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The following text was delivered to a gathering at the Mennonite Church USA Convention in Orlando on July 5, 2017. A hard copy of this text may be downloaded at this link.

 

The goal of this presentation is to provide a description and definition of Christian formation that reflects an Anabaptist perspective. Corresponding to common usage, the term “spiritual formation” is used here synonymously with “Christian formation.” In addition, and in accord with common usage, “spiritual formation” is the primary term used, until conclusions are drawn at the end of the presentation.

There is a compelling need for the treatment of this topic. Models deriving from two streams dominate literature on spiritual formation emanating from authors identifying with the Western Church. One stream is medieval pietism, which focuses on the believer’s relationship with God. Examples found in this stream include the works of Roman Catholic moral theologians as well as the writings of Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, and A.W. Tozer. The other stream is Reformed theology, which focuses on one’s behavior toward God. Flowing within this stream are writings from Calvinist authors like J. I. Packer and John Piper. However, this stream also includes works by authors who retain the “two-step” paradigm introduced by John Wesley. This approach to spiritual formation stems from the teaching of Lewis Sperry Chafer, founder of Dallas Theological Seminary, and has been propagated by his students with dogged effort. This presentation proposes that spiritual formation from an Anabaptist perspective is not so much a third stream, but a coherent theological and historical bridge between the two prevalent streams of thought. In other words, it provides a more than satisfactory option for one to consider.

The presentation proceeds along the following path: First, following a brief recitation of Anabaptism’s origin and significance, the author explains what he means by an Anabaptist Perspective. Second, from a position within that perspective, the author gives the features of an Anabaptist model of spiritual formation. In so doing, it will be necessary to consider the topic of discipleship, and the place of disciplines in this scheme. Finally, the author will propose a definition of spiritual formation based on the contributions coming from an Anabaptist model of spiritual formation.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF ANABAPTISM’S ORIGIN AND ITS SIGNIFICANCE

Contemporary Anabaptists trace their origin to the 16th century Reformation movement distinguished by its insistence on believer’s baptism, hence the moniker Anabaptists or re-baptizers. In addition, these reformers advocated a radical imitation of the life and teaching of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels, with special attention given to the Sermon on the Mount. They based this conclusion on the conviction that Jesus had inaugurated the promised messianic kingdom during his earthly ministry, crucifixion, resurrection, and session.

The Anabaptist insistence on a “believer’s church,” though, put its adherents in direct conflict, not only with Roman Catholics, but also with Protestants, both Lutheran and Reformed. This conflict, in turn, boiled over into opposition from these three groups’ governmental protectors, with whom, in practice, they were effectively merged.[1] When this opposition came to a head in the form of persecution, Anabaptists’ radical adherence to the teaching and example of Jesus prohibited them from active resistance, resulting in widespread deaths.[2]

This brief account of the origin of the Anabaptist movement reveals in seed-form the two most apparent ways in which the practices of its members differ from that of members of contemporary Protestant faith traditions: Anabaptists maintain that the New Testament requires of disciples a level of commitment to Christ’s Kingdom mandating (1) strict separation of church and state and (2) non-resistance or pacifism.

Contemporary Anabaptists are represented primarily by Mennonites and by most groups with the word Brethren in their name.[3] However, their influence can be seen among Baptists and most free-church groups.[4] Evidence for this influence exists not only in the widespread practice of believer’s baptism and in various expressions of the separation of church and state, but also in the adherence to Anabaptism’s teaching on the symbolic nature of the ordinances and the visible nature and autonomy of the local church.

AN ANABAPTIST PERSPECTIVE

The preceding account identified two Anabaptist distinctives: separation of church and state, and pacifism. These, and other, distinctives arise from a particular theological perspective.

The perspective, or story, an interpreter inhabits and, therefore, from which the interpreter reads a text profoundly influences one’s interpretation.[5] Put another way, Continue Reading »

The following text was delivered to a gathering at the Mennonite Church USA Convention in Orlando on July 5, 2017. A hard copy of this text may be downloaded at this link.

 

This presentation provides an interpretation of Romans 13:1-7 that reflects an Anabaptist perspective toward the text. In achieving this goal, the author also demonstrates that an Anabaptist reading of Romans 13:1-7 is a more than satisfactory exegetical option. Therefore, rather than being problematic for Anabaptists, as some interpreters may suppose, Romans 13:1-7 actually reinforces their convictions.

The presentation proceeds along the following path: First, following a brief recitation of Anabaptism’s origin and significance, the author explains what he means by an Anabaptist Perspective. Second, from a position within that perspective, the author comments on the meaning of the Romans text within its broader historical and literary context.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF ANABAPTISM’S ORIGIN AND ITS SIGNIFICANCE

Contemporary Anabaptists trace their origin to the 16th century Reformation movement distinguished by its insistence on believer’s baptism, hence the moniker Anabaptists or re-baptizers. In addition, these reformers advocated a radical imitation of the life and teaching of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels, with special attention given to the Sermon on the Mount. They based this conclusion on the conviction that Jesus had inaugurated the promised messianic kingdom during his earthly ministry, crucifixion, resurrection, and session.

The Anabaptist insistence on a “believer’s church,” though, put its adherents in direct conflict, not only with Roman Catholics, but also with Protestants, both Lutheran and Reformed. This conflict, in turn, boiled over into opposition from these three groups’ governmental protectors, with whom, in practice, they were effectively merged.[1] When this opposition came to a head in the form of persecution, Anabaptists’ radical adherence to the teaching and example of Jesus prohibited them from active resistance, resulting in widespread deaths.[2]

This brief account of the origin of the Anabaptist movement reveals in seed-form the two most apparent ways in which the practices of its members differ from that of members of contemporary Protestant faith traditions: Anabaptists maintain that the New Testament requires of disciples a level of commitment to Christ’s Kingdom mandating (1) strict separation of church and state and (2) non-resistance or pacifism.

These contemporary Anabaptists are represented primarily by Mennonites and by most groups with the word Brethren in their name.[3] However, their influence can be seen among Baptists and most free-church groups.[4] Evidence for this influence exists not only in the widespread practice of believer’s baptism and in various expressions of the separation of church and state, but also in the adherence to Anabaptism’s teaching on the symbolic nature of the ordinances and the visible nature and autonomy of the local church.

AN ANABAPTIST PERSPECTIVE

The preceding account identified two prominent Anabaptist distinctives: separation of church and state, and pacifism. One frequently hears that a plain reading of Romans 13:1-7 contradicts these positions. Anabaptists, however, approach these verses from a perspective that finds them compatible with these convictions.

The perspective, or story, an interpreter inhabits and, therefore, from which the interpreter reads a text profoundly influences one’s interpretation.[5] Put another way, two interpreters who use the same interpretive strategies, and yet come to different conclusions, are not necessarily guilty of sloppy exegesis or some nefarious sleight-of-hand. Rather, their disagreement may be due to the fact that each one possesses different presuppositions and preunderstandings. They possess different interpretive perspectives.

What this author is calling the Anabaptist perspective consists of the preunderstandings just visited, but also significant presuppositions. Taken together, these preunderstandings and presuppositions contribute to the development of a salvation-historical story, a story that, in turn, influences the interpretation of Romans 13:1-7.

A significant presupposition among those to which Anabaptists cling concerns the relationship of the parts of the Canon to one another.[6] First, they see a wide discontinuity between the Testaments. The Old Testament, including the Law, testifies of Christ and is fulfilled by him. Second, the Gospel is the Gospels, both in event and in the proclamation they contain. As such they are discipleship manuals. The epistles, on the other hand, explain, interpret, and apply the Gospel to particular people, places, times, and situations. Therefore, the New Testament, specifically the Gospels, containing accounts of the life, teaching—summarized in the Sermon on the Mount—, and work of Jesus is the starting point for ethical instruction. Implications of these presuppositions are embodied in the following salvation-historical story, an Anabaptist account of the scriptural metanarrative. Continue Reading »

The following text comprises the notes used to deliver an address to the Bethel College community at the opening convocation of the 2015-2016 academic year on August 19, 2015.

 

Students, you are at Bethel College to receive an education.

Teachers, you are at Bethel College to provide an education.

Today, the first day of the academic year, we convene to dedicate ourselves, as a community, to provide and receive an education.

 

An intelligent dedication requires that we first define “education.”

 

Education is an

action or process of

formal teaching

by precept, example, or experience

that results in

the knowledge of information and skills,

and mental, spiritual, and aesthetic development.

 

I would like to repeat that definition:

 

Education is an

action or process of

formal teaching

by precept, example, or experience

that results in

the knowledge of information and skills,

and mental, spiritual, and aesthetic development.

 

From this definition we may isolate five essential components of education, each identified with a word beginning with the letter “a”:

Education is made up of (1) actors, (2) an aim, (3) actions, (4) an avenue, and (5) assessment.

 

The actors: teacher and student

The aim: the outcome in the student desired by the teacher, i.e., that which must be learned and that into which one must develop

The actions: teaching by the teacher and learning by the student

The avenue: the curriculum or course of study taught by the teacher to achieve the desired outcome in the student

The assessment: the evaluation of the desired outcome, curriculum, teaching, and learning in order to maximize the fruitfulness of each of these components

 

Everything we do as teachers and students, if it is to be called education, must in some way relate to these essential components. Anything that does not do so is peripheral to our task, and it is questionable that we should be involved in it.

To illustrate: Why do we build state-of-the-art buildings and use technology like ThresherConnect? In answering this question, it is important to note that buildings and technology are not ends in themselves. They are not essential to education. In fact, in some cases, they may distract from or impede education, e.g., when in class we tap out texts on our phones and check out email and Facebook on our laptops. In reality, education can take place on a log with a teacher on one end giving instruction to and asking questions of a student at the other end. However, we employ assets like state-of-the-art buildings and technology, because we believe they contribute to education when used to advance the components, e.g., teaching and learning.

Ultimately, though, effective education depends upon the extent to which each of the actors, teachers and students, understand and fulfill their roles with respect to the other essential components of education. Since the opening convocation is the occasion at which we, as a community, dedicate ourselves again to these roles, it is fitting that we briefly consider and then commit ourselves to them. Continue Reading »

The following text comprises the notes used to deliver an address to the Bethel College Board of Directors on October 8, 2015.

 

This morning I would like to address two questions:

  1. What have I discovered at Bethel College during my first few months of employment?
  2. What are our strategies in moving forward in Academic Affairs?

The proposed strategic plan provides a number of answers to the latter question. I would like to expand somewhat upon that knowledge in the course of answering the first question, what have I discovered?

What I have discovered began before my arrival on the job. It actually started with an unusual question posed by a teacher of mine many years ago: From where did Baptists originate?

Part of my college experience and grad school education took place in Baptist institutions in Minnesota. At these schools I learned the answer to that question, from where did Baptists originate: from Anabaptists, particularly those in the Netherlands. And, from these Anabaptists, Baptists adopted the distinctive positions which distinguished Anabaptists from other Reformation groups.

I became convinced: I adopted these distinctives. I taught them to my students, and I taught them to my children, using the Schleitheim confession as a catechetical instrument. Over the years, I bemoaned the historical drift of my Baptist kin from their Anabaptist roots, especially from positions of pacifism and the separation of church and state.

But, then, I moved to Ohio.

While in Ohio, I became intrigued with the ways of the Amish and the many Mennonites who populated the state. I learned that the Amish originally broke off from the Mennonites, both of which are descendants of Anabaptists, maintaining those distinctives to this day.

Try to imagine my surprise and delight. Modern-day Anabaptists existed all around me.

Long, story short: I visited, joined, and became active in a Mennonite church, became a conference delegate, and learned about Mennonite agencies, including Mennonite colleges.

This knowledge led to my search for employment at a Mennonite college which eventually landed me here.

So, I was and continue to be attracted to Bethel primarily because of my discovery of its vision, mission, and values, all three rooted in Anabaptist beliefs and practice.

Take, for example, the vision statement:

 

At Bethel College we

welcome with open hearts,

stimulate personal and spiritual discovery,

transform through the power of community and

inspire the leaders of tomorrow. Continue Reading »

One may turn to various sources from which to base a philosophy of leadership. A source that has stood the test of time is the New Testament. Therein, one finds two prominent metaphors for leadership: The shepherd and the servant. For example, Jesus is pictured as a shepherd. The figure of a shepherd also is used to describe the leader of an assembly. Moreover, this picture is filled out through leadership qualifications, which, in turn, imply the leader’s role: An effective leader must be a person of exemplary character, because he or she serves as a model or pattern for others to follow. In addition to a shepherd, Jesus is depicted as a servant. From his teaching and example, we learn that one leads best by serving, not by domineering those one is entrusted with leading.*

Before developing the relationship of the metaphors shepherd and servant to the deanship, one must first summarize the nature of that role. The dean is the manager of the academic affairs of the College in behalf of the President. In other words, the dean supervises the fulfillment of the College’s mission and carries out the President’s directions. The dean’s primary concern, then, is teaching and learning. To this end, through faculty, and academic staff, and in consultation with the President, the dean directs the accomplishment and assessment of this mission. This direction includes the development of a consensus with respect to the College’s mission, goals, and objectives. The dean’s role, then, also involves overseeing the implementation, staffing, maintenance, and regular assessment of academic programs, curricula, student outcomes, and policies and procedures. All of these activities need to be performed in a way consistent with the highest standards of educational practice and excellence.

With this brief synopsis of the function of the dean in hand, one may now apply to the deanship the leadership roles of shepherd and servant. As a shepherd, the dean continually needs to articulate the rationale and implications of the College’s mission, with the goal that it becomes for all a matter of internal conviction. In addition, like a shepherd, the dean must be forward looking, a visionary. Accordingly, the dean must engage in continuous personal education and research, so that he can initiate ideas that will help with the ongoing process of assessing and revising all facets of the academic affairs of the College. These ideas must be considered within a collaborative relationship with the faculty. The dean’s goal, much like that of a coach with a team is to draw out the best results from the faculty for the sake of the College and thus its students. The dean must work closely with the faculty in considering academic matters, particularly through committee work and work with division chairs, providing a model of collaborative deliberation. The dean must also work closely with each individual division head in the management of division responsibilities of planning and assessment, helping the division chairs to utilize a collaborative relationship with those who make up the division. The dean’s aim is the ownership by all faculty members of the mission, goals, and objectives of the College and those of the division in which they serve. The dean’s desire is that everyone in the College identifies his or her success with student success. This identification will be possible largely to the extent that there is available to faculty a meaningful level of participation, a genuine opportunity to contribute.

The dean will not only shepherd, but also serve. The dean serves faculty members by facilitating their involvement in the continuing business of the College. The dean also serves faculty members by Continue Reading »

Moving Beyond Ableism: The Silent Monster – From Stigma to Inclusion – A Journey in Mental Illness.

Education may be defined as an action or process of formal teaching by precept, example, or experience that results in the knowledge of information and skills, and mental, spiritual, and aesthetic development.

This definition includes five essential components of education that each may be identified with a word beginning with the letter “a”: (1) The actors of education are the teachers and students. (2) The aim of education is the outcome in the students desired by the teachers, i.e., that which must be learned and that into which one must develop. (3) The actions of education are teaching by the teachers and learning by the students. (4) The avenue of education is the curriculum or course of study taught by the teachers to achieve the desired outcome in the students. (5) The assessment of education is the evaluation of the desired outcome, curriculum, teaching, and learning in order to maximize each of these components

Effective education depends upon the extent to which each of the actors, teachers and students, understand and fulfill their roles with respect to the other essential components of education. Teachers have the primary responsibility for successful student outcomes. Furthermore, this responsibility of teachers is the one over which all educators, not only teachers, but also administrators, have the most control.

Teachers initiate education by establishing desired student outcomes: the desired knowledge of information and skills, and mental, spiritual, and aesthetic development. Next, they create the curriculum in the form of programs, and the courses of which these programs consist, to accomplish these objectives. They then teach the curriculum with methods designed to elicit learning. Finally, they assess the learner for the achievement of outcomes, and they also assess their teaching for its effectiveness in obtaining the outcomes

The curriculum utilized to accomplish student outcomes in a university education will center on the liberal arts. The liberal arts are comprised of those disciplines that seek to describe and interpret the cosmos and human existence. Therefore, they deal largely with metaphysical issues, matters that have the greatest significance for life. For example, the liberal arts equip one to make judgments about ideas and values, answering such questions as the following ones: What is the meaning of life? What is true? What is just? What is moral? What is beautiful? Consequently, they also concern themselves with relationships.

The disciplines that historically have comprised the liberal arts overlap. Therefore, the disciplines ideally should not be taught discretely, but holistically, with teachers working across disciplines in dialogue and collaboration with one another. These disciplines typically have included the humanities, which are more subjective in their orientation (e.g., theology, philosophy, literature, rhetoric, music, art, and history). They also include the more objective sciences, both the natural (including mathematics) sciences and social sciences.

The desired outcome of a liberal arts education is Continue Reading »

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