“Celebrating the Church of the Brethren’s 300th Anniversary in 2008″
(Sept. 15, 2008) — Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., is seeking to establish an endowed chair devoted to Radical Reformation thought, named in honor of John Howard Yoder and James William McClendon Jr. This chair will promote the scholarly investigation of Radical Reformation history, theology, and ethics, and also will provide leadership for the growing community of Fuller students and faculty from the Anabaptist tradition.
John Howard Yoder was one of the most significant representatives of this tradition. He was born in Smithville, Ohio, and grew up in a Mennonite home and congregation. As a young man he volunteered for service in France, where he met his wife, Annie Guth. He completed his doctoral studies in Basel, writing his dissertation in German on the disputes between Anabaptists and Reformers.
Yoder joined the faculty at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Ind., in 1965, as well as that of Notre Dame University in 1977, where he taught in both the peace studies program and in the Department of Theology. He is best known for his book, “Politics of Jesus,” originally published in 1972, and translated into many languages. While he was clearly the most influential Mennonite theologian of the 20th century, and while he has shaped Anabaptist thinking as few others have, he was deeply committed to persistent and patient dialogue with the wider body of Christ.
James McClendon found his first church home among Southern Baptists. However, he was deeply affected by reading “Politics of Jesus.” Yoder’s argument for the centrality of nonviolence in the way of Jesus, and for the role of the church as modeling an alternative form of social existence, inspired him to write a systematic theology appropriate to the broad Christian movement that he came to call “small-b baptist,” a translation of the German term “taufer.”
McClendon moved to southern California in 1990 to accompany his wife, Nancey Murphy, who began teaching at Fuller in 1989. In Pasadena, McClendon and Murphy were delighted to find a church self-consciously in the radical reformation tradition. McClendon was a member of Pasadena Church of the Brethren until his death in 2000, and served for a year there as interim pastor.
McClendon taught doctoral seminars on radical-reformation theology both at the Graduate Theological Union and at Fuller Seminary, where he was Distinguished Scholar in Residence. In his teaching and scholarship he was significantly influenced by Church of the Brethren scholars such as Dale Brown and Donald Durnbaugh.
Fuller Seminary was founded as a nondenominational institution, and has maintained an evangelical identity that is inclusive of all varieties of Christians, from Anglican to Pentecostal. There is now a significant Anabaptist presence on campus. Seven faculty members identify with the tradition. For the academic years 2006-07 and 2007-08, 56 students who self-identified as Mennonite, Brethren in Christ, and Church of the Brethren enrolled in various degree programs.
Equally significant is the fact that Fuller’s population is increasingly made up of students and faculty from McClendon’s more broadly baptist designation: Baptists who trace their roots as much to the radical reformation as to the mainline reformers; new free churches that developed in the American frontier; many Pentecostals, charismatics, and nondenominational Christians and others. Students from Africa, Asia, and Latin America discover the Anabaptist tradition to be relevant to their contexts where Christians remain a minority. Anabaptism gives them resources for thinking theologically and strategically about faith in a context where Christianity enjoys no privileged status.
–Nancey Murphy is professor of Christian Philosophy at Fuller Theological Seminary, and a member of Pasadena Church of the Brethren.
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