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October 1975 · Vol. 4 No. 4 · pp. 378–80 

Selected Literature on Anabaptism

Abe J. Dueck

In the last several years Mennonite Brethren have focused considerable attention upon the discovery of their roots and the search for their identity. The recent publication of J. A. Toews’ A History of the Mennonite Brethren Church marks a major milestone in this quest, and the Mennonite Brethren Symposium which was held early in May in Fresno, California, was also a very significant occasion in this respect. The recent centennial celebrations both in Canada and the United States have inspired considerable writing, especially on historical themes. Regional and congregational histories have been written and a number of denominational histories have either already been published or will be published shortly. Writing on theological themes has perhaps not kept pace with historical writing but a number of books have appeared in recent years. Finally, the large number of novels, dramas and films that have appeared in the last decade is especially noteworthy.

In view of the above it is obviously becoming more and more difficult for the reader who is just beginning to explore the various facets of Anabaptism to know where to begin. Fairly comprehensive bibliographies on Anabaptism are available but these are of greater value to the serious researcher than to the more casual reader. I was therefore asked to select a limited number of books on Anabaptism or related to Anabaptist themes which might be recommended for the reader who is not yet deeply immersed in Anabaptist literature. The scope of the titles below has intentionally been limited to books in the English language. It has been difficult to keep the list from getting too long and undoubtedly there are good books which some readers will feel should have been included and others which might have been excluded. Nevertheless, hopefully the suggestions will prove to be helpful.

The book which is still the most valuable to introduce the reader to the unique emphases of sixteenth century Anabaptism is The Recovery of the Anabaptist Vision, edited by Guy F. Hershberger (Herald Press, 1957). This volume contains essays by a number of scholars on such topics as the Anabaptist concept of the Church, the Vision of Discipleship, the State, Biblicism, and Brotherhood and the Economic Ethic. Bender’s essay, entitled “The Anabaptist Vision,” is also a must for every reader. Reading the collection of essays in this volume inevitably creates a sense of excitement about and appreciation for our Anabaptist forbears.

Other stimulating monographs on sixteenth century Anabaptist {379} themes are Franklin H. Littell’s The Anabaptist View of the Church (Starr King Press, 1958 published by the MacMillan Co. under the title, The Origins of Sectarian Protestantism, 1964), and Leonard Verduin’s, The Reformers and their Stepchildren (Eerdmans, 1964). The former is an especially significant theological study.

Those who wish to pursue the various strands of Anabaptism historically from the sixteenth century to the present can do no better than to read C. J. Dyck’s (ed.) An Introduction to Mennonite History (Herald Press, 1967). Although it does not give much detail it gives an excellent panoramic view of Anabaptism in history. A new revised edition is presently being prepared.

A number of books on specific theological themes relating to the Anabaptists have been published in recent years. Non-resistance and the question of Church-State relationships is always a prominent theme in Anabaptism although it is not discussed frequently enough in our churches. In recent years John Howard Yoder has written most prolifically on the topic. Such books as The Politics of Jesus (Eerdmans, 1974), The Original Revolution (Herald Press, 1972), and The Christian Witness to the State (Faith and Life Press, 1964) all deserve very careful reading. The last of the above is perhaps not as well known as the other two but it is a very thorough, systematic attempt to work out a Christian approach to the issue of Church-State relationship. Earlier books by Guy F. Hershberger, The Way of the Cross in Human Relations (Herald Press, 1958), and War, Peace, and Non-resistance (Herald Press, 1953), are still very useful and practical on a variety of issues facing the church today. Other recommended pamphlets are The Problem of Nationalism in Church-State Relationships by James Wood (Herald Press, 1968) and John H. Redekop’s Making Political Decisions, (Herald Press, 1972).

A recent book on the theology of the Spirit which I believe everyone should read is The Community of the Spirit by C. Norman Kraus (Eerdmans, 1974). This study is thoroughly biblical but it also manifests an acute historical perspective which can help us develop a sound approach to an issue which has been very disruptive in the Mennonite Brethren churches as well as in other churches.

There are a number of books which fill specific areas of need in the church and in the home. Two such books are Marlin Jeschke’s Discipling the Brother (Herald Press, 1972), and C. J. Dyck’s Twelve Becoming (Faith and Life Press, 1973). Discipling the Brother has been accepted very well as a study booklet by many churches and a third printing will be available soon. It has been especially difficult for the Mennonite Brethren Church (and other Mennonite churches!) to develop a sound biblical view and practice of church discipline. We would do well to consider carefully what Jeschke says. Twelve Becoming can be especially useful and practical for parents who wish to introduce their children to their Anabaptist forbears. The book {380} contains twelve biographical essays on Mennonite disciples from the sixteenth century to the twentieth century. Among the men included in the list are Menno Simons, C. F. Klassen, H. S. Bender and Suhadiweko Djojodehardjo, the Indonesian leader. The stories are interestingly written and can be used in the family at home or in other groups.

Finally, let me list just two novels on Mennonites which have been published recently. Most readers have found Merle Good’s Happy as the Grass was Green (Herald Press, 1971) and Margaret Epp’s The Earth is Round (The Christian Press, 1974) enjoyable reading. Although they do not rank in the category of Rudy Wiebe’s Peace Shall Destroy Many in terms of their literary and artistic quality they do offer some significant insights into the way of life of Mennonite people.

Dr. Abe Dueck is academic dean and professor of Historical Theology at the Mennonite Brethren Bible College.

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