As Legend Has it, on Oct. 31, 1517, the young Augustinian monk Martin Luther sparked the Protestant Reformation by nailing 95 theses to the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg. Then on Jan. 21, 1525, a group of young radicals in Zurich took the Reformation further by baptizing each other — thereby sparking the Radical Reformation or Anabaptist (rebaptizing) movement. The history is more complicated than the legend, but the idea that reform movements can be sparked by a list of theses has been ingrained in the Christian imagination.
On the cusp of the 400th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, Baptist theologian Walter Rauschenbusch published his theses of the social gospel movement as The Social Principles of Jesus (1916). Then in 1943, Anabaptist theologian Harold S. Bender presented his theses as “The Anabaptist Vision,” which distills Anabaptism to three principles: discipleship to Jesus, the church as a voluntary community and an ethic of nonresistant love. In the 21st century, Bender’s vision was expanded in Stuart Murray’s The Naked Anabaptist: The Bare Essentials of a Radical Faith (2010) and Palmer Becker’s Anabaptist Essentials: Ten Signs of a Unique Christian Faith (2017).
Now on the cusp of the 500th anniversary of the Radical Reformation, Mennonite pastor and author Meghan Larissa Good adds her voice to this cloud of reforming witnesses in Divine Gravity. Good asks whether we are “living through another reformation” and answers her question in the (tentative) affirmative. For Good, “A reformation movement is a repentance movement, a regularly required period of communal reflection and reorientation.”
To spark this movement, Good offers eight theses or rediscoveries:
Jesus is the authoritative lens through which God is seen and the Bible is interpreted.
Salvation is the setting right of all things, on Earth as it is in heaven.
A Christian is one who acknowledges Jesus as Lord and follows him in life and death.
A new community is both the means and goal of God’s transformational activity.
Jesus’ people are sent as ambassadors for God’s reconciling work.
The Spirit guides and resources God’s mission.
Evil is overcome by the power of sacrificial love.
The unity of the church is secured by the center it orbits.
For each discovery, Good devotes a chapter structured in three parts: a dilemma that sets up a rediscovery, which leads to a proposal for transformation. In chapter 8, she describes the dilemma of conflict. She considers the solution of prioritizing unity at all costs but argues that such an approach costs a movement its identity and purpose, is frequently disingenuous and ultimately favors the status quo. Instead, Good rediscovers in the New Testament a gravitational approach to togetherness in which the kerygma (or “preaching”) that “Jesus is Lord” is “the central story around which the Jesus movement revolved.” Drawing on Anabaptist theologian Mark Baker’s centered-set approach to church, Good argues that “Jesus was identifying his team not by position in space but by trajectory of motion” — whether one is being pulled in the direction of divine grace or is resisting divine gravity.
Divine gravity is both an apologetic for the Christian faith and a manifesto for reforming it. Good addresses her reader as someone who is in the process of deconstructing their faith or is put off by the Christianity they have encountered. At one point, she confesses that she’s a pastor and playfully pleads with the reader not to put the book down in light of that information. She therefore assumes her reader has a minimal understanding of Scripture and the Christian tradition and likely has encountered a deficient or even a toxic form of Christianity.
Good’s approach leaves one who comes to the book as a committed Christian generally familiar with Scripture feeling as though they are sitting in on a conversation that they aren’t necessarily a part of. Someone in such a position might consider using this book in a reading group with friends who are themselves in a process of deconstruction, especially as each chapter concludes with a list of conversation starters for such groups. A guide for further reading would have ensured that such groups walk away with suggestions for where the movement might go once it has been sparked. As it is, that work will need to be discerned by each group in its own context.