“A Vibrant, Historic Strand
Of the Christian Faith“
A Review of
The Naked Anabaptist:
The Bare Essentials of a Radical Faith.
by Stuart Murray.
Reviewed by Dustin Hite.
The Naked Anabaptist:
The Bare Essentials of a Radical Faith.
Paperback: Herald Press, 2010.
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As one who might rightly be described as ‘Anabaptist-friendly’, I was quite intrigued when I received notice that this particular work would be released soon. Having not grown up in a church environment linked to traditional Anabaptism, my fondness for the tradition emerged in my graduate school studies, as I learned of the commitment and dedication of the “radical reformers” (a label that has been applied, by historians, to the early Anabaptists and others) in the face of violent persecution.
Stuart Murray, who himself could rightly be described as someone immersed in Anabaptist tradition, is not so much, in his book entitled The Naked Anabaptist: The Bare Essentials of a Radical Faith, addressing those similar to himself. Instead, his aim is to address the individuals, much like myself, who may lack any formal connection to an Anabaptist religious tradition, but nonetheless have found much of value in its theology and praxis.
With that in mind, Murray begins his work by noting how various Christians, upon discovery, are amazed to learn that they have encountered Anabaptism or Anabaptists previously. Obviously, in an American context, the clearest example of this would be the Mennonite tradition. However, Murray, writing from a more European perspective, offers some connections in that realm as well. One of the great benefits and detriments of this work is its contextual nature. Murray speaks quite often about occurrences related to Anabaptists in Europe, and rightly so, considering Anabaptism obviously has historical roots in this arena. Yet, it would have helped me to connect to his work would there have been more opportunities to discern these same connections in an American context. This is not to say that Murray’s work is not worthy of consideration, but rather that it may have been helped from a more global perspective.
After uncovering the hidden dimensions of Anabaptism in contemporary times, Murray elucidates the seven core convictions, as he and his Anabaptist Network understand them. It is these seven core convictions that will provide the framework for the rest of the book. The subsequent chapters will center on these ideas and present opportunities for both personal and corporate examination. However, before reaching these chapters, Murray addresses some possible misunderstandings related to Anabaptism. It becomes clear that Murray has often had to answer these questions and more related to his Anabaptist commitments, and thus his experience provides great material in order to help people set aside preconceived notions and embedded assumptions that might prevent them from fully engaging the seven core convictions.
As this book unfolds, I found Murray’s writing style to be quite accessible, offering opportunities to stop and reflect without having to go back and reread what had previously been read. There were also moments where I found myself nodding in agreement with Murray’s, at times, stinging critique of the Church. His discussion and assessment of Christendom seemed quite appropriate for contemporary times, and his encouragement to understand ourselves as somewhere “after Christendom” was well received by me. And yet, in many of Murray’s critiques of Christendom and other traditions not affiliated with Anabaptism, it seems as if he paints with quite a broad brush. In effect, his assessment of other traditions and churches, at times, blurred the line between loving concern and self-righteous indignation. This might appeal quite well to those already predisposed to Anabaptist thought, like myself, and yet, even then, I struggled to see how inroads could be made with traditions against whom Murray was speaking, whether specifically or universally. In addition, I found that some of his assessments regarding the trajectory of the Church were very much contextual. For instance, in his chapter related to the third and fourth core convictions (entitled “After Christendom”), Murray notes the evidence by which he makes the assessment that Christendom is passing away. In fact, much of what he determines are signs of the passing of Christendom are the hallmarks of American Civil Christianity. This is not to say that his assessment is wrong regarding European Christianity, as I completely agree with him in this respect, but, regarding an American context, these very issues are still alive and well.
After completing his discussion of the seven core convictions, Murray closes out his book by discussing the historical roots of Anabaptism and where Anabaptism finds itself today. In regards to the former, it seems that the audience of the book would have been better served by having this historical material, which I believe to be foundational, presented at the beginning instead of the end. Although I understand Murray’s attempt to present his readers with ample evidence that what he has just presented regarding Anabaptism aligns with the historical movement itself. Yet, my assumption would be that while portions or segments of Anabaptist thought draw many of his readers, their grasp of the historical underpinnings may be lacking. It seems they would have been better prepared for the final chapter on “Anabaptism Today” having move from its historical beginnings through to its current embodiment.
Overall, The Naked Anabaptist is worth the read for those who simply want to understand more about this seemingly emerging phenomenon in global Christianity. However, for the person who desires something deeper, for the person who finds himself or herself already committed to the core values of Anabaptism, this book may be a bit elementary. Yet, its usefulness can be found in possibly using it as a tool to introduce others to this vibrant, historic strand of the Christian faith.