Abrahamic community as a Mennonite paradigm
for Christian engagement in society
by Gerald W. Schlabach
Conrad Grebel Review 11 (Fall 1993): 187-210.
- The Need for a Paradigm
- Paradigm Shift? Or Paradigm Breakdown?
- Sifting Through Two- and One-Kingdom Theologies
- Beyond Two- Versus One-Kingdom Theology
- Problem-solving, the test of a paradigm
Mennonites ought to rework what is left of their theology of two kingdoms before it and they are left hopelessly fragmented. That is what I wish to suggest. Yet such a suggestion risks at least two kinds of reactions. From Mennonite intellectuals, disdain. From Mennonites in the pews, yawns. Two-kingdom theology sounds sociologically quaint to some, philosophically arcane to others, simply moot to most. And all for some very good reasons that may make the image of two kingdoms, though not the intention of two-kingdom theology, problematic. Yet two-kingdom theology remains alive — diffuse but influential — in the way Mennonites frame discussions that may never mention it by name. Consider a case study:
A North American Mennonite woman has just returned from Central America, where she visited her son, a Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) agriculturalist. She is a social studies teacher and considers herself an informed U.S. citizen, but to date her only political involvement has been an occasional letter to Congress. As she tells her Sunday School class about her experience, however, she speaks with a new passion. A few weeks before her trip, the U.S.-backed army in the Central American country had conducted a sweep of the peasant community in which her son has invested his time, energy and friendship. The army had detained leaders of a peasant union, accusing them of aiding guerrilla insurgents. While eating supper one day with her son, news of two of his friends arrived. Their tortured bodies had been found in a ravine.
“I felt like I had blood on my hands. My government,” she says with emphasis, “sends my tax dollars to pay those thugs.” She adds in passing that she had never considered war tax resistance before, but might have to do so now. She feels she must do something if she is really serious about “our peace witness.”
This is more than one of the other Sunday school class members, a prominent Mennonite businessman, can stomach. “The church has no right telling the government how to do its job,” he interrupts. “We don’t want it telling us how to do our job as the church do we? We’re supposed to submit to the God-ordained authorities and that means paying our taxes, not breaking the law.”
A medical doctor points out that the businessman belongs to an anti-abortion group that is trying to tell the government what to do. “And haven’t some of the members broken the law by blocking the entrance to abortion clinics?” The physician himself declines to perform abortions but sympathizes with fellow physicians who have been harassed by the actions of some pro-life groups. He resents what he sees as meddling in the domain of the medical profession.
Finally the pastor interjects a suggestion. He has been reading about a new organization called Just Life, which is calling on Christians to be “consistently pro-life” and is trying to marshal political action against both abortion and militarism. The pastor suggests a special midweek Bible study using the group’s literature. But after discussing the idea briefly the class shelves the suggestion. They can’t find an open evening. Everyone is too busy with business trips, self-help meetings, aerobics clubs, and music lessons for their chi
The case study is a fictitious composite. But it is not improbable. In some respects the discussion would not have to be a Mennonite one. But it is. Although it echoes similar debates throughout North American Christianity, certain code words and motifs reveal Mennonite preoccupations. In 1950, however, an analogous discussion in the same classroom on issues of the day would have been unlikely. In 1970, during the U.S. war in Indochina, such discussions were becoming more frequent. Yet even then, debate probably would not have focused on how to be politically involved, or over which issues. Instead the class would have discussed whether to be involved at all.
In 1970, Mennonite theology of “two kingdoms” may have been a growing problem for some North American Mennonites, and a given for others. Nonetheless, it still offered a common language, a shared paradigm, for working out the social posture of Christian communities in the Anabaptist tradition. Two-kingdom theology had received its distinctly Anabaptist expression in the Schleitheim Confession of 1527, which called for strict separation from all the “evil and wickedness which the devil has planted in the world,” since “there is nothing else in all the world and all creation than good or evil, believing and unbelieving, darkness and light, the world and those who are [come] out of the world…” By the twentieth century, Mennonite two-kingdom theology was much less apocalyptic but still pessimistic that lasting good could come in the social order; faithful Christians belonged to Christ’s kingdom of peace, and certainly ought to work for the good of others “in the name of Christ,” but they could not really expect those in the kingdom of the world to follow Christ’s way of loving nonresistance. Nor should they press them to do so except as they joined the Christian community. This dualistic social ethic was long intermeshed as both cause and effect of a rural sociology that may never have been as “separate from the world” as legend has it, but certainly gave Mennonites a distinct and visible group identity.
In the Mennonite Sunday school discussion of 1990, fragments of two-kingdom thinking still emerge from all participants, but inconsistently. The budding Central America activist feels alienation from the U.S. government but also identification with it and responsibility for its actions. The anti-abortionist expects government to enforce his morality on one issue, but to follow its own moral logic on another. The professional loyalty of the physician, and the class’s time constraints, bespeak many additional communities of loyalty besides those of church and state, all calling for their own kinds of discipleship, all fragmenting life into many little kingdoms.
To sort out complex loyalties and responsibilities within modern society, two-kingdom thinking still comes in handy sometimes. But sometimes not. Interspersing the opinions of everyone in the Sunday School room are fragments borrowed from what we might call one-kingdom theology. Such a theology finds eminent precedent in the core biblical affirmation that our world is the meaningful creation of a God who continues to yearn over it lovingly, and shape its course providentially, even when humanity ignores the divine call. One-kingdom theology reminds the church that the gospel itself announces a new, transforming reality at work in the world. In doing so, it appropriates Jesus’ own proclamation of the Kingdom of God (Mark 1:15b and parallels). Still, one-kingdom theology may also tend to obscure Jesus’ accompanying call for a repentant change of loyalties (Mark 1:15c and parallels). More a mode of thinking than an articulated theology, it sees God working through institutions and social movements of society-at-large at least as much as through the particular salvation history in which the church plays a crucial role. The institutions in question may be conservative or the movements revolutionary but the role of the church is at best supportive and secondary, even when it acts “prophetically.”
The Need for a Paradigm
Precisely because Mennonite sociology is more diverse and pluralistic than ever before, we as a church more than ever need a common language or shared paradigm. To have, lack, or reformulate one will have practical consequences for the church’s pastoral agenda, social engagement, ecumenical stance, and strategies for mission and service. Many case studies could illustrate, and not from North America alone. In situations of revolution, social injustice, and conflict over national identity, churches around the globe debate their own sets of conflicting loyalties. MCC and other service workers wonder whether to identify primarily with these local churches or with community organizations and social movements that sometimes seem more committed to justice, love of neighbor, even nonviolence. Leaders in emerging churches seek ways to engage in inter-religious dialogue that respects the cultural integrity and religious insights of their neighbors, yet does not undermine the unique claims of Christ nor the particular calling of the church.
A shared language or paradigm for describing how the people of God are to relate to other peoples may help the church formulate a social posture that is at once faithful to its Lord and is cohesive. Diverse cultural and social situations are welcome opportunities for mission and the incarnation of the gospel. In fact, there can be no truly Christian gospel without cross-cultural, international, and trans-class relationships. But neither can there be an abiding relationship without common languages or paradigms. Any such paradigm, then, must be both flexible and cohesive — for so must the church be to be faithful.
As we shall see, neither two- nor one-kingdom theology meets these twin criteria. Two-kingdom theology, by suggesting that static lines of loyalty are normative, tends to become inflexible. One-kingdom theology, by minimizing the importance of particular loyalties, tends to undermine the believing community’s cohesiveness.
In any case, it is doubtful that two-kingdom theology alone can ever again provide an adequate paradigm for churches in the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition. It will remain an important referent for historical theology, and wherever in the world that the church seeks to survive repression and persecution it will resurface as meaningful vocabulary. But without reinforcement from a separatist sociology, two-kingdom theology will sound more and more like an unknown tongue, a clanging cymbal, a source of cognitive dissonance.
Does this mean that Mennonites should cease making distinctions between the community of loyalty that is the church and the potentially conflicting demands of other social entities? Is there no proper duality? In other words, is a one-kingdom paradigm the only other option? I think not.
Paradigm Shift? Or Paradigm Breakdown?
That the term “paradigm” has gained wide circulation in various disciplines owes most to the work of Thomas S. Kuhn, a historian of science. In his ground-breaking work of 1962, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Kuhn described how science painfully adopts new frames of thought to explain natural phenomena. Such a new frame he called a new “paradigm.” The new paradigm offers a model set of problems, methods and solutions that creates a tradition and community of research, at least for a time. It does so by consistently and elegantly accounting for most of the data in a given field. It need not account for all data, and in fact even as it guides investigators in their search it will point inevitably to new problems that may engage them for decades or perhaps centuries. Eventually, however, too many “anomalies” may present themselves. At first scientists tinker, qualify and note exceptions to the old theories. Kuhn’s classic example was the Copernican revolution in astronomy. In the century prior to Copernicus, astronomers bravely multiplied mathematical formulas and charts to account for all the erratic movements in the stars even as they kept the earth at the center of the universe. But when Copernicus demonstrated that a model in which the earth revolved around the sun accounted for the data much better, a massive “paradigm shift” began.
Something has obviously happened to the two-kingdom paradigm by which Anabaptists and Mennonites long explained their social universe. But it is not at all clear that there has been a shift to any other paradigm capable of creating (or recreating) a distinct community or a cohesive tradition. It is probably more accurate to speak simply of paradigm breakdown.
In 1989 a group of sociologists surveyed four North American Mennonite denominations and the Brethren in Christ as follow-up to a similar 1972 survey. In response to a new question on the 1989 survey, 92 percent of the more than three thousand respondents agreed with the statement, “There is a clear difference between ‘the Kingdom of God’ and the ‘kingdom of this world.'” Yet the ambivalence portrayed in our fictitious Sunday School room emerged in the survey’s hard data. “The world” seemed to define patterns of personal morality more than sociopolitical realities. Only 30 percent agreed that “there is an inner contradiction between following Christ and the exercise of leadership in government.” Of course, already in 1972 Mennonites had voiced divergent opinions about political participation, having moved a long way from the stark apocalyptic dualism of the Schleitheim Confession. But the pace of change between 1972 and 1989 was unmistakable. In 1972, 39 percent had never voted, but by 1989, the figure dropped 20 percentage points to 19. In 1972, 35 percent of American Mennonites and 23 percent of Canadian ones claimed to “take no position at all” when asked if they sympathized with the political positions of their country’s major political parties. In 1989 the figure had dropped to 23 and 14 percent respectively.
Evidence that these changes reflect a breakdown rather than a shift in paradigms comes from Steven D. Reschley. A doctoral student in history, in the summer of 1989 he caught up on a year’s worth of reading in his denomination’s magazine, the Gospel Herald. Reschley reported his findings in the pages of that same Mennonite Church publication, confessing that he was “appalled” at the deteriorating level of discussion. Whether the topic was alcohol use, abortion, evolution, voting in national elections, or Christology, “combative correspondence has been the rule rather than the exception…. The predominant tone often includes amazement that anyone could hold a position different from the writer’s.” Most troubling to Reschley was that members of this historic peace church, which had once suffered the attempts of other Christians to impose orthodoxy and morality through coercive state violence, now “advocate the use of political power to enforce morality….” Alluding to I Corinthians 6 and traditional Mennonite reluctance to seek legal redress, Reschley wrote: “Far beyond going to court to resolve our disputes, we seem ready to sic the police on each other!” This is the portrait of a community in disarray, struggling like pre-Copernican astronomers to find formulae adequate to chart the swirling issues around them, insecure about the direction of the heavenly body on which they are grounded.
But perhaps North American Mennonites are simply not listening to the proposals of their intellectuals, theologians, and pastors. In such circles there is fairly wide consensus that Mennonite Christians ought to apply their peace tradition to the challenge of injustice, and their service tradition to the task of social change. A 1986 book by Duane K. Friesen, Christian Peacemaking & International Conflict: A Realist Pacifist Perspective, reflects this consensus. Ted Koontz, professor of ethics and peace studies at the seminary that serves the two largest Mennonite denominations, has called Friesen’s book “the best window to the thought world of the dominant group of contemporary Mennonite thinkers on these issues to date.” Koontz places it “parallel to Guy F. Hershberger’s War, Peace, and Nonresistance of the forties, which filled a similar role for an earlier generation.”
This comparison between the work of Hershberger and Friesen would at first seem to reflect a paradigm shift. Since the forties, many perceptions have in fact shifted. Firmly grounded in two-kingdom theology, Hershberger’s classic statement put Mennonite efforts to follow Jesus’ teachings of “nonresistant love” some distance away from the “pacifism” of Quakers and some liberal Protestants, as well as from the “nonviolent coercion” of Mahatma Gandhi. Hershberger argued emphatically against Reinhold Niebuhr’s assertion that by adopting the ethic of Jesus Mennonites had opted out of social responsibility. Yet he accepted Niebuhr’s categories when he insisted that “the New Testament way is to aim at love, not at justice” and to remain content to let justice emerge as a side effect as the nonresistant Christian community follows “the way of love.”
That “contemporary Mennonite thinkers” are now operating from a different set of models is apparent already in Friesen’s title. “Pacifism” is no longer a negative code word, as it was among many of the Mennonites for whom Hershberger spoke. The title announces that the entire international realm is an appropriate sphere for Christian activity, which in turn it defines as active peacemaking. Furthermore, Friesen defies Niebuhr, whose anti-pacifist position came to be known as Christian Realism, by calling his own Christian pacifism “realist.” Inside the book Friesen develops “justice” and “nonviolence” as “normative principles for action in the world.” And while he admits no illusions that the world can achieve peace overnight, he contends that yes, it is realistic to expect the nations, out of their own self-interest, to reject warfare as a legitimate institution, just as earlier generations eventually rejected the institution of slavery.
So Friesen and his generation of Mennonite thinkers adopt many assumptions from one-kingdom thinking. Yet they continue to draw on at least a few of the best insights of their two-kingdom tradition, or even to strengthen them. Hershberger’s defense against Niebuhr’s accusation that Mennonites had chosen social irrelevance came across as a double negative: the nonresistant church is not irresponsible. But when Friesen outlines a program for the Christian community he does so in decidedly positive terms: “We should think of the church itself as an actor in world affairs.” Friesen’s own contention with Niebuhrian thought is that it focuses on choices available to a tiny minority of Christians, those rare individuals directly involved in government policymaking. By focusing instead on actions available to average Christians Friesen projects a central role for the Christian community as community.
In order to sort out one-kingdom assumptions about the prospects for just and peaceful change at the societal or even global level, along with two-kingdom assumptions about the distinct role that the Christian community ought to play in this saving transformation, Friesen joins many other Mennonite thinkers in identifying a temporal (rather than spatial) duality. This is the tension that Protestant biblical scholars such as C.H. Dodd and Oscar Cullmann identified in New Testament thought, the tension between the “already” and the “not yet” of God’s Kingdom: “The kingdom is present in the life and ministry of Jesus, and in the church in a partial way, but it is also still beyond history, a reality yet to be fulfilled…. The promise is to some extent fulfilled in history, but in such a way as to anticipate a greater achievement.” This eschatological perspective identifies constructive, life-giving social changes beyond the confines of the church as tentative signs of the Kingdom that is not yet fully here, but which Christians can already welcome, celebrate and support, even in its provisional mediations.
This complex of spatial and temporal models offers many advantages over two- or one-kingdom theology alone. But it lacks one virtue that two- and one-kingdom theologies share: simplicity. Like groping scientists in need of a fresh paradigm to account for all the data, Mennonite theologians find themselves tinkering, qualifying and noting exceptions to the old theories. It is not surprising that the complex has failed to capture the imagination of the larger Mennonite faith community — has failed, that is, to prove cohesive.
Of course one complex model is better than two misleading ones. Or if necessary, vacillating between two partial models can keep either one from misleading, as when physicists describe light as both waves and particles. Yet even Mennonite theologians sometimes seem at a loss for a common language or paradigm that would allow them to speak in one breath of God’s action both through the church and in the world.
In 1987 J. Denny Weaver and J. Lawrence Burkholder conducted, also on the pages of the Gospel Herald, what the magazine headlined “A conversation about the place of the church in society.” A previous article by Weaver on separation of church and state had provoked Burkholder’s query and now both writers seemed locked into the static categories that are one legacy of two-kingdom theology. Burkholder thought Weaver’s “program for God” seemed “a bit too narrow and determinate,” and he portrayed “God’s work as diffused broadly, though not homogeneously, within nature and throughout history.” Weaver insisted that the fundamental question for Christians across the ideological spectrum was: “Does following Jesus result in a new alternative society (that is, the church) which is distinguishable from the world?” Burkholder hoped that his position would not appear to be a “faithless disregard for the special character of the church,” and Weaver granted that good things have happened outside of the church. But these were oh-yes-of-course concessions. Neither had found an eloquent way to express loyalty toward God’s action in both realms without downplaying one or the other.
Sifting Through Two- and One-Kingdom Theologies
While we surely need a shared paradigm, we do not necessarily need a new paradigm at all. Our task may instead be to recover a paradigm that is older than either one- or two-kingdom theology. We may simply need to learn to recognize one that has been there all along, but which efforts at systematization have actually fragmented.
Both two-kingdom and one-kingdom theology are biblical, in the sense that both can legitimately claim to reflect fundamental claims of the biblical witness. In order to move beyond the limitations of each we will do well to retrieve the strengths of both. As we do so, the contours may emerge of a deep paradigm upon which our two dominant fragments rest.
Two-Kingdom Theology: Strengths and Limitations
Strengths: First, Anabaptist-Mennonite two-kingdom theology at its best has differed from the dualism within much Christian theology in a crucial way: it is not content with a cosmological construct alone but instead presses for a difference in visible social reality. Augustine’s two cities and Luther’s two realms described metaphysical realities, as any theology must if it is to be confident of its philosophical underpinnings. But perhaps because Neo-Platonism dominated Augustine’s thinking, and Augustine dominated Luther’s, they tended to posit an invisible church as the only true church. Anabaptist-Mennonite two-kingdom theology, however, insisted that the fruit of the gospel must be visible in the community of disciples. For the gospel is one of peace, and Christ’s peace involves rich and right relationships with God, neighbor, and creation. Understood against the Hebrew background of “shalom,” it can never stay abstract or ethereal but must express itself in a living social base that incarnates God’s political message to the world. So two-kingdom theology has insisted rightly on a distinct community, on a living expression of the social reality of the Gospel. This is the essential insight of any Anabaptist social view and any authentically Mennonite church life.
Second, two-kingdom theology has biblical precedents in Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom as a call for repentance. Language contrasting God’s Kingdom with “the kingdoms of this world” is also at the heart of the New Testament. It is in Matthew’s and Luke’s account of Jesus’ temptations, and not merely in apocalyptic literature at the canon’s edges.
Third, two-kingdom theology has helped Christians engaging in social action keep means and ends in order. If we believe God to be working diffusely in the world we are tempted to use power vested in the present system for Kingdom ends. Two-kingdom theology has reminded Christians that to follow Jesus they must operate by a logic different from the power calculations of human politics, economics, and systems of status.
Fourth, and of special importance for “activists,” two-kingdom theology has offered an invitation to ongoing spiritual renewal within the covenant community. For we not only “must” begin living the Kingdom now, we also may. God’s grace and favor seek to renew and free us. We may celebrate God’s love and enjoy shalom in community even before every last cause is won and every last injustice transformed.
Limitations: As already noted, two-kingdom theology has been the idea system that initially helped the Anabaptist church make sense of persecution and that later justified rural Mennonite sociology. But in many parts of the world persecution is rare or at most subtle, while in Europe and North America, rural Mennonitism is in retreat. An ideological superstructure rarely survives long or offers meaning without a sociological substructure.
Second, two-kingdom theology can be in tension with its own gospel of shalom. After all, shalom is all-inclusive and beckons Christians to a universal hope for a redeemed, re-integrated creation. Biblically this tension should only be transitional. Yet many who affirm it become mired in a complacent social fatalism, expecting peace for themselves and their Christian communities, but inevitable conflict for the world.
Third, Anabaptist two-kingdom theology becomes confused with other dualisms. Most dangerous are those whose metaphysical assumptions verge on Manichaeism, the syncretistic religion of antiquity that incorporated Christian motifs into its radically dualistic mythology of an eternal struggle between good and evil, spirit and matter. One can interpret article IV of the Schleitheim Confession as Manichaean in spirit if not in tone; whenever Mennonites have confused their two-kingdom theology with Fundamentalist otherworldliness, or doubted the fundamental goodness of body and matter, they have again run this risk. Even when they have avoided this confusion, interfering noises from other dualisms have distorted Mennonites’ own missionary attempts to communicate that “the Kingdom is at hand” here, now, in this creation.
Fourth, in Mennonite communities themselves, two-kingdom categories have so easily become static. These categories have tempted Mennonites, along with other Christians, to become sectarian not just in the technical but also the popular sense, stating once for always that God is working here and not there, that “you’re out and we’re in.” In reality, there is a lot of the old kingdom in the church and there are at least some signs of the Kingdom of God breaking into the world’s history.
One-Kingdom Theology: Strengths and Limitations
Strengths: Above all, one-kingdom theology affirms God’s love, care and involvement in all of God’s creation. It reminds the church that no part of that creation is beyond the church’s concern. This removes the easiest, lamest and most-common excuse for passing by those who suffer on the world’s Jericho roads — “because that is not the business of religion.”
Second, one-kingdom theology has precedent in the creation account, to be sure, but also in other biblical materials, including Jesus’ own ministry. The prophets pinpointed God’s providential activity among many nations besides Israel. Jesus’ social strategy created a new community of loyalty, yet he called his disciples to follow him toward the political capital and religious center in Jerusalem, not to righteous isolation at Qumran. Pauline literature speaks of all creation groaning for redemption (Romans 8) and of Christ as the one who holds all things together (Colossians 2). Paradoxically perhaps, some of the same themes that give precedent for two-kingdom theology undergird one-kingdom theology as well. Shalom is the biblical vision for all of creation. And even in apocalyptic literature, where the forces of good and evil battle in as pronounced a way as ever, the final affirmation is that “the kingdoms of this world are become the Kingdom of our Lord and his Christ…” (Rev. 11:15).
Limitations: First, one-kingdom theology tends to underestimate the need for repentance and conversion, a radical change to Jesus’ ways. The kingdom we suppose God to be bringing tends to be a merely reformed version of the present systems of power in which we have a stake.
Second, one-kingdom theology also tends to underestimate the need for community. The entire social order is seen as the sphere of God’s activity, and so no special allegiances and commitments may appear necessary. Yet anyone who really expects to bring fundamental social change needs a support group to sustain the struggle. Still more important, if the program of social change in question is original enough to be worth the bother, those working for change must offer a living model of what that change would mean.
Finally, we cannot understand the world, let alone act in it, without some kind of dualities to help us, at the very least, make analytical distinctions. Reacting to metaphysical dualism some liberation theologians have declared that “all dualism is anti-biblical.” Yet they continue to declare some socioeconomic structures as just and others unjust. We too, like they, may reject dualism but still need dualities. Without some duality, the rejection of dualism confuses as much as it clarifies.
Most fundamentally, we need some duality in our language to keep our allegiance to Jesus Christ clear. Whether we call them kingdoms, principalities, structures, systems, or the status quo, the logic of those intertwined institutions that govern so much of our lives is not the same as the logic of God’s Kingdom. Self-interest inherently dominates the structures of the world. But Jesus calls those who would enter the Kingdom to relativize their own self-interests and put themselves at service to others. Consciousness of this fundamental ethical conflict should make Christians better activists as they engage in tasks of social change; we need not fear that it will cloister us. The most successful activists will be those who are sensitized and empowered by a Jesus-like passion for others’ needs, yet whose hard-headed realism has taught them that they must translate their concerns into language Washington and Moscow, Pretoria and Managua, will understand. Still, because such translations may not always be obvious or possible, the Christian must be prepared to choose between the logic of power used for the self-interests of one’s own group and the logic of suffering service.
A Partial Integration
In sum, the language of two kingdoms is an accurate descriptive image of what is, yet one Kingdom is the promise for which we hope.
Just as no single biblical image of atonement adequately describes the action by which God in Christ saves persons and creates a new people, neither “kingdom” image alone adequately describes the relationships between God, God’s people and God’s world. This leaves two-kingdom language with a much humbler role in the formation of Christian community. That two kingdoms are in conflict is the problem, not the solution. We never dare become complacent, much less satisfied, over the fact that there are two kingdoms.
Yet we do need an accurate description of our problem, namely, that the human creation does “not yet” fully recognize the Lordship of Christ, even though he is “already” at work in the world. Yes, to retain the temporal element here is not only biblical but commonsensical. We need not presume to outline a triumphalistic, linear chronology of obedience, as though the church will always march “from glory to glory” until it comes to dominate the world’s institutions and can then invite Christ back to earth for a victory celebration. No, there is disobedience among those who claim Jesus as Lord. And there is a certain amount of obedience among some who do not. The chronology is rather that of allegiance: those who claim Jesus as Lord are not always obedient to his way, but they know which direction they want to go. In reminding ourselves that where we want to be is not where we fully are, we release the power of an eschatological vision — power to orient our present according to the end, power to orient our means with its shalom ends, and power to nurture the hope that it is worthwhile to live here-and-now, according to the still-coming-Kingdom, as best we can.
This integration, reflecting roughly the same consensus as Friesen’s book, is only partial, however. Kingdom models project in our minds a map. The language of “already” and “not yet” suggests a kind of itinerary. But borders should sometimes change. And itineraries, whether from snags or offers of hospitality, are delayed. Furthermore, neither map nor itinerary offers adequate information about the people who might guide us along our journey. What we need is a travelogue. For even when we enter completely uncharted territory, a well-written travelogue continues to offer tips from previous travelers on how to find the way. What we need, in other words, is a paradigmatic story. Of course we already have one, if we retell it carefully.
Beyond Two- Versus One-Kingdom Theology
The major biblical image is neither a cosmology nor a chronology alone, but a story. Only a story, rich and dynamic enough to convey many images, can begin to capture and release a biblical understanding of the pilgrimage and ministry of God’s people in the world. Only a story can convey spatial and temporal dimensions at once — setting us into communities and evoking loyalty through its own characters, while plotting to open our communities and hearts outward into hospitality for all other communities.
This is, after all, the story that has been playing itself out ever since God called Abraham and Sarah out of Ur and promised to bless them so that they and their people might be a blessing to all nations. Realistically, many people have yet to acknowledge the source of that blessing which falls on just and unjust alike, as two-kingdom theology insists. But the invitation is open to all, as one-kingdom theology reminds. Meanwhile the children of Abraham, if faithful to their calling, show God’s indiscriminate love and concern for all creation. They do this through service to all peoples.
And when they fail? Ah, but that is the biblical drama! The temptation to abuse and hoard God’s blessing constantly defined the struggle of God’s people. Abraham himself had blundered mightily, as Genesis 12 records it, immediately after hearing God’s great call. Not everything he and his clan did is paradigmatic for us, but rather what God initiated through him. What God began there was a social strategy of blessing, saving, and transforming the majority through the minority, the universal through the particular, through blessings that are lost if not shared, through lives gained truly in the laying down of life. The path to cross and resurrection began in Ur.
As a nation, Israel’s constant temptation was to celebrate identity in Abraham, liberation at Exodus, and a land flowing with milk and honey — while forgetting to welcome the stranger, free the slaves, and remember the oppressed, the widow and the orphan. The more abjectly the people failed, the more the prophets agonized over the meaning of Israel’s existence. Finally Isaiah and his disciples saw that, in effect, the only way forward was back to the call of Abraham. But now the language had to be even more pointed. It had to be the language of suffering service, not just blessing. For election and peoplehood are a gift, not just to the people whom God calls but to the world to whom he gives that people. If the people of God had failed to be a servant people-for-other-peoples, then another Servant of Yahweh would have to come, living and dying supremely for others.
Yet even as Jesus Christ fulfilled the messianic vision of Isaiah, he called his disciples to form a new servant community — a new people-for-other-peoples sent into all the world. They too struggled with how to be an inclusive community of Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female, and yet not dissipate their distinct identity. And so do we. Meanwhile, like the Hebrews and the early Christians, we lose our real distinctiveness when we live merely to preserve our own self-interests.
For describing a dynamic, open-ended duality that is true to the biblical story, a travelogue of the Abrahamic community’s journey through history is much more adequate than are one- or two-kingdom models. It clarifies why it is so important to be a distinct community — yet it does not relegate all that happens outside the community to hell, irrelevance or worldliness. It tells of God’s saving, loving, activity for creation, yet does not hastily idolize those tentative signs of the Kingdom we think we perceive in the world. It transcends the static qualities of two-kingdom theology without indiscriminately embracing present fallen reality as though God can call it all good in quite the same way. It reminds us that our spiritual parents left Ur, an action that speaks of repentance, turning, and a proper separation. But it also reminds us that they wandered as sojourners among the nations, which speaks of engagement, witness, permeation. In just such a way are we to look for a city — human, social, political relationships — while remembering that this city is one whose builder and maker is God. The Kingdom is finally a gift not of our own making or conquest.
If we capture the mood of this story we will not exactly be pessimistic about history. This is God’s creation and why would God call us to serve it if God did not care and yearn over it hopefully? But neither will we quite be optimistic, like turn-of-the-century liberals. Our story reminds us that on the road to the Kingdom we often move ahead through the setback and suffering of the cross. Only God can complete the bridge to the future from God’s shore. (Yet somehow what we do on this shore to lay a foundation matters. To our neighbor it begins to matter right away.)
Most important, it is clear in this story that right from the beginning of God’s action in history, the blessing of Abraham and Sarah creates a people called to be a blessing. The Abrahamic minority, the messianic community, the church — as central as it is in all that God wants to do — is not an end in itself. It cannot just faithfully and unobtrusively “be” without becoming engaged.
God’s purpose is all of creation. But God knows best what we only dimly perceive, that it will not be saved through some general divine activity amid the world’s movements and institutions. Rather, God brings salvation to creation through all of the grassroots minority communities who together form an Abrahamic peoplehood. There is no room here for smug separation — the vice of two-kingdom theology in many forms! The Abrahamic community ceases to be when it turns inward and simply preserves itself, or when it triumphalistically turns outward only to multiply itself, building its own kingdom rather than the Kingdom. But neither is there room for conformity to the values and means of the present system — the vice of one-kingdom theology. The Abrahamic community also ceases to be and loses everything original it has to offer when it loses its distinctiveness and accepts a premature harmony.
The story of the Abrahamic community guides us toward a biblical and realistic social posture much more faithfully than either a static two-kingdom cosmology or a diffuse one-kingdom cosmology. Yet by retaining a certain spatial dimension, albeit a more dynamic one, it helps us describe our loyalties in ways not clear from the temporal vocabulary of living in tension between the “already” and the “not yet.” The Abrahamic story urges us to be a prophetic minority but prevents us from becoming an arrogant minority. It treasures all true community among the poor even if their forms do not neatly fit our ideas for the church. Its grassroots politics of servanthood, the politics of Jesus, will tend to join with movements that are “popular” in fact and not just in rhetoric, for it shares with these an abiding preoccupation with the real conditions and aspirations of those at society’s base; yet it will enrich their struggles with a story that is longer, a critique that is deeper, and a solidarity that is wider.
In sum, the service that the Abrahamic community offers is full of hope for human communities but is servile toward no idolatrous institution. It begs us, for the sake of our neighbor, to hope and work for temporal, ultimately inadequate, yet very real improvements in society. It is prepared to celebrate signs of the Kingdom breaking into world history, and of the values of the Abrahamic community permeating out.
For all this, the paradigmatic story of the Abrahamic community could prove pedagogically elegant. The basic pattern is right there in Genesis 12:1-4a. Though it took the rest of the Bible to weave the pattern into the fabric of human history, there is drama in the retelling. True, in a society that bombards us moderns with many images, no single story or paradigm will easily capture the imagination of an entire faith community and re-weave a cohesive social vision among its members. But surely this one offers the possibility.
Problem-solving, the test of a paradigm
The real test of any paradigm, for Kuhn, was whether it enables a community to solve its problems. “Insofar as the community’s common experience is contingent, that experience presents itself as a series of ‘problems’ to be solved by the tradition,” one of Kuhn’s interpreters has noted. “An operative tradition provides a community with criteria to distinguish one activity from another, sets priorities among those activities, and enables the community to perform whatever common activities make it a community at all.” Only as a paradigm creates or re-creates such a tradition is a paradigm-shift complete.
A model for the life of the faith community emerges as we rediscover the Abrahamic trajectory through history. I believe it is a practical model that is both flexible and cohesive, both savvy and biblical:
An Abrahamic community is one that celebrates the calling and grace that has shaped its identity, yet knows instinctively that it cannot hoard this “blessing” for itself without losing that identity. After all, God calls it to be a people-for-others as its Lord was the person-for-others. It negotiates the path of faithfulness between the twin temptations of exclusiveness and dissipation. It must engage boldly in the world without acculturating so fully that it no longer has anything distinct to offer. Yet it must not maintain its distinction by barricading itself against the challenges, needs, and needy ones for whom God has called it together. Ultimately it finds and sustains its identity by “dying to itself,” by putting its very identity at risk through its service to other communities.
Ecumenical possibilities. This definition presents an ideal type, but not merely. Churches and small groups across denominational lines fit the paradigm whenever they combine the task of retelling their story in a way that nourishes spiritual and moral resources, with the task of placing those resources at the service of others through mission, outreach, and political action. More fully than the “sect type” label, the definition accounts for the dynamic with which Believers Churches have involved themselves disproportionately in projects of service, development, and justice-minded peacemaking. Meanwhile, on the other end of “sect/church” typology, the definition also describes how the majority Roman Catholic Church in Latin America has released the power of the biblical story through innumerable small Christian base communities.
Note the ecumenical possibilities here. Ostensibly, this article has represented a preoccupation with the theology and social stance of my own Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition. That is because the logic of the Abrahamic community and its strategy for social change agency requires starting with one’s own particular group; before all else, any proclamation must express itself in the way a community lives out its gospel or social program. Yet the paradigm of Abrahamic community, far more than any one- or two-kingdom theology, is the inheritance of all Christians and Jews.
A coherent strategy for social change. This Abrahamic way of being and doing in the world also links us with others who claim no ecclesiastical loyalty. Dom Hélder Câmara is a former archbishop in Brazil and longtime apostle for nonviolence and social justice in Latin America and beyond. Câmara was an eloquent advocate for structural change in the direction of just international relationships, but he returned again and again to the power of creative, committed minorities who take initiative at the local level: “The Spirit of God breaths life into the Abrahamic minorities that already exist in the womb of all races, all religious, all countries and all human groups. Whoever hopes against hope, like Abraham, and decides to work, even sacrifice for a more just and humane world, belongs to these Abrahamic minorities.”
This points toward a kind of natural law ethic from the underside. Some people may wonder how much power they have within the corporate and professional structures of modern life; others may be entirely at the margin of a power structure. They may or may not have prospects for winning position and setting policy. But all can almost always start locally, organize, agitate, create new models, and begin practicing what they propose without waiting for state or societal sanction. Few social policies, as applied from the top-down, manage to succeed without testing and authentication from this starting-small, bottom-upwards creativity. And far from being politically irrelevant or socially irresponsible, this strategy is more relevant to most citizens most of the time, and certainly to the disfranchised oppressed, than are political theories focusing on options available to the highest elites.
So the way God works in the church and in the world are not in sharp discontinuity after all. Yet throughout the social order it is the grassroots community of the committed, not the state, that offers the archetype. Differences between the church and other group change agents certainly remain, but they are mainly those of intensity, focus, sustainability, and a story-inspired consciousness of what otherwise is often an intuitive strategy.
Pastoral tasks. The challenge to form and sustain Abrahamic communities defines a practical agenda for pastoral action at every level. The church needs a cohesive, lived sociology to project an effective witness in the modern world; it needs a distinct identity as a people. Yet that identity has everything to do with its service to all other communities and peoples. The central task of Christian leadership is to nurture communities that through word, deed, and the very nature of their existence participate in God’s saving transformation of society and creation. Within this agenda pastoral counseling, for example, would not focus on helping people cope with modern society so much as on empowering them to become disciples who help transform society even as they find healing from its dehumanizing affects. Likewise liturgy, preaching and teaching, would simultaneously renew the Abrahamic community’s inner resources yet remind the community that its blessing is not an end in itself but a means toward the blessing of all peoples.
Defining pastoral action more broadly, the Abrahamic paradigm offers specific help in the task of Christian education. A dilemma recurs within the formal education that the church offers through its First World institutions and Third World scholarship programs. The church often trains its daughters and sons in the knowledge and skills they need for Christian vocations in society — only to lose their service toward Christ and the poor to the logic of worldly power and status operating in even the most noble professions. One reason is the cognitive dissonance that results when the church teaches the power of servanthood in the struggle for social justice, while a professional guild teaches the power of top-down manipulation. By presenting what I have called a “natural law ethic from the underside,” the church would not only critique the dominant logic of the world’s institutions but insist that this logic is illusory. The way really to get things done in both the church and the world is in continuity — through the creativity and sacrifice of committed clusters of change agents who form grassroots community organizations.
By now it should be clear that no Christian community can place itself faithfully within the company of Abraham unless mission and service are an integral part of its life together, not the special interest of a few. The Abrahamic paradigm should form and test programs associated with “word” and with “deed” ministries alike. Do they truly respect the integrity of other communities and peoples, seeking to serve their good? Are they prepared to die to their church’s own ecclesiastical self-interests? When the story of Abraham is shaping our consciousness we will find that any tension between our loyalty to the faith community that has shaped and sent us, and our loyalty to the host communities, religious traditions, and grassroots social movements where we find good things happening in God’s world — is a necessary tension. God calls us to embrace not alleviate it.
* * *If the Abrahamic story has greater potential for capturing the church’s imagination, then “Abrahamic community” could play the kind of paradigmatic role among Mennonites that two-kingdom theology once played. The test is whether it helps the church pose its most fruitful problems, work at them as a cohesive community, and solve them well enough that diverse historical and cultural situations become not a threat to its identity, but opportunities to confirm it in witness, service, and blessing to all peoples. Abrahamic community is really nothing new. But time and others will have to decide whether it can be renewed.
1. . Article IV. Quotation is from Walter Klassen, ed., Anabaptism in Outline: Selected Primary Sources, Classics of the Radical Reformation (Kitchener, Ontario: Herald Press, 1981), p. 304. See also article VI (pp. 268-270 in Klassen) against Christian participation in government and use of “the sword.” For an influential reading of Anabaptist theology stressing that two-kingdom theology was at its heart, see Robert Friedmann, The Theology of Anabaptism: An Interpretation, Studies in Anabaptist and Mennonite History 15 (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1973).
2. . Different Mennonite denominations and streams have identified with Schleitheim in different ways and degrees. Nonetheless, a strong majority of Mennonites continue to affirm two-kingdom categories with only a surprisingly small variation according to denominational affiliation. See note here.
3. . Admittedly, the term “one-kingdom theology” is not one that any theologian of whom I am aware applies to his or her own work. Martin Luther illustrates how the one-kingdom “mode of thinking” may actually dominate a theologian who uses quite-dualistic language. Luther of course had his two-kingdom theology, which is both more famous and more interior than the sociologically inclined Mennonite theology of two kingdoms. As Ernst Troeltsch sympathetically described the development of Luther’s ethic, however, Luther increasingly “modified” what began as a dualistic compromise in the heart of each believer between a radical ethic of love and the demands of the natural order. Eventually, “the world is accepted not so much as a sinful institution … but as a direct and positive appointment by God.” See Troeltsch, The Social Teaching of the Christian Churches, 2 vols., trans. Olive Wyon, with an introduction by H. Richard Niebuhr (New York: Macmillan; 1931; reprint, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), pp. 508-510.
If there is any theological stream that has most consistently and neatly squared off to debate Mennonite two-kingdom theology it is probably Calvinism and, in different ways, its pacifist variant Quakerism. Those traditions that H. Richard Niebuhr characterized as proclaiming the “Christ of Culture” would surely qualify as one-kingdom theologies; those who proclaim “Christ the Transformer of Culture” may also move in this direction when institutions other than the gathered, visible church become primary agents of Christ’s transforming work (Christ and Culture [New York: Harper and Row, Harper Torchbooks/Cloister Library, 1956]). Some versions of Roman Catholic liberation theology and some positions in Protestant ecumenical circles might also qualify, particularly when they speak broadly of Christ working through social movements other than the church. Read for their nuance, however, most theologians within these streams would be found alternately to react against or retain their own dualisms (e.g. nature/grace, natural/supernatural, temporal/eternal, realm of church/realm of government). Anabaptist-Mennonite two-kingdom dualism has differed from most others by emphasizing an identifiable conflict present in the here-and-now of society, rather than focusing on a larger cosmic struggle or the struggle in each Christian’s heart. My own dialogue, then, is not so much with these theologies themselves as with the shapes they take when Mennonites run them through the filtering legacy of their own two-kingdom thought.
4. . Systematic theologians always aim for their work to be logically consistent and coherent. I suggest, however, that in the Believers’ Church tradition it is particularly important that a theology or an ethical position also be cohesive. In other words it must have the potential for shaping and holding together the life of the community that seeks to incarnate God’s kingdom in diverse times and cultures.
6. . The 1989 project was called the Church Profile II. Survey results from 1989 were published in J. Howard Kauffman and Leo Driedger, The Mennonite Mosaic: Identity and Modernization, with a forward by Donald B. Kraybill (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1991). Survey results from 1972 were published in J. Howard Kauffman and Leland D. Harder, Anabaptists Four Centuries Later: A Profile of Five Mennonite and Brethren in Christ Denominations (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1975). Statistics in this paragraph that are not otherwise footnoted are taken directly from the 1989 data, available from the Sociology Department, Goshen College, Goshen IN 46526.
7. . Mennonite Mosaic, table 4-2, p. 91. Responses varied only slightly according to denominational affiliation: members of the Mennonite Church, 92 percent; General Conference Mennonites, 88 percent; Mennonite Brethren, 95 percent; Brethren in Christ, 93 percent; and Evangelical Mennonite Conference (U.S.) members, 95 percent.
8. . The survey found that separatist attitudes correlated with moral attitudes more strongly (.29) than with pacifist convictions (.14) or opinions favoring church-state separation (.13). Separatist attitudes had a negative correlation with attitudes favoring political participation (-.11). Cf. Mennonite Mosaic, tables 6-8 and 9-5, pp. 144 and 201.
20. . Friesen, p. 81. Cf. C. H. Dodd, The Coming of Christ (Cambridge, England: University Press, 1951); and Oscar Cullmann, Christ and Time: The Primitive Christian Conception of Time and History, trans., Floyd V. Filson, (London: SCM Press, 1962 ). For an example of John Howard Yoder’s appropriation of Cullmann see “If Jesus is Truly Lord,” pp. 52-84 in The Original Revolution: Essays on Christian Pacifism, Christian Peace Shelf (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1971). In an unpublished essay surveying the application of two-kingdom theology especially among Friends, Mennonites and the Church of the Brethren, John Richard Burkholder concluded: “[J]ust about all of us would agree that Christian ethics cannot be applied fully and directly to unrepentant society, if for no other reason than to respect the integrity of unbelief. More significantly, we observe that major spokesmen from all three groups have turned from static, spatial dualisms to emphasize the eschatological tension as the primary reference. There is only one goal, only one authority, only one reality, finally — God’s kingdom. The world, the state, the powers –whatever term is used– these are all provisional, limited, penultimate. To speak without qualification of ‘two kingdoms’ is to remain in the shadows of the past.” (P. 21; manuscript is dated 30 April 1979).
21. . J. Lawrence Burkholder, “A Query,” and J. Denny Weaver, “A Response,” Gospel Herald, 27 October 1987: 752-754; previous article was J. Denny Weaver, “Can the church regain its soul?,” GH, 21 April 1987: 265-267.
22. . Since the language of “paradigms” and “paradigm-shifts” derives from Kuhn’s work on the philosophy of science, it may appear that one can never go back and retrieve a discarded and presumably discredited paradigm. We assume, after all, that science always progresses forward. However, Alasdair MacIntyre has imagined a situation in which the fundamental paradigm of natural science was lost and practitioners were fruitlessly arguing over what they took to be irreconcilable rival theories. Presumably, the only way to re-integrate natural science would be to recover the prior, integrating paradigm. See MacIntyre, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, 2nd edition (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984), pp. 1-5.
23. . Luther’s doctrine of the invisible church, and his corresponding interior two-kingdom theology of Christian loyalty to both orders, is not the only possible way to appropriate Augustine’s theology of “the two cities.” Augustine borrowed this idea from Tyconius, a moderate in the “schismatic” Donatist church of North Africa whom he respected. Tyconius was struggling to reconcile the Donatists’ insistence on a pure and visible church (Anabaptists and Mennonites have sometimes been called Neo-Donatist heretics for a similar claim) with his own conviction that the Church was not coterminous with his own church (admittedly the sort of premise that this paper shares). Already before Augustine, then, Tyconius turned to the Parable of the Wheat and Tares to explain sin within the church and righteousness outside the church, yet he did not relinquish the conviction that a sign of the true church was that it was “without spot or wrinkle.” In response to Tyconius’s less exclusivist theology the Donatist leaders excommunicated him, yet he did not become a Catholic. His Donatist ecclesiology prevented an over-spiritualization of his idea that the true church is a heavenly city. When in the City of God Augustine debunked the myth of Roma aeterna and desacralized the secular order, he was closer to Anabaptist-Mennonite critiques of the state than to either the medieval or the Lutheran synthesis of church and state. Yet the latter two positions could claim Augustine partly because in comparison to his theology of the saeculum, his ecclesiology was relatively undeveloped. (H. Richard Niebuhr expressed much the same opinion of his ecclesiology in Christ and Culture: 215-16). Ultimately Augustine criticized the Neo-Platonism to which he owed so much, by means of his sacramental and incarnational theology. Had he also applied these to his ecclesiology, he might have had to find a way to maintain the importance of the visible church. Post-Vatican II Roman Catholic theology has of course done so by speaking of the visible church as a “sacrament of the world’s salvation.”
24. . A rural sociology should not be the only one that can undergird Mennonite theology, but no other has yet to prove so cohesive. While the sentence in the text borrows terminology from Karl Marx, it in fact reflects the perspective of Guy F. Hershberger and his work, at mid-century, on behalf of what was called the Mennonite Community Movement. Though now remembered more for his theological writings on peace and non-resistance, Hershberger labored hard on various committees and boards out of a conviction that the Mennonite peace position could best survive (or perhaps only survive) in a sociological context in which all economic and social institutions over which Mennonites had some control were at a face-to-face scale that allowed for the application of Jesus’ ethic of love. In one way historians must deem the movement a failure, for it was bucking too strong a tide of urbanization and the lure of mainstream culture was too tempting. Yet the counter-thesis that Mennonites could just as easily preserve their communal ethos and peace witness within an urban sociology is hardly proving more convincing. Witness the fact that all four discussion papers submitted to congregations for study by the 1991 General Assembly of the Mennonite Church expressed concern on relevant topics: affluent lifestyle, pluralism, neglect of peace education, and flagging identification with church-wide ministries. Hershberger’s thought anticipated much of what is now called communitarianism, and finds vindication in the insistence of environmentalists that only regionally-integrated economies will be sustainable. On the Mennonite Community Movement and the thought behind it see: Theron F. Schlabach, “To Focus a Vision,” in Kingdom, Cross and Community: Essays on Mennonite Themes in Honor of Guy F. Hershberger, ed. John Richard Burkholder and Calvin Redekop (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1976), pp. 32-38; Hershberger, War, Peace and Nonresistance, pp. 218-228, 236-254, and especially 263-265.
25. . As Reinhold Niebuhr’s Moral Man and Immoral Society continues to remind us. Niebuhr, Moral Man and Immoral Society, The Scribner Lyceum Editions Library, reprint ed., (New York: Scribner’s, 1960 ).
26. . Metaphysically, we may rightly affirm the two kingdoms as ontological categories (not mere symbols, metaphors or linguistic games) as long as we do not assume that this duality is either ontologically necessary or ultimate — either created by God or able, finally, to resist the saving power of God through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
27. . “Story” and “narrative,” often contrasted with “proposition” and “deduction,” are somewhat in fashion in theology, ethics, and biblical studies. The relevant contrast with “story” here, however, is not with propositional theology but with cosmological constructs. Also, I suspect that long before the present fad, Mennonites were instinctively creating some of their most authentic theology through and in response to story. Witness the prominent place of the Martyr’s Mirror in previous centuries, and the influence of the Biblical Theology Movement, with its emphasis on God’s acts in history, during much of this century. Finally, the traditional style of preaching among some Mennonite groups (and the Amish still) involved surveying the whole of salvation history; see Theron F. Schlabach, Peace Faith, Nation: Mennonites and Amish in Nineteenth-Century America, The Mennonite Experience in America, vol. 2, (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1988), pp. 100-101.
That said, I must acknowledge that one major advocate of the narrative project, Stanley Hauerwas, seems broadly to have influenced my own thought. (Of course, Hauerwas has in turn learned much from Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder). I was recently surprised to discover the basic agenda of this current project on four pages in his Peaceable Kingdom ([Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1983]: 99-102). I first read it a few years ago in revolutionary Nicaragua, and apparently found Hauerwas’s view of the church both helpful and needing work around the edges — where some of us who have been shaped by the kind of “story” Hauerwas wants to retell have found this very story propelling us to take “the world’s” challenges, truth-claims, and social movements more seriously than Hauerwas seems to want to do.
29. . For a telling of this “Abrahamic story” that is both fuller and more pedagogical, see especially chapters 3 and 4 of Gerald W. Schlabach, To Bless All Peoples: Serving with Abraham and Jesus, Peace and Justice Series 12 (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1991), pp. 40-68.
30. . David Hollinger, “T.S. Kuhn’s Theory of Science and Its Applications for History,” in Paradigms and Revolutions: Appraisals and Applications of Thomas Kuhn’s Philosophy of Science, ed. Gary Gutting, (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1980), pp. 197; see also pp. 200-202. Article reprinted from American Historical Review 78 (1973): 370-393.
31. . Hélder Câmara, “Un pacto digno de coronar vuestra marcha” [A covenant worthy to crown your march], message to the youth movement Mani Tese [Outstretched hands] climaxing a march on 5 November 1972, Plaza Michelangelo, Florence, Italy; in Hélder Câmara: Proclamas a la Juventud [Hélder Câmara: Proclamations to Youth], edited by Benedicto Tapia de Renedo, first volume of a trilogy, with introduction by editor, Serie PEDAL 64 (Salamanca: Ediciones Sígueme, 1976), pp. 189. Câmara’s writings have inspired my own reflections generally, and three speeches he made in Italy in November 1972 are the clearest summary of his vision and program for social change that I have found. They appear together on pages 187-204 of Proclamas a la Juventud, but unfortunately, I have yet to locate an English translation.
32. . Thanks perhaps to age-old difficulties in reaching consensus on the concrete content of natural law, most ethicists today have either discarded the category or come to understand it largely in formal terms, as a way of reasoning. Natural law thinking first entered the Christian tradition through the influence of the Stoics, however. They conceived of natural law as the order obtaining in the pristine, egalitarian human society of an earlier “golden age,” or as Christians viewed it, before the Fall. As a foundation for positive law, such a conception threatened institutions such as slavery, private property and dictatorship. Hence there developed a theory of what Troeltsch called the relative Natural Law, the content of which was nearly the opposite of the absolute Natural Law and which justified such institutions as appropriate for the sinful nature of humanity. Nonetheless, the rediscovery of the egalitarian version, particularly when accompanied by a rediscovery of the egalitarian tendencies in the teaching of Jesus and the example of the first Christian communities, has inspired reform movements throughout church history — e.g., medieval peasant revolts, John Wycliffe and the Lollards, the Anabaptists, radical Baptists and Levelers. The point is not to baptize all of the ways that such groups interpreted or appropriated “the natural law,” but to note that there is a broad (if sometimes conveniently ignored) stream of thought and practice within which modern heirs of radical Christianity may rightly situate themselves. See Troeltsch: 63-69, 87-88, 154-161, 328-329, 344, 358-362, 370, 696, 710. For further background see A. J. Carlyle, A History of Mediaeval Political Theory in the West, vol. 1 (Edinburgh: W. Blackwood, 1903), chapters 1-6, 9-10.
33. . Of course, a welcome problem presents itself when a church, dissident group, or popular movement becomes influential enough through its Abrahamic creativity and witness that society invites it to share responsibility for managing changes and participating in government. But that is a problem nonviolent Christians share with secular movements for social change. The relatively few people who face this challenge will be freest to make use of the opportunities (and avoid the temptations) within this exceptional situation when they know they can return to their strategy of social change from the grassroots at any time, aware that it is effective and is the real center of action in most places and most times.
34. . Those who are more experienced at inter-religious dialogue than I am may want to apply the Abrahamic model in that context too. My own discovery of its applicability came while working with Central American Mennonite churches as they struggled to find their role in relation to the movements for social change around them. Cf. Gerald W. Schlabach, “Mission Strategy and the Reinvention of the Church in Latin America,” Mission Focus 17 (March 1989): 5-8.