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Peripatetic peacemaker’s polemic

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Prophetic Peacemaking: Selected Writings of J. R. Burkholder
Keith Graber Miller, Ed.

Herald Press, 2010
440 pages




J.R. Burkholder is a fox, says Keith Miller, “knowing many things, considering competing viewpoints, and making bottom-up inductive arguments, while doubting the power of the one Big Idea.” The strength of Miller’s compilation of the academic, churchperson, and social activist’s writings about embodying the peaceful discipleship of Christ is its diversity.

Burkholder writes on topics beyond theology, peace, and justice; he also reflects on money investing, worship, school prayer, machismo, film, and bioethics. Each essay includes an introduction by Miller, situating each argument within its polemical context.

Repudiating the one “Big Idea” means that Anabaptism is not a one-trick pony, trying to foist its vision of peace upon the chaos of our world. Thus, Burkholder saves us from the false dichotomy between Reinhold Niebuhr’s pejorative “passive quietism” and the secular left. Instead, “the peaceable way of Jesus invites many diverse expressions” because “defining violence is a complex and usually subjective effort.”

Mennonite Brethren would do well to read Burkholder. We seem to be both passive about social justice (in our ambivalence toward the work of MCC), and fundamental (as Burkholder encountered), without “need for any kind of cross-cultural sensitivity or theological sophistication.” Following Burkholder, our evangelism should be witnessed in our struggle to be the “messianic community.” Such witness will include practicing nonviolence with people in our home congregations. It will also include learning how to articulate our faith without betraying the lessons of Christ, which will require watching our words.

At times, Burkholder makes our witness into a social strategy rather than letting it remain as our attempts and failures at faithful incarnation. Nevertheless, he reminds us that the “best metaphor for revelation is interpersonal communication.”

Let us continue to choose, as Burkholder did, to be committed to Christ’s peace and show it in the way we discuss, conflict, and worship with one another.

Joe Wiebe is a PhD student at McMaster Divinity College, Hamilton, Ont. He is a member of Scott Street MB Church, St. Catharines, Ont.

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