Bonus Feature: Anabaptism and Theological Orthodoxy

Some time ago, I read and re-read the first article  that Paul Carter wrote about his interaction with Bruxy Cavey, engaging about scripture, the atonement, and other theological matters. It was enlightening for me to look back into my upbringing in Carter’s theological reflections, both in terms of his discourse about theology and his ignorance about Cavey’s terminology.

I was impressed by how well Bruxy Cavey articulated his commitments, and the degree of genuine agreement between the two men that the conversations revealed. I found Bruxy Cavey expressing things that I resonated with almost completely, and had difficulty understanding why anyone might, after reading these articles, harbor any lingering doubt about the faithfulness of Bruxy Cavey’s brand of Anabaptist theology.

I was chagrined to read Paul Carter’s estimate of the dialogue near the end of the article:

I was pleased to hear “the backstory” behind some of the terminology and phrasing that has caused offense in the reformed evangelical world, nevertheless, I perceive that there are still several areas of significant disagreement between the two camps on a variety of significant issues.

More conversation is required.

Given Bruxy Cavey’s clear and unequivocal affirmation of important points about Scripture and atonement, who more areas of “significant disagreement” might there be? If Carter had outstanding concerns, he might have mentioned them, especially as fodder for future interactions. This apparent refusal to relinquish doubt and fear strikes me as a classically fundamentalist posture. To be sure, Bruxy Cavey is an Anabaptist, not a Reformed Baptist, but he has articulated substantive and enthusiastic agreement about the core tenets of Christian faith. To continue to insinuate that problems persist is an approach more like that of fundamentalist leaders who make uniformity (in respect to a particular set of systematic theological tenets) the measure of orthodoxy.

To be sure, Carter does acknowledge that “Bruxy Cavey is not a heretic.” (I am sure that Bruxy was greatly relieved to read those words.) But Carter does insist that Bruxy “is far too friendly with Greg Boyd, far too open to Open Theism and far too Arminian by half.”

I wonder how it might be possible to overcome this skepticism. As an evangelical Anabaptist myself, I am concerned to overcome the sentiment that Anabaptist theology is somehow inimical to faithful Christian discipleship or to the historic witness of biblical texts. I also find it ironic that neo-Reformed theologians like Paul Carter seem inevitably to resort to the writings of Reformed theologians or Patristic authors in defence of their biblicism, usually capped with an appeal to sola Scriptura. How is it that one needs to appeal to outside sources to elucidate the perspicuity of Holy Writ? (If that sentence seems convoluted, perhaps that helps make my point.)

Why does it seem questionable for an Anabaptist like Bruxy Cavey (or any other, for that matter) to make a theological point by weight of the accumulated teachings of the bible, using the conceptual language of the bible as a starting point? Is it more likely that Christians should bring a set of theological and epistemological expectations formed at a different time and in different contexts (even if by well-meaning Christian thinkers) and superimpose them on biblical texts in order to discover the message that God intends to reveal to faithful readers? Or is it more likely that hearing the voice of God speaking through biblical texts may have to do with reading those texts in their own multi-layered contexts and attempting to translate messages along a consistent trajectory into our own contexts? Perhaps the interpretive work of others may serve as secondary measures that can aid our discernment rather than the standard of orthodoxy to which our interpretation must conform?

Perhaps rather than asking whether or not a sister or brother who confesses Jesus as Lord is a heretic, we can ask whether or not we ought to look for opportunities for cooperation, common ground, and community with such a person. The presumptuousness of that sort of statement aside, call we not agree that the call to unity in the body of Christ is not optional? Theological orthodoxy requires it. In light of that, I think we have more important tasks than scrutinizing one another’s theology, looking for errors.

Maybe it’s the Anabaptists who are orthodox after all…

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