Review: Menno Simons, Dutch Reformer Between Luther, Erasmus and the Holy Spirit

Menno Simons: Dutch Reformer Between Luther, Erasmus and the Holy Spirit (A Study in the Problem Areas of Menno Scholarship), Abraham Friesen (Fresno, CA: Xlibris, 2015), 397 pp. $31. ISBN 9781503562813. Reviewed by Dr. Lawrence Klippenstein (formerly of Steinbach EMC), retired historian-archivist. A longer version of the review appeared in Mennonite Historian (March 2016).

This volume is challenging, timely, and to the point. Theology is not everyone’s “bag.” The part on Menno himself (141 to 388) is an easier read.

The introduction sketches the content and provides a more detailed composite portrait of the main actors of the drama. The list begins with Augustine and continues through eighteen brief biographies to assist in the long, sometimes tortuous journey of theological discussion.

The main text begins with a chapter on the social, economic, and political aspects of society in need of reform. Then follows a longer section on the effort to set up the Muenster “kingdom,” directed by persons, also known as Anabaptists in those days, seriously dedicated to carrying on God’s work as called for in Scripture “alone.”

Jan van Leyden and associates believed they were led by the Holy Spirit to storm the city and become His servants helping to usher in God’s reign on earth. It was a moment of extremes and violence that came to a tragic end, including the death of Menno’s brother Peter. The impact on Menno was life-changing and led to intense study of Scripture that turned him to his lifetime work for God as a man of non-violence and peacemaking.

Was Menno’s theology “derivative ” and dangerously revolutionary or did it go beyond that? Friesen says that Menno learned a lot from others, including Luther and Erasmus, but found his personal direction and guidance for leading the church in his own Spirit-led studies of the Scriptures.

Depending on your interests, give parts—or all of it—a go. Some might read the last section first and then decide what to do with the rest.

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