I just finished re-reading a book by Peter Hoover titled, “The Secret of the Strength”. I read it before when I was about 17 years old and was (mostly) a Mennonite. I remembered it being fantastic, and wasn’t disappointing when re-reading it.
I’m not going to do a book review, that’s been done before. I’m not going to summarize the book. Go read it if you want to know what it’s about. No, I just want to point out a perspective that was reinforced by my re-reading of the book.
For a long time, I’ve told people that I’m theologically very anabaptist, to which the normal response is, “What’s that?” I used to try to answer that question by saying, “Well, Anabaptists take God’s word very seriously, usually literally, and apply it to every aspect of their life.”
I don’t say this anymore. Mostly because it’s not really true, but also because every Christian I’ve ever met believes that they do the same thing. So how is it that the Anabaptists have taken this perspective and come up with such different convictions?
Here’s how I now explain Anabaptist theology.
Anabaptists put the central focus on Christ and what He said. With that as the foundation, they interpret the rest of scripture through what that understanding.
This thought has confused a lot of people, but then a couple months ago I was explaining it to a good Baptist, and she totally got it. She actually explained it to the rest of the group by saying that the Baptists did the same thing with the teachings of Paul. If there is any confusion or misunderstanding in her church, they go back to what they call the basics, the teachings of Paul, and interpret the confusion in light of that understanding. This is exactly what I’m talking about.
Please understand that I’m not implying that the Bible is contradictory. I’m saying that our finite minds can not be certain of the interpretation of each verse and we have to build our foundation for understanding somewhere. Anabaptists do this with the teachings of Christ.
This is how we come up with things like pacifism and community. We don’t read the gospels in light of the epistles, we do the opposite. We start with the fact that Christians are not allowed to retaliate in any way, then we read Romans 13 and see that Christians can’t be in government. We start with the idea that giving away what we have is intrinsic to the gospel, then we read about unity and community in Acts and the Epistles and assume that they’re the same topic.
I’m not saying that we get it all right. To be honest, I’m wrestling with the way we defend and define community right now. I’m not even really sure I should say “we” when talking about Anabaptists, because I know I don’t agree with nearly everything Anabaptists teach.
What I am saying is that I really like the perspective of seeing Christ as the pinnacle and climax of the Bible and interpreting the rest of scripture through what He said to us. Isn’t He the point?