Review: “The Naked Anabaptist”

July 19th, 2010 – by Maegan Yoder

The Naked Anabaptist: The Bare Essentials of a Radical Faith by Stuart Murray starts with the declaration, “the Anabaptists are back!” With this statement, Murray begins an exciting and timely dialogue about the radical vision of Anabaptist faith and tradition. His obvious passion for Anabaptism, which combined with a concise and clear writing style, makes this book a stimulating and easy read. What truly sets The Naked Anabaptist apart, is the book’s bold declaration of core Anabaptist values, imbued with a humility that respects other Christian traditions and acknowledges unflattering moments in Anabaptist history. Murray draws from his experience with the Anabaptist Network in the United Kingdom and Ireland to explore the meaning of Anabaptism stripped of its ethnic traditions. Murray creates a provocative and challenging vision of what Anabaptism offers without portraying it as the theology that will save Christianity.

The Naked Anabaptist by Stuart Murray
The Bare Essentials of a Radical Faith
by Stuart Murray
300 pages. Herald Press. $13.99

Murray employs the term post-Christendom to identify the waning influence of Christianity in Europe and the USA. While Murray does not imply that Christianity is ceasing to be a significant cultural influence, he argues that the intimate relationship between state and church is ending. While many Christian denominations encounter this shift with fear and panic, Murray enthusiastically embraces the change. He agrees with the classic Anabaptist belief that the church’s movement to the cultural center after Constantine pushed Jesus to the margins. As a result, the person and message of Jesus was “reappraised, neutered, and domesticated”, and led to a depiction of Jesus that was “worshiped as a remote kingly figure or a romanticized personal savior.” This downplayed Jesus’ radical message and demand for discipleship. As a church on the margins, the Anabaptists provide a roadmap with which Jesus once again can be both followed and worshiped.

Murray introduces the seven core convictions that define Anabaptism today. The convictions are, in short:

  1. Jesus is our example, teacher, friend, redeemer and Lord.
  2. Jesus is the focal point of God’s revelation.
  3. Western culture is slowly emerging from the Christendom era when church and state jointly presided over a society in which almost all were assumed to be Christian.
  4. The frequent association of the church with status, wealth and force is inappropriate for followers of Jesus and damages our witness.
  5. Churches are called to be committed communities of discipleship and mission, places of friendship, mutual accountability and multi-voiced worship.
  6. Spirituality and economics are inter-connected.
  7. Peace is at the heart of the gospel.

Murray expounds on each conviction and lays out Biblical support, historic Anabaptist belief, and current examples of application for each point. Murray concludes by offering a brief history of the beginnings of Anabaptism and cites several issues that Anabaptists currently struggle with, such as legalism, divisiveness, separatism, and quietism.

For those who want to explore Anabaptism, this book is an exciting introduction to a religious tradition that offers a radical view of the relationship between Jesus Christ, our faith communities, and the world. As Mennonite Church USA deals with an identity crisis in the face of declining membership and a profound absence of younger people, this book serves as a powerful reminder. It reminds us that the strength of the Mennonite church resides in its experience of being a church on the margins. It is in the margins, not the center, where the church can offer its vision of radical faith, commitment to peace, and wholehearted discipleship to Jesus.

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