Book Review: Recollections of a Sectarian Realist, A Mennonite Life in the Twentieth Century

J. Lawrence Burkholder, Recollections of a Sectarian Realist: A Mennonite Life in the Twentieth Century. (AMBS/Institute of Mennonite Studies, 2017), 272 pp. $22.45 USD. Reviewed by Henry Friesen (The ConneXion), MPhilF, and former member of the BCM.

This is a fascinating story of a life well lived. Burkholder’s early years were in unincorporated settlements in Pennsylvania, but his life includes years of relief work in India and China, and studies as well as teaching in Goshen, Princeton, and Harvard. Interspersed with these international and cosmopolitan experiences Burkholder recalls self-supporting pastoral work in his early years, a rich family life that sadly includes the death of a son at age 25, and an enduring fascination with flying.

A noteworthy and delightful feature of this work is the way that reflections on the philosophical and theological implications of mundane matters are integrated into the biographical account. Reminiscing about a childhood Sunday School teacher includes a recognition of the significance of clearly defined terms to philosophical discourse, and an astonishingly accessible excursus into ontology, generally encountered only as a highly abstract philosophical concern. Regrettably, Burkholder did not elaborate on his eminently justifiable and repeated refusal to sign Goshen’s statement endorsing inerrancy.

This biography ranges over an immense range of theological practice from pastors required to leave ministry because they married a person from another Mennonite congregation, to a requirement that Burkholder himself relinquish a life insurance policy in order to retain a pastorate, to making potential life or death decisions for others while engaged in relief work.

The book concludes with Burkholder’s “Musings on the Pressing Issues of My Time.”

Recollections of a Sectarian Realist offers something for almost everyone. It is a biography that includes intriguing cerebral detours instigated by experiences in daily life.

 

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