jürgen Goertz's book The Anabaptists was first published in German in 1980 as Die
Täufer: Geschichte und Deutung. This third edition is the English translation. In addition to
several more minor changes and editing, the author has added an additional new chapter entitled:
"Simple Brothers, Self-confident Sisters."
Goertz begins with a very helpful, brief, and carefully nuanced overview of nine Anabaptist alternatives, all from the first half of the 16th century. (1) The group centered in Zurich around Zwingli with the humanist Konrad Grebel as their leader. (2) Michael Sattler and those who shared in the Schleitheim Articles who envisioned the alternative church of the persecuted and defenseless. (3) Those who participated in the Martyr's Synod with leadership from Hans Hut and strongly connected to the views of Thomas Müntzer. (4) Hans Romer, Melchoir Rinck, and several others who struggled to find a place for secular authority while weaving between pacifism and militancy. (5) Jacob Hutter and those Anabaptists committed to the community of goods. (6) The Pilgrim Marpeck circle with its more moderate theology and open encounter with society. (7) The apocalyptic followers of Melchior Hoffman who led the debacle of a so-called New Jerusalem in Münster. (8) The Dutch group centered around the long leadership of Menno Simons. (9) Anabaptists in England who passed on their heritage to Quakers and Baptists.
Goertz acknowledges that these groups often were in contact and dialogue with each other and
occasionally influenced each other, but collectively they do not represent a 'real' Anabaptist
position but many Anabaptist alternatives. As he concludes this chapter: "I have written in this
overview not of the alternative of Anabaptism, but rather of Anabaptist alternatives."
If there is not a mono-genesis but a poly-genesis of Anabaptism, may one then ask another
simple question: Is it possible to find a single uniting feature which all these pluralistic
Anabaptist groups of origin can share? Can one quality or a single aspect of faith drawn out of
the social and religious world of 16th century Anabaptism be used to define an imagined or actual
unity after all? It is that question which forms the basis for the second chapter of this volume.
Entitled "Anticlericalism and Moral Improvement," the second chapter sets the context for
Goertz's basic and continuing interpretation of Anabaptism; namely, that it grew out of a cultural
context in which anticlericalism was thriving. Furthermore, he claims that Anabaptism
participated in and contributed to this anticlericalism, and it now serves as an essential
touchstone for Anabaptist interpretation. It is both the historical and theological key to
understanding all Anabaptist essentials.
In the Menno Simons lectures given at Bethel College, North Newton, KS, in October, 1995,
Sjouke Voolstra entitled his second lecture "The anticlerical priest: From father confessor to lay
preacher of true penitence." In the printed version of these lectures (Menno Simons: His Image
and Message, published by Bethel College, 1997) Voolstra writes: "In the recent socio-historical
approach to the Reformation, the concept of anticlericalism has been present as an inclusive
explanatory model of the third decade of the sixteenth century, when the Reformation was still
going through its 'plastic phase.'" In an extended footnote at this point he discusses Hans-Jürgen
Goertz and others; there he writes: "Goertz also stuffs Menno Simons' life and teachings into a
tight anticlerical straitjacket, and this sometimes leads to forced interpretations such as those
regarding Christology, the doctrine of justification, ... In this way anticlericalism, as a
monocausal explanatory model of the early Reformation, appears to confer a new cohesion to
Anabaptism which, from the viewpoint of a similarly strict socio-historical approach, has lost the
innocence of its monogenetic beginnings and disintegrated into polygenetic factors."
A question which I found myself asking while reading Goertz was: How am I to understand the
term "anticlericalism"? Voolstra ventures a very brief comment offering three understandings:
"We must distinguish several forms of anticlericalism--the laymen complained about the clergy
(and vice versa!), the lower clergy opposed the higher clergy, and the clergy could come to hate
itself." Generally our assumed understanding rests in the first of these alternatives, though it
might be interesting to speculate whether the second or even third option might have been
present in some measure among the Anabaptist reformers.
As a minister myself and now a former Director of Ministerial Leadership Services for the
General Conference Mennonite Church, I confess that my defensive sensitivities rise appreciably
when the discussion turns to anticlericalism. It is not because I feel compelled to protect and
defend any form of clergy elitism, and certainly I am not called to defend the actions of all clergy
persons, but I know that within our present North American context of the last fifty years there
has lingered around the edges of Anabaptist interpretation an anticlericalism that believes that if
we were true to our heritage we would abolish anything that marks a difference between those
who serve in pastoral roles within the church and those who do not. In the popular language of
our day: "Everyone is a minister." To diffuse and confuse the issue, much of the church speaks of
leadership in preference to ministry.
I recall John Howard Yoder once saying: "If one is to be ordained, all should be ordained." This
too is a form of anticlericalism--of a type not known to the 16th century Anabaptists. At least
Yoder was honest enough to acknowledge that when he wrote that the Anabaptist reformers
"should not be looked to for special guidance or illumination on the matters of how to renew
ministerial patterns." Indeed, he adds later, "The universalism of ministry is the radical
reformation that is still waiting to happen."
One could site passage after passage from Menno Simons (and I'm confident from others as
well) that speaks vigorously in critique of the clergy as he knew them and as he knew himself.
From his writing on "The New Birth" we read: "If we turn to the divines, whether preachers,
priests, or monks, there we find such an idle, lazy, wanton, and carnal life, such a corrupted, anti-Christian doctrine and interpretation of the Scriptures, such hatred, envy, defaming, betraying,
lying, and turmoil against all the pious, that I would be ashamed to mention it before the virtuous
and honest." But this never meant for Menno a rejection of the call to the office of ministry.
From his "Foundation of Christian Doctrine" we read: "They (the true preachers) were driven into
this office by the Spirit of God, with pious hearts, and did ever esteem themselves unfit to serve
the people of God or to execute such a high and responsible office." "For no one can serve in this
high and holy office conformable to God's will, except he whom the Lord of the vineyard has
made capable by the Spirit of His grace."
It is significant that Menno and all the early Anabaptist confessions speak concerning the "office"
of ministry in a way that affirms its importance to the life of the church. His anticlericalism was
never a rejection of the need for ministerial leadership within the church, but it was a strong
critique of the abuse which is always a potential within every responsible office, both within and
without the church.
Using anticlericalism as the key to interpret the Anabaptist reformation reminds me of the
saying: "If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail!"
Searching for the single key by which to interpret Anabaptist life and faith is not new to Goertz
nor to the present socio-historical approach. Various themes have been suggested in recent
history: Anabaptist theology of the church as community, believer's baptism, discipleship, the
free church in relation to state and society, pacifism, and martyrdom. Shall we now add a new
key in anticlericalism?
Or should we better follow the course of those like Goertz who have asked us to approach
Anabaptist history from a poly-genesis interpretation of its beginnings? Would not he and we
alike be better served by a poly-thematic understanding rather than the mono-thematic approach
which his anticlericalism seems to ask of us? Does it not seem reasonable to enlarge our
Anabaptist interpretation by moving both from mono-genesis to poly-genesis and from mono-thematic to poly-thematic understandings?
We could then acknowledge that the multiple Anabaptist groups, from the 16th century to the
present, have chosen to emphasize one or several themes, even while their sisters and brothers
chose to emphasize others. It would enrich and enlarge our understanding of all Anabaptist
groups whose life and faith could not be reduced to single and simple interpretations. It would
allow us to embrace the paradoxes which are endemic to faith and faithfulness. It would allow us
to be more historically honest as we are freed from some of our present persuasions and
Despite my basic critique of the anticlerical key to interpret Anabaptist history which dominates
this volume by Goertz, I did find my understandings enlarged and enriched by the book as a
whole. In a quite concise manner, he has a way of giving a close reading to the story. He
combines history and theology in a manner not often experienced. He offers an occasional
critique of other North American and European Anabaptist scholars, which I found enlightening.
He has a broad enough ecumenism that Anabaptism itself is not always portrayed as God's
greatest and only wisdom. As a North American Mennonite too often limited by provincial
interpretations, I found it an important experience to read our history from a contemporary
John A. Esau
North Newton, Kansas
Perry Bush, Two Kingdoms, Two Loyalties: Mennonite Pacifism in Modern America. Baltimore:
Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998. Pp. 362. ($39.95) ISBN 0-8018-5827-5
Two Kingdoms, Two Loyalties is the story of changing attitudes and relations between
Mennonites and the state during the middle of the 20th century. The story is intentionally limited
to the Mennonite Church (MC) and the General Conference Mennonite Church (GC). The
dominant theme of the story is the steady movement away from isolation and separation to one
of more active involvement. This movement has a number of different stands, among them:
nonresistance to political activism; nonconformity to acculturation; noninvolvement to service;
and subject to citizen. Underlying these radical changes is a steady constant--the search for ways
to strengthen and maintain pacifism defined as refusal to participate in the military. As Perry
Bush tells the story, the Mennonites begin with a two kingdom theology that envisages two
separate societies, the church and the state, with a minimum of interaction and ends with a view
that the church is differentiated from the state primarily in its commitment to peace and service.
Whether this difference is sufficient to be called a two-kingdom view is not clear, nor does the
author commit himself on this point. He ends the work with the observation that "it is very hard
to draw the line [between the church and] the state" (p. 275).
As the story unfolds it displays a grand variety of themes, many of which are clearly laid out and
copiously documented, and all of which are well worth contemplation. Some of the more helpful
War as a major catalyst of change and clarifier of issues
The book tells a single story showing that the experiences of both the MC and GC churches can
be seen as a unified story. The differences between the two communities are made clear and are
well documented but in the end it is the overwhelming similarities that predominate. In this
regard the book is very timely and useful as the process of MC/GC transformation comes to a
All in all, this is a very readable book that provides a great deal of material for thought. It should
be near the top of the list of books to be read by those who are interested in the identity and
future of the Mennonite venture in America. Its copious documentation provides a wealth of
material for further study. In many ways Two Kingdoms, Two Loyalties is the historical
counterpart to the sociological Mennonite Peacemaking: From Quietism to Activism by Leo
Driedger and Donald B. Kraybill. The two books tell the same story in different ways.
All stories are told from a certain point of view, this is unavoidable and useful. It is clear that
Perry Bush views the changes in the Mennonite self-understanding as positive. There is a fine
line between acknowledging ones own biases and denigrating the contrary views. Bush comes
too close to this line for this reviewer's taste with such value laden descriptions as "complacently
complied" (p. 182), "meekly encouraging" (p. 258), "timid and reserved Mennonites" (p. 268),
"devoting themselves merely to preserving," "meekly voiced" (p. 270), and "a group huddled
toward this escape hatch" (p. 271).
A more subtle aspect of the author's point of view is his need to portray the change from
quietism to activism as a recapturing of a lost aspect of the Anabaptist vision (pp. 68, 118, 152,
183, 247, 271). This claim is certainly debatable, at least when it is used to support activities
designed to change the political order. Bush does try to give an account of the purported
Anabaptist activism. He rightly points to the early Anabaptist critique of the emerging Protestant
establishment, and their stubborn refusal to conform (pp. 11-12), but neither of these
characteristics implies a political end. In fact, he seems to destroy any connection when he says
of the early Anabaptists, "Rejecting the state church conceptions of both Catholicism and
emerging Protestantism, they called for a voluntary association of believers" (p. 19). The
repeated claim that the new Mennonite identity is a recapturing of an original vision needs much
more documentation at best.
Another consequence of the author's point of view is a relative neglect of the importance of the
work of John Howard Yoder. Much of Yoder's work is too supportive of the conservative point
of view for comfort, especially as detailed in The Politics of Jesus. It is significant that this book
is not even included in the bibliography. In fact, Yoder appears in the notes only a couple of
times with references from early and minor works. In the end Bush tries to dismiss the
importance of Yoder by saying, "Yet in the service of not just Yoder's vision but of a larger
Anabaptist whole," (p. 273). Giving credence to the weight of Yoder's thinking would
apparently have required a more sympathetic treatment of the conservative point of view.
The liberal bias that is apparent here is equally apparent in Mennonite Peacemaking. We still
await an account of this crucial transition period in the American Mennonite experience that is
more sympathetic to the values and goals of the conservative point of view. If the Mennonite
academic establishment could find a way to provide such an account, it may well be very helpful
in the long road to true integration of the MC and GC peoples.
There are a number of interrelated concepts central to the story of Two Kingdoms. Concepts such
as two kingdoms, witness, lordship, nonconformity, nonresistance, separation, responsibility,
civil disobedience, protest, etc. All of these are susceptible to fairly different meaning and
nuance. In such a fluid field of ideas it is easy to lean heavily on one dimension of a term's
meaning to make a favored point while leaning on a different dimension to avoid some
threatening tension in one's argument. Further progress in describing and understanding the
various interpretations of the Anabaptist vision will require careful concept clarification and
more precise definitions.
Take as an example the idea of two kingdoms. The simple view that there should be two different
worlds that shall never meet is not a possibility and probably has never been advocated as an
ideal. There have always been many aspects of the "world" that Anabaptists have been willing
and anxious to participate in. The bare idea of pacifism contemplates a kind of qualified
obedience to the state. "In but not of the world" tries to specify a particular relationship between
church and state. The relationship contemplated by the two kingdoms idea has necessarily been
more complex than simple separation, or nonparticipation. This implies that it is not enough to
show that a "two kingdoms people" is entering into a new relationship with the state in order to
establish that the two kingdoms view is breaking down. What is required is a more specific
account of what sorts of things are to be resisted, what sort of nonconformity is desired, what
things one is not to be responsible for, etc.
Or take the idea of witnessing to the state. In one sense any words or deeds that are directed to
the state or to some requirement of the state are a kind of witness. Taking the concept of
witnessing in this broad sense tends to blur and hide a number of crucial distinctions. On the one
hand there is a distinction between informing (answering questions, stating likely consequences,
detailing views on what is expedient or moral) and doing (performing service to the oppressed,
refusing to participate in expected public rituals, civil disobedience for conscience sake). There is
the distinction between speech and action that is its own end and speech and action that is
directed toward some further end. There is the distinction between speech and action that is not
intended to coerce or have political effect and political speech and action. All of these
distinctions are subject to indeterminate cases and tend to overlap in complex cases.
Nevertheless, it is this kind of careful distinction that people of conscience must necessarily
struggle with in trying to be faithful.
In the course of his account Perry Bush suggests that the central hinge point of change was the
acceptance of the idea that there is a single moral law for both state and church (pp. 68 & 201).
Here Bush has almost certainly put his finger on the key ethical/theological issue. The question
of a single moral law deserves a good deal of investigation, conversation, and study. Does one
want to claim straight out that the Sermon on the Mount should apply directly to the national
state? Is it our view that non-Christian peoples are morally obliged to obey the Sermon on the
Mount even though they do not acknowledge Christ as Lord? If one holds that Christians have no
higher obligations than the state, there would seem to be little ground for a two kingdom
theology. Here again one will want to make some more careful distinctions.
All in all, Two Kingdoms, Two Loyalties is an important book. It is a book that people who are interested in the question of the future of the Mennonite idea would be well advised to read.
North Newton, Kansas
Calvin W. Redekop, Leaving Anabaptism: From Evangelical Mennonite Brethren to Fellowship
of Evangelical Bible Churches. Telford, Pa.: Pandora Press U.S., 1998. Pp. 267. ($19.99
paperback) ISBN 0-9665021-0-8
The conference known today as the Fellowship of Evangelical Bible Churches came into
existence in 1889 as the Conference of United Defenseless Mennonite Brethren in Christ of
North America. The conference was originally a reform movement within the North American
Mennonite churches that had immigrated from Russia in the 1870s. The United Defenseless
Mennonites sought to recapture both a rigorous adherence to Anabaptist-Mennonite ethical ideals
and also a renewed emphasis on personal salvation and regeneration.
Today, the conference is known as the Fellowship of Evangelical Bible Churches (FEBC), and
willingly reveals little of its original Mennonite identity. Firmly identifying itself with the
evangelical world, the FEBC seems to view its Mennonite origins as a liability and even an
embarrassment. How could a group so firmly rooted within a Mennonite faith tradition, in less
than a century, almost completely reject its original identity and adopt a new one? This is the
basic question that sociologist Calvin Redekop sets out to answer in this book.
Given the small size of this conference (less than 4,000 members in 1998), one might
legitimately wonder what relevance this story has for the larger Mennonite world. Redekop,
however, persuasively argues that "this story is one instance of that archetypal story experienced
by hundreds of other Christian reform movements which have made the long trek from protest
and renewal to loss of direction and loss of the bond of unity" (p. 13). The FEBC is not the first
such group, and presumably not the last, to follow this path. For that reason alone, an analysis of
their story is instructive for the larger Mennonite and even Christian story.
The FEBC came into existence in North America, but its roots lie in the Russian Mennonite
context. Its founding members had all migrated from Russia in the 1870s, and so that setting
provides much of the impetus for the new movement. Redekop appropriately places the early
FEBC into the context of religious renewal among the Mennonites in Russia. Both of the group's
founders, Isaac Peters and Aaron Wall, were converted under the preaching of Lutheran
evangelist Eduard Wüst. They were both strongly influenced by the Pietistic teachings of Wüst,
and sought to incorporate these emphases into their Mennonite belief system.
Following migration to North America, Isaac Peters became a minister in the Bethesda
Mennonite Church of Henderson, Nebraska. Aaron Wall, meanwhile, migrated to Mountain
Lake, Minnesota, where he also became a minister. Both eventually found themselves at odds
with some fellow church members over issues of lifestyle and expressions of personal salvation,
and both eventually led schisms out of the existing congregations.
Recognizing a commonality between events in Nebraska and Minnesota, Peters and Wall soon
began discussing the possibility of creating a new Mennonite conference. They did so in 1889,
when the Conference of United Defenseless Mennonite Brethren was founded. A few other like-minded congregations soon joined the conference, and others came into existence when
conference members moved to new communities across western North America.
In chapter three Redekop defines the basic ideology of the young conference. Among the most
important articles of faith were an emphasis on salvation and regenerated life, the maintenance of
a strong spiritual life, the obligation of evangelism and missions, nonresistance, and
nonconformity. Despite a commonality of vision, Redekop discerns divergent tendencies within
the United Mennonites. Whereas Isaac Peters "tended to focus on nonconformity to the world . . .
and recovery of traditional Mennonite ethical life," Aaron Wall's "orientation emphasized the
experience of personal regeneration and the pious humble walk through intimate acquaintance
with Jesus and the Bible" (p. 57). While these differing emphases were hardly contradictory,
Redekop does note that the conference would eventually find it difficult to hold onto them both.
It is in this difficulty that Redekop finds the most telling explanation for the conference's
eventual movement away from a Mennonite self-identity.
In chapter four Redekop describes the conference's efforts to establish new congregations across
the West. While numerous such congregations were established, a surprisingly large percentage
failed to survive. Today only fourteen of the forty-two congregations established between 1889
and 1950 still remain in the conference. Since 1950, the conference has been more successful in
establishing congregations that survived. Even then, however, the numbers are striking: out of
seventy-eight total congregations established, only forty-one remain in the conference today.
Total membership of the conference also remained low: 952 members in 1920, 1919 members in
1950, and 4380 members in 1990. For a group so devoted to evangelism and saving "lost souls,"
such numbers must have been reason for concern. Some conference leaders blamed a Mennonite
ethno-religious identity for the failure to grow, thus hastening the movement away from that
identity, both culturally and theologically.
By the 1930s, the conference was beginning to seriously question its religious influences and
identity. Most of the founding leaders had by this time died, and a new generation of leaders had
taken their place. These men did not, for the most part, share the cultural and religious context of
their predecessors. Most had been born in North America and had absorbed the religious
environment of that culture. These new leaders were particularly influenced by the rising
evangelical and fundamentalist movements of the time. These younger leaders were moving in a
religious direction that had less and less to do with the vision of Aaron Wall and especially Isaac
Peters. It seems clear that the 1937 decision to change the conference name to Evangelical
Mennonite Brethren arose largely out of this growing identification with the evangelical
For a time, the Evangelical Mennonite Brethren was satisfied to maintain this dual identity--both
Mennonite and evangelical. By the 1960s, however, its leadership had come to believe that only
one identity could survive, and that the conference would have to choose between the two. The
1968 decision to withdraw from Mennonite Central Committee reveals clearly the EMB
dissatisfaction with the larger Mennonite world, as did the first discussions during this decade
about dropping the word "Mennonite" from the conference name. Though the debate over a name
change would continue for more than two decades, the conference did eventually formally
terminate its public identification with Mennonites in 1987, when it became the Fellowship of
Evangelical Bible Churches.
Redekop describes this transition as "The Great Change." He notes that "a great ideological
struggle had been taking place in the soul of the Peters/Wall movement soon after it began," and
that this struggle eventually resulted in its rejecting a Mennonite identity (p. 164). This struggle
was epitomized, Redekop suggests, by the differing visions of the two founders. Though Peters
and Wall considered themselves to be kindred spirits, their visions for the ideal church were
strikingly different. Elements of Wall's vision, more compatible with American evangelicalism,
survived long after his death. The influence of Peters, however, rooted more firmly in a
distinctive Mennonite ethos, fared less well over the long run.
Despite tentative efforts to align itself with other Mennonite groups, the EMB came to exist
largely in isolation from the larger North American Mennonite world. Too small to maintain its
own institutions and identity, the conference turned increasingly to American evangelicalism for
that identity. Influenced by evangelicalism, the EMB came to see its Mennonite identity as
merely a cultural/ethnic liability and therefore something to be abandoned in the name of
evangelism and church growth. Ironically, as Redekop notes at various places, this rejection of a
Mennonite theological orientation has not resulted in the rapid growth that many conference
leaders claimed would occur. Indeed, the FEBC has lost membership since abandoning a public
identification as Mennonites (from 4366 members in 1987 to 3563 members in 1998).
In Redekop's concluding chapter he most clearly outlines the trajectory that transformed the United Defenseless Mennonite Brethren in Christ into the Evangelical Mennonite Brethren and then the Fellowship of Evangelical Bible Churches. The early movement received much of its vitality and purpose from combining an "Anabaptist stress on discipleship and nonconformity to the world with the invigorating pietist renewal, which emphasized heartfelt conversion and living and sharing of personal spiritual experience" (p. 184). Unable to hold together these complimentary yet different visions, the conference moved increasingly in the direction of the latter vision during the twentieth century. As Redekop concludes,
The Peters/Wall movement embarked on a pilgrimage determined by its original evangelical Anabaptist commission. However, because it lacked a self-correcting mechanism, it became disoriented by the ubiquitous attraction of individualistic religious movements and lost its sense of direction and history. Meanwhile, it is tending not to meet its own central goals of evangelism and growth (p. 194).
Redekop's analysis of the FEBC is both insightful and helpful in understanding the religious
pilgrimage of that conference. While some earlier interpretations of the movement (including my
own) have tended to interpret the story as one of rejecting one religious tradition in favor of
another, Redekop more helpfully locates the tension within the very roots of the conference
This difficulty of holding Anabaptist/Mennonite emphases in tandem with pietist/evangelical
ones is a valuable case study for many Mennonite groups today. The FEBC is not the only group
to be born out of such multiple motivations. Others, such as the Mennonite Brethren and
Evangelical Mennonite Church, also share these dual emphases, and have also struggled with
how to hold them in creative tension. Redekop's analysis will provide a helpful interpretation for
members of those groups trying to understand their own story.
Few books are without flaws, and this one is no exception. More care should have been given to
the editorial process. There are several instances of words run together, omitted letters, and even
a line on p. 106 that was deleted in my copy with adhesive tape. The bibliography, furthermore,
attributes one article to me actually written by H. F. Epp.
Not all the chapters seem to promote the main argument of the book equally well. Chapter six,
which addresses political, economic and social issues, is perhaps the best example of this
shortfall. While Redekop briefly discusses the ways in which these contexts changed for the
Peters/Wall movement, he fails to show how these changes affected the unique development of
that movement. The way in which the conference experienced these social phenomena seems to
have been typical of most Mennonite groups, and so the analysis lacks any useful explanatory
value for the book's larger thesis.
These relative minor criticisms aside, Redekop's book is a valuable and important contribution
not only toward understanding one particular Mennonite group, but also in understanding the
forces influencing many religious reform movements.
Sharon Hartin Iorio, Faith's Harvest: Mennonite Identity in Northwest Oklahoma. Norman:
University of Oklahoma Press, 1999. Pp. 320 + xv. ($27.95 hardback) ISBN 0-8061-3119-5
Among the thousands of settlers who rushed to stake claims in the Cherokee Outlet of northwest
Oklahoma in 1893 were hundreds of Mennonites. This book examines how these Mennonites
understood themselves and adjusted to change. The author's approach is not that of a historian
or social scientist but of a professor of communication. Iorio looks at the role of communication
and language in shaping identity and preserving the past.
Each chapter of the study contains two parts: a short narrative based on secondary sources and
then a memoir or interview with one or two individuals telling their personal experiences. Iorio
conducted and recorded some sixty interviews and attended Mennonite worship services and
other activities to learn about their beliefs, concerns, and changes in their life and community.
The story begins with a brief history of Mennonite origins and migrations, which eventually led
to the plains of the United States and Canada in the 1870s. As land in Kansas became more
scarce and expensive, Oklahoma offered new opportunities. Generally it was younger and less
affluent Mennonites who joined the over one hundred thousand settlers who sought land in
Oklahoma in 1893. They formed small, agricultural communities centered around the church
and, at least in part, maintained by their use of the German language. Isolation and hardship
made it more difficult to maintain their identity.
Iorio singles out the two world wars as the major challenges to the identity and survival of the
Mennonites in northwest Oklahoma. Urbanization became another strong force in threatening
their community life during the second half of the century. However, the anti-German and anti-pacifist feelings during World War I provided the most significant threat to the Mennonite ethic.
English replaced German very quickly during and after the war. Interest in relief work and a
more activist form of non-resistance were stimulated. Acculturation rapidly accelerated.
Iorio observes that during just over a century of living in northwest Oklahoma that the
boundaries of Mennonite life shifted. They moved from poverty to prosperity, from
nonconformity to integration, from closed congregations to open worship, and from quiet
nonresistance to active peace initiatives. Other more visible changes included the transition from
German to English and from parochial to public schools. The role of women has changed, more
non-Mennonites joined the church, many youth left the church of their parents.
The diaries and memoirs at the end of each chapter give the study a good personal touch.
Nevertheless, some significant questions regarding the uniqueness of the Mennonite experience
in Oklahoma remain unanswered. Iorio only begins to capture the uniqueness of the Mennonite
communities in Oklahoma. The original communities were much smaller than those in Kansas,
and the families were generally young and poor. Individual farms frequently failed and entire
communities dissolved. Some families moved a dozen times from central Kansas, to western
Kansas, to eastern Colorado and to various sites in Oklahoma. Churches lacked leadership and
depended on itinerant ministers. Iorio notices these factors but doesn't explain how the
dissaffection, isolation, and even turbulence impacted the development of the Mennonites in
Oklahoma. How did their environment and development differ from that of Mennonites in
Iorio's approach also resulted in a tendency to generalize. Were there no significant differences
between the communities of the General Conference Mennonites and the Mennonite Brethren?
While the focus is on Mennonites of Dutch-Russian backgrounds, the Deer Creek and Medford
groups were largely South German in origin. Institutional developments other than that of the
Oklahoma Bible Academy and more recently of the Mennonite Central Committee receive little
mention. What role did the Oklahoma Convention and regional conferences play in identity
The book includes a useful index, bibliography of secondary sources, and list of churches with
their locations and dates. What is missing is a list of those interviewed, citations to the
interviews, and the location of the transcripts of the interviews. In fact, only three of the ten
chapters reference the interviews as the personal narrative in the second half of the chapter, and it
is largely unclear how and when the author is using the oral histories. Twenty-five photos are
grouped together in the center of the book, and strangely are all identified as being from the
author's collection rather than indicating their original sources.
Those seeking a more traditional historical account may be disappointed by this work, but the
insights into the beliefs and lives of the Mennonites of northwest Oklahoma are nonetheless
valuable. Those with roots in the community will appreciate the chance to read the story of their
ancestors and how they arrived at where they are today.
David A. Haury
Rod Janzen, The Prairie People: Forgotten Anabaptists. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of
New England, 1999. Pp. 326. ($21.95 paperback). ISBN 0-87451-931-4
It probably shouldn't be surprising that Low Germans dominate the Russian Mennonite story.
After all, they were the largest group to emigrate to the Ukraine and from there to North America
and later to South America and Germany. In Russia, the Low German Mennonites proceeded to
flourish in agriculture, industry, education and health care, creating longstanding structures and
institutions; they also had more than a few religious dramas, such as formation of the Mennonite
Brethren and the Claas Epp adventure. Then factor in the great saga of the Communist
experience, and the Low German story becomes almost intoxicating for historians, authors and
The multi-faceted Russian Mennonite experience, including the immigration stories, has thus
become virtually synonymous with Molotschna and Machno, famine and Volendam,
Plautdeutsch and Paraguay. That has left non-Low Germans from Russia in many ways absent
from North American Mennonite historical and cultural consciousness. Into that void Rod Janzen
has thankfully stepped with The Prairie People: Forgotten Anabaptists, about the noncommunal
Hutterians in North America. But the book's flaws leave the void only partially filled.
The Hutterians were part of the 1870s migration from Ukrainian Russia, joining Low Germans
and Swiss-Volhynians in settling in what is now southeastern South Dakota. Only about a third
of the 425 Hutterian immigrants organized themselves into colonies, located in river-bottom
lands. The rest chose noncommunal living on the prairie west of the town of Freeman, hence
their name "Prairieleut" or prairie people. The communal Hutterite identity has remained firm,
which has been underscored by the many historical, sociological and scientific studies about the
colonies and their members. But the Prairieleut have struggled to maintain their identity: "They
were not communal Hutterites, but neither were they Mennonites until a generation or two later,
and even then they continued to think of themselves first as 'Hutterians' and only secondarily as
'Mennonites'" (p. 4). As a result, Janzen laments, Prairieleut identity as Hutterians has "vanished
in a Mennonite fog" (p. 3)
The Prairie People lifts Prairieleut identity out of that fog in a number of ways. While Janzen
unfortunately offers little insight into why the Prairieleut eschewed colony life, his contributions
include a chronology of their settlement and organization, folkways, and interactions with their
colony cousins and various aspects of the non-Hutterian world (including a fascinating look at
political involvement). From a Mennonite perspective, of particular interest is the Prairieleut
attraction to the Krimmer Mennonite Brethren prior to the turn of the 20th century, born out of
real or perceived spiritual malaise. Ethnic Hutterians, at one point constituting nearly half of
KMB membership, exuded great influence in the denomination, something that remains largely
unstudied, as Janzen points out. While noting the KMB arrival caused some families to go
different directions on church membership, the book virtually ignores the deep emotional and
relational scars the disagreements left on the Freeman-area Prairieleut. Those injuries have
apparently only begun to disappear in recent years.
While Janzen appropriately devotes significant space to the Krimmer Mennonite Brethren, he
does not grant similar attention to Hutterian congregations joining the General Conference
Mennonite Church around the time of World War II. The Prairie People makes only a couple of
references to those congregations' desire to join a pacifist denomination in order to uphold the
peace position at a time when it was threatened by world events. Because they had not previously
joined a Mennonite denomination, these noncommunal Hutterians presumably held the strongest
Hutterian identity. An examination of their joining the General Conference Mennonite Church no
doubt would have shed more light on that identity's disappearance into the surrounding
Despite the welcome insights to an Anabaptist immigrant group, The Prairie People is burdened
by its lack of definition of who exactly these people are. That is desperately needed considering
that the chief defining attribute of colony Hutterians is their common community of goods.
Without that, what defines the Prairieleut? Are they still a faith community (as the book's
subtitle indicates)? Or are they merely a cultural and ethnic remnant of a faith community? The
answer is not readily apparent. Janzen repeatedly laments the disappearance of Hutterian
characteristics with little delineation of what they may be. To be sure, Janzen sprinkles
throughout the book suggestions such as language, martyr hymns, nonresistance, common
communion cup, separation of the sexes at church meeting and changes in sermons and
congregational leadership. But many of these--other than nonresistance and perhaps the hymns
and sermons--could be identified as cultural trappings that can be separated from the
fundamentals of faith. Both cultural expressions and religious beliefs are important elements to
any group's story. It is essential, however, that distinctions be made between the two, lest
culinary distinctives, for example, be equated with theological ones. It is not until the end of the
book that Janzen finally confesses that the Prairieleut are only a cultural and ethnic group:
"Whether a people could successfully mediate historic Hutterian principles without experiencing
a traditional communal way of life, however, was extremely questionable" (p. 254).
The absence of a clear articulation of a noncommunal Hutterian faith propels Janzen into
dangerous, unproven territory when he asserts tensions between Mennonitism and Prairieleut
beliefs. He even charges without substantiation that "Mennonites wanted Hutterians to get rid of
their cultural and theological distinctness" (p. 246). It is unclear what was in peril. The local Low
Germans and Swiss-Volhynians of the times had some similar cultural attributes, such as
German-language services and separation of the sexes for worship. And the Mennonites and
Prairieleut shared basic Anabaptist beliefs. Disturbingly, Janzen provides zero supporting
evidence for his accusation, either anecdotal or factual.
The Prairie People is also peppered with errors, such as the wrong name for the North American
Mennonite Brethren conference, a reference to the South American country of "Columbia,"
misspelling a writer's name in a footnote, placing a South Dakota lake on the wrong highway,
and claiming that the General Conference Mennonite Church was started by renegades from the
Mennonite Church. Such mistakes are inexcusable, particularly considering that Janzen teaches
social sciences at Mennonite Brethren-affiliated Fresno (Calif.) Pacific University; taught for six
years at Freeman (S.D.) Junior College and Academy, just six miles south of the mislocated lake;
and is part of a congregation that is member of both the General Conference Mennonite Church
and Mennonite Church.
Walter Klaassen, Armageddon and the Peaceable Kingdom. Waterloo and Scottdale: Herald
Press, 1999. Pp.288. ($15.99; in Canada $23.79) ISBN 0-8361-9080-7
As we cross the threshold from one millennium to the next, prophecy experts seem to be
at the forefront, interpreting current events and predicting what the future will bring. Countless
television and radio programs are broadcasted into homes, and thousands of books are circulated
around the globe, offering advice regarding how Christians should prepare for the End.
The practice of predicting future events is not new. As Walter Klaassen's recent book on
eschatology observes, there is "nothing new under the sun" in the field of end-time calculations.
In virtually every era of Christian history, people have concerned themselves with the future.
While countless predictions offered throughout history have not been fulfilled, this has not
discouraged persons at some later date from trying their hand at calculating what the next year,
decade or century may bring.
The abundance of unfulfilled predictions, however, has left many serious-minded Christians
skeptical about end-time discussions. Such discussions seem irrelevant at best, and superstitious
or heretical at worst.
While critical of the forecasters of our time, Klaassen argues in his book that eschatology is not a
dispensable aspect of Christian faith. In his view a basic confession of the church is that Christ
will come again. He offers a critique, not only of the forecasters of popular religion and culture,
who try to force-fit the Scriptures into some kind of preconceived premillennial framework, but
also of those Christians who would rather understand their faith exclusively in this-worldly
The first half of the book seeks to analyze the ideas and interpretive methods of today's popular
forecasters; the second half is devoted to constructing an alternative eschatology. A major
premise in this latter section is that the question of "when" is unanswerable, and that setting the
time of the End is completely up to God. A further premise is that any faithful and scriptural
interpretation concerning the future must take into account the fullness of the gospel, a view that
represents the heart of the traditional teaching of the church, where the Bible is allowed to
The book makes a valuable contribution to the topic of eschatology. The author's critique of
premillennial views is detailed and comprehensive--perhaps more than necessary. Klaassen's
own construction effectively avoids narrow interpretations of Scripture. The apocalyptic books of
the Bible are read and interpreted in light of other major themes in the Scriptures. The topic of
eschatology is skillfully woven together with other central theological themes in Christian
theology, such as God, Jesus Christ, creation, salvation and ecclesiology.
Like all interpreters of Scripture, Klaassen does not entirely avoid reading the biblical text through a particular interpretive lens. His reading is shaped by the biblical tradition that focuses on the kingdom of God--a theme that the popular forecasters seem to avoid. Klaassen takes up the prophetic notions of the kingdom in the Old Testament and links them with New Testament notions as understood in Jesus Christ. In his view, it is the cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ which supplies the meaning of the End. "From those central realities, all the rest of the future derives any significance it has." Klaassen insists that "the events of the End have to be interpreted in the light of the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ" (202).
This point of view ultimately leads the author to question popular descriptions of a violent God,
who ushers in an "Armageddon" filled with violence and destruction. Readers sympathetic to
Anabaptist-Mennonite perspectives will find this perspective insightful, for it exposes a serious
problem in the theology of the premillennial forecasters; namely, that their conception of the
Divine appears to have little in common with the God whom Jesus invited humanity to trust and
love. Klaassen maintains that our eschatological visions must be consistent with the "peaceable
kingdom," which God has inaugurated in Jesus Christ.
I found Armageddon and the Peaceable Kingdom an accessible and comprehensive study concerning how Christians should view the future. We can be grateful to Walter Klaassen for his contribution to an important topic of our time.
Elaine Sommers Rich. Pondered in Her Heart: Hannah's Book: Inside and Outside. Newton,
KS: Wordsworth, 1999. Pp. 135. ($12.95 paperback) ISBN 0-945530-20-X
Pondered in Her Heart by Elaine Rich is a novel about Hannah's thoughtful search for meaning
in her life. Living in a retirement home, Hannah Herschberger reviews her life by writing about it
and "remembering experiences I play in my brain like old memory tapes."
We first met Hannah Elizabeth as an 11-year-old in a book written earlier by Rich. Hannah
Elizabeth loved the sound of words and wanted to be a poet. She lived in an Amish community
in Indiana, where church, family, and school were a united influence. She mirrors this by
thinking of Bible verses and hymns appropriate for the occasion and reciting them to herself.
Grown-up Hannah Herschberger, too, recalls scripture and hymns and frequently recites them to
herself. She still holds up the unfulfilled dream of becoming a writer, although she is careful to
keep that secret.
Now 76 years old and a college graduate with bachelor's and master's degrees, Hannah has come
a long way from her sheltered childhood. Living at Shalom Home means adapting to a new way
of life and represents a last challenge.
The restrictions placed on residents at Shalom are not to Hannah's liking, but the many free
hours denied to her as a busy mother and now available give her pleasure. This journal-autobiography helps her sort out her feelings. As time passes, Hannah finds peace and comfort at
"Wherever I go this community is the place where I get my sense of direction in the universe,"
Among the questions Hannah ponders is how love happens and what makes a marriage. She
wonders, too, about the mystery of intercessory prayer and how prayer really works. At the
threshold of a new millennium, she feels deep anguish at the tremendous amount of evil in the
century in which she has lived. "How shall I cope with evil?"
Interspersed in this account of Hannah's life are some gems of insight. John Wesley Troyer, a
resident of Shalom and former pastor, wonders if it's all right to talk aloud to himself. His career
has included a lot of speaking. "Now that his audience has dwindled to one, why should his voice
be silent?" He gives himself permission.
In another vignette, Hannah refers to times in her younger years when as a woman she had to
leave the room when men wanted to have a serious discussion. One time when the New Birth
was the topic, she heard a woman say of the patriarchal system in her church, "Some men will
have to have their heads reshaped to be born again."
Hannah sometimes wonders, "How much of a lifetime goes into details like grating carrots,
answering the telephone, and emptying wastebaskets. . . . Can one empty a wastebasket to the
glory of God? Only if the contents are bio-degradable, no doubt."
Reflecting that at Shalom they think more about death than new life or new birth, she asks, "Is
death also birth?"
In ways more characteristic of the old than the young, Hannah calls a disposition of the dead as
the chief priority in life. Next most important was helping women in childbirth, followed by care
of babies and children.
Hannah's peaceful death and the coming of her children to honor her shows this a book affirming
life and love.
Switching from past to present makes for some uneven transitions in the book. Young people
will not be drawn to the story, but older readers can resonate with Hannah's ponderings and
questions. The book moves slowly in keeping with Hannah's unhurried findings about her life. It
is her "soul searching" which is the heart of the book.
David C. Wedel, The Story of Alexanderwohl: Celebrating 125 Years. 2nd ed. Goessel, KS:
Goessel Centennial Committee, 1999. Pp. 260. ($11.95 paperback)
Originally published in 1974, David C. Wedel's Story of Alexanderwohl has been brought up to
date to include a new closing chapter by Brian Stucky, an updated appendix listing church elders,
ministers, pastors, and missionaries, and an index. The appendix supplements and Stucky's
epilogue pick up where Wedel's original text left off and provide an account of the church and
community over the past twenty-five years. Other than a few source additions that reflect the
opening of records in Russia, the primary text remains unchanged from the first edition. It
continues as a celebration of a church and a community for members of that community.
Presenting his story as a series of homey vignettes, Wedel divides his book topically into
chapters that cover church origins and migration across Europe, settlement in Kansas,
community building and issues of faith in a new land, and social life. He briefly follows the
church from its earliest beginnings in the Netherlands but reserves most of his narrative emphasis
to highlight the insular nature of the congregation in Kansas and the strengths such a
commitment to community imparted. As Wedel stresses, members of the congregation viewed
church membership as a "God-given privilege" and to "be outside the church membership was
practically synonymous with non-membership in the community" (81).
Despite Alexanderwohl's roots in Prussia's Przechovka Church and subsequent fifty-four years
in Russia, the bulk of the text focuses on the congregation's experiences in the United States.
Although this is reflective of the largely American source material Wedel had available, it is also
part of his celebration of the church's continuity and stability as a congregation in Kansas.
Unfortunately, he presents the story as if in a vacuum and leaves the larger social and political
events surrounding the Alexanderwohl community largely unexplored. While Stucky's epilogue
emulates this pattern, he makes a stronger effort to place events of the past twenty-five years
within the larger context of the times. However, both authors write with the words of Reverend
Ronald Krehbiel in mind. Krehbiel, in a 1974 sermon at Alexanderwohl said: "May God help us,
each one of us, every one, to follow the winds of His Spirit, rather than the other winds which
may be blowing at this time" (198).
Although Wedel originally wrote the book as a centennial profile of the Alexanderwohl
community, it is also presented in its reissue as a preservation of church history, and taken from a
purely historical perspective, the text has some glaring weaknesses. Because Wedel presents the
story with few references to outside events, one is left with the impression that the Mennonites
who settled the Alexanderwohl Church were exceptional. Of course that was never the case. For
example, although the group had the advantage of migrating as an intact community, which was
not unusual in 1870s Kansas, many members still had difficulties in paying their transportation
debts after settlement. The unstated reason, despite the much heralded importation and eventual
acceptance of hard winter wheat, was a national decline in agricultural prices that grew steadily
worse throughout the late nineteenth century. This affected all Great Plains farmers and most
certainly would have given the Alexanderwohl congregation a materialist interest in the larger
world around them.
What the Alexanderwohl Mennonites did have was a strong spiritual center and an unyielding
faith in God. This, according to historian Robert Hine, is what enabled religious communities to
survive in the American West while their secular counterparts faded into obscurity. This is
Wedel's point as well, and it is his book's strongest argument. Nevertheless, as Stucky astutely
notes in the closing epilogue, economics "are the hidden force behind church existence" (217).
With family farming in decline and little economic development in the Goessel area, the
Alexanderwohl Church must address these new, secular realities if the congregation wants to
survive into the next century.
The Story of Alexanderwohl is an amiable book that will appeal largely to current members and
descendants of the Alexanderwohl community. General readers of Mennonite history should find
it of interest, while historians will find the primary source notations a useful reference tool.
Gary R. Entz