by Drew Strait, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins
I enjoy featuring AMBS’s young, smart, spirited and faith-filled faculty on Practicing Reconciliation. Here is a post by our newest faculty member, Drew Strait, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins, who came to AMBS from St. Mary’s Ecumenical Institute and St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore. Drew writes about why he’s grateful to be at AMBS and how he thinks AMBS is “uniquely positioned to cultivate and empower the next generation of global Anabaptist leaders.” I thought it was too good not to share publicly. — Sara Wenger Shenk, Ed.D., President
Greetings! I’m a new professor at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS) who came to Anabaptism circuitously. I was raised United Methodist and discipled within the evangelical tradition through Young Life. I’m grateful for the ways these traditions awakened me to the reality that I am known and loved by God. It was in the aftermath of America’s preemptive invasion of Iraq in 2003, however, that I experienced a theological awakening — a disturbing realization that not all Christians believe the way of Jesus is authoritative for this life. That moment of confusion led me on a winding theological journey toward Anabaptism and ultimately to Living Water Community Church (Illinois Mennonite Conference, Mennonite Church USA) in Chicago.
I believe that AMBS is uniquely positioned to cultivate and empower the next generation of global Anabaptist leaders who can help the church rethink what it means to be faithful followers of Jesus in our segregated and violent world. In what follows I offer observations and reasons for why I’m so grateful to be at AMBS.
The church is in a time of extraordinary reckoning and internal/external evaluation. Abuses of power in both Catholic and Protestant circles have, for obvious reasons, undermined the church’s credibility as a public institution. Many in our society — especially millennials — no longer take the church seriously (and for good reason). Simply put: maintaining the status quo is not a strategy for survival. Put another way, the church is desperate for seminaries that create safe spaces to ask hard questions.
The church in the United States has a historical knack for producing a nationalist Christianity that funds violence in our neighborhoods and around the world. How did the church move so far from its cruciform, nonviolent roots? And how do we reclaim peace theology as a vital pattern and behavioral trait of Christian identity? And why is peace theology so offensive to so many Christians? AMBS is a place to explore these questions in community.
One reason that peace theology is so offensive is that the controlling narrative in many church circles in America is no longer the life and teachings of Jesus. Rather, it is the state with its segregationist ideologies of ethnocentrism and xenophobia that are upheld by partisan allegiances on both the left and the right. We need seminaries that are willing to confront the ways the state has co-opted Christian ethics. And that’s one of the many reasons I’m so grateful to be at AMBS: to openly — without fear! — confront toxic permutations of the Christian tradition with an alternative imaginary, a worldview of loving God and neighbor rooted in the gospel of peace.
In my experience, AMBS’s teaching faculty is composed of pastor-theologians who seek to reclaim the teachings of Jesus and the apostolic tradition for Christian discipleship. This is why we are a biblical seminary. We believe that this reclamation — or we might say imitation — of the radical discipleship of the earliest Christians happens best through intensive learning communities focused on the Bible, spiritual vitality, and the contextualization of the gospel for 2019. AMBS, therefore, has a strong emphasis on community — a daily pattern of worship and community that I have found deeply energizing.
The role of peacemaking is a lost art in so many church circles. For many, peace is either an offensive concept or an internal spiritual state rather than a social vision for the church’s life together, wherein the people of God function as agents through which God’s shalom breaks into human communities to dismantle dividing walls of hostility. These peace dimensions of gospel and Christian identity are especially important as nationalism and echoes of fascism seem to be growing around the world. I believe AMBS is uniquely equipped to empower the next generation of peacemakers.
One of my most exciting discoveries at AMBS this year is our Peace Studies program. Did you know we have the oldest Peace Studies program in the United States? This program is led by professors who have devoted their lives to embodying the teachings of Jesus in the neighborhood as a strategy to bring about God’s new just world — to reconcile humans to God and to one another. Our students are especially grateful for the insights they gain in this program that equip them to help transform situations of conflict in the U.S. and abroad.
I believe that the Anabaptist tradition is positioned well for this moment in history, to serve as a corrective to toxic manifestations of Christianity but also to provide hospitality to the hundreds of Christians who are frustrated with the church’s assimilation and conformity to what Satan calls the kingdoms of the world (Luke 4:5) and their allegiances to a gospel of xenophobia and ethnocentrism (worldviews that are incompatible with the gospel of Jesus Christ).
AMBS is especially ripe to provide hospitality to evangelicals and post-evangelicals who are disenchanted with those parts of their tradition that have downplayed the way of Jesus, especially as it relates to love of neighbor, anti-racism, justice, the full inclusion of women in ministry, and nonviolence. AMBS recently hired two evangelical Anabaptists — David Cramer (Managing Editor, Institute of Mennonite Studies) and myself. Alongside several other colleagues, we are leading out to explore how AMBS can provide hospitality for the growing movement of evangelical Anabaptists in our global network of Mennonite churches.
AMBS has one of the youngest seminary teaching faculties in the country. For me, what is so exciting about this exceptional group of teachers, singers, preachers, dreamers and organizers is that we are not just theological thinkers stuck in the echo chamber of the ivory tower. Rather, we are practitioners embedded in robust faith communities, thinking through what it means to “do church” in the moment we find ourselves in. Each of us is profoundly committed to doing theology in and for the church.
Finally, did you know that two thirds of Mennonites live in Latin America, Africa and Asia? I confess that when I arrived on campus in July, I was ignorant of this fact. What I’ve found has, at times, stunned me: God is incubating global connections in and through the doors of AMBS — a global network of Anabaptist leaders and peacemakers to bear witness to an alternative way of life — a way of loving God and neighbor in the midst of flourishing and just human communities. As our faculty and administrators seek to cultivate this “global” network, we are committed to incorporate intercultural competence and undoing racism into our teaching and learning in ways that decolonize and desegregate our collective theological imaginations.