- Paperback: 72 pages
- Publisher: Missio Dei (25 Jun. 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0615659810
- ISBN-13: 978-0615659817
- Product Dimensions: 14 x 0.5 x 21.6 cm
- Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 686,297 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
That Holy Anarchist: Reflections on Christianity & Anarchism Paperback – 25 Jun 2012
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More About the Author
About the Author
Mark Van Steenwyk is a co-founder of the Mennonite Worker in Minneapolis. He is a contributing editor at JesusRadicals.com and the producer of the Iconocast podcast. Mark is a speaker and grassroots educator; with the support of the Central Plains Mennonite Conference, he has nurtured and networked radical Christian communities throughout North America.
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Van Steenwyk's connection with the Jesus Radicals community stretches back a number of years and he has regularly presented a "primer" on Christianity and anarchism at the movement's annual conference. Those presentations were recently turned into a series of articles for the Jesus Radicals website, which in turn were compiled into the present booklet.
This primer on Christian anarchism is comprised of six chapters but it is a quick read at 71 pages. The first chapter is a brief but insightful statement of the politics of Jesus and his "un-reign" or "un-kingdom." Van Steewyk presents a fine explanation of the view that Jesus' mission was not apolitical but political in an entirely different way, pointing to the fact that Jesus' followers were seen as politically subversive.
Chapter two offers some thoughts on the definitions of the terms "anarchism" and "Christianity," helpfully problematizing each in light of the diversity of movements and ideas that fall under each term. In particular, he gives a good sense of the diversity of anarchisms and these anarchisms' tendency to be more practice-oriented rather than theoretical.
Chapter three provides a survey of movements within Christian history that could be called "anarchic," i.e. driven by an anarchistic impulse. Van Steenwyk notes the difference between being anarchist with regard to the government and being anarchist with regard to the church and its institutional expressions, a distinction that, in my experience, is often lost in "Christian anarchist" discussions. And he is honest about the "heretical" nature of various Christian anarchist groups which is refreshing in light of a trend among many current writers drawn to Christian anarchism who seem to have a simultaneous obsession with so-called "orthodox" theology.
Chapter four breezes through the Hebrew and Christian scriptures for signs of the anarchic impulse and, while it is necessarily brief, it does a good job of pointing to different voices in scripture to tune us in to the critiques of power that are contained within the Sinai/anti-monarchical and prophetic streams. He also highlights themes in the gospels and in Paul that can orient our reading of those parts of scripture from an anti-authoritarian perspective. Finally, he deals with some common objections to an anarchist reading of scripture and issues a call for an anarchist bible commentary (a great idea).
Chapters five and six deal with questions and tensions among Christian anarchist perspectives and this is where Van Steenwyk moves the discussion forward. In these chapters he addresses objections that Christians and anarchists alike often have with the idea of "Christian anarchism." He raises objections to some examples of "Christian anarchism" that he rightly finds problematic, such as those that can't quite get out of the domination trap in that they simply imagine God to be the biggest and most powerful "Lord," or Christian anarchists such as Greg Boyd who argue against involvement in political movements. He rightfully questions patterns of homogeneity among Christian anarchists in terms of race and gender. And he issues warnings against the temptation to attempt to make Christianity and anarchism "fit" together perfectly in a "system" or the view that Christian anarchism must be entirely "biblical" and/or provide a perfect utopian blueprint. These are all important issues that I have not seen raised very often in much of the recent writing on Christian anarchism. In my review of Tripp York's recent book on Christian anarchism, I stated that "What we need is an anarchist political theology that has learned from anarchism because it has been in real dialogue with it and has even been challenged by it, [...] an engagement that leaves the triumphalism of the past behind and seeks first the Kingdom wherever it is emerging, both inside the church and outside of it." Van Steenwyk's book is a refreshing move toward the kind of anarchist political theology I had in mind.
I only have two criticisms of That Holy Anarchist. The first is perhaps unfair given the stated origin of these essays: these chapters are very short. Obviously, as stated earlier, this is a collection of brief essays that were previously presentations that have been collected into a book, and so it reads that way. At many many points in the book, however, I found myself wishing that Mark had taken the time to expand these essays a bit more. As a "primer," chapter one really could have used a richer description of the qualities of Jesus' unkingdom, providing an intro that would then be fleshed out in more detail in later chapters. (Thankfully, Mark is working on a book called The unKingdom of God which is to be published in spring 2013.) Also, toward the end of the very good chapter on scripture, I was disappointed to see only a mere mention of the political dimension of the book of Revelation without any further comment. Revelation really deserved at least a paragraph or two considering its radical political message (especially for "witness"-oriented church communities) as well as its obvious potential for dangerous misuse by right-wing Christian groups. Finally, I noticed some typos and inconsistencies in formatting that will necessarily come from a DIY project like this, but overall the book is well designed and easy to read.
This is a refreshing little book, and though it is a short read, it is reflective of a move into a more mature phase of "Christian anarchist" discussion in that it does not proclaim to have final answers about authority and power and what ideas are "right" and "wrong." Rather, it models the creative tension and messiness present in movements dedicated to following Christ and opposing domination, even the patterns of domination within our "radical" "religious" communities.
Let's face it, authoritarian religions and regimes are comfortable to most people. They are easy and smooth, even as they cause suffering and bondage. The rules are set and the "us and them" paradigm is like a big La-Z-Boy recliner for those who are included in the "us" part of the deal. But for a growing number of people whose consciences have been whispering that something is dreadfully wrong with the world as it is ruled by the powers that be, this book may well provide a starting point in both understand and practicing a better way.
I particularly enjoyed the historic overview Steenwyk provided in A Brief Survey of Anarchic Christian History. Another section that stands out is Mystical Christo-Anarchist Practices. I think there are a significant number of people who hold varying degrees of the anarchist philosophy (like me), but have yet to figure out how to implement these philosophies in real-life practice. As Steenwyk says, "Our most pressing need is for practices that help us see the world through a different lens than that of imperial myth and civilizational programming." This book goes a long way in helping meet that need.
Nevertheless, Mark Van Steenwyk of Jesus Radicals and co-host of the podcast The Iconocast (seriously, when are you guys gonna give us another episode?) has just released a short primer on Christian anarchism called That Holy Anarchist. Think of it as Christian Anarchism 101 for people who are either interested in Christian anarchism--or "Christo-anarchism," as Mark puts it--or just want to know how in the heck a Christian can be an anarchist.
For Mark, it all goes back to Jesus the "unking" who rules not with force and domination like earthly kingdoms, but through humility and servitude. Throughout the book, Mark gives a brief overview of anarchism, anarchist inclinations throughout Christian history, and misconceptions about Christo-anarchism (including that pesky Romans 13). The book ends with some practices Mark suggests that hopefully can help the Christo-anarchist stay focused on Jesus' example.
My only complaint about the book is that I wish it was a little big longer. But then again, the book is meant to be just a launching pad, and Mark is kind enough to include several resources for further reading. So if you are a Christo-anarchism novice, That Holy Anarchist is the book for you.
I give it four raised fists out of five!