Edmund G. Kaufman Distinguished Chair in Religion, Bethel College
1. I agree with Ollenburger's position that an opposition between orthopraxis and orthodoxybetween right action and right beliefis mistaken (p.3). Belief and ethical action are integrally linked to each other. However, this relationship between belief and ethical action needs to be understood dialectically. Our beliefs shape our actions as Christians. At the same time, faithful obedience shapes what we believe. This dialectical relationship is reflected in the statement of the Gospel of John: "If you continue in my Word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free." (John 8:32) It is also affirmed in Hans Denck's statement: "No one can truly know Christ unless one follows Him in life. And no one can follow Him except inasmuch as one has already known him."(1)
2. Ollenburger is right in claiming, on historical grounds, that the evangelical Anabaptists saw themselves as "intentionally, confessionally orthodox." (p. 6) He cites Pilgram Marpeck, Menno Simons, and Peter Riedemann to show that they were grounded in an "orthodox confession of the Triune God" (p. 6) which they believed in deeply (p. 11).
3. The disagreement between Ollenburger and J. Denny Weaver is not about the historical evidence, but how to interpret the historical tradition theologically. Did the Anabaptists embrace a trinitarian confessionalism because they believed it to be true, or because they were inhibited from exploring other interpretive options? Given what we know now, would the Anabaptists have rejected trinitarian orthodoxy as a product of the Constantinian church?
4. I agree with Ollenburger and disagree with Weaver that the creeds are trinitarian not for political reasons but because they derive from and direct us back to scripture. Also, I would add that trinitarian thought is the logical expression of theological thinking that derives from a creative living God of the universe revealed in the life, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.(2)
5. Ollenburger does not recognize, however, that orthodox Christianity, beginning already before Constantine, tended to de-emphasize Jesus' life and teachings. One of the eventual consequences of this lack of a concrete embodied Christology was the justification of violence. The limitation, therefore, of orthodoxy after Constantine is not inherent in trinitarian theology (contrary to Weaver's argument), but it was the failure to develop a robust trinitarian theology grounded in a concrete, bodied Christology. I understand this to be the argument of John H. Yoder in the Politics of Jesus that the view of Jesus he proposed was "more radically Nicene and Chalcedonian than others' views."(3)
6. While I agree with Ollenburger more than Weaver, Ollenburger's argument does not account for why the Anabaptists differed so profoundly from Luther and Calvin. If they all fundamentally agreed on the basic tenets of evangelical orthodoxy, then why the profound differences? What accounts for the Anabaptist distinctives? Is not the implication of Ollenburger's argument a return full circle back to Harold Bender's view that Anabaptists were distinctive in their practice of discipleship, not in their theology?
7. The doctrine of grace (and the connections to an underlying "free will" anthropology) is one, perhaps the most important, key to understanding the issues that divided the Anabaptists and the Magisterial Reformers.(4) It is not sufficient to claim, as Ollenburger does, that the Anabaptists were fundamentally orthodox in their doctrine of grace. Ollenburger claims that orthodox doctrine is at stake, "the freedom and grace of the Triune God to achieve within us what we cannot achieve for ourselves, including even evangelical faith itself." (p. 16) Ollenburger's phrase, "what we cannot achieve for ourselves, including even evangelical faith itself," contains within it a number of unresolved issues. What does Ollenburger mean by this statement? How does he avoid the concern of the Anabaptists that attributing everything to God would undermine human freedom and human responsibility? If faith itself is God's work within us, then on what grounds can we be held accountable? To illustrate this point, we quote Alvin Beachy at some length:
The concept of grace which prevailed within the continental Magisterial Reformation was inseparably linked with double predestination and the bondage of the will. . . Within this frame of reference grace from God's side was regarded as God's act of forensic justification wherein the righteousness of the Christian becomes the imputed righteousness of Christ. Where grace is understood in this manner, spiritual health or wholeness is not something that becomes possible within this world. The Christian is throughout life both justified and sinner. He stumbles through this life as one who is half ill. . . .
Among the Radical Reformers, on the other hand, there is found an outright and resolute rejection of the doctrine of double predestination and its corollary, the bondage of the will. The Radical Reformers rejected the doctrine of double predestination and the anthropology of the bondage of the will, not only because they saw that the first, pushed to its ultimate logical conclusion, would make God the mediate or the immediate source of sin, and the second would serve as a screen behind which human beings could evade responsibility for their own moral behavior.(5)
8. I emphasized the last phrase in the quote from Beachy to highlight the key connection between belief and practice. The Anabaptists wanted to insure that a doctrine of grace did not undermine human freedom and responsibility, while at the same time they acknowledged their utter dependence upon God's grace in a life of discipleship. Ollenburger is on solid ground when he shows the connection by the Anabaptists of ethics with the work of the Holy Spirit. As Beachy points out, discipleship in conformity to the example of Christ is not possible without the enabling grace and motivating power of the Holy Spirit (which they also often refer to as the "indwelling Christ").(6)
9. Ollenburger differs from the Anabaptists in so far as he drives a wedge between ethics and the atonement. He argues that ethics should not be grounded "in the second article of the creedan Anabaptist and then Mennonite temptation to associate good works with the Creed's second article and thus to insert 'ethics'to insert our work, our human achievementinto the atonement, compromising the gospel." (p. 16) This raises profound theological issues that are integral to the distinctive Anabaptist contribution to the theological conversation. In his claim that ethics tied to Jesus inserts our work into the atonement, compromising the gospel, Ollenburger is, I believe playing off the third person of the trinity against the second so as to undermine the distinctive theological contribution of the Anabaptists to trinitarian thought. Such thinking reinforces the tendency of evangelical orthodoxy to detach a doctrine of grace from following Jesus. This is just the corrective that John H. Yoder attempted to make in his Politics of Jesus, and why he claimed that his view was more Nicene and Chalcedonian than the views he was criticizing. We turn again to Beachy who gives three reasons why an adequate view of the atonement is so crucial for ethics.
A. Based on a forensic view of the atonement, the Anabaptists held that the stain and guilt of original sin are not imputed as sin until the child reaches an age of responsibility. Because of the Second Adam, children have inherited not only original sin, but also the lux naturalis "which remains throughout life and is the necessary precondition to lead men to faith in Christ . . . The significance of this dual aspect of the concept of grace is that it includes a doctrine of creation as well as a doctrine of redemption." This is the basis for the claim that the will is free and not in total bondage to sin. "Because of the atonement, and only because of it, the power of making a real decision is again placed within the capacity of the otherwise still fallen man." (emphasis mine)
B. Grace is also inseparably linked with the concept of salvation as the divinization of man. "Through God's act of regeneration man is actually made a participant in the divine nature itself. On this level, grace is the active agent in a gradual process of divinization which begins when the divine image is recreated in the believer through the work of the Holy Spirit. The recreated divine image is 'the new creature in Christ,' and this is nourished through an inner and spiritual eating of the Lord's Supper, which is in a restricted sense a means of grace."(7)
C. This concept of grace, that placed real decisions in the hands of humans who maintained some vestige of the divine image, is the root for the principle of voluntarism, leading to the separation of church and state.(8)
10. In summary, I agree with Ollenburger that right belief and ethical action are integrally connected. However, the claim that the Anabaptists are "orthodox" cannot account for profound differences between the Anabaptists and other Reformers. I find that within a trinitarian theology, their concrete embodied Christology and their understanding of empowering grace (within a "free will" anthropology) to change lives, made a significant difference in their orthopraxis. It would be hard to account for their ethic without recognizing different theological foundations. This leads to a concluding question. What does it mean to be "orthodox?" My analysis suggests that evangelical orthodoxy does not have one monolithic meaning. Perhaps those who contest the meaning from a commitment to "orthopraxis" may paradoxically enrich and broaden the meaning of "orthodoxy."
1. This quotation from Denck is taken from the first page of the interpretation and translation of key texts by Clarence Bauman, The Spiritual Legacy of Hans Denck (New York: E.J. Brioll, 1991).
2. See my own argument for the logic of trinitarian thinking within a peace theology. Artists, Citizens, Philosophers: Seeking the Peace of the City (Herald Press, 2000), pp. 89-125. Gordon Kaufman's imaginative re-construction of Christian theology, nevertheless, is trinitarian in its basic structure. In Face of Mystery: A Constructive Theology (Harvard University Press, 1993), pp. 412-427.
3. John H. Yoder, The Politics of Jesus (William B. Eerdmans, 1974 ed.), p. 105.
4. See Alvin Beachy's definitive book, The Concept of Grace in the Radical Reformation (Nieuwkoop: B. De Graaf, 1977). (This book is largely a reprint of Beachy's doctoral dissertation, Harvard Divinity School, 1960).
5. Ibid., p. 227.
6. Ibid., p. 153.
7. Ibid., pp. 173-174.
8. Ibid., p. 176.
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