Previous | Next

Fall 2001 · Vol. 30 No. 2 · pp. 122–38 

The Atonement in Anabaptist Theology

Frances F. Hiebert

The doctrine of the atonement is an important plank in the platform of orthodox Christianity. And, while all religions have had to deal with the concept of atonement, Christianity is unique in its teaching that God, not humanity, atones for sin. The Christian understanding of atonement grew, however, not from a neat system of thought devised by the early Christians. 1 Rather, it developed from life lived in the light of simple faith that God entered human existence in a decisive way through the life, death, and resurrection of the man Jesus. 2

For early Anabaptists, atonement was the transformation of the believer’s life, an ontological change brought about by the work of Christ and the faith of the believer.

However, exactly what God did in and through Jesus remains a problem. The apostle Paul, for example, is clear that Jesus’ death is central. Yet he gave no clear explanation, nor did the church come to a united position in its development of orthodoxy after the apostolic period. No church council was ever held on the atonement, such as there was on the Trinity and on the nature of Christ. 3

By the time of the Protestant Reformation, however, at least three theories of the atonement, with variations, were known in the church (hereafter these will often be called models). 4 These were the “classical” model (that dominates the New Testament and was accepted for more than a thousand years after Christ), Anselm’s “satisfaction” model, and Abelard’s “moral influence” model. 5

The purpose of this essay is to summarize what can be gleaned from {123} selected Anabaptist writers of the sixteenth century concerning the doctrine of the atonement. Were their perspectives the same as those of the Magisterial Reformers? Were there significant differences? How do such differences relate to the three models of atonement named above?


One difficulty with identifying Anabaptist perspectives is that until well into the nineteenth century, Anabaptist historiography was the prerogative of its enemies, uncritically identified with the Peasant’s War of 1525 and the Münster incident of 1534-1535. 6

The nickname “Anabaptist” was the dirtiest name a person could be called in sixteenth-century Christian Europe. 7 Anabaptists were labeled as heretics both by the Catholic Church and by Magisterial Reformers of that era. This was because their radical theology was a threat to the existing social order in which church and state were collaborators. 8 This radical criticism of the very structure of society resulted in the unrelenting attempts of Catholics and Protestants to stamp it out.

Several centuries later, when the concepts of separation of church and state, the voluntary church, and religious freedom had caught up with the rest of Christianity, Anabaptists were viewed through a different lens. It remains true, however, that the old perceptions have had a residual effect, even if only in the sense that Anabaptists are often ignored in present-day historical theology and church history.

Another problem with identifying early Anabaptist perspectives is that Anabaptists were severely persecuted and thousands were martyred so that theological writing was not always possible nor always a priority in their unsettled and/or short lives. 9

A greater difficulty for describing early Anabaptist characteristics, however, is the undeniable diversity among them. Because groups with radical differences in other ways could be lumped together under an Anabaptist umbrella, Luther was able to call anyone he disliked an Anabaptist. St. Gall—where they took off their clothes, played with toys, and babbled like babies—is an extreme example. 10 Their social, political, and geographical backgrounds varied considerably, but there were also theological distinctives. Clear differences can be seen, for instance, between the more orthodox Michael Sattler and the more mystic-humanist Hans Denk. 11 Anabaptists are generally characterized as biblical literalists, but here too there were differences. Separation from the world was expressed by some in the manner of physical communal living (Peter Ridemann and the Hutterites), but most Anabaptists settled for a {124} disciplined community of faith.

Anabaptists cannot be identified by any unifying creeds. So great was their insistence on the primacy of Scripture that, because of their human origin, they refused to subscribe to any creed. 12 According to Menno Simons, even the teaching of the church fathers was “accursed” unless it was supported by the Scriptures. 13 Through the lens of modern epistemology we recognize that Scripture, though the absolute Word of God, is subject to varied interpretations because no one can read a text except through the grid of their own presuppositions. Anabaptists may not have articulated this principle, but it did in fact influence their hermeneutics. The high value they placed on the “priesthood of all believers” was extended to the interpretation of Scripture, allowing for variations among them.

On the other hand, some Anabaptists made the Scripture secondary to the internal voice of the Spirit, leading to the tragedy of Münster and the apocalyptic lunacy of the Melchiorites. By far the majority of Anabaptists, however, were against any kind of coercion, whether “Spirit-directed” or otherwise. The Protestants and Catholics enforced unity by the sword, but Anabaptists rejected that method and therefore could not rely on it to unify the movement.

There is thus no doubt that significant differences distinguished the early Anabaptists. Sometimes, however, one wonders how much the historiography of the day slants the outcome of research.

In the middle of this century, scholars like Harold S. Bender began searching for their roots “from the sincere determination to reaffirm the fundamentals of the Christian faith and to give testimony to the Lordship of Christ that is vital for our time.” 14 These scholars found certain intrinsic characteristics—granted, with variations—which described the early Anabaptists. For instance, there was significant agreement among them with regard to the use of Scripture. The Bible was the only rule of faith and practice, and it needed to be interpreted christologically. 15 In other words, Jesus was the hermeneutical key to the Scripture.

In short, the scholars of this period saw Anabaptism as orthodox and to some degree in agreement with the Magisterial Reformers on classic questions of systematic theology. Differences were matters of emphasis. Robert Friedman, however, insisted these differences were more significant. 16 And William R. Estep wrote that while doctrinally the Anabaptists shared some measure of agreement with the Reformers, they were both critical and creative in their formulations. In their criticism and creativity, however, they always sought to be consistently biblical. 17

Now in the postmodern era, “deconstructionism” is in vogue. 18 Not {125} surprisingly it is fashionable in Anabaptist historiography to emphasize the multiple origins and the pluralism of sixteenth-century Anabaptism. 19 Although the study of “the Reformation Radicals” continues to be a lively pursuit, writes Irvin Horst, the Anabaptist image is more diffuse than it was a generation ago. 20


As with other perspectives and doctrines, it is difficult to define a consensus Anabaptist theology of atonement. One factor is that there is little extant Anabaptist material that gives specific attention to atonement theory. 21 Anabaptist writers took for granted the areas in which they stood on common ground with the Reformers and Catholics, and concentrated on the areas of dispute between them. 22 Only one document exists that clearly has to do with soteriology, the tract, Von der Gnugthuung Christi, commonly attributed to Michael Sattler.

This does not mean, however, that Anabaptist insights on the atonement are impossible to identify. They may often be gleaned from their disputes with Church and Reformers on other issues. 23 Martin Bucer’s sharp distinction between Sattler and Denk with regard to their position on the atonement illustrates both that there were differences between Anabaptists and that Anabaptist theological positions may be identified in their disputes with others. 24

In his Getrewe Warnung, a response to seven theses of Jacob Kautz, Bucer wrote that “concerning the redemption of Christ Jesus, on which everything rests, we have not found such errors in Michael Sattler as in Denk.” Bucer exonerated Sattler because he agreed with him that the death of Christ was a propitiatory sacrifice offered to God to cover the sins of humanity. He accused Denk, however, of denying the objective work of Christ by placing salvation within human responsibility in a way that rendered the atoning death of Christ unnecessary. 25


As noted above, there was much common ground on theological issues such as the atonement between Anabaptists and the other Reformers. Norman Kraus notes that Peter Ridemann’s statements on the work of Christ in Account of Our Religion, Doctrine and Faith sound almost Augustinian. 26 Even Hans Denk occasionally used the language of the satisfaction view of the atonement. He calls Jesus’ suffering a sacrifice which would have satisfied the Father for the guilt of all even if there had been a thousand times as many worlds. 27

Most Anabaptists agreed with the other Reformers that Christ’s work {126} was sufficient for the salvation of all humankind and that salvation is by grace alone. Some representative quotes from Anabaptist writers follow:

Hans Denk: The Suffering of Christ is sufficient for the sins of all men even if no man were ever saved. 28

Melchior Hoffman: All are created for salvation, and the Son of God suffered for all. As the whole seed of Adam without their own fault was condemned in Adam so also they are again made blessed, redeemed, and purchased from death through Jesus Christ freely and without any merit of their own. . . . . . . [H]e is an atoner not only for the sins of the believers, but for the sins of the whole world, that is, for the whole seed of Adam. 29

Dirk Philips: He has justified us out of grace without merit through the redemption that has taken place in him, Rom. 3:21-25. He has set before us the selfsame one as a mercy seat through faith in his blood, Eph. 1:5-8, and has included all those under sin in order that he alone may be justified and in turn justify all who have faith in Jesus Christ, Rom. 3:19-26. 30

Menno Simons: Through the merits of Thy blood we receive the remission of our sins according to the riches of Thy grace. Yea through this blood on the Cross He reconciled all upon earth and in heaven above. Therefore, dear Lord, I confess that I have or know no remedy for my sins, no works nor merits, neither baptism nor the Lord’s supper (although all sincere Christians use these as a sign of Thy Word and hold them in respect), but the precious blood of Thy beloved Son alone which is bestowed upon me by Thee and has graciously redeemed me, a poor sinner, through mere grace and love, from my former walk. 31

Michael Sattler: Paul says to the Romans in the third chapter that they are all together sinners and come short of the glory which God should have from them, yet apart from merit, they shall be justified by his grace through the redemption which Christ accomplished. 32 {127}

This demonstration—that Anabaptists believed that salvation is by grace alone—is chosen here to represent an area of agreement with the other Reformers. In spite of Anabaptists’ insistence to the contrary, they have often been charged with legalism and “works righteousness.” Zwingli accused them of emphasizing works instead of faith as the effective means of salvation, thereby undoing the significance of Christ’s atoning role, and thus reproducing in allegedly evangelical form the pride and exclusiveness of the monks. 33 In similar fashion, Martin Luther dismissed Anabaptism as a revival of “monkery” or monasticism.

Anabaptists were very sensitive to this charge and regularly replied to and rejected it. Menno Simons wrote that

the preachers have to call us heaven-stormers and meritmen, saying that we want to be saved by our own merits even though we have always confessed, and by the grace of God ever will, that we cannot be saved by the means of anything in heaven or earth other than by the merits, intercession, death, and blood of Christ. 34

Again Menno protested that “the learned ones” (theologians of the Magisterial Reformation) are unjust in their accusation that Anabaptists believe in salvation by good works. The Radicals (Anabaptists) know that those who accept Christ by a true faith are in a state of grace for Christ’s sake. God the Father grants them Jesus Christ with all his merits, together with his Spirit, inheritance, kingdom, glory, joy, and life. “And all this we say, not by our own merits and works, but by grace through Jesus Christ.” 35

The Lutheran Menius criticized the Anabaptist stress on discipleship and turned it into a contradiction and rejection of Christ as Redeemer. True, Anabaptists believed that the work of Christ was not valid for those who did not follow Christ as example, but that is not the same as saying that one is saved by following the example of Christ in one’s own work, which was Menius’s point. 36

Anabaptists, however, had little success in convincing their accusers that they did not believe in “works-righteousness.” This characterization can still be found in textbooks of church history. 37


There was indeed a critical difference between Anabaptists and the Magisterial Reformers on the doctrine of the Atonement. It was not so much about how Christ’s sacrifice affected the Divine as how it {128} accomplished liberation and divinization for human beings. Anabaptists rejected justification by the law as a means of salvation as did the other Reformers, but they insisted that those who are saved will follow the law of Christ written in their hearts and do the “works of faith.” 38

The Anselmian “satisfaction” or substitutionary model of the atonement, emphatically articulated by the Magisterial Reformers, was not wrong in the Anabaptist’s view for they agreed with most of it. In their direct references to the atonement, they affirm biblical themes and use the general language of substitution. But to them, that model was inadequate or insufficient. It concentrated chiefly on Christ’s death and had been reduced to a passive or forensic doctrine which concerned only a change in humanity’s legal status before God. 39 It was an external benefit bestowed by God regardless of human involvement. No wonder that Luther and Calvin who followed this line of thinking resorted to the Augustinian doctrine of predestination. 40

To the Anabaptists, however, atonement meant much, much more. According to Pilgram Marpeck it was far more than a legal transaction in the heavenly court. 41 It meant “at-one-ment” with God and referred to all the ways in which God and humans have been reconciled through the work of Jesus Christ. It points not only to Christ’s death, but to all the various phases of his activity on behalf of humanity including his ministry, his death, and his resurrection.

It also includes the idea that unless a person responds appropriately to the work of Christ, for that person, atonement is not efficacious. The work of Christ, however, also includes the actualizing power of his Spirit whereby people are able to appropriate Christ’s saving work. This comprehensive view of atonement is in contrast to both Catholic and Protestant traditions that have held a forensic doctrine of atonement in which “all that is really necessary for the salvation of humankind is a qualified (pure) victim.” 42

The issue for Anabaptists was how Christ’s work is mediated to humanity and how humanity apprehends that work. In what way does the atonement bring God and humanity back together again? To them Christ was not only redeemer, he was also example. The gospel was not only the good news of salvation but also a series of directives for the Christian on how to live, how to follow Christ the example. 43 And in following Christ, humanity could be brought back into the life of God.

Balthasar Hubmaier was an Anabaptist theologian whose concept of God-human relations was explicitly synergistic. Like other Anabaptists he believed firmly in salvation by grace alone and that the atonement meant both reconciliation and restoration. But both of those implied a {129} necessary human response. The soul is awakened, “made healthy,” and given freedom to again choose the good. It must therefore cooperate with God for the work of Christ to be effective. It must allow itself to be reconciled to God. Salvation, he stressed, does not take place without human cooperation. Therefore, Hubmaier does not emphasize a forensic interpretation of atonement, especially not in the penal substitutionary form. 44


In an Anabaptist model, the atonement is the work of God from beginning to end. 45 God alone provides the means of salvation through the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Christ; through the call of God for all to repent and accept the gospel; and through the God-given restoration of the individual’s ability to choose to respond to God’s grace.

But given that ability, insisted the Anabaptists, it is up to the individual to respond by accepting the grace of God which is demonstrated by following Christ in their lives and committing themselves to the community of believers. If they do not do this, it is a sign that they have not appropriated the work of Christ in their lives, and therefore the new birth has resulted in a still-birth. Although God has done everything and enough, atonement is not efficacious for that person; the goal of incorporating the individual into the life of the Spirit of God has been aborted.

If, however, the work of Christ has been appropriated, new birth results in a new person and a place for the person in the ongoing life of God. 46 Leonhard Schiemer, a Franciscan friar for six years and an Anabaptist apostle for six months until he was martyred, put it this way: After God has revealed sin and brought sorrow unto repentance, he “places us naked and bare into the second birth, and gives us his Spirit and teaches us to love him.” 47

This participation in the life of God was sometimes called “divinization” by the Anabaptists. It is the result of being liberated from sin and being transformed into a new kind of human being rather than the acquisition of legal merit. Pilgram Marpeck emphasized the enormity of Jesus’ humiliation, suffering, and sacrifice that effects liberation rather than emphasizing a changed legal status. By his patient and innocent endurance of the cross, Christ “has liberated his people from their eternal burden.” 48


The term “divinization” deserves some attention here. First, it must be understood that in no way did this concept mean that people cease to {130} be human and become divine. There is no hint of pantheism, or that the line between God as Creator and the human as creature was ever eliminated either in time or eternity. Dirk Philips wrote:

Now although men become participants in the divine nature, gods and children of the Most High, they yet do not become in being and person what God and Christ alone are. Oh no! The creature will never become the Creator, and flesh will never become eternal Spirit, which God is, for this would be impossible. 49

The Dutch Anabaptists very deliberately chose the preposition “uit” (out of) and not “van” (from) in the phrase by which they described the new birth. The distinction is between the incarnation of Christ (from God) and the reverse incarnation of human beings into God. The birth “out of God” forms the new creature through the renewal of the divine image and causes the believer to participate in the divine nature. William Keeney writes that in the thought of Menno Simons and Dirk Philips,

Man is born out of and not from God, so that man’s divine nature can only be created or conferred. On the other hand, Christ and the Holy Spirit are begotten from God, so that their divinity is uncreated. 50

Another misconception is that Anabaptists perceived divinization as the perfection of the believer in this life. Menno Simons confessed that his prayer was mixed with sin and his righteousness with unrighteousness. Menno recognizes, as does Dirk Philips, that although he has a new nature as a result of the birth out of God, he must still struggle with the old corrupt nature which he has received from Adam and which will stay with him as long as he lives. Regenerated people, Menno wrote in The New Birth,

daily sigh and lament over their poor unsatisfactory evil flesh, over the manifest errors and faults of their weak lives. Their inward and outward war is without ceasing. Their sighing and calling is to the Most High. Their fight and struggle is against the devil, world, and flesh all their days, pressing on toward the prize of the high calling that they may obtain it. 51 {131}

To the Anabaptists, divinization means that human beings have been freed from the effects of the fall and restored to a place where, by appropriating the work of Christ in their lives, they may have full communion with the Trinity as there is communion within the Trinity itself. 52 Again, Dirk Philips:

But the believers become gods and children of the Most High through the new birth, the impartation and fellowship of the divine nature, righteousness (vromicheit), glory, purity, and eternal life. They will be. . . . .taken up into glory even as God is in glory. 53

This concept of bringing humanity into communion with the divine life is highly compatible with the images and metaphors of the church as Christ’s body, and individuals as members of that body, in Pauline theology. One major implication here is that as Christ’s work in the world is not entirely in the past but continues until his return, his followers continue and participate in that work. As Thomas Finger puts it,

Jesus’ active righteousness, and especially his sufferings, also continue in his members, sanctifying them and delivering them from present sin as they walk in the way in which he walked. 54

The divinization of humanity as it was perceived by the Radical Reformation is based on the Johannine concept of salvation. Through the Holy Spirit, God brings about an ontological change within the nature of the person so that the image of God lost in the Fall is restored and the believer is made a participant in the divine nature. It is a reversal of the incarnation in which the eternal Word becomes human in order that humanity may become divine in the sense that was described above. 55

Alvin J. Beachy writes,

It would, I think, not be incorrect to say that grace understood as the act whereby God renews the divine image in man and makes the believer a participant in the divine nature held the same centrality within the Radical Reformation as did the concept of grace as God’s act of forensic justification within the Magisterial Reformation. 56

This then is the critical distinction between the Anabaptists and the {132} Magisterial Reformers. For Anabaptists, atonement is not God’s act of forensic justification in which the sinner is declared righteous without actually being made so. It is the transformation of the believer’s life, an ontological change brought about by the work of Christ and the faith of the believer.

Horst writes that Luther overemphasized the doctrine of justification and separated it from sanctification so much that he appeared never to move beyond justification. On the other hand, Menno Simons emphasized new birth and the fruits of the Christian life. According to Horst, Menno may have confused justification and sanctification, or at least he telescoped them into one process instead of seeing them as an act and then a process. 57

When, however, justification is seen as both setting in right relationship and making righteous, there is no need for a false dichotomy between justification and sanctification. There is also no need to resort to the legal or forensic fiction that the work of Christ makes God justify people even when they are actually unchanged. This more satisfactory view of justification also recognizes the dynamic role of the Holy Spirit as absolutely essential to the work of Christ, rather than an understanding which involves only the Father and the Son. 58

Whether act, process, or both, however, Anabaptist writers of the sixteenth century understood the atonement in a way which distinguishes them from the Magisterial Reformers. The Anabaptists understood the atonement to involve an ontological change which restores the divine image in people and makes them capable of choosing to do right and to participate in the trinitarian life of God.


It has been noted above that these three atonement models were part of the theological context of the sixteenth-century Anabaptists. As was also noted, however, the Anabaptists seem not to have been interested in technical theological, or systematic-logical theories. They did not explicitly discuss these models, so the question remains as to how their view of the atonement fits any or all of them. It seems clear that different Anabaptist writers used the language of all three models. Finger writes that “Anabaptist understandings of atonement overflow any and all of the three traditional theories, and suggest a variety of angles from which to consider atonement.” 59

The emphasis on the teachings and example of Christ, insistence that following Christ in obedience and suffering in this life is essential to salvation, and the focus on the work of Christ as the demonstration of {133} God’s love which should move humanity to respond to God, fits the moral influence theory. Hans Denk is one who expresses himself most fully in these terms.

The Dutch Anabaptists, however, more often use the language of substitution. For example, Menno placed great emphasis on the “celestial flesh” of Christ because corrupt flesh from Adam through Mary could not have “paid” the price for sin. Their belief that Christ’s work was imputed to infants, to previous sins of believers, and to the continued sinfulness of their corrupt human flesh was based on substitutionary concepts of payment and acquittal.

The Christus Victor motif is evident as well. Anabaptists had a sharp sense of conflict with the world, the flesh, the devil, and the religious-political structures of their time. Peter Ridemann, who often sounds Augustinian, also spoke about sin as chains by which people are bound by the devil. He wrote that Christ had “come to destroy the work of the devil”; had “destroyed the power of death, hell and the devil”; and had “overcome the devil and death and had risen again.” 60


The important insight of the Anabaptists on atonement that has been called in this paper the “critical difference” is also a Christus Victor theme. This insight is that the work of Christ restores to humanity the possibility of communion and community with the triune God. Ontological transformation or “divinization” allows participation in the divine nature while still part of earthly reality. Christ is Victor so those “in Christ” can also be victors.

George Williams highlights the drama and dynamism of the Radical Reformers’ interaction with the traditional theories of atonement when he writes,

The basic conception of the Radicals as to what constituted salvation and as to what constituted Christ’s role in their redemption was being transformed. Without at first expressly repudiating the Anselmian doctrine of the atonement, but increasingly distressed by Luther’s preoccupation with justification at the practical expense of sanctification, and in any event disposed to look back to the humble Christ rather as exemplar than as sacrifice and to look forward to his imminent return as vindicator, they neglected or but routinely repeated the thought of Christ’s death as a ransom to the devil or as a sacrificial appeasement of the Deity and {134} concentrated, rather, on fresh surmises, or substitutes for, the traditional versions of the doctrine of the atonement. Competing or complementary formulations with respect to the objective atonement jostled alongside each other in the ferment of fresh speculation and experience. 61


  1. “Rather than simply offering formal dogmatic assertions, the New Testament writers employed a series of images (pictures) to depict the saving work of Christ and to interpret its meaning. . . . . . . The plurality of images used to understand the work of Christ is essential. The apostolic community allowed all to stand in a complementary relationship rather than attempting to reduce them to a single theory or a dogmatic statement” (John Driver, Understanding the Atonement for the Mission of the Church [Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1986], 16, 18-19).
  2. William Hordern, A Layman’s Guide to Protestant Theology (New York: Macmillan, 1955), 19, 20, 27.
  3. Ibid., 40-41.
  4. Modern epistemology uses this term with the underlying assumption that our concepts are models or maps of reality which may conform to a greater or lesser degree with reality itself.
  5. The classical doctrine of the atonement described Christ’s work as a victory over Satan and a liberation of humanity that had been enslaved to Satan because of their sin. After Anselm and Abelard, this idea of atonement as a ransom to or defeat of the devil was more or less abandoned by theologians of subsequent eras. Bishop Gustaf Aulén, an historical theologian from Sweden, whose book, Christus Victor: An Historical Study of the Three Main Types of the Idea of Atonement, was first translated into English in 1931, began a movement to breathe new life into the abandoned classic theory, and his title popularized the name for it. He argued that the classical doctrine was not a crude, pictorial expression from a long-gone era, but rather a fully theological explication of Christ’s saving work. {135} Since then, the “classical” doctrine is commonly referred to as the “Christus Victor” model (J. Denny Weaver, “Atonement for the Non-Constantinian Church,” Modern Theology 6 [July 1990]: 307, n. 1).
  6. Guy F. Hershberger, ed., The Recovery of the Anabaptist Vision (Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1957), 1. Walter Klaassen admits that Münster is undeniably a “skeleton in the Mennonite family closet.” Without justifying this evil, however, it must also be pointed out that the Münsterites simply were doing what was being done by Protestants and Catholics all over Europe which was the coercion of people toward a religious faith with the power of the sword. And it must be remembered that this group was a minority without much support that was rejected by the majority in the Anabaptist movement (Walter Klaassen, Anabaptism: Neither Catholic nor Protestant [Waterloo, ON: Conrad, 1981], 2).
  7. Klaassen, Neither Catholic, 1.
  8. J. Lawrence Burkholder (“Vision of Discipleship” in The Recovery of the Anabaptist Vision, ed. Guy F. Hershberger [Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1957], 137) notes that Anabaptist nonconformity touched far more than peripheral issues. It contradicted the fundamental convictions of more than a thousand years of European history, one of which was the belief in Christendom as an all-embracing cultural synthesis. Burkholder goes on to make the unsettling claim that this inevitable clash between Anabaptist absolutism and historical realism, including modern democracy, is a permanent implication of this radical type of Christianity.
  9. William R. Estep, The Anabaptist Story (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1975), 130.
  10. Klaassen, Neither Catholic, 2.
  11. Bucer attributed orthodoxy to Sattler but not to Denk in his Getrewe Warnung. Denny Weaver notes that modern scholars seem to agree with Bucer in viewing Sattler and Denk as representing opposite poles from orthodox to unorthodox (J. Denny Weaver, “The Work of Christ: On the Difficulty of Identifying an Anabaptist Perspective,” The Mennonite Quarterly Review 59 [April 1985]: 109).
  12. Estep, 130.
  13. Ibid., 133.
  14. From the dustcover of The Recovery of the Anabaptist Vision.
  15. Estep, 144.
  16. Weaver, “Work of Christ,” 107-108.
  17. Estep, 147. {136}
  18. One aspect of deconstructionism is to view everything in complete isolation from anything else. Events and ideas are broken into smaller and smaller components that have no relation to any other.
  19. Weaver, “Work of Christ,” 108. Weaver also writes here that Hans-Jurgen Goertz would have us abandon any attempt to identify a comprehensive Anabaptist theology.
  20. Irvin B. Horst, “Menno Simons and the Augustinian Tradition,” The Mennonite Quarterly Review 62 (Oct. 1988): 419.
  21. Norman Kraus writes that the Anabaptist writers gave little attention to technical atonement theory. They did not reject “theology,” but under the influence of Renaissance humanism they returned to a more immediate biblical-historical stance than a systematic-logical one. Their focus is on Christ as redeemer, example, and enabler (C. Norman Kraus, “Interpreting the Atonement in the Anabaptist-Mennonite Tradition,” The Mennonite Quarterly Review 66 [July 1992]: 292-93).
  22. Vedder writes that soteriology receives scant attention in Balthasar Hubmaier’s writings. He speaks definitely only once about the atonement as salvation, and there uses terms that reflect the Anselmian “satisfaction” theory (Henry C. Vedder, Balthasar Hubmaier [New York and London: Knickerbocker, 1905], 198).
  23. While the disputes between Anabaptists and others often were not specifically soteriological, the accusations they hurled against each other are resolved finally in soteriology. Therefore, one must look for statements on the atonement in the context of other disputes, e.g., on the sacraments (John S. Oyer, Lutheran Reformers against Anabaptists [The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1964], 213, cited by Kraus, 291, n. 3).
  24. Bucer, Sattler, and Denk were together in Strassburg for a brief period and interacted with each other late in 1526 (Weaver, “Work of Christ,” 59).
  25. Weaver, “Work of Christ,” 109, 114-115.
  26. Kraus, 291.
  27. Weaver, “Work of Christ,” 114.
  28. Walter Klaassen, ed., Anabaptism in Outline (Kitchener, ON: Herald, 1981), 86.
  29. Ibid., 59-60.
  30. Cornelius J. Dyck, William E. Keeney, and Alvin J. Beachy, trans. and eds., The Writings of Dirk Philips (Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1992), 69.
  31. John Christian Wenger, ed., and Leonard Verduin, trans., The {137} Complete Writings of Menno Simons (Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1956), 79.
  32. Michael Sattler, “Concerning the Satisfaction of Christ: An Anabaptist Tract on True Christianity,” trans. and intro. by John C. Wenger, The Mennonite Quarterly Review 20 (Oct. 1946): 247. The authorship of this tract is not definitely known, but it is generally attributed to Sattler.
  33. George H. Williams, The Radical Reformation (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1962), 194.
  34. Klaassen, Neither Catholic, 26.
  35. Alvin J. Beachy, “The Grace of God in Christ as Understood by Five Anabaptist Writers,” Mennonite Quarterly Review 37 (Jan. 1963): 24.
  36. Oyer, 215, n. 5.
  37. Klaassen, Neither Catholic, 26.
  38. Sattler, 250.
  39. Horst, 427.
  40. Ibid., 428.
  41. Estep, 147.
  42. Driver, 244.
  43. Oyer, 214.
  44. Kraus, 298.
  45. Did Luther and the other Reformers recognize that in the forensic model of atonement the perfect but human nature of Jesus satisfies God’s righteousness and pays for the sins of humanity? This seems to make humanity responsible for their own salvation as does the moral influence theory in quite a different way.
  46. In the early centuries of the Christian era, the Greeks stressed more the restoration of humanity to the divine life, but the Latin church fathers gave primary importance to the expiation of sin through the sacrificial death of Christ (Horst, 427).
  47. Quoted by Beachy, 20. Beachy notes here that emphasis on the concept of grace as a regenerative process rather than forensic justification shows the dependence of both Schiemer and Marpeck on Hubmaier.
  48. Kraus, 297.
  49. Quoted by Beachy, 22.
  50. Beachy, 21.
  51. Menno Simons, The New Birth, in The Complete Writings of Menno Simons, 95.
  52. Finger writes that affirmation of a trinitarian God shows how salvation is a participatory reality. If God is trinitarian, communion with {138} God, and hence salvation must involve participation in an intimate relationship. This shows why salvation cannot be limited to justification, construed simply as legal pardon and privilege. Within the Trinity, communion is the constant self-giving and receiving of persons who remain different. This makes it clear why people entering into communion with the divine do not cease to be human and become divine (Thomas Finger, Christian Theology [Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1985], 454, emphasis mine).
  53. Quoted by Beachy, 22.
  54. Thomas Finger, “The Anabaptist Theology of Atonement,” in Mennonite Encyclopedia, vol. 5 (Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1990), 44.
  55. Beachy, 17.
  56. Ibid.
  57. Horst, 429.
  58. Driver, 249, 250.
  59. Finger, “Anabaptist Theology of Atonement,” 44.
  60. Klaassen, Anabaptism in Outline, 94-95.
  61. Williams, 861.
The original version of this essay was written in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Doctor of Ministry degree in Missiology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois.
Frances F. Hiebert, late wife of anthropologist Paul G. Hiebert, was awarded the D. Min. in Missiology from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

Previous | Next