Brief Reviews, VOLUME 5

The Activist Impulse – Cramer / Burkholder, eds. [Review]

The Activist ImpulseAdjusting to Changing Times.

A Review of :

The Activist Impulse:  Essays on the Intersection of Evangelicalism and Anabaptism

David Cramer and Jared Burkholder.

Paperback: Pickwick, 2012.
By now:  [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by Alex Dye

Evangelicalism and Anabaptism seem to live as brothers at odds, though each has seen a rise in popularity in recent years.  Evangelicalism, as popularized by Billy Graham and embodied today through the churches like Willow Creek and Saddleback, has seeped into most denominations in some form or fashion, though many would struggle to define exactly it.  And Anabaptism and Anabaptist thoughts are evidenced through the writings and work of Shane Claiborne, the Reba Place community, and the current church buzzword “social justice.”  Though adherents to each may find themselves at different ends of the theological and political spectrum, the two movements have been influencing one another in significant ways.  “The last thirty years have shown that both evangelicals and Anabaptists, while sharing space on the margins of American society, have manifested a shared commitment-an ‘impulse’-to engage American society through religiously motivated activism.”  (2)

In their collection of essays, The Activist Impulse, Jared S. Burkholder and David C. Cramer attempt to chronicle some of the many and varied interactions between Anabaptism and Evangelicalism, especially related to how they relate to culture, society, and the world.

This volume is by no means comprehensive in scope.  Rather, the chapters are laid out like a really interesting schedule for symposium or series of seminars; each essay addresses different oftentimes unconnected issues which, in the end, create a mosaic of conversation between Anabaptism and Evangelicalism.

The editors divided the work into four sections which help to frame the essays contained within each, though they may be contained loosely.  Part one discusses the intersecting history between the two movements, part two explores how each addressed the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy, part three looks at the different ways that each group has acted within the public sphere, and part four analyzes how each has dealt with various theological subjects.

Within each section one will find a smattering of subjects, all interesting to be sure, which provide a cross section for some of the issues inherent in the intersecting of these two movements.  For example, within the section concerning the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy, two of the essays look at the life and works of Daniel Kauffman, a bishop in the Mennonite Church and how he interacted with evangelicalism and fundamentalism as they shaped the church in the early 20th century.  The other two address fundamentalism in the Grace Brethren Church and in specific Mennonite Conferences in Pennsylvania.  Do these essays build off of one another?  No.  Do they give the reader a solid sense of the issues at hand?  Somewhat.  But more than those rudimentary questions or even a survey of historical interactions with fundamentalism or modern liberalism, they provide real, human illustrations of how Christians reacted to and adjusted for the changing of times, which in some respects is even more valuable, as it serves as a historical mirror in which we can reflect upon the positions of our own churches today.

The essays are written by noted and well-versed scholars from both sides of intersection, though many write having been influenced significantly in both arenas.  The volume is somewhat hefty, but the essays are interesting enough to keep the reader going.  Though it may seem scholastic in tone at certain points, it is written for both the student and curious reader alike, and anyone even mildly interested in the subject would get great pleasure from exploring the depth of this work.  This is an important addition to the understanding of how these two movements intersect and collide; it sheds light on similarities that may help to bring followers of each towards a better understanding of one another and a closer working relationship.  Be sure to check out The Activist Impulse, and take some time to consider how your own history and context shape your thoughts on the various themes explored.

C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at:

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  1. Thanks for your gracious words, Alex!

  2. Absolutely! I’m looking forward to a second read through, to pick up some nuances I may have missed. It really helped me better understand the conversation between the two movements.