The Naked Anabaptist: Book Review

The Naked Anabaptist: The Bare Essentials of a Radical Faith by Stuart Murray; Herald Press (2010)

In The Naked Anabaptist, Stuart Murray makes a case for Anabaptism as the "original" emerging church movement.  It's a bold assertion, and one that has merit considering it was part of the 16th-century version of the Church's 500 year rummage sale (read Phyllis Tickle's The Great Emergence for more about this).  Murray sees modern Anabaptism as more of a theological underpinning that could easily be embraced in a variety of Christian communities.  He also sees the end of "Christendom" as the perfect time for Anabaptism to find a real foothold in Christian culture. 

Murray assumes as fact that we are living in a post-Christendom historical moment--a moment he describes thusly: the culture that emerges as the Christian faith loses coherence within a society that has been definitively shaped by the Christian story ans as the institutions that have been developed to express Christian convictions decline in influence.  

In other words: "People in our culture no longer see the Christian faith and the institution of the Church as central to their lives or the life of the community."  Ironically, it is this shift from Christendom to post-Christendom that gives Murray hope for the future of the "emerging" Church, and for the role of Anabaptist beliefs/doctrines within it. 

Murray identifies seven core convictions that Anabaptists have held/still hold. 
1.  Jesus is the central reference point for faith, lifestyle, the Church and society.
2. Jesus is the focal point of God's revelation.
3. Christendom was a distortion of the Gospel that marginalized Jesus. We must learn from this and continue to reject standard Christendom ways of thinking and being the Church.
4. The Church cannot be identified with the cultural norms of importance and "success" through wealth, power, force and status.
5. Churches are called to mutual ministry, discipleship and unity.
6. Spirituality and economics are connected. We should be committed to simple living, generosity, creation care and justice.
7. Peace is at the heart of the Gospel. We should be committed to nonviolent alternatives and learning how to make peace within and among churches, individuals, in society and among nations.

The last third of The Naked Anabaptist is a short history of Anabaptism from it's 16th-century beginnings until the present day--a history marked by persecution and isolation from much of the pervasive Christian culture. 

Most of what I knew about Anabaptism before I read The Naked Anabaptist centered around what I've read about Mennonites and the Amish communities.  Murray's book not only gives a concise history of the Anabaptist movement, but also a easily understood and compelling case for why Christian communities should seriously consider embracing Anabaptist convictions.  I also appreciated how Murray even-handedly deals with the most controversial of Anabaptist beliefs: the necessity of believer's baptism. 

I highly recommend The Naked Anabaptist to church leaders, seminary students or anyone who is looking for meaning and direction among the ruins of a once-dominant Christian culture.  I also believe that when those of us who call ourselves Christians finally embrace the concept of a Church on the margins, we will be more in tune with what God has in mind for us. 

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