If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away---Henry David Thoreau

Monday, February 2, 2009

Greg Boyd Speaks at Mennonite Gathering in Pittsburgh

This past weekend I went to Pittsburgh with my wife to visit the Andy Warhol museum. While I was there I played drums for the worship sessions at the board meetings of the Mennonite Education Association. Greg Boyd, pastor of Woodland Hills church in St. Paul, Minnesota (http://www.whchurch.org/content/page_1.htm), a theologian, well known author, and President of Christus Victor Ministries, was a plenary speaker for one of the worship services I played drums for (Greg is also a drummer).

In his presentation Boyd spoke a "prophetic word" to Mennonites concerning the "treasure of their tradition" (http://www.gregboyd.org/blog/random-updates/) Prophetic speech is nothing new to Boyd. In 2006 he lost 20% of his 5,000 member congregation for preaching a series of sermons on "The Cross and the Sword" against mixing nationalism and Christianity (see my PeaceSigns article on Boyd's prophetic preaching at: http://peace.mennolink.org/cgi-bin/m.pl?a=321). His nonviolent, kingdom theology has made him an admired speaker among Mennonites. He speaks the language of Anabaptists.

That's why Mennonites in Pittsburgh welcomed and revelled in his "confrontational prophetic word." Boyd proclaimed that this was a defining moment for Mennonites. The theological distinctives of Anabaptism (i.e., Jesus-centered, peacemaking, service, community, kingdom-shaped), which have been around 500 years, are being embraced by young people, people looking for a new way to be Christian, and new emerging groups within the church. Boyd said that Mennonites must hold fast to their theological distinctives and be "scandalously flexible" with their "cultural distinctives." Only with this stance can Mennonites welcome those searching for an Anabaptist-shaped faith and have a future as a church. Otherwise, they will become a "geriatric society" and their churches "museums." In essence, Mennonites should embrace their theological distinctives, which are really the core teachings of the gospel for everyone, and let go of their cultural baggage in order to survive.

Was this a new word among Mennonites? prophetic? or just a powerful presentation of what Mennonites already know? I may have heard the message with different ears from those who grew up Mennonite. I am a Mennonite by choice, having become a Mennonite in 1987 through the influence of baptist theologian Dr. James Wm. McClendon Jr., a former member of my congregation in Alameda, California, who taught Anabaptist history at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. I embraced Anabaptism because of its theological distinctives and practices.

Boyd's prophetic word was about issues that I and many others from backgrounds other than the Mennonite tradition have taught, preached, wrote about, conversed and argued about for many years. I have preached and taught on these issues for my 22 years as a Mennonite (recent example, my article on "When is a peace church no longer a peace church: http://www.mennoweekly.org/2008/7/21/when-peace-church-no-longer-peace-church/?print=1). The issues Boyd raised have been part of ongoing conversations for as long as I have been part of my department (7 years), U.S. Ministries within the Mennonite Mission Network, which is composed predominantly of people from backgrounds other than Mennonite.

So, for me, what Boyd presented was "old hat." I, and others, have often said in Mennonite meetings and congregations where I was pastor that in order to survive and thrive Mennonites must "let go" of some of their cultural baggage. I, and others, have proclaimed that we have a treasure (in the Anabaptist tradition) that others are searching for, while many Mennonites are leaving the theological distinctives and buying into a generic, Evangelical theology and practice.

Still, Boyd's message in Pittsburgh could still be considered a prophetic word in that it confronts and challenges Mennonites, with another voice from the "outside," from another angle, with issues that some in the church have lived and proclaimed for years (though it makes me wonder why voices from within are not as readily heard). Still, I welcome Boyd's word and the word of new Anabaptists among the Mennonites and the voices of those who reflect Anabaptist distinctives outside the Mennonite denomination. I agree with Greg Boyd when he says that in the Anabaptist tradition there is a treasure. But, as the Bible reminds us, "we have this treasure in clay jars" (2 Corinthians 4:7)


  1. We need more voices crying in the wilderness, prepare the way, make straight the path. we all need to listen and heed. Thanks for the message.I'm listening.

  2. Just stumbled into your blog, brother... I also live in Lancaster and enjoy Greg Boyd, prophetic words, and peacemaking ;)