Ok, confession time. When I hear Shane Claiborne and Rob Bell I get jealous. They have essentially become exceedingly popular and influential by preaching a message that is essentially Anabaptism. Traditional Anabaptists (like myself) have clearly not enjoyed the same amount of popularity that many of these new Anabaptists are enjoying. In fact, it feels like my people have been marginalized for 500 years, and then a couple of young punks come by and say the same thing while wearing hipster glasses and dreadlocks and all of a sudden everyone thinks it’s a great and brand new idea.
Obviously this is something of an overstatement, but the spread of Anabaptist thought and ideas into more mainstream Christianity is happening. I recently came across an article from The American Spectator that even raises the question of a “Mennonite takeover”. While the idea of Mennonites taking over anything seems a bit counter intuitive, I must say that the article does highlight an interesting trend. There are a number of increasingly high profile people who are not from traditional Anabaptist denominations, but who are preaching, teaching, learning from and drawing off of the Anabaptist tradition and core modern Anabaptist theologians.
The article names Shane Claiborne, Greg Boyd, and Jim Wallis. But I would also make sure to include Rob Bell from Mars Hill in Michigan and Stuart Murray from the Anabaptist Network in England. And this doesn’t even include the multitude of people and churches in the Emerging Church movement that, in my opinion, are the best modern day expression of what Anabaptism would have looked like in the 16th century.
When I look at this resurgence of Anabaptist theology and thought part of me is frustrated and jealous. It’s frustrating to hear someone else get the credit for what we’ve kept alive for so long.
But then I have to remember why it’s popular.
The reason that all of these new expressions of Anabaptist thought are so popular is because Jesus is so popular. The early Anabaptists in the 1500’s weren’t trying to start a new denomination. They weren’t trying to be remembered, or to get fame and glory. They were trying to strip away all of those human trappings and simply get back to Jesus. In fact, if Menno Simons, Conrad Grebel, Felix Manz, Michael Sattler or any one of the other Anabaptist leaders would see us attempting to revive Anabaptism, they would be quick to stop us and correct us.
The real goal is not to resurrect Anabaptist belief, but rather to re-discover the Gospel of Jesus.
That’s why the neo-Anabaptists are so popular. They’re preaching Jesus. And yes, it is arrogant to say, but I believe that what they’re preaching sounds like Anabaptism because core Anabaptist belief is rooted in the Gospel and is centered on Jesus. The Gospel is still as powerful today as it was 500 or 2000 years ago.
As I look at the neo-Anabaptists and find myself becoming jealous of their popularity, I must remind myself that the reason they are popular is because they are preaching the Gospel. And for that I give thanks to God. May the Gospel be preached throughout the land, even if I am not the one that people are listening to.