This post is a humble attempt to engage the article “The spiritual poverty of the Anabaptist vision” written by Stephen F. Dintaman for the Mennonite Herald Press back in March of 1993. What makes this particularly exciting is that this response is part of something called a synchro-blog where other bloggers, whose posts will be linked below, are also engaging the content. Again, I offer this response with humility and openness to conversation. My response engages one particular element of the article. Feel free to join the conversation by clicking on the links below (when they get posted), or by leaving a comment here on the anabaptistly site.
“Peace and justice activism and engagement in conflict mediation can be authentic expressions of faith in Jesus Christ, but for many they have become more of a substitute for faith.”
– Stephen F. Dintaman, “The spiritual poverty of the Anabaptist vision,” Mennonite Brethren Herald, March 5 1993.
It is striking that nearly 20 years after this article was written I find Anabaptism trending in this same direction. Discipleship and the ethical way in which we follow Jesus is seemingly taking precedence over the gospel and the Trinitarian God.
In my experience, I have seen the consequences of this mentality manifest itself in two particular ways.
Failure to live up to the expectations of a community, let alone an ethical teaching based on the life of Jesus can facilitate a debilitating guilt. As Anabaptist communities continue to hold up a particular ethic and/or principles, guilt will persist wherever failure rears it’s ugly head. It is troubling for a believer’s church faith tradition to hold one another up to such a standard of Christian excellence to the point of persistent and consistent guilt. It reflects a need to revisit the functionality of grace within a community of faith. It reminds us that as much as our spirituality is grounded in relationship with individual and our Trinitarian God, the consequences of such a spiritual poverty undoubtedly make their way into the community of which one participates. Anabaptist communities need to pay attention to grace in the midst of guilt.
(while writing, I found myself very thankful for this post by Peter Rollins, “Stop Teaching the Ethics of Jesus.”)
The pursuit of shalom in our particular times and places is an integral part of God’s mission of redemption and restoration. Those coming from the liberal interpretive lens participate in a way that, when grounded in our Trinitarian God, can be beautiful. These folks are on the front lines of relationality with those the church has neglected for decades. Liberals push the status quo. Yet, liberalism for some becomes the foundation, rather than Jesus. Within that framework, ethical lines become blurred and grace becomes functional as a ‘get out of jail free’ card. Whimsical liberalism cheapens grace to the point where that which we feel is justifiable is ‘ok’ or can easily be forgiven because ‘that is why we have Jesus.’ Anabaptist communities and spirituality needs to pay attention where the liberal lens of interpretation and neighbourhood exegesis is grounded. For Jesus to be anywhere but the center is to cheapen grace.
An operative dynamic within the spiritual poverty of Anabaptism is a humanistic and limited understanding of grace. A theology of grace is problematic when it finds itself grounded in ethics rather than Jesus. To use grace as a justification of actions is missing the point. To deny oneself the grace of Jesus out of extreme guilt and failure is missing the point. Within this, grace becomes justified or not in the minds of humanity, rather than grounded in the sanctity of a relationship with Jesus.
To have an impoverished spirituality is to participate in a surface level relationship with Jesus. It’s like being the guy or girl who say’s hi to people at the party then simply walks away never engaging in a deep conversation. To have a surface level relationship with Jesus is to misunderstand a liberating, redeeming, grounded in the humility of repentance grace.
“Social justice is important because the gospel is important.”
– Eugene Cho
In working toward a helpful conversation on this particular topic, I would like to see a re-engagement of a theology around the spiritual practices within Anabaptism. From practices as ‘big’ as communion (which would be helpful in working through our guilt), a re-engagement of communal liturgy, prayer, music, and the dynamics of an individual spirituality within a tradition that is, for our North American context, fairly communal.
*I suspect another key to working towards an answer to this impoverished spirituality and theology of grace in the Anabaptist faith tradition is to gaze back to the forefathers of Anabaptism (and exegeting the Bible of course). These radicals participated in a very fervent spirituality wherein they actively engaged our Trinitarian God.*
Is there an paradigmatic Anabaptist spirituality? What part do our spiritual practices, or lack thereof, play in the spiritual impoverishment of Anabaptism? Any other thoughts, questions, or wonderings?
Find Dintaman’s short article HERE
Find the synchro-bloggers through these links: