As I have mentioned several times over the last month, I was given the opportunity to read an advanced copy of Stuart Murray new book “The Naked Anabaptist: The Bare Essentials of a Radical Faith”. Not only that, but Herald Press heard of my enthusiasm and asked me to partner with them to help spread the word about this title, offering compensation. It is not often I get paid to do what I love- read and promote books that I think are incredibly important.
“The Naked Anabaptist” is one of those books that has already been and will remain significant to my faith and our Little Flowers Community. While invaluable to people who find themselves Anabaptist, by heritage or by conviction (or both), it is also an exciting gift to the church at large, especially those in the missional conversation. I could not wait to chat with the author about the book. The official release is less than a week away (April 1, 2010), so put in your pre-order today! Also, check out The Naked Anabaptist Facebook group for the book where you can read excerpts, discuss the content and connect with others.
JAR: How important was this book for your write? Why?
SM: For some time we have felt the need in the UK to have a straightforward introduction to the Anabaptist tradition that helps people here understand why Christians from many backgrounds are attracted to Anabaptism. The book provides this, as well as helping those who already identify with the Anabaptist tradition to appreciate how diverse the emerging Anabaptist community is in the UK.
JAR: While written for your UK context, you have said that you believe it is relevant for North American readers as well (and I enthusiastically agree). Can you comment on some of the differences between the UK and North American context with respect to engaging Anabaptism?
SM: Unlike the UK, North America has significant numbers of Christians, churches and other institutions that belong to denominations that trace their historical roots to Anabaptism. It might be assumed, therefore, that this book is not needed in North America. However, as I have visited the US and Canada over the past 15 years or so and have interacted with Mennonite and other groups with Anabaptist roots, I have been surprised at how little interest there has been in Anabaptism. It seems that many associate interest in Anabaptism with academic and historical study and do not perceive the relevance of their own tradition for contemporary issues in mission, discipleship, church life and spirituality.
I have often tried to encourage a re-appropriation of the tradition and a contemporary missional engagement with Anabaptism. I have more recently also become aware of other Christians in North America, unconnected with denominations descended from Anabaptism, who are discovering this tradition and finding it as inspiring and challenging as many of us have in the UK. My hope is that this book will be a resource to them to.
JAR: Rather than trying to promote “conversion” to Anabaptism, you advocate that Anabaptism has much to offer Christians of all traditions. Give us a few examples of what you mean.
SM: The image I use in the book (which owes much to my friend Alan Kreider) is of the church as an orchestra comprised of many instruments. For many years in the UK context the Anabaptist instrument, which has a particular contribution to make, has been silent. This has not prevented the orchestra from playing the music (although it has diminished it in certain ways). But at a certain point, this instrument is needed as never before if the music is to be played properly.
It is not the only instrument needed, but it is distinctive. My argument is that, in our post-Christendom western culture, the moment has arrived when the Anabaptist tradition is needed more than ever before. It is not the only tradition needed as we face new challenges and new opportunities, but it offers gifts to the wider church. These include a deep-rooted commitment to peacemaking in a fragmented society, experience on the margins of society in a context where all Christians are becoming marginal, a commitment to simplicity and community in a consumerist and individualistic culture, and a focus on the life and teaching of Jesus in societies that are sick of institutional Christianity but still intrigued by Jesus. It is not necessary to become Anabaptists to receive these gifts and to explore ways of working on these issues in many traditions and contexts.
JAR: Which writers have been more formational for you in respect to Anabaptism and why? Who would you recommend for average Christian reader?
SM: I have learned much from John Howard Yoder on ecclesiology (and much else), Willard M. Swartley on hermeneutics, Wilber R. Shenk on missiology, C. Arnold Snyder on Anabaptist history and theology, and Alan & Eleanor Kreider on missiology, spirituality, church history and various other subjects. I would recommend books by the Kreiders, especially Alan’s Journey Towards Holiness, Eleanor’s Given for You and their jointly written Worship and Mission after Christendom, which will be available any day now. There is also the Anabaptist prayer book, Take our Moments and our Days. Other recommendations are Donald B. Kraybill’s The Upside-Down Kingdom, J. Nelson Kraybill’s On the Pilgrim’s Way, Arnold Snyder’s From Anabaptist Seed and Following In the Footsteps of Christ, and other books in the ‘After Christendom’ series published by Paternoster since 2004.
SM: None that I can think of in a reasonably short introduction to Anabaptism. I hope my book will stimulate readers to explore others, including those I have just mentioned.
JAR: You are very intentional in the book to acknowledge the past and present weaknesses in Anabaptism while advocating for its merits. In what areas might Anabaptism most benefit from other traditions?
SM: Some other traditions have worked much harder at social and political engagement and at cultural transformation than Anabaptists (who often were not in contexts where these activities were feasible). There are also liturgical riches in other traditions than dwarf Anabaptist resources. While Anabaptists will be discriminating in their appropriation of these experiences and resources, many are already drawing gratefully on them.
JAR: In the process of sharing with others about the book, many have expressed interest in the Anabaptist Network in the UK. Many here in North America have asked why no such network has established in NA. What are your thoughts on this?
SM: I suspect such a network has been perceived as extraneous in a context where there are so many explicitly Anabaptist institutions and churches, but I am aware of several people who are interested in setting up such a network, especially among those who are not from historic Anabaptist backgrounds.
JAR: Tell us something unique about yourself we might otherwise never know.
SM: I thoroughly enjoy both cooking and eating curries.
JAR: Thanks Stuart.