I come from within the Reformed tradition, and yet I write about John Howard Yoder, the most noted Anabaptist theologian of the last century (and perhaps of all time). What gives? Am I betraying the Reformed faith in advocating for many of Yoder's ideas? Isn't a Reformed position on numerous theological and ethical issues directly contrary to Anabaptism, and vice versa? In an article originally published in The Journal of Religious Ethics in 1989 entitled "Evangelical Ethics and the Reformed-Anabaptist Dialogue," Yoder and Richard Mouw highlight four commonalities between the Reformed and Anabaptist traditions. In that article, they argue that the differences between Reformed and Anabaptist positions are in fact "intra-family" debates. What follows is my summary and gloss on the points made by Mouw and Yoder.
Both Reformed and Anabaptist communities affirm that sin has greatly affected our ability to know and do what is good. For example, the Canons of Dort state that whatever light remains in humanity after the fall is suppressed and distorted. It's not just that we can't truly know God in our sinful state; we do not use the "light of nature" correctly "even in matters of nature and society." (Canons of Dort 3/4, art. 4) Reformed thinkers, however, often soften this blow with appeals to common grace, conscience, or the cultural mandate. Anabaptists are generally less likely to soften this blow, affirming a strong church-world distinction that highlights the need for special revelation in all matters. The line between Reformed and Anabaptist here, however, is not a hard and fast one.
The term "volitional" means a focus on the will. In other words, both Reformed and Anabaptist traditions focus on the need to repent, turn from sin and turn to God in faith. Surrender is therefore crucial to the Christian life. This second commonality is also connected to the first, in that both Reformed and Anabaptist focus on the primacy of Scripture as moral authority. That is, our wills and consciences are subject not to human reason or to our "natural desires," but to Scripture.
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My thoughts on how following Jesus calls us to go with the grain of the universe and against the grain of the world. I love the Bible, theology, and philosophy and how they intersect with just about anything else.
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