An independent seminary in the Chicago area is launching an Anabaptist Studies Program featuring a pastor and author recently terminated as visiting lecturer from the Mennonite Brethren Fresno (Calif.) Pacific Biblical Seminary.
Northern Seminary in Lisle, Ill., announced in October its new Anabaptist Studies Program will launch in June.
Greg Boyd, pastor of Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minn., will serve as an adjunct professor in the program, which will offer certificate and degree options on “a neo-Anabaptist orientation to mission, ecclesiology, ethics and church-state relations in North America.”
Northern Seminary was founded in 1913 by what ultimately became American Baptist Churches USA, a denomination of about 1.3 million people stressing congregational autonomy, separation of church and state, and a Gospel mandate to promote holistic change in society. Today the evangelical institution has no direct affiliation, instead partnering with a variety of groups.
“We have seen a lot of young people and church leaders coming into an understanding of Christianity that one could call Anabaptist or neo-Anabaptist,” said Dennis Edwards, associate professor of New Testament. “They may not be aligned with historic peace churches, but they are aligned Anabaptistically. We want to emphasize that.”
Edwards was ordained in the Mennonite Church in the late 1990s and served on the staff of Washington (D.C.) Community Fellowship, a member of Mennonite Church USA’s Virginia Mennonite Conference.
He said Northern Seminary feels there are current and potential church leaders who find Anabaptism resonates with their way of doing church, reading Scripture and relating as a community in thinking about church-state relations.
“The type of student we’ll find is probably someone who isn’t in a historic Anabaptist denomination but wants to lean into these perspectives,” he said. “And I think we’re already getting those kinds of students.”
The three-year program is structured similarly to the Master of Arts in Ministry, Leadership and Culture program Boyd participated in at Fresno. Classes take place predominantly online, with occasional one-week intensive courses on campus.
Boyd will teach courses titled Cruciform Hermeneutics and God, Evil and Spiritual Conflict.
The Mennonite Brethren seminary cut ties with him in August over denominational concerns about his advocacy of “open theism” and perspectives about God’s omniscience.
“I have a friendship with Greg because I was in Minneapolis for several years with a church there,” Edwards said. “I had hoped to work with Greg anyway, and since he was freed up from Fresno, I reached out to him.”
Other courses will focus on Anabaptist theology and culture, Jesus and the Gospels, Anabaptist history and Christoform ethics. Another instructor in the program is Scot McKnight, who has been featured in Mennonite World Review’s The World Together blog and wrote a commentary on the Sermon on the Mount.
Professors David Fitch and Cherith Fee-Nordling were presenters at a 2014 Missio Alliance conference on the church and post-Christian culture sponsored by the Church of the Brethren, Be in Christ (Brethren in Christ Canada) and 10 groups from Mennonite Church USA. Adjunct professor of church history Joshua Brockway is the Church of the Brethren’s director of spiritual formation.
“There’s a lens that Anabaptism brings to how we look at the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world, how Christians become a prophetic voice to the powers,” Edwards said. “I think that’s resonating with a lot of young people in this polarized time. . . .
“I think Anabaptism has provided something historically, but here we are tapping into it in the 21st century as we think about how we relate to the government. . . . I think Anabaptists have given us a way of being and thinking that could save us in many ways from that Christendom notion and seeing how the far right taps into nationalism.”