Wednesday, August 28, 2013

From United Methodist to Baptist to Anabaptist

Over on Near Emmaus Brian LePort has a great conversation going about his journey from Pentecostalism to Anabaptism. Brian sees parallels between his own experience and that of Greg Boyd, whose megachurch has recently undergone the discernment process of whether or not to join Mennonite Church USA. For more on Boyd's story, see the excellent video below.

In the comments section of Brian's post I added some of my own thoughts and experiences as a recent Mennonite "convert":

I grew up United Methodist, and over the course of the last five years found myself identifying with a wide array of traditions—Wesleyan, Episcopalian, three different kinds of Baptist, and even Quaker. But upon attending a Mennonite church, I was immediately overwhelmed with the sense that I was “home,” theologically, socially, and ethically speaking.

I only have two main critiques of the Mennonite church, and I assume these issues are present in the wider Anabaptist tradition, as well: 1) As you briefly touched on in your post, there is a definite bias toward “ethnic Mennonites” as opposed to us mongrel converts, although I have never been anything but welcomed and accepted at my particular church. 2) In my particular church, we often favor social liberalism over strenuous theological or intellectual reflection. I have been frustrated a lot recently with our church’s preference of Sunday morning “book studies” and “novel readings” rather than Bible studies and theological discussions. Because of our historical commitment to nonviolence and social justice, I find that Sunday school far more often than not engages nonfiction journalistic texts about race and incarceration in the U.S. rather than studies in cruciform hermeneutics. However, this may not be universal in the Mennonite church, let alone Anabaptism, and perhaps this is all just one Bible student calling the grapes sour because my Sunday school class doesn’t like to talk about the same things I like to talk about.

That being said, I never wanted to officially “join” a church until I began identifying as a Mennonite. I’m at home now, and regardless of my criticisms, I feel committed to my new identity and my new community of faith in a way that I have never committed myself to a church before.

Brian noted that he has experienced similar frustration with book studies at his own church. Maybe the problem isn't the church as much as it is two Bible nerds griping to one another.

It appears that Mennonite churches are experiencing an influx of young evangelicals who are fed up with crusty mainline denominationalism and are instead looking for something new. The question has now become, How is the Mennonite church going to deal with these evangelical "expats"?

For more on my own journey to identifying as a Mennonite, see my post on Near Emmaus, Why I Am A Mennonite. Do you have experience with the Anabaptist theological tradition and/or the Mennonite church? What was your journey to Anabaptism like?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Moltmann on Why We Exist

I've been reading Moltmann's Theology of Play, in which the theologian reflects on the role of play in human existence, and how it can be a liberating glimpse of a new future reality in the present. In comparing the act of divine creation to the creative act of playing, Moltmann suggests that the question, "For what purpose did God create the world?" is inherently biased toward colonial/imperial understandings of purpose, meaning, and existence:

"Joy is the meaning of human life, joy in thanksgiving and thanksgiving as joy. In a way, this answer abolishes the intent of such questions as: For what purpose has [humanity] been created? For what purpose am I here? For the answer does not indicate ethical goals and ideal purposes but justifies created existence as such. The important thing about this answer is precisely the awkward surprise it contains. When we ask, For what purpose do I exist?, the answer does not lie in demonstrable purposes establishing my usefulness but in the acceptance of my existence as such and in what the Dutch biologist and philosopher Buytendijk has called the 'demonstrative value of being.' Recognizing this, we escape the dreadful questions of existence: For what purpose am I here? Am I useful? Can I make myself useful?" (p.19)

Do you agree? Why do you think you exist? Is that even a valid question, given Moltmann's concerns about demonstrating one's existential value?