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Spring 2021 · Vol. 50 No. 1 · pp. 14–27 

‘It Has Seemed Good to the Holy Spirit and to Us’: From Biblicist Arguments to Pneumatological Witness

David C. Cramer

A few years ago, while I was living in Waco, Texas, as a graduate student at Baylor, I heard about a conference in Houston organized by a group called Rethinking Hell. This group advocates for a position on the afterlife called “conditional immortality,” or simply “conditionalism.” 1

While Scripture is indeed the word of God, the Spirit of God continues to speak to Christians to the present day through their experiences and their theological reflection on them.

Conditionalism is the view that only those who die in Christ receive eternal life, while those who die apart from Christ cease to exist or are annihilated by God. Although I don’t hold to this view on the afterlife, I was intrigued by the conference, which was being held in honor of lay theologian Edward Fudge. In the early 1980s, Fudge wrote The Fire that Consumes, 2 a book that provides the definitive biblical case for conditional immortality. Since the conference was in my neck of the woods (by Texan measurements), I decided to drive down. When I got there, everyone was friendly to me, even though they knew from my paper topic that I was one of the few people there who didn’t subscribe {15} to their view. But despite their hospitality, it was clear that I was an outsider at an insiders’ conference. And the experience was fascinating.

The other participants were convinced—in no small part due to Fudge’s work—that conditionalism is the clear, biblical view of the afterlife. For them, the message that eternal life comes only through faith in Christ—and that there is therefore no eternal “life” (in hell or otherwise) for unbelievers—is not incidental to the gospel but is the gospel. The driving question of conference was, Why don’t other Christians see that this is the truly biblical view? And a closely related question was, How can we get them to see it? Since they were so convinced that their view is both obvious in Scripture and central to the gospel message, they had to explain how other seemingly reasonable, well educated, faithful Christians might see things otherwise. The main candidate for an explanation was the Greek philosophical categories that infiltrated the church in the third and fourth centuries. Such external influences caused subsequent readers to see things in the text that aren’t there (such as the inherent immortality of the soul) and to miss things that are (such as the ultimate destruction of the wicked).

As the conference proceeded, the confident, unified presentation begin to fray during break-out sessions on specific topics related to conditional immortality. It became clear that there was much internal disagreement about what they meant when they discussed conditional immortality. Some thought that when people die in this life, they cease to exist. Others held that there’s an intermediate state and that people only cease to exist after the final judgment. Some held that after the final judgment, those who don’t receive eternal life die of “natural causes,” so to speak. Others held that God actively destroys, or annihilates, unbelievers after the final judgment. Some held that Jesus literally ceased to exist between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Others held that Jesus, as God the Son, could not cease to exist. Some held that unbelievers face a prolonged period in hell before being destroyed. Others argued that unbelievers are destroyed immediately following final judgment. Some viewed annihilation as a more compassionate response to sin. Others viewed it as an act of God’s wrath more severe than an eternity in hell.

As someone who tends to be more circumspect about the specifics of the afterlife, I came away from the conference less persuaded than I was amused. This group (1) is convinced that their view is the biblical view; (2) is convinced that their view is central to the gospel; (3) has a definitive text by a non-specialist in biblical studies to back up their claims; (4) wonders why other thoughtful Christians can’t see that their view is the biblical view; (5) has a genealogical account—starting around the fourth century—to explain why other Christians don’t adhere {16} to their position; and yet (6) has significant internal disagreements on what precisely their view entails.

The reason I was amused by this sincere group of believers wasn’t because I thought I was better or more sophisticated than they were—but precisely the opposite. I realized that this must be what it feels like to be a non-pacifist at a conference full of Anabaptists. After all, many contemporary Anabaptists (1) believe that pacifism is the biblical view; (2) believe that pacifism is central to the gospel message; (3) have a definitive text by a non-specialist in biblical studies that articulates why pacifism is the biblical view (though published a decade prior to The Fire that Consumes); 3 (4) wonder why other thoughtful Christians can’t see how pacifism is the biblical view; (5) have a genealogical account—the Constantinian shift in the fourth century—to explain how external influences caused so many Christians to fall from the biblical pacifism of the early church; and yet (6) have significant disagreements over what pacifism means and what it entails.


In his essay “Varieties of Contemporary Mennonite Peace Witness,” 4 Tom Yoder Neufeld surveys the lay of the land to describe the various views toward violence that contemporary Mennonites actually hold. Quite provocatively, he begins with the Just War position. He notes that a good number of Mennonites have participated in the military while maintaining good standing in their Mennonite congregations. Neufeld is not making a normative argument—that Just War should be an acceptable view for Mennonites. He is simply noting that, for a number of Mennonites, it is.

Neufeld identifies nonresistance as a second position taken by Mennonites. He notes that this view presupposes a dualist outlook between the church and the world—or even between Mennonites and everyone else. He breaks this position into two groups, which he calls “happy dualists” and “sad dualists.” “Happy dualism,” he writes, “is meant to signal the disposition of those Mennonites who are not particularly distressed that not everyone is saddled with the rigorous ethic of nonresistance.” 5 By contrast, sad dualists “are not so gelassen or relaxed about the fact that other Christians do not practise what are held to be the clear words of Jesus to all his followers to take up the cross and never the sword. Such Mennonites mourn the use of force, however predictable or even inevitable they might think it is.” 6

Finally, Neufeld identifies a third position alongside Just War and nonresistance, which he calls “peace activism.” As opposed to adherents to nonresistance—whether happy or sad—peace activists take {17} a monistic view of morality. To peace activists, God’s moral will is for all people, not just for Christians—much less just for Mennonites. As with nonresistance, so too peace activism can be split into two camps: happy monists and sad monists—or perhaps better, optimistic monists and realist monists. Neufeld writes that “the happy or optimistic monist places great faith in the efforts of human peacemaking, religious and secular, including education and general consciousness raising, whereas the sad or realist monist sees peacemaking as a struggle with great social and spiritual dimensions.” 7 All told, then, Neufeld identifies five unique and mutually exclusive Mennonite approaches to violence.

His typology could be subdivided indefinitely. In the 1991 booklet Mennonite Peace Theology: A Panorama of Types, 8 the authors identify ten distinct Mennonite approaches to peace, to which more have been added in later articles in The Conrad Grebel Review and elsewhere. 9 In the second edition to Nevertheless: The Varieties and Shortcomings of Religious Pacifism, 10 John Howard Yoder identifies twenty-nine distinct pacifist positions, though his typology expands beyond Anabaptists to include other Christian and Jewish approaches.

In short, despite Anabaptists’ general agreement that the Bible clearly teaches pacifism, we produce an array of interpretations of what we mean by biblical pacifism—many of which are mutually exclusive—as is reflected in the various words we use to describe our positions: nonresistance, pacifism, nonviolent activism, and so on. This internal diversity is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does present a predicament for those of us who claim that pacifism is the clear biblical stance toward violence.


According to sociologist Christian Smith, Mennonites are not alone in this predicament. In his book The Bible Made Impossible, 11 Smith identifies the general evangelical Protestant approach to Scripture as “biblicism.” He defines biblicism as “a theory about the Bible that emphasizes together its exclusive authority, infallibility, perspicuity, self-sufficiency, internal consistency, self-evident meaning, and universal applicability.” He notes that “different communities within American evangelicalism emphasize various combinations of these points differently,” but he argues that “all together they form a constellation of assumptions and beliefs that define a particular theory and practice.” 12

While Smith is writing primarily to North American evangelicals, I would argue that Christians across the theological spectrum tend toward a form of biblicism on the theological and moral issues for which we can find the most biblical support. In other words, we all tend to be at least {18} selective biblicists. We Mennonites may scoff at others who argue that their view of the afterlife, or sexuality, or gender roles, or finances is the biblical view. But when asked why we are pacifists, many of us betray our biblicist tendencies. We say things like, “I’m just following what the Bible teaches.” Or, “I’m just a New Testament Christian.” Regardless of whether we hold to biblical inerrancy or infallibility, most of us affirm biblical perspicuity—at least when it comes to pacifism. We believe that the Bible is sufficiently clear and unambiguous in its teaching that pacifism is the biblical norm for Christians.

For one example of this selective biblicist apologetic for pacifism, we need look no further than my 2012 essay “Evangelical Hermeneutics, Anabaptist Ethics: John Howard Yoder, the Solas, and the Question of War.” 13 There I argue that, “when applying the evangelical hermeneutic of sola scriptura and sola fide to the question of war,” “on the whole the results comport much better with an Anabaptist pacifist position than with the standard evangelical support of state-sanctioned violence.” 14 I then proceed with a selective survey of Old and New Testament passages that support a particular kind of Yoder-inspired pacifism, concluding, “For Yoder, sola scriptura and sola fide—when properly understood—point decisively toward a pacifist commitment for Christians.” 15

Rereading this essay nearly a decade after I wrote it, I still find its overall argument relatively persuasive within a biblicist framework. However, as Smith observes, “The very same Bible—which biblicists insist is perspicuous and harmonious—gives rise to divergent understandings among intelligent, sincere, committed readers about what it says about most topics of interest,” a phenomenon Smith calls “pervasive interpretive pluralism.” 16 For Smith, this phenomenon belies the entire biblicist paradigm. It isn’t just that biblicism is wrong; it’s rather that it’s impossible to maintain.

Smith argues that pervasive interpretive pluralism—even among biblicists—demonstrates “that on important matters the Bible apparently is not clear, consistent, and univocal enough to enable the best-intentioned, most highly skilled, believing readers to come to agreement as to what it teaches. That is an empirical, historical, undeniable, and ever-present reality.” 17 This is a bitter pill to swallow.

We might be tempted to agree with Smith but argue for an exception to be made when it comes to pacifism (which the Bible really does teach clearly!). But this would be special pleading. Every other tradition would apply for the same exception to be made for their distinctive emphasis. But the reality is that, for all their faults, Lutherans and Calvinists are no slouches when it comes to biblical interpretation. Yet they conscientiously come to a different reading of Scripture on war and {19} peace than most Anabaptists do. Even if we could provide an explanation for how and why our separated brethren have been mass deluded in their scriptural interpretation, we would still have to deal with the pervasive interpretive pluralism within the Anabaptist tradition on war and peace, as I described above.

Thus far I’ve only identified a problem. If we agree with Smith that pervasive interpretive pluralism undercuts biblicism—even on the question of pacifism—then what does this mean for how we engage non-pacifist Christians? Does it mean we must become moral relativists? Minimize our differences? Reject biblical authority? Apologize for believing that the Bible is best interpreted as pointing in a pacifist direction? I would suggest that it means none of these things. Rather, it simply means that Anabaptists would do well to develop a biblically informed peace theology that is not based on the shaky foundation of biblicism. The way forward, in other words, is not to offer more convincing biblicist arguments for pacifism but rather to abandon the biblicist framework altogether.


In the final three chapters of The Bible Made Impossible, Smith offers three tentative proposals toward what he calls “a truly evangelical reading of scripture.” 18 First, following the lead of Karl Barth, Smith proposes a Christocentric approach to reading Scripture, which involves always trying “to make sense of everything we read in any part of scripture in light of our larger knowledge of who God is in Jesus Christ.” 19 For Smith,

the answer, then, to what holds scripture together is Jesus Christ. The key response to how to sort through the diversity and seemingly different viewpoints expressed in scripture is Jesus Christ. It is only Jesus Christ—the real, living Lord, the Creator of all things, the source of any evangelical good news at all, the man who is God-with-us, the one person who shows and tells us what a real human is—who is the one in light of whom anything and everything in scripture makes any sense, as anything other than quaint historical records. 20

Rather than viewing the Bible as a handbook to any and every topic, Christians should read the Bible as pointing to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Doing so, however, means accepting that “God does not even intend the Bible to provide us with direct, specific, ‘nonnegotiable’ instructions about things like church polity and government, the ‘end times,’ the ethics of war,” and so on. 21 Again, this might seem like a {20} bitter pill for Anabaptists to swallow when it comes to pacifism, but Smith’s point is not that there is no truth of the matter. Rather, it’s that doubling down on biblicism is not the way to ascertain the truth. Instead, Smith argues, “perhaps God wants us to figure out how Christians should think well about things like war, wealth, and sanctification, by thinking christologically about them, more than by simply piecing together this and that verse of scripture into an allegedly coherent puzzle picture.” 22 This places the onus on the interpretive community to make “judgments and decisions” rather than relying on Scripture to remove that need. 23

Smith’s first proposal will not be unfamiliar to many Anabaptists. Ever since Menno Simons used 1 Corinthians 3:11 (“For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ” 24) as his motto, Mennonites have been distinguished by their Christocentric hermeneutic. However, there’s a natural tendency not only to maintain a biblicist reading but also to simply narrow the canon to the Gospels or even to just the “red letters” of Jesus’s words. However, this simply moves pervasive interpretive pluralism up a level. Did Jesus counsel nonresistance à la Guy Hershberger? 25 Or was Jesus the radical nonviolent political activist of John Howard Yoder and J. Denny Weaver’s reading? 26 It is unclear how a Christocentric hermeneutic itself resolves such issues.

But perhaps the goal isn’t to find a definitive answer to such questions in the first place. Thus, for Smith’s second and third proposals, he suggests “accepting complexity and ambiguity” and “rethinking human knowledge, authority, and understanding.” 27 He suggests distinguishing among dogmas, doctrines, and opinions: dogmas are nonnegotiable, central Christian beliefs, such as the Trinity and Nicene Creed; doctrines are beliefs “to which groups of Christians adhere with firm conviction but also disagree over with other kinds of Christians”; and opinions are beliefs that are “far from being central, sure, and most important in the larger scheme of Christian belief and life.” 28 Of particular relevance here, he writes, “Anabaptists have to take seriously the reality that the majority of Christians throughout history and today do not believe that nonviolence, nonresistance, and pacifism are essential elements of the Christian gospel itself.” 29

Most Anabaptists take this fact seriously enough; the question is what follows from it. Smith seems to suggest that, since most Christians don’t believe a peace stance is an essential element of the Christian gospel itself, then Anabaptists should accept that a peace stance is more peripheral than we tend to believe. However, it doesn’t seem that this conclusion follows from Smith’s premises. Anabaptists can readily admit that there is some ambiguity in Scripture regarding the peace {21} stance of Christians yet conclude not that it is thereby unessential to the gospel but rather that it is simply grounded in nonbiblicist theological reasoning. In other words, Anabaptist can retain our convictions about pacifism or nonviolence, but rather than providing a biblicist apologetic for pacifism, we can find other, nonbiblicist grounds for our peace witness. In the final section I propose what such grounds might be: the ongoing witness of the Holy Spirit in the world and in the life of the church.


In a previous article, I argued that Mennonites should adopt something akin to the Wesleyan Quadrilateral in our theological reasoning. 30 In other words, instead of relying on biblicism, Mennonites should employ the full resources of Scripture, reason, tradition, and experience in our theological and ethical reasoning.

Interpreters of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral tend to distinguish Scripture from the other three so as to emphasize that Scripture is the ultimate norm, or norming norm, while the other three are normed norms. 31 The distinction is predicated on the notion that Scripture is the objective and infallible word of God, whereas reason, tradition, and experience, by contrast, are subjective and fallible.

I would suggest, however, that this distinction is not as sharp as is often assumed. While the words of Scripture are unchanging and in that sense objective, the interpretation of Scripture unavoidably involves, and is inevitably shaped by, the interpretive community’s experiences, collective reasoning, and tradition. And while Scripture is indeed the word of God, the Spirit of God no doubt continues to speak to Christians throughout history to the present day through their experiences and their theological reflection on those experiences. Discounting reason, tradition, and experience as lesser legs of the four-legged stool thus discounts the work of the Spirit throughout history and around the world today—and thereby makes the whole stool wobbly.

The New Testament itself belies a sharp distinction between the one and the three. Jesus promised his disciples that, after he would leave them, he would send not a book but the Spirit to teach them: “The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you” (John 14:26). Jesus later reiterates, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come” (John 16:13).

Likewise, Paul speaks of the Spirit transforming believers’ hearts and minds, and states that only after this transformation has taken place {22} can they “discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom 12:2). If the Bible were as perspicuous and univocal on all matters of faith and practice as biblicists believe, then there would be no need for such transformation of the mind in order to discern the will of God. Indeed, there would be no need for discernment at all. (One doesn’t need much discernment to look up an encyclopedia entry or read a how-to manual.) But as it is, God has sent the Spirit so that believers themselves, in community, can discern those things that are good, acceptable, and perfect—and distinguish them from those things that are not.

Luke’s narrative in Acts provides an early picture into what this discernment looks like on the ground, as the early church is led by the Spirit to discern whether it is the will of God to accept Gentiles into the Christian community without requiring them first to convert to Judaism. What’s especially fascinating about this story is the way the early believers are led by the Spirit to a particular view based first and foremost on their experiences and their collective reasoning in light of those experiences—and only secondarily through their engagement with Scripture and tradition.

Not long after the Spirit leads Philip to take the gospel to Samaritans and an Ethiopian eunuch, Peter is led by the Spirit to take the gospel across ethnic lines to a Gentile centurion named Cornelius. At first Peter resists, as God’s instructions don’t compute with his understanding of Scripture. But the voice of the Lord responds, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane” (10:15). As theologian Willie James Jennings observes, “These words stand over against all other words of God, forever recasting them and turning them to new purposes. . . . This is the ‘you have heard it said, but I say to you.’ This is the living Dabarim (words) of the living God.” 32

When Peter enters Cornelius’s home, he says in the words of a good biblicist, “You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile,” but he then immediately rejects his old biblicist paradigm for a pneumatological one: “But God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean” (10:28). As Peter is speaking, the Spirit confirms his words by descending upon those listening to his message. Peter’s fellow Jewish believers are “astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles” (10:45).

When Peter returns to the church in Jerusalem, he finds that his actions have sparked controversy. “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” he’s asked by fellow believers (11:3). We might expect Peter to respond with a biblical case for Gentile inclusion, but instead, as Jennings describes the scene, {23}

Peter stands before his redeemed kin in utter vulnerability. He has no textual witness to fall back on, no prophetic utterances to conjure from the collective memory of his people. The prophets of old did not prepare him for this Gentile emergency. He is speaking to those who know him and know the faith. . . . The only argument Peter could give with kinship eyes bearing down on him was no argument at all, simply an experience. 33

Following Peter’s example, I propose that Anabaptists shift our emphasis from making the biblical case for pacifism to letting our Spirit-led experiences of and experiments with peacemaking speak for themselves. As Jennings reflects,

The idea of experience has gotten a bad reputation in Christian thought in recent years, and for good reason. Claiming an experience of God, of faith and truth, has served as an ideological tool for every will to religious power. The claim to an experience has graced greed, violence, and oppression with halos of righteousness. Yet Peter shows us its proper use, to confront the cult of the familiar—of family, faith, nation, and story. 34

I believe that a pneumatological Mennonite peace witness has the power to do just that: to confront the cult of the familiar in, especially, North American Christianity. But that won’t be accomplished through another biblicist apologetic for pacifism. It requires the testimony of lives attuned to the Spirit’s leading toward ever-new experiences of peace and reconciliation. Again, Jennings argues that “the past, though important, is never the point for the life of faith. The point is the present moment of the living God who is with us, beckoning us to communion. The God who speaks to us now calls us into the risk of hearing a new word, a word that orients us toward the unanticipated and the unprecedented where the reconciling God is active.” “What does a new word look like?” he asks. “We will know it by its fruit. That which builds life together, life abundant, and deepening life in God is truly a new word from God. That which speaks the community of Christ and echoes a desire for shared life, shared hope, and redemption from death and all its agents is always a new word from God.” 35

Listening to the word of God afresh is not to demote but to elevate the role of Scripture by placing it in its proper pneumatological context. So, in Acts 15, at what has come to be called the Jerusalem Council, the disciples meet together to discern the will of God in light of the new words of the Spirit they have heard through their experiences of Gentile inclusion. Some members of the new Christian sect argue against Peter’s actions from within their biblicist framework: “Unless you are {24} circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved,” they claim. “It is necessary for them to be circumcised and ordered to keep the law of Moses” (Acts 15:1, 5).

Peter, Paul, and Barnabas respond not with a biblical case to the contrary but rather by reporting “all that God had done with them” (15:4). After the assembly listens to them recount their experiences of the Holy Spirit’s work in and through them, the assembly discerns together the way the Spirit is leading them forward. And it is precisely within this discernment process that James offers words of Scripture to confirm the testimony of his brothers. Even here, James uses Scripture not as a “biblical case for Gentile inclusion” but rather as what Jennings calls “quilting work” in light of what God is doing in their midst:

James, in a beautiful moment of pure theological interpretation, performs this quilting work. James pulls fragments from the prophets and weaves their words to this word of God revealed in the Spirit’s workings on flesh. This will be the way forward—interpreters of biblical texts that yield to the Spirit recognizing the grace of working with the fragments. As Luke Timothy Johnson suggests, “the text of Scripture does not dictate how God should act. Rather, God’s actions dictate how we should understand the text of Scripture.” Quilting Scripture is of the new order. Such interpretive work takes seriously a living God who lives in and with the human creature and who invites us to weave together word of God spoken (in the past) with word of God being spoken into lives (in the present) by the Spirit. 36

It is in light of the Spirit’s work in and through our experiences of and experiments with peacemaking that we can return to Scripture and recognize the threads that can be woven into a pneumatological peace witness.

As we do such weaving, we can offer our peace witness in the words of the Jerusalem Council’s letter to the church in Antioch: “it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (15:28). This line provides all the audacity and radicality of invoking the Holy Spirit as a witness with all the humility and provisionality of “it has seemed good.” Rather than shutting down dialogue by offering a comprehensive biblical case for pacifism that suggests that non-pacifist interlocutors are simply too dense or stubborn to see and accept what Scripture clearly teaches on the matter, a pneumatological peace witness offers the interlocutor both new information and an invitation: the Holy Spirit is working among us in this way, and it seems good to us all of us. Would you care to join us on this way? 37 {25}


  1. This view is popularly referred to as annihilationism, though that isn’t the group’s preferred term.
  2. Edward Fudge, The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of Final Punishment, 3rd ed. (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2011 [1982]).
  3. John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1972; 2nd ed., 1994).
  4. Tom Yoder Neufeld, “Varieties of Contemporary Mennonite Peace Witness: From Passivism to Pacifism, From Nonresistance to Resistance,” Conrad Grebel Review 10 (1992): 243–57.
  5. Yoder Neufeld, 247.
  6. Yoder Neufeld, 248.
  7. Yoder Neufeld, 250.
  8. John Richard Burkholder and Barbara Nelson Gingrich, eds., Mennonite Peace Theology: A Panorama of Types (Akron, PA: Mennonite Central Committee Peace Office, 1991). The ten types discussed are historic nonresistance, culturally engaged pacifism, social responsibility, apolitical nonresistance, the pacifism of the messianic community, radical pacifism, realist pacifism, Canadian pacifism, liberation pacifism, and nonsectarian pacifism.
  9. See, e.g., The Conrad Grebel Review 34, no. 1 (Winter 2016), which includes an article by J. Denny Weaver proposing Jesus-centered peace theology and an article by Malinda Elizabeth Berry proposing shalom political theology.
  10. John Howard Yoder, Nevertheless: The Varieties and Shortcomings of Religious Pacifism, 2nd ed. (Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1992 [1971]).
  11. Christian Smith, The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos, 2012).
  12. Smith, Bible Made Impossible, viii. For an evangelical defense of the Protestant principle of sola scriptura in face of Smith’s objections, see Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Biblical Authority after Babel: Retrieving the Solas in the Spirit of Mere Protestant Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos, 2018). Vanhoozer, however, equates biblicism with sola scriptura (110) and argues vigorously for the latter, whereas for Smith biblicism and sola scriptura are related but not to be conflated. Smith distinguishes between sola scriptura and what he calls solo scriptura, noting that the former is “the arguably more sophisticated view of scripture developed by the original Protestant Reformers,” while the latter is “a narrower view on the Bible associated with American biblicism” (Bible Made Impossible, 180n5). Vanhoozer’s hermeneutic thus ultimately has more in common with Smith’s than Vanhoozer seems to recognize.
  13. David C. Cramer, “Evangelical Hermeneutics, Anabaptist Ethics: John Howard Yoder, the Solas, and the Question of War,” in The Activist Impulse: Essays on the Intersection of Evangelicalism and Anabaptism, {26} edited by Jared S. Burkholder and David C. Cramer (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2012), 379–405.
  14. Cramer, 387–88.
  15. Cramer, 397.
  16. Smith, Bible Made Impossible, 17.
  17. Smith, 25.
  18. Smith, 93.
  19. Smith, 98.
  20. Smith, 107. Italics original.
  21. Smith, 112. Italics original.
  22. Smith, 112–13.
  23. Smith, 113.
  24. KJV. All other Scripture quotations are from NRSV.
  25. Guy Franklin Hershberger, War, Peace, and Nonresistance, 3rd ed. (Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1981). See especially chapter 3, “Nonresistance in the New Testament,” 43–63, and appendix 1, “The Scriptures Speak,” 285–96.
  26. John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus: Vicit Agnus Noster, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994); J. Denny Weaver, The Nonviolent Atonement, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2011).
  27. As the titles of chapters 6 and 7 of Smith, Bible Made Impossible, read respectively.
  28. Smith, Bible Made Impossible, 135.
  29. Smith, 138.
  30. David C. Cramer, “Mennonite Systematic Theology in Retrospect and Prospect,” Conrad Grebel Review 31, no. 3 (Fall 2013): 255–73, especially 269–73.
  31. See especially the writing of United Methodist theologian Albert C. Outler, who coined the term “Wesleyan Quadrilateral” to describe John Wesley’s approach—e.g., Albert C. Outler, “The Wesleyan Quadrilateral—In John Wesley,” Wesleyan Theological Journal 20, no. 1 (Spring 1985): 7–18. See also Donald A. D. Thorsen, The Wesleyan Quadrilateral: Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience as a Model of Evangelical Theology, 2nd ed. (Lexington, KY: Emeth, 2005).
  32. Willie James Jennings, Acts, Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2017), 106.
  33. Jennings, 116–17, emphasis added.
  34. Jennings, 117.
  35. Jennings, 120.
  36. Jennings, 143; internal quotation from Luke Timothy Johnson, The Acts of the Apostles (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1992), 271.
  37. An earlier draft of this paper was presented as “Pacifism, Perspicuity, and Pervasive Interpretive Pluralism: Reconsidering the Role of Scripture in Anabaptist Apologetics” at the 18th Believers’ Church Conference, Word, Spirit and the Renewal of the Church: Believers’ Church, Ecumenical and Global Perspectives, Goshen College, Goshen, Indiana, September 14–16, 2017. Thanks to those in attendance for their helpful feedback. An {27} earlier draft of portions of the conclusion was also published in a special MCUSA general conference issue of The Mennonite as David C. Cramer, “God’s Word and God’s Breath: Discernment requires Word and Spirit.” The Mennonite, July 2019, 10–12. Thanks to readers of that shorter essay who provided helpful feedback as well.
David C. Cramer is managing editor of the Institute of Mennonite Studies at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Elkhart, Indiana, and teaching pastor at Keller Park Church, South Bend, Indiana.

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