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Spring 1997 · Vol. 26 No. 1 · pp. 96–97 

Book Review

Through Fire and Water: An Overview of Mennonite History

Harry Loewen and Steven Nolt. Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1996. 320 pages.

Reviewed by Richard Kyle

The subtitle—an overview of Mennonite history—describes the contents of this volume. Of the authors, Harry Loewen is a familiar name in Mennonite scholarship, having authored eight books and served as editor of The Journal of Mennonite Studies. At press time, Steven Nolt was a doctoral student with two previous books to his credit. Carol Duerksen and Elwood Yoder assisted with the focus essays.

Through Fire and Water consists of fifteen chapters plus an epilogue. Chapters one to three set the background, discussing the early, medieval, and Reformation churches. The next three chapters tell the Anabaptist story in Switzerland, Holland, South Germany, and Moravia. Chapters seven to nine focus on the Mennonite experience from 1600 to 1940. The geographical areas under consideration are Switzerland, South Germany, and North America. The authors emphasize the migrations to North America and the Mennonite response to wars and persecution.

The story of the Mennonite sojourn in Russia can be found in the next three chapters. This section begins with the trek from Prussia. It then describes the major religious and cultural developments, finishing up with the migrations to North America. Chapters thirteen to fifteen look at Mennonites in the developing world. The Mennonite faith is now a global religion. It began with missionary efforts and has turned into an indigenous Christian movement.

Through Fire and Water has been written for several audiences: individuals interested in the Mennonites, Mennonite congregations seeking to inform their members about the Mennonite heritage, and students in Mennonite high schools. This book does for Mennonites what the magazine Christian History does for the larger evangelical world: it attempts to instruct the educated laity about the historical development of their faith. And given the lamentable historical illiteracy that currently exists in many congregations, this is a laudable objective.

Through Fire and Water contains many features that make it user-friendly to lay audiences. It is well-written, containing many aids to readers: maps, human interest stories, discussion questions, focus essays, and numerous pictures.

I have one criticism. Even for a lay audience, at times Through Fire and Water could be a bit too devotional. The authors take liberties with the historical method. History measures events in the human dimension—not the divine. Occasionally the authors indicate God or the Holy {97} Spirit did this or that. However, this volume fills an important need and should be in the library of every Mennonite church.

Richard Kyle
Professor of History & Religious Studies
Tabor College, Hillsboro, Kansas

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