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Spring 2012 · Vol. 41 No. 1 · pp. 125–138 

Anabaptist Christology, Racial Reconciliation, and Postconservative Evangelical Theology

J. Denny Weaver and Gerald J. Mast

The nature of both Anabaptist theology and evangelical theology as well as their relationship are ongoing discussions. Our entry point to this conversation is Roger Olson’s recent book, Reformed and Always Reforming. He begins with the thesis, “It is possible to be more evangelical by being less conservative,” and adds that “evangelical” and “conservative” are contested terms. 1 Our essay offers a proposal by which an explicitly Anabaptist theology can serve an evangelical agenda within the broad parameters of evangelicalism proposed by Olson.

To ask how a Christian should live returns us to telling the story of Jesus and living in obedience to Jesus’ teachings.

Our proposal for theologizing—for writing theology—is not a restatement of classic theology based on the classic formulas for Christology, Trinity, or atonement. Neither is our theologizing based on a primarily inner religious experience of Jesus Christ, which is a central characteristic of what Roger Olson called postconservative evangelicalism, and which he poses as the alternative to evangelicalism defined by doctrine. 2 On the other hand, our theology meets the five criteria of evangelical theology suggested in Olson’s book. Thus our proposal engages a conversation both within and beyond evangelical theology.

Its claimed beginning point makes our proposal distinct. We begin theologizing with the narrative of Jesus. The result is an intrinsically practical theology, a theology for living. In expounding that statement, the paper will accomplish four things: (1) briefly sketch an emerging, lived theology developed from the narrative of Jesus, which leads to an atonement image reflective of that whole story, not just one fragment of it; (2) display the centrality of racial reconciliation in that atonement image in contrast to its absence from classical approaches to theology; (3) indicate what our approach shares with the classic creedal categories even as it places them in their historical context; (4) indicate the extent to which our proposal produces theology that fits within and thus can serve what Roger Olson called postconservative evangelicalism, even as our proposal points in an Anabaptist direction not fully contained within the category of evangelicalism.


The Gospel writers identify Jesus with a narrative of his birth, life, death, and resurrection. Reader familiarity with that story allows brief mentions. Jesus’ announcement in the synagogue in Nazareth gave his mission a clear social dimension. He engaged in confrontational activities that challenged the religious establishment. One clear example of this confrontation comes from the story in Luke 6:6–11 of healing the withered hand. Rather than waiting until the following day, he deliberately confronted the purity code by healing on the Sabbath.

The culminating act of confrontation is the event called “cleansing of the temple,” which precipitated his death and led to God’s resurrection of Jesus.

We believe that thinking theologically about the meaning of this story begins with the culmination, the resurrection. God’s resurrection of Jesus is what puts God’s validation on Jesus as the presence of God in the world. In other words, resurrection certifies that God and God’s reign were present in the life of Jesus. In traditional language, resurrection testifies to the deity of Jesus.

Resurrection means that this narrative about Jesus is a story of the victory of the reign of God over the powers of evil, whose ultimate modus operandi is to deprive someone of existence. As a consequence of carrying out his mission to witness to the reign of God, Jesus’ life was taken from him. The response of God was to restore Jesus’ life. According to Paul, this victory over death awaits all of us (1 Cor. 15:1–19).

Resurrection is thus an invitation to us to experience the reign of God by following after and identifying with Jesus in discipleship. Those who respond to this call live in the life and the teaching of Jesus.

Resurrection’s call gives this narrative an intrinsically practical dimension. To tell the story is to describe how one identified by Jesus Christ—a Christian—should live. And the answer to the question, “How should we live as Christians?” requires recounting the narrative of Jesus.

The resurrection thus makes this story a story of salvation. A sinner leaves a sinful life and experiences salvation in the reign of God by accepting Jesus as the presence of the reign of God. To accept means to believe strongly enough in resurrection’s testimony that Jesus is God’s anointed one to live in Jesus’ story, when it is not required and even when it means hardship.

This leaving of a sinful life and beginning a new life involves a paradox. On the one hand, it engages the personal responsibility of the individual, who engages his or her will in deciding to follow Jesus. On the other hand, the pervasive reality of sin means that an individual alone, on his or her own initiative, is helpless to overcome the reality of sin. Only the active presence of God in the world—the Spirit of God—can enable a sinner to resist the power of sin and to begin to live in the reign of God. These two impulses—human responsibility and God’s grace—together constitute the paradox of grace. Paul described this paradox when he wrote: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Cor. 15:10).

Narrative Atonement Imagery

The narrative and the theological implications sketched here can be read as an atonement image called narrative Christus Victor. 3 As an atonement image, this narrative version belongs to the category of “Christus Victor.” The name comes from the idea that the resurrection of Jesus was a victory over the powers of evil that killed Jesus. Classic Christus Victor had a number of formulations in the early church fathers—Jesus handed over to Satan as a ransom payment to the devil in exchange for the release of the souls of humankind held captive, or Jesus killed by Satan in a cosmic battle between the forces of God and the forces of evil.

An important characteristic of narrative Christus Victor is that it begins not with a restatement of one of the church fathers, but with the biblical narrative of Jesus itself as found in the Gospels. Apart from using a historically meaningful name, “Christus Victor,” if there is a relationship between narrative Christus Victor and the later images, it is that the later motifs have departed from the biblical narrative foundation we describe.

A second important characteristic of narrative Christus Victor is that it understands the presence of evil in terms of the accumulation of the actions of people who opposed the reign of God. Of course one can then extend the understanding of evil to include cosmic dimensions, but it is important to locate evil in the world in a way that is seen to ensnare the lives of all human beings. Accepting the invitation of the resurrection then enables followers of Jesus to begin to experience and participate in a partial way in the victory over evil as they live into the loving and evil-confronting life of Jesus.

Atonement, Race, and Ethnicity

We use racial and ethnic reconciliation to illustrate how this atonement motif visualizes the overcoming of sin. Jesus’ parables and his acts as depicted in the gospels display challenges to racial and ethnic discrimination. There is, for example, the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Often passed over are the anti-racism implications of this parable. The Samaritans of Jesus’ day were thought to be of mixed ethnic origin rather than truly Israelite. As a result, Samaritans were despised and experienced discrimination. According to the strict purity code, they were considered unclean. Jesus challenges these attitudes when his story makes the Samaritan out to be the good person in contrast to the failures of the religious leaders. The good neighbor, the despised Samaritan, has now become the object of love, the one whom the lawyer has just been told to love as himself (Luke 10:27).

The story of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well at Sychar (John 4) adds an additional dimension to his challenge to racial and ethnic discrimination. Here Jesus went beyond using a Samaritan as an example. He actually traveled in Samaria and interacted with a Samaritan woman. That is, he crossed real boundaries of geography, ethnicity and gender. In contrast, those who wished to avoid ritual contamination from the supposedly unclean Samaritans avoided traveling through Samaria. They walked an extra distance to the east side of the Jordan River to travel north to Galilee.

Jesus’ parable and travel put the reign of God on the side of confronting racial and ethnic discrimination. They exemplify that confronting this evil requires a change in attitudes and practices.

Crossing of boundaries and racial or ethnic reconciliation are also visible in theological formulation of a narrative atonement image. Racism belongs to the powers that killed Jesus. The resurrection shows that Jesus’ making present of the reign of God includes overcoming racism. Our participation in the reign of God requires us to “change sides,” to switch loyalties from whatever is opposed to God to the side of the reign of God. This participation thus calls for racial and ethnic reconciliation. Resurrection is the invitation to identify with Jesus and to participate in the ethnic and racial reconciliation that is present in Jesus and that God is now already accomplishing in the world.

It is important to state specifically that confronting and overcoming racism are explicit dimensions of the reign of God. James Cone, a founder of the black theology movement, has lamented the absence of such challenges and the invisibility of racism as an ethical issue in most traditional theology. 4 Our intent with a lived theology is to put on display what black theology makes visible, namely, that confronting and overcoming racism belongs to salvation in the reign of God that is made visible in the person of Jesus.

The idea that coming to live in the story of Jesus means changing sides and learning a new way of life in the reign of God has significant parallels to points emphasized by James Cone. For Cone, Christian theology begins with the Jesus of history. It is in the story of Jesus in history that one sees liberation from oppression taking place. And the God that Cone sees present in Jesus is the liberating God who saved Israel in the Exodus. For Cone, as for our lived theology, theology that does not deal with the reality of liberation—salvation—in history is not true theology.

Fellowship with God is made possible through God’s activity in history, setting people free from economic, social, and political bondage. God’s act of reconciliation is not mystical communion with the divine; nor is it a pietistic state of inwardness bestowed upon the believer. God’s reconciliation is a new relationship with people created by God’s concrete involvement in the political affairs of the world, taking sides with the weak and the helpless. 5

True reconciliation requires confession of past injustice, whether by individuals or the church or the national culture. And it means acknowledgment of current injustice, which is the heir to past discrimination. The beginning of reconciliation means recognition of the injustice that exists and making changes to achieve reconciliation.

It is not as though only those who belong to the dominant culture are guilty of participation in the evil of racism. Cone writes that God is on the side of the oppressed who struggle for justice. From their side, the oppressed people must accept this new existence wrought by God “by struggling against all who try to make us slaves.” 6 The implication of Cone’s position is that not engaging in the struggle for liberation is to accept the oppression practiced by the dominant society, which is to participate in the evil—the sin—of oppression. In other words, a claimed reconciliation that does not challenge an unjust status quo is not true reconciliation.

Comments from Garth Kasimu Baker-Fletcher, a second-generation black theologian, make explicit the implication that the oppressed can participate in their own oppression. He writes of the need to be delivered from the desire to conform to white societal expectations and values. Through hearing the word of Jesus Christ there is a deliverance that results in one becoming a Christian. And there is a second deliverance that extends the first. It is “hearing the word of Blackness, which is a cry to leave Euro-dominated Space and return to God’s affirmation of your Afrikan self. . . . It is a deliverance because, after it occurs, one is no longer bound by the mental, cultural, and spiritual shackles of Euro-dominators.” 7 Although Baker-Fletcher noted that it is easy for African Americans to use this domination to claim the status of victims, he emphasized the problem of “self-imprisonment.” Self-imprisonment comes from accepting the views that white society has placed on black women’s bodies and the abusive system of patriarchy. Self-imprisonment includes subordination of women, and the “sin of irresponsibility, abusiveness, and sexist behavior” by African American men, including the black-on-black violence of gang warfare. 8 Although in different ways, the sin of racism touches all people, true reconciliation occurs when people recognize their kinds of accommodation and participation in it and then consciously chart a new direction of confronting racism. Their individual acts will not immediately change the systemic racism of the surrounding society, but with this change their participation becomes involuntary. And true reconciliation is occurring, not when racism is fully overcome—it is far from that—but when, from their several sides, all these participants in racism are joined together in a common bond to confront it. The resurrection of Jesus Christ calls every Christian to this racial and ethnic reconciliation.

Resurrection is the invitation to participate in this reconciliation, and the church consists of these reconciled people. Their mission is to live in such a way as to display the nature of reconciliation in the reign of God, and to provide a view of the future reign of God. If the church does not put this racial and ethnic reconciliation on display, it is not living in, nor making a living witness to, what Jesus was about. Or in the words of John Howard Yoder, “If reconciliation between peoples and cultures is not happening, the Gospel’s truth is not being confirmed in that place.” 9 A second way in which this narrative atonement image responds to racism and includes racial reconciliation appears in conversation with Delores Williams’ womanist challenge to traditional substitutionary and satisfaction atonement imagery. We engage that discussion after a brief display of the contrast between the narrative Christus Victor motif and traditional satisfaction atonement.

Narrative versus Satisfaction Atonement

The ransom version of Christus Victor was rejected by Anselm (ca. 1033–1109 C.E.). He argued that Satan had no rights that God was bound to honor. Thus Anselm removed the devil from the equation and argued that the sin of humankind had offended the honor of God and thus distorted the orders of creation. Since restoring or satisfying God’s offended honor required an offering to God, humankind owed a debt to God that they could not pay. God then sent Jesus to supply the human death that would satisfy God’s honor and restore the distorted orders of creation. A version of this satisfaction motif has been the dominant atonement image for the last 800 years.

The logic of Anselm’s scenario makes God ultimately responsible for the death of Jesus—God needed a death to satisfy God’s offended honor and God sent Jesus to provide the death that sinful humans could not supply. The salvific component of Jesus’ work is his death. For narrative Christus Victor, human sin is responsible for the death of Jesus. The saving action of God is to restore the life of Jesus in the face of that sin, and to forgive sinners who accept the invitation to participate in the life of God as it is visible in the life of Jesus. 10 The saving act in this scenario is God’s resurrection of Jesus. This comparison shows that narrative Christus Victor has the image of a God who saves without sanctioning violence in contrast to the God of satisfaction atonement who sanctions and requires violence to satisfy the divine need. Thus narrative Christus Victor projects a nonviolent image of God that is consistent with Jesus’ rejection of violence. 11

Another problematic dimension of satisfaction atonement in any of its forms is its image of Jesus. Jesus appears as a model of voluntary submission to innocent suffering. As innocent victim Jesus voluntarily agrees to submit to the death needed by the honor of God. Or as innocent victim Jesus voluntarily agrees to undergo the punishment deserved by sinful humankind in order to meet the demand of divine justice. Jesus models being a voluntary, passive, and innocent victim, who suffers because the Father needs it.

This passive suffering differs significantly from the suffering that one chooses to accept as the consequence of witnessing to the reign of God. It can be properly said that God suffers with us in this choice to suffer, even as God suffered with Jesus in his mission. This suffering is not the purpose or focus of righteous living. It is rather the consequence of being identified with God’s reign. It is not God’s will that anyone should suffer, but God redeems the suffering of those who experience it as a consequence of living for the reign of God.

It is important to underscore this point for those for whom the images of a God who needs death and of Jesus as innocent, passive sufferer pose a particular concern. For people who live in an unjust status quo, the idea of “being like Jesus” as modeled by satisfaction atonement means to submit passively and to endure that injustice. Feminists have suggested that the idea of a God who required the Son to suffer, combined with the image of Jesus as innocent and passive victim, constitute unhealthy models for a woman abused by her husband or a child violated by her father. They constitute double jeopardy when attached to hierarchical theology that asserts male headship over women. 12 Prominent womanist Delores Williams described the “surrogacy” roles of black women, namely the numerous ways in which they have been forced to fill roles properly belonging to white men and women and black men. For Williams, to accept satisfaction or substitutionary atonement and its image of Jesus—the “ultimate surrogate figure”—is to validate all the unjust surrogacy to which black women have been and still are submitted. 13

Narrative Christus Victor deals with these concerns about modeling passive suffering. In this narrative version, Jesus is not passive. He does not supply a death needed by God. Rather he confronts oppressive structures and codes, crosses unjust racial boundaries, and displays the reconciled way of living in the reign of God.

The narrative atonement motif is also the beginning of a narrative Christology—a Christology that makes the life and teachings of Jesus indispensable to the meaning of his death and resurrection.

Classic Christological Categories and Formulas

In the standard approach, classic theology appeals to several early formulas as norms or as minimal statements to affirm the deity and humanity of Jesus. These formulas include the language from the council of Nicea (325 C.E.), repeated at Constantinople (381 C.E.), and the language of the council of Chalcedon (451 C.E.). These councils declared Jesus to be homoousios or “one in being” or “of the same substance” as God and as humankind. These are commonly referred to as affirmations of the deity and the humanity of Jesus. The Cappadocian Father’s language of “one God in three Persons”—one essence in three hypostases—is used to extend the same deity to the Holy Spirit. The Athanasian creed (fifth or sixth century C.E.) asserts the equality of the three Persons and asserts that nothing can be in one that is not in the others.

In the narrative-based theology just sketched, the confession that God and the reign of God are present in the life of Jesus and certified by the resurrection are equivalent to the creedal assertions of the deity of Jesus. The narrative-based theology features a threeness of God—the God of Israel is the same God who raised Jesus and who is still present in the world today. This threefold view of God then aligns with the three trinitarian Persons of God as Father, Son, and Spirit, and is fully compatible with the equality of presence and activity among the three Persons.

But along with these parallels, this narrative-based Christology has features that distinguish it from the classic formulations. Using the narrative of Jesus as its beginning point gives our theology intrinsically practical or moral dimensions. Racial reconciliation represents just one of those ethical dimensions, which include such practices as loving enemies, seeking justice, and sharing wealth. These explicit ethical dimensions are lacking from theology that assumes the classic creedal statements as sufficient norms.

Other writers have also observed the absence of an explicit ethical dimension in the classic formulas. We note two: James Cone remarked that lack of attention to the particular history of Jesus in Palestine and focus on the abstract issue of Jesus’ deity produced a mainstream theology in which the sin of racism and the issue of poverty were invisible or ignored. He wrote that although Athanasius stressed the humanity of Jesus as the basis of salvation,

Few, if any, of the early Church Fathers grounded their christological arguments in the concrete history of Jesus of Nazareth. Consequently, little is said about the significance of his ministry to the poor as a definition of his person. The Nicene Fathers showed little interest in the Christological significance of Jesus’ deeds for the humiliated, because most of the discussion took place in the social context of the Church’s position as the favored religion of the Roman State. 14

Joerg Rieger offered similar comments in the context of an effort to find resources within the classic formulations that would challenge empire. He finds one possibility in Nicea’s homoousios, since it has the potential to introduce the narrative of Jesus into the Godhead, with “Christ’s life in all its complexity, divine and human, including his resistance to the powers that be.” However, that potential was not pursued at that time, Rieger said. “It is hardly an accident that the life of Christ is not mentioned in the creeds. . . . The challenge to empire posed by the life of Christ would have just been too great.” But “where the creeds without particular attention to the life of Christ are considered sufficient, . . . this challenge is lost, which makes the ‘orthodox’ position so convenient for empire.” 15

Our proposal that begins with the narrative of Jesus makes visible the element that both Cone and Rieger regard as missing from the classic formulations. Our proposal is not building on the standard creedal formulations, even if it is not denying anything they actually say. If anything, the contrast between our beginning theological formulation and the classic statements indicates what has changed (and perhaps even gotten lost) between the New Testament and the fourth- and fifth-century acceptance of the conciliar statements as authoritative.

However, these comments on the classic creedal statements reveal another characteristic with at least as much significance. These comments reveal that the creedal statements have a context. They reflect a particular social milieu, and served the interests of some elements of the church—such as powerful rulers— more than others, namely the poor and those without political power. Further, these statements use the philosophical category of “ontology” or ousios, meaning “essence” or “being,” to define the relationship of Jesus to God the Father and to humanity, and they presume a three-decker universe in which the being or essence of God above is the same being or essence of Jesus in our world below.

Awareness of the social milieu and these categories and worldview in no way render these statements false. On the contrary, if one wants the answer about Jesus’ relationship to God in terms of ontological categories and presuming a three-decker universe, then these are the correct answers. However, recognizing the context of the creedal statements indicates the possibility of other ways of responding to the same questions in other contexts. Our approach illustrates such an alternative. It indicates two ways to affirm that God is fully present in the whole story of Jesus, one theological and one practical. For one, the resurrection validates the life of Jesus as the life and the presence of God and the reign of God on earth. Second, one demonstrates the truth that Jesus is the Christ, God’s anointed one, by committing oneself to live in the story of Jesus when it is not required and even when it is costly. Our proposal is thus clearly not saying less than the creeds. In fact, in a way that is not simply adding to them, it is saying and expecting more than the creeds are saying. The gospel as we understand it is even better and more transforming that what is found in the classic creedal statements.

Postconservative Evangelical Theologizing

That brief comparison of our theologizing with the classic categories establishes the basis for situating our theology in relation to Roger Olson’s description of postconservative evangelicalism. Olson accepts David Bebbington’s list of “four hallmarks or ‘core convictions’ ” that identify evangelical Christianity. These four are “biblicism, conversionism, crucicentrism (cross-centered piety), and activism in evangelism and social transformation.” These four can cover a wide range of evangelicals. Olson uses a quote from Mark Noll to say that in and of themselves these four characteristics cannot sustain evangelical structures, but they do serve to identify evangelicals working within a variety of structures. 16 Under the umbrella of these four core convictions, Olson positions what he calls “postconservative evangelicals.” Over against conservative evangelicals, who understand the four in terms of “correct doctrine,” postconservative evangelicals “tend to regard the essence of authentic Christianity and evangelical faith as transforming experience and a distinctive spirituality (e.g., a personal relationship with Jesus Christ that results in amendment of life toward holiness).” Thus through the influence of pietism, “orthopathy (right experience) is prior to orthodoxy in defining true Christianity.” And this orientation then also means that for postconservatives “the main purpose of revelation is transformation rather than information.” Thus many postconservatives “are uncomfortable with the conservative emphasis on propositions as the most important feature of revelation.” 17

From here Olson describes the postconservative approach to theology as one that recognizes the possibility of change in theology within the limits set by scripture. Postconservatives want “to make the Word of God fresh in a new and constructive encounter with culture. They tend to think the constructive task of theology is always unfinished and that the call of the theologian is to rethink traditional concepts and categories in every generation and culture.” 18

On the basis of this characterization of postconservative evangelical theologizing, Olson added an additional characteristic. He notes that revelation is “not a closed book,” nor “a set of commandments written in stone.” Rather, “orthodox doctrine is the product of human reflection on God’s revelation and therefore is open to reconsideration in light of faithful and fresh readings of God’s Word.” Thus to the four characteristics just mentioned, Olson adds a fifth, namely “deference to traditional, basic Christian orthodoxy within a higher commitment to the authority of God’s Word in Scripture as the norming norm of all Christian faith and practice.” 19 This characterization of four plus one constitutes Olson’s description of postconservative evangelical theology within the broad family of evangelicalism.

Anabaptist Theology and Postconservative Evangelical Theology

It is possible to align our theology with the four plus one characterization suggested by Roger Olson. The sketch of the life of Jesus and the theologizing derived from it are clearly biblical. It assumes that being identified with Jesus produces a changed life or conversion. Since a willingness to die as a consequence of witnessing to the reign of God is intrinsic to living in the story of Jesus, our sketch is crucicentric. And our vision of an activist Jesus that is a model for Christian activism fits within the fourth core conviction of activism and social transformation.

The theology of our sketch aligns with both parts of Olson’s fifth characteristic. As just demonstrated with reference to the classic creedal categories, our proposal is comprehensible within “basic Christian orthodoxy.” But with postconservative evangelicalism we also believe that “theology is always unfinished and that the call of the theologian is to rethink traditional concepts and categories in every generation and culture.” Thus, under the guidance of the Bible, we have offered new formulations that subject some orthodox assumptions to biblical authority, finding them inadequate if not intrinsically false.

At the same time, the theology of our proposal is not fully contained within Olson’s description of postconservative evangelical theology. Rather than being based on a pietist-oriented transformative experience, our theology is expressed via a life lived in the narrative of Jesus. Theology based on that narrative describes the way that a person identified by Jesus Christ should live. And to ask how a Christian should live returns us to telling the story of Jesus and living in obedience to Jesus’ teachings. The examples in this particular paper focused on racism and racial reconciliation. It pictures the narrative of Jesus as a norm for the Christian life into which God’s Spirit transforms the believer. This is what we have called a lived theology or a theology for living. Theology and ethics are inseparable, a lived and a written expression of the commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord. Theology that takes the narrative of Jesus as its point of departure is of a different genre from theology based primarily on either personal experience or doctrinal propositions.

Although the power of the gospel transforms individuals, which is an evangelical point, it is important to state that in our formulation, the proper subject of theological instruction is the church more than the individual. God’s agent in the world today is Christ’s body and God’s people who have been joined to that body. Their action is primarily collective, and even when acting as individuals we represent that body and our actions are empowered by the Spirit of God that flows in that body as the presence of God today.

We can identify with the evangelical emphasis on salvation as a gift from a gracious God and thus as an experience of conversion. However, somewhat different from evangelicalism, we believe that this conversion is a social and practical event that involves our joining a new primary community whose existence arises from the birth, life, teachings, actions, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This social understanding of conversion gives our theology a different orientation from much of evangelical and orthodox theology, even if it does not necessarily contradict it.

Anabaptism and Jesus

The emphases on living out of the story of Jesus Christ and on the church as the proper subject of theological instruction are where the Anabaptist component of our proposal appears. We understand Anabaptism as the sixteenth-century Reformation movement whose focus was on a return to the Jesus of the New Testament, and that this Jesus was the norm for Christian faith and practice. The result of Anabaptists’ attempts to live out of the New Testament story of Jesus was the emergence of a church that separated from the established church and that lived as a witness to the social order. Thus our proposal for a lived theology can be properly characterized as an “Anabaptist theology.” 20 At the same time, as this paper’s outline displays, one need not first understand sixteenth-century Anabaptist history and theology in order to understand or, it is suggested, adopt our theological proposal. However, if a reader wants a historical precedent, one is found in sixteenth-century Anabaptism.

The fact that this is an “Anabaptist” approach but without requiring knowledge of historic Anabaptism leads to our final point, namely, that our theological proposal offers a robust ecumenical beginning point. Every person who claims the name “Christian” surely has an interest in Jesus Christ, after whom they are named as Christians. One implication of our argument is that whether or not someone is self-identified as “orthodox” may be of less significance than whether or not that person is willing to accept the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the broad and solid foundation upon which to build our common faith. Our proposal thus has a theological beginning point open and accessible to every Christian. In this essay, it has been described in a way to show its relevance to evangelicals who emphasize a personal relationship to Jesus Christ. The fact that Christians disagree on the meaning of Jesus does not alter their common foundation in his story. In this essay, we pose an initial sketch of our understanding of Jesus and of theology derived from that understanding. It thus opens a conversation with diverse voices who claim the name of Jesus Christ and perhaps illustrates a broader and more profound common ground than evangelicals, mainline Protestants, and Catholics have thus far been able to imagine.


  1. Roger E. Olson, Reformed and Always Reforming: The Postconservative Approach to Evangelical Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 7.
  2. Olson, Reformed and Reforming. Postconservative evangelicalism is defined on pages 26–27, 43.
  3. For a full treatment of “narrative Christus Victor” as an atonement motif, see J. Denny Weaver, The Nonviolent Atonement, 2nd ed., greatly rev. and expanded (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2011). For a short summary, see J. Denny Weaver, “Violence in Christian Theology,” in Cross Examinations: Readings on the Meaning of the Cross Today, ed. Marit Trelstad (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2006), 225–39.
  4. James H. Cone, God of the Oppressed, rev. ed. (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1997), 106–7, 180–87.
  5. Ibid., 209.
  6. Ibid., 215–18.
  7. Garth Kasimu Baker-Fletcher, Xodus: An African American Male Journey (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996), 86.
  8. Karen Baker-Fletcher and Garth Kasimu Baker-Fletcher, My Sister, My Brother: Womanist and XODUS God-Talk, Bishop Henry McNeal Turner/Sojourner Truth Series in Black Religion, vol. 12 (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1997), 124–26.
  9. John Howard Yoder, Body Politics: Five Practices of the Christian Community Before the Watching World (Scottdale, PA: Herald, 2001), 38.
  10. For a full discussion of contrasting images of forgiveness in narrative Christus Victor and satisfaction atonement images, see J. Denny Weaver, “Forgiveness and (Non)Violence: The Atonement Connection,” Mennonite Quarterly Review 83, no. 2 (April 2009): 319–47.
  11. Space prevents an in-depth discussion in this essay of the idea of the nonviolence of God. Comments on violent and nonviolent images of God appear throughout Weaver, The Nonviolent Atonement. Weaver is also working on a book manuscript with extensive discussion of the nonviolence of God.
  12. For some examples, see Joanne Carlson Brown and Rebecca Parker, “For God So Loved the World?” in Christianity, Patriarchy and Abuse: A Feminist Critique, ed. Joanne Carlson Brown and Carole R. Bohn (New York: Pilgrim, 1989), 1–30; Rita Nakashima Brock, Journeys by Heart: A Christology of Erotic Power (New York: Crossroad, 1988), 55–57.
  13. Delores S. Williams, Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1993), 22–29, 60–83, 161–67, 178–203
  14. Cone, 106–7; see also 181.
  15. Joerg Rieger, Christ and Empire: From Paul to Postcolonial Times (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2007), 96–97.
  16. Olson, 26–27.
  17. Ibid., 28.
  18. Ibid., 28.
  19. Ibid., 43.
  20. For our discussion of Anabaptism as the reform movement that focused on Jesus as norm, see Gerald J. Mast and J. Denny Weaver, Defenseless Christianity: Anabaptism for a Nonviolent Church, foreword by Greg Boyd (Telford, PA: Cascadia; co-published with Herald, 2009), esp. chap. 1 and 22–31.
J. Denny Weaver is Professor Emeritus of Religion and The Harry and Jean Yoder Scholar in Bible and Religion at Bluffton University. He has written The Nonviolent Atonement, 2nd ed., greatly expanded and revised (2011). In addition to writing three other books, Weaver co-edited a book with Gerald J. Mast and the two co-authored Defenseless Christianity: Anabaptism for a Nonviolent Church (2009). In addition to the collaborative publications, Mast has published Go to Church, Change the World: Christian Community as Calling (2012) and written or edited several other books. Both have written many articles.

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