Anabaptist Modules

These six modules are offered by the Centre for Anabaptist Studies as part of a course leading to a postgraduate certificate, postgraduate diploma or MA. Each module can also be studied for interest rather than towards a qualification. For admissions enquiries please email admissions@bristol-baptist.ac.uk or for any queries regarding content of the modules please email anabaptist@bristol-baptist.ac.uk

Anabaptist Origins and Distinctives

The module begins by introducing the sources available for the study of Anabaptist history and theology. It then sets the movement in its sixteenth-century context, examining the social, political and religious changes taking place. Anabaptism is differentiated from various other movements for reform in that period.

The second unit reflects on the various stages in the recovery of the Anabaptist tradition and its interpretation in the past century. It then introduces the major groupings within the early movement – Swiss Brethren, South German/Austrian, North German, Dutch and Hutterite, and also gives attention to the notorious uprising in Münster.

The third unit explores three important dimensions of Anabaptist theology – its Christology, its soteriology and its pneumatology. It examines the diversity within the early movement on these issues and reflects on the contemporary relevance of the issues raised.  

The fourth unit begins by investigating Anabaptist perspectives on discipleship, noting the significance of nachfolge. It then focuses on truth-telling, men and women, marriage and family, before addressing the issue of suffering and the understanding of Gelassenheit in the movement.

The fifth unit explores the development of a distinctive Anabaptist tradition, reflecting on the many intra-Anabaptist debates in the sixteenth century. It follows the story into the twenty-first century, examining the rediscovery of Anabaptism and its appropriation by Christians in post-Christendom contexts.

Anabaptist Ecclesiology and Missiology

The first unit sets out the religious options newly available in the early sixteenth century – Catholic, Protestant, Anabaptist and Spiritualist – and explores the notion of a believers’ church within Anabaptism. Further sections investigate the significance of Anabaptism as a disciplined community and as a missionary movement.

The second unit begins by considering the emphasis within early Anabaptism on participatory worship, rather than passive church attendance. It examines Anabaptist beliefs and practices in the areas of baptism, the Lord’s Supper and foot-washing. It explores understandings of leadership in Anabaptist communities and addresses various perceived weaknesses within Anabaptist ecclesiology.

The third unit examines the theological and biblical foundations of Anabaptist missiology, with particular reference to New Testament texts frequently quoted in early writings. It then identifies significant elements in the message proclaimed by the early Anabaptists, before reflecting on the influence of Anabaptist eschatology on their mission thinking.

The fourth unit gives attention to the evangelistic practices of the early Anabaptists, both coordinated and uncoordinated, with particular reference to their lifestyle witness. It then examines aspects of their socio-political engagement and pleas for religious liberty, before reflecting on the impact of their mission activities, the waning of the missional spirit and its recovery.

The fifth unit revisits many of the ecclesial and missional issues addressed in earlier units in order to assess their contemporary significance.

Anabaptist Ethics and Hermeneutics

The module begins with an introduction to hermeneutics and explores the role of authors, texts and readers in the creation of textual meaning. It then introduces the historical-critical method and briefly examines text, source, form, redaction and social-scientific criticism. It then moves on to narrative criticism and looks at the overarching story of the Bible and its component shorter stories. The final part of this unit focuses on reader-response criticism and reception history to provide a foundation for subsequent analysis of Anabaptist interpretation of scripture. A seminar at the end of this unit focuses on hermeneutics from the perspective of the global south.

The second unit introduces ethics and provides a brief overview of deontological and consequentialist approaches to ethics before focusing on virtue ethics and examining in some detail Alasdair MacIntyre’s contribution to virtue ethics. A seminar at the end of this unit focuses on ethics from the perspective of the global south.

The third unit examines the contribution of both Stanley Hauerwas and John Howard Yoder to Anabaptist ethics. Following an introduction to Hauerwas’ thought it explores ten theses that Hauerwas proposes. It then looks in some detail at Hauerwas’ medical ethics, sexual ethics and views on war. It continues with an open exploration of the controversy concerning using Yoder to teach Anabaptist ethics given his history of sexual violence against women which has come to light over the last few decades. The unit cautiously concludes that Yoder cannot be ignored in any discussion of Anabaptist ethics but that his contribution has to be continuously evaluated in the light of his own moral failings. It therefore goes on to engage with two of Yoder’s works: The Politics of Jesus and Body Politics before concluding with a critical examination of his call to an ethics of faithfulness.

The fourth unit examines the contribution of James Wm. McClendon, Jr. to Anabaptist ethics. Following an introduction to McClendon’s thought it examines his challenge as to what sort of ethics we should be engaging in. It continues with an exploration of McClendon’s understanding of ethics as composed of body ethics, social ethics and resurrection ethics and how these form part of an overall narrative ethics.

The fifth unit explores Anabaptist hermeneutics. It begins by comparing Anabaptist approaches to reading the Bible with those of the Reformers. It continues by exploring six core convictions of Anabaptist hermeneutics and concludes with reflection on the continuing contribution of Anabaptist hermeneutics to the contemporary debate on interpreting scripture.  

The sixth unit explores the relationship between Post-Christendom and Post-Colonialism. It notes the ways in which colonialism was associated with the assumptions of the Christendom era and explores the inter-relationship of post-colonial and post-Christendom perspectives.

The seventh unit focuses specifically on economics. It explores key Christian approaches to economics and evaluates the contribution of Marxist economics to Christian ethics. It then goes on to examine in depth Anabaptist economics emphasising an economics of “enough” and the community of goods. A seminar at the end of this unit focuses on economics from the perspective of the global south.

Advanced Study of a Theological Text: James McClendon, Doctrine

The module consists of a close reading of the complete volume of McClendon’s Doctrine. It begins with an introduction to McClendon’s systematic theology in three volumes and locates his Doctrine within his overall theology. It continues with a detailed examination of Chapter One, “What is Doctrine?”

The second unit explores Part I of Doctrine on “The Rule of God.” This consists of Chapters Two to Four and examines McClendon’s writings on eschatology, redemption and creation respectively.

The third unit explores Part II of Doctrine on “The Identity of Jesus Christ.” This consists of Chapters Five to Seven and examines McClendon on atonement, Christology and the identity of God respectively.  

The fourth unit explores Part II of Doctrine on “The Fellowship of the Spirit.” This consists of Chapters Eight to Ten and examines McClendon on community, worship and mission respectively. The fifth unit examines the final chapter of Doctrine—Chapter Eleven on “Authority.” It concludes with a reflection on McClendon’s overall contribution to contemporary Anabaptist theology.

Advanced study of an Anabaptist Figure: The Life and Writings of Pilgram Marpeck

The module begins by reflecting on the surprising recovery of Marpeck after centuries during which he disappeared from history and introduces the sources available for studying his life and writings. It then sets Marpeck in his sixteenth-century context, examines what is known about his life, and notes some of those who were influential on his development.

The second unit introduces some of Marpeck’s colleagues, including Leupold Scharnschlager and Jőrg Maler, before examining Marpeck’s writings and letters. A final section explores the Kunstbuch, a remarkable collection of writings from the Marpeck circle.

The third unit explores the various debates in which Marpeck was involved throughout his life – with the Spiritualists, especially Caspar Schwenckfeld, the Reformers, especially Martin Bucer, and other Anabaptist communities.

The fourth unit investigates Marpeck’s theological convictions, with sections on Christology, ecclesiology and missiology, the sacraments, biblical interpretation, church and state, the sword and the oath.

The fifth unit invites students to consider how they respond to Marpeck, who was an unusual Anabaptist leader in some ways but is often regarded today as an attractive representative of the Anabaptist tradition. It looks at his influence in the sixteenth century and reflects on the contemporary significance of his teaching.

Biblical and Practical Peace-Making

The module will offer:

  • An introduction to biblical perspectives on peace and violence
  • An overview of different approaches to peace and violence in church history
  • Opportunities to interact with peace-making practitioners
  • Consideration of contemporary peace-making initiatives and practices
  • Reflection on what it means to be a peace church
  • Conversation around the perennial question: ‘what would you do if…?’