CGR Vol. 39 No 2 (Spring 2021)

Title of Contents


Table of Contents | Foreword | ArticlesBook Reviews


This special issue of The Conrad Grebel Review comprises articles on the theme of Anabaptist-Mennonite Perspectives on Technology and is intended as a stimulus and invitation to further conversation. We extend our hearty thanks to Guest Editor Paul C. Heidebrecht for soliciting the contributors to this issue and skillfully bringing the project to fruition, as well as for providing an introduction that underscores the importance of the concerns and arguments presented by the contributors. The book review section features an essay on two recent publications and reviews of eight books on a wide array of subjects.


We welcome submissions of articles or reflections on a wide range of topics in keeping with CGR’s mandate to advance thoughtful, sustained discussions of theology, ethics, peace, society, history, and culture from broadly-based Anabaptist/Mennonite perspectives.

W. Derek Suderman, Editor

Stephen A. Jones, Managing Editor

Table of Contents | Foreword | ArticlesBook Reviews

Introduction: Insights, Considerations, and Conversations on Technology

Paul C. Heidebrecht

The role of technology in contemporary society is expanding every day, and critical reflection on the impact of technology now pervades a growing number of scholarly and popular contexts. Not only is it a struggle to keep up with accelerating technological developments, we can be overwhelmed by a deluge of observations, opinions, and analyses of these developments. Indeed, thanks to the rise of new technologies like social media, there are many more ways that our attention is being drawn to the impact of technology. The question that sparked this special issue of TheConradGrebelReview is this: How is Anabaptist-Mennonite faith and practice grappling with these accelerating technological changes and the corresponding rise in the study of these changes? More concretely: What do the academic disciplines undergirding this journal, including theology, philosophy, and peace studies, have to contribute to this discourse, especially given the ascendency of the STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) as authoritative voices in both society and the academy?

The four contributors to this  issue  offer  provocative  answers that reflect their ongoing considerations of technology from particular disciplinary frameworks. David C. Cramer draws on his perspective as a pastor and theologian to develop an approach to “digital discernment” inspired by the practices of Amish communities. Andy Brubacher Kaethler weaves together insights from theological anthropology and ecclesiology to enable Christian communities not only to critique but to transform their relationship with technology. Religious studies scholar Maxwell Kennel introduces philosophical interpretations that collapse the  distinction between technology and humanity in order to make connections to the problem of violence. Lisa Schirch opens a window onto the many ways that the field of peacebuilding and Anabaptist-Mennonite approaches to ethics intersect with issues posed by technology.

Each   contributor   demonstrates   interdisciplinary   adeptness   and engages with a wide range of sources. They share a similar posture toward technology that reflects assumptions that have become widespread in recent years. For example, they frame technology as a problem to be considered, not as the answer to a problem. Technological change is no longer the definitive indicator of progress but a cause for concern in both church and society. In my view, this explains why technology is no longer subordinated to other aspects of culture that humanists and social scientists have long considered more worthy of their attention, such as science, economics, and politics. Further, and even more crucially, the contributors are united in recognizing that technology is notmorally neutral. Rather, technologies embody the values of their creators and come to shape the values of their users. We dramatically underestimate their power if we conceive of them as mere tools.

Two decades ago, proposing such a critical view of technology would have required an extended argument with anyone beyond a relatively small circle of philosophers and historians. However, in the years since Nicholas Carr first asked “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” on the cover of a major U.S. magazine, this view has become widely accepted, if not conventional wisdom.[1] The problematic and formative nature of technology means that none of the articles in this issue is content merely to explain or analyze; they seek to prompt changes in the way we engage with our technological reality. The point isn’t simply to get our thinking about technology right, but rather to inform our practices as citizens, churches, and communities.

It is also noteworthy that the four contributors must engage in interpretive work in order to effectively connect Anabaptist-Mennonite thought to the topic of technology. That is, they have to make explicit insights that are only implicit or at best suggestive. Whether in Old Order Amish communities or in the work of contemporary Anabaptist-Mennonite scholars, technology has so far not received extended treatment in published sources. However, this is not to say that there are no reference points for situating this special CGR issue. Indeed, the call for proposals that generated it emerged out of my personal preoccupation over several decades with the intersection of technology and Anabaptist/Mennonite faith and practice. I must note that contributors David Cramer and Andy Brubacher Kaethler are extending conversations on technology that have been nurtured at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary going back (at least) to my time as a student there in the late 1990s.[2]  One prominent example was Arthur P. Boers’s initiative to unite insights from Albert Borgmann’s philosophy of technology with Christian practices by bringing together Borgmann and a number of Mennonite academics, pastors, activists, and writers.[3] Perhaps it isn’t surprising that Mennonite pastors and practical theologians have been leading the effort to reflect on technology and faith, given the concerns that families, congregations, and church institutions are struggling with.[4]

In a less direct way, two of the contributors to this issue, Maxwell Kennel and Lisa Schirch, are extending conversations on technology that have long been nurtured at Conrad Grebel University College. This is evident, for example, in articles by Conrad Brunk published in CGR more than thirty years ago that examined technology through the lenses of philosophy and peace and conflict studies.[5] Indeed, it was encounters with professors like Brunk and A. James Reimer while I was studying engineering at the University of Waterloo that first prompted me to consider larger questions about technology.

Of course, there are additional settings in which space has been made for Anabaptist-Mennonite conversations about technology, including the annual Religion and Science Conference organized by Goshen College,[6] courses offered by the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University,[7] and even conferences and partnerships facilitated by Mennonite Central Committee.[8] As well, such conversations can be sparked by sources beyond the Anabaptist-Mennonite world; for every recent book on technology from Mennonite publishers[9] there are many more from other traditions.[10]

Yet it seems to me that the articles collected in this special CGR issue only underscore the urgency of creating more opportunities to dig deeper and extend the table further among Anabaptist-Mennonites. This issue is only a start. In addition to theologians, philosophers, pastors, and peacebuilders, what about social workers, medical professionals, and those who have lived experience with the disparities and injustice caused by technological change? What about Anabaptist-Mennonite perspectives from the global South? In addition, the perspectives of practitioners immersed in the technology sector would add crucial insights to the conversation. After all, Anabaptist-Mennonite communities include numerous designers, developers, engineers, scientists, researchers, technicians, managers, and investors who are playing crucial roles in the very technological changes we are grappling with.

I am grateful to the contributors to this issue for helping lay important groundwork, and for the enthusiastic support of Derek Suderman and Stephen Jones, the editors of TheConradGrebelReview.*

PaulC. Heidebrecht is the Director of the Kindred Credit Union Centre for Peace Advancement at Conrad Grebel University College in Waterloo, Ontario.

[1] Nicholas Carr, “Is Google Making Us Stupid? What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains,” TheAtlantic302/1 (July/August 2008), 56-63.

[2] Under the supervision of Gayle Gerber Koontz, I completed a thesis entitled “Toward a Theology of Technology from a Mennonite Perspective” at AMBS in 2000.

[3] Boers convened a “Focal Living Consultation” with Borgmann and these academics, pastors, activists, and writers at AMBS on March 4-7, 2008, that informed his subsequent book LivingintoFocus:ChoosingWhatMattersinanAgeofDistractions(Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2012).

[4] See the essays on technology edited by Andy Brubacher Kaethler in Vision:A Journal for Church and Theology 16/2 (Fall 2015).

[5] Conrad G. Brunk, “Professionalism and Responsibility in the Technological Society,” TheConradGrebelReview 3, no. 2 (Spring 1985): 133-53, and “Ethical Values, the Technological Mind, and the Problem of International Peace and Security,” The Conrad Grebel Review 9, no. 3 (Fall 1991): 293-307.

[6] “Past Conferences and Guest Speakers,”, accessed March 13, 2022. Proceedings from these conferences have been published on occasion. See, for example, Owen Gingerich, WorryingAboutEvolution(Kitchener, ON: Pandora Press, 2013).

[7] Courses taught by Lisa Schirch at the Summer Peacebuilding Institute have included “Digital Peacebuilding and PeaceTech: Understanding Social Media, and Conflict and Online Violent Extremism.”

[8] Mark Siemens, ed., HarvestintheBalance:Food,JusticeandBiotechnology(Akron, PA and

Winnipeg, MB: Mennonite Central Committee, Food, Disaster, and Material Resources Department and International Peace Office, 2002); and Jacob Schiere, BeyondTechnology:MCCOccasionalPaperNo.14 (Akron, PA: Mennonite Central Committee, 1991).

[9] See Ed Cyzewski, Reconnect: SpiritualRestoration from DigitalDistraction(Harrisonburg, VA: Herald Press, 2020); and Douglas Estes, BravingtheFuture:ChristianFaithina World of Limitless Tech (Harrisonburg, VA: Herald Press, 2018).

[10] See, for example, Andy and Amy Crouch, MyTechwiseLife:GrowingUpandMakingChoicesina World of Devices (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2020); Craig Gay, ModernTechnologyandtheHumanFuture(Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2018); Kate M. Ott, ChristianEthicsfora Digital Society (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2019); and Felicia Wu Song, RestlessDevices:RecoveringPersonhood,Presence,andPlaceintheDigitalAge(Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2021).

Table of Contents | Foreword | ArticlesBook Reviews

Digital Discernment: An Experiment in Developing Organic Anabaptist Practices of Social Media Use

David C. Cramer
ABTRACT: In the North American church today, social media is both essential to effective ministry and detrimental to it. The author describes his experiment in applying more-with-less theologizing  to  whether and how to utilize social media, discusses how Amish Mennonite communities deal with selectively adopting and adapting new technologies, and explains “digital discernment,” a practical approach to social media he developed based on clarifying means and ends. Challenges posed by COVID-19 contributed to his conclusion that such discernment cannot be a one-time experiment but, as it is with Amish communities, an ongoing process of negotiating changing circumstances together in community.


During the 2019–20 academic year, I joined three colleagues at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS)—where I work part-time—in the annual Scribes for the Reign of God collaborate research group.[1] The topic of our collaborative research was technology—with a specific focus on newer and emerging digital technologies. As a bi-vocational pastor, I had more practical than theoretical interest in studying this subject. The question guiding my research was this: How can pastors discern when and how to utilize digital communication technology—and social media in particular— toward fulfilling their pastoral roles and the church’s mission, while avoiding the pitfalls inherent in such technology? This question arose from my own experiences—and those of pastoral colleagues—of attempting to utilize social media for our ministries.

My impression as a pastor is that in the contemporary North American church, social media is both essential to effective church ministry and detrimental to it. Without engaging social media, it can be more difficult to stay apprised of what congregants are going through, much of which they share about only through tweets or Facebook and Instagram posts. Moreover, social media seems to be the most convenient way to stay connected to ministry colleagues, learn what issues other pastors are facing in their respective ministries and how they are approaching them, and stay informed about political, social, economic, and environmental issues that the church must engage as part of its public witness. Yet the reality is that every minute spent engaging social media is a minute notspent on embodied, face-to-face ministry—and, given the way social media is designed, a minute spent on social media can easily become an hour.

Rather than taking an all-or-nothing approach to social media, I was drawn to my colleague Malinda Elizabeth Berry’s proposal for what she calls a “more-with-less theology,”[2] which she develops from her reading of Mennonite Central Committee cookbooks as a form of practical theology. Berry describes how MorewithLessCookbookauthor Doris Janzen Longacre not only provides global Mennonite recipes but also calls Anabaptists to connect their theology of simplicity with their food purchasing and eating habits. Berry describes Longacre’s form of theologizing as “organic” or “homegrown” theology. In contrast to conventional systematic theology that aims for doctrinal clarity, Berry describes “organic theologizing” as “a kind of God-talk that emerges from the living, breathing, organic grassroots of a faith community.”[3] “The purpose of organic theology and homegrown God-talk,” she writes, “is to help communities take stock of their shared experiences and consider what kind of fruit they are producing, rather than viewing church as a place where we shop for unblemished fruits and vegetables plucked from the produce aisles without getting our hands dirty.”[4] At the same time, Berry states that organic theology “contributes to the theology and ethics of simple living, a social movement that connects the politics of daily living with a concern for authentic connection with other people rather than things.”[5]

In this essay, I describe my experiment in applying Berry’s approach to homegrown, organic, more-with-less theologizing to the question of whether and how to utilize social media for ministry. Rather than looking to Mennonite cookbooks as my resource for such theologizing, I turned my attention to the discernment practices of Amish Mennonite communities regarding the adoption and adaptation of new technologies. Informed by these homegrown practices, I then developed a practical approach to social media use that I call digitaldiscernment. This approach involves intentionally modifying and repurposing this technology so that it can be used as a means to one’s ends rather than becoming an end in itself.

Amish Technological Discernment

Instead of adopting (or rejecting) new technologies as they emerge, Amish communities engage in intentional practices of discernment about whether and how to adopt and adapt them.[6] As computer scientist Cal Newport describes, “At  the  core  of  the  Amish  philosophy  regarding  technology is the following trade-off: The Amish prioritize the benefits generated by acting intentionally about technology over the benefits lost from the technologies they decide not to use. Their gamble is that intentiontrumps convenience—and this is a bet that seems to be paying off.”[7] Approaching all new technologies with intentionality can lead to uses that differ from those of mainstream culture. For example, many Amish communities prohibit the ownership of automobiles but do not prohibit hiring a driver to transport them via an automobile. Many Amish communities prohibit having a phone in the home but do not prohibit having a phone booth at the end of the drive, and prohibit being hooked up to the electrical grid but do not prohibit the use of generators or solar panels.

Communications professor Kevin Miller writes that the Amish’s “selective use of technology can seem maddeningly inconsistent to outsiders.” But, he explains, “there is logic behind it—and one that makes increasing sense to modern Americans as we grapple with our relationship to technology and its hegemonic tendency in our lives. Whatever the apparent inconsistencies, the Amish have managed to keep technology in check, and in doing so they have fostered a sense of community that many of us yearn for our electronically tethered and frenetically paced lives.”[8] Below I tease out the logic that seems to function implicitly in discernment around technology in Amish communities.

Distinguishing Meansfrom Ends

Miller writes that Amish communities’ discussions around technology adoption are guided by “the ultimateinterest in keeping sacrosanct the form of community the Amish see as mandated in Scripture and which has been handed down to the present from their European Anabaptist forebears of the sixteenth century.”[9] In other words, the Amish begin their discernment around technology by clarifying their endsand then work backward to consider whether and how a given piece of technology might serve as a meansto those ends. Miller discusses the Amish’s selective use of the telephone as a case in point: “A plastic rather than rigid posture toward innovations allowed [Amish] groups to successfully leverage the telephone as a tool for maintaining community rather than ripping its fabric apart.”[10]

Historian Steven M. Nolt  observes,  “As  a  consumer  community the Amish believe that moraldiscernmentcomesfirstand that power arrangements—batteries for clocks, naphtha  gas  for  lamps,  propane for refrigerators, and so on—can follow later for those things deemed worthwhile.”[11] Once the theological and moral discernment about ends is in view, the Amish then have considerable latitude and variety in their discerning over how a given technology might serve as a means to those ends. As Karen Johnson-Weiner describes, “Technology itself is not a threat to the Amish. Rather, technologyis an outcome of particular decisions that favor one way of life over another. . . . Amish communities are making different choices about technology and about how to be Amish in an increasingly technological world.”[12] Amish discussions around technology are not primarily about the technology itself but are about a way of life: what it means to be faithfully Amish. As Newport describes, “The Amish, it turns out, do something that’s both shockingly radical and simple in our age of impulsive and complicated consumerism: they start with the things they value most, then work backward to ask whether a given new technology performs more harm than good with respect to these values.”[13]

WeighingCosts andBenefits

Even if an Amish community deems a new technology useful as a means to the community’s ends, that does not justify adopting the technology. New technology must pass a higher bar of providing more benefits than it does costs. As Donald B. Kraybill and Steven M. Nolt explain, “Although they selectively use new technology, the Amish worry that its use may erode communal life. A given instrument or mechanical device, while harmless in itself, might trigger broader social consequences. Theproductionvalueofa new piece of technology is often weighed against its potential impact on the traditional patterns of work and community. Their cautious use of technology . . . hinges on an implicit assessment of its long-term impact on community life.”[14] Thus, in addition to the practical discernment of means and ends, the Amish engage in practical discernment around costs and benefits. It is not enough for a new technology to be useful as a means to an end or for it to provide some identifiable benefit. Rather, it must be able to provide a benefit without also costing the community something that it values. As Kraybill and Nolt observe, “Technology that improves efficiency or reduces physical labor is generally accepted if it does not compromise basic social arrangements.”[15]


Even if a new form of technology has an identifiable use as a means to an Amish community’s ends, and even if the benefits justify taking on some costs of adopting it, an Amish community still might not adopt it wholesale. Instead, they often modify, adapt, or selectively appropriate a new form of technology to receive its benefits while minimizing its costs. This discernment practice in many instances requires the community to be moretech savvy than the average tech adopter. It takes technological expertise and innovation to take a new technology and modify it to bend toward your desired ends instead of the desired ends of the developer.

Being counter-cultural when it  comes  to  technological  use  need not mean being anti-technology. As Nolt writes, “Amish dissent from the mechanical mainstream is not a straightforward all-or-nothing proposition. Instead, it reflects complex patterns of discernment that have produced neither a flight from technology nor an uncritical equation of new and improved.”[16] And Charles Jantzi summarizes, “Amish generally do not consider technology evil in itself. . . . Thus, rather than opposing all change, the Amish tend to reject what is likely to be harmful to the community; new technology that can be adapted or modified to fit into the existing regulations of the community is accepted.”[17]

While these discernment practices have allowed Amish communities to selectively adopt and adapt new technologies for their ends of community for generations, the question is whether they can be applied to digital communication technologies. Both Nolt and Jantzi  describe how discernment over cellphone and social media use is ongoing within Amish communities, and it remains unclear how these communities will be able to adapt these technologies toward their ends without being radically transformed in the process.[18] Kevin Miller thus emphasizes the importance “in Amish-and- technology discussions to avoid falling into a common false dichotomy—to either romanticize as ideal or dismiss as hopelessly compromised.” Instead, he proposes asking what we “might learn from the Amish and their attempts to control technology, and then re-contextualize those principles for our habitus.”[19] In the next section, I describe how I attempted to do just that in my experiment with selective adoption and adaptation of social media for my purposes in pastoral ministry.

My  Experiment  in  Digital  Discernment

As a Mennonite pastor, I share a common religious lineage and many theological convictions with my Amish Mennonite faith-siblings. I thus turn to the Amish as a resource for organic theologizing in the Anabaptist tradition. At the same time, however, I recognize that the social location of my pastoral context in an urban Mennonite congregation radically differs from traditional Amish communities. In my context, social media use is a given for most people, whereas in traditional Amish communities it remains the exception to the rule, despite increasing use of social media among Amish youth.[20] Moreover, despite a Mennonite emphasis on community, my context remains largely individualistic, whereas traditional Amish  communities tend to prioritize the needs of the community over those of the individual. These differences and others necessitate the kind of re-contextualization that Miller proposes for any appropriation of Amish technological discernment to my own discernment around social media use. Below I describe how I attempted to apply these discernment practices in my context.

Identifyingthe Ends ofMinistry

Whereas the ends of Amish life are the maintenance and preservation of the community itself, the ends of ministry are not a given. In order to identify whether social media could be a means to my ministry ends, then, I first had to identify what those ends are. Newport recommends taking a thirty-day “digital declutter” in order to begin the process of discernment about what one’s desired ends for social media use are. During this thirty-day period, one stops using all social media possible without jeopardizing employment. This time is not a “social media fast” perse but a time to begin the process of discernment over which tools might serve as means to one’s desired ends and how best to use them (or not use them) to achieve those ends.

I underwent the thirty-day digital declutter in January and February 2020. During this time, I took an inventory of the ends of pastoral ministry that might or might not benefit from social media use. Here is the list I developed through personal reflection and conversation with other pastors:

  1. Pastoralcare. Pastors care for congregants or parishioners.
  2. Proclamation. Pastors proclaim the gospel in their contexts.
  3. Pedagogy. Pastors teach their congregation how to understand the gospel and its implications for their lives.
  4. Propheticspeech. Pastors speak truth to power—including the powerful within the congregation.
  5. Prayerandpiety. Pastors cultivate their own spiritual life in order both to minister from a place of orthopathy (right emotions) and to provide an example for the congregation to emulate.
  6. Personalwell-being. Pastors tend to their own emotional, physical, and relational well-being in addition to their spiritual well-being.
  7. Professionaldevelopment. Pastors continue to grow and develop in the profession of ministry—to learn new ideas and practices that keep their ministry fresh and relevant.
  8. Parishionerengagement. Pastors regularly communicate with the congregation keep them updated on the activities of the church, how they can volunteer, and so on.
  9. Publiccommunication. Pastors communicate with the wider community regarding church ministries and activities in the community where the church is located.
  10. Partnerships. Pastors communicate with other churches, nonprofits, social justice organizations, local governments, schools, and so on, in order to collaborate on ecumenical, interreligious, and community initiatives.

With this alliterative list of the ends of ministry (to which more could certainly be added), I returned to examine each social media platform to assess its usefulness in achieving those ends. For each tool, I asked the first questions for discernment: Can the platform be used to help achieve my ministry ends? In most instances, the answer was yes, which led me to move to the second mode of discernment: weighing the costs and benefits of adopting the social media platform as a tool for ministry.

WeighingCostsand Benefits ofSocial MediaUsein Ministry

While I discerned that social media platforms could be a useful means toward achieving my ministry ends, I also recognized that they present significant costs. Not only can they waste significant time, they also facilitate the illusion of having achieved ministry ends when the reality only distantly approximated those ends. Instead of providing pastoral care, for example, I might simply click a likeor loveor sadreaction on a congregant’s Facebook post. Instead of speaking truth to power, I might simply “rage tweet” about the latest outrage of a politician or religious leader. These minimal quotients of online pastoral activity might make me feel like I was performing my duties, when in reality I was shirking them.

At the same time, if I removed social media from my life entirely, I would lose the significant benefit of maintaining important connections to ministry colleagues or engaging key aspects of congregants’ lives that in many cases are shared onlythrough these technologies. As I weighed the potential loss of the benefits against the potential costs of social media use, I had difficulty determining whether the benefits outweighed the costs. I therefore cautiously concluded that I could begin reintroducing social media into my life but onlyifI could modify and adapt it in such a way that I could maintain the benefits while minimizing the costs.

ModifyingandAdaptingSocial MediaforMinistry

In order to benefit from social media platforms without incurring their costs, I had to radically repurpose them. This essentially involved breakingtheir intended primary functions in order to make them lessenjoyable.[21]  Below I describe the specific modifications I made to Facebook, though I made similar modifications to other platforms as well.

First, I “unfollowed” everyone. Facebook distinguishes between befriending people and following them, though following occurs automatically when befriending. It is therefore possible unfollow people and still be their Facebook friend, and friends are not notified when they are unfollowed. By unfollowing everyone, I was able to virtually eliminate the unfiltered feed that normally appears when signing in to Facebook, which I found to be its most addictive aspect and therefore its biggest time waster. By unfollowing everyone and eliminating the feed, I made Facebook an incredibly boring communication tool, while maintaining its usefulness. I could still check on friends’ and congregants’ posts without encountering the endless, unfiltered feed of distracting information that I was not seeking out intentionally.

In order to make it easier to check on friends, family, and congregants, I created “friend lists” and utilized Facebook groups. The friend list is a little- known tool that allows one to organize friends into categories. By clicking on a particular friend list, one can view a feed of only friends on that list. I created one such list for my congregants and one for the AMBS community, so that in a matter of a couple minutes I could see what my congregants and colleagues are sharing and determine whether there is anything I need to follow up on directly. Likewise, Facebook groups are a place for people of shared interests to gather, so I joined groups where I could meet with fellow pastors, for example, to offer support and share resources and ideas.

In order to ensure that I followed up in an intentional and personal way after reading a friend’s or congregant’s post on Facebook, I followed Newport’s advice to stop reacting to posts (e.g., clicking the likeemoji). By removing the ability to provide the minimum quotient of empathy to my congregants and friends, I forced myself to find other, more meaningful ways to engage them. I found that the bar has been set so low by social media that even a personal email or text—to say nothing of a phone call, card, or personal visit—conveys that you care in ways that a likeon Facebook never could.

Finally, I thought more intentionally about the kinds of posts I made. I decided to primarily post only new information—often through the church’s Facebook page instead of my personal one—rather than using Facebook to provide my commentary on society and current events. This decision allowed me to continue utilizing Facebook to keep congregants and friends up to speed on the church’s happenings as well as new information about me. But it removed the temptation to use my Facebook wall as a substitute for prophetic speech. When I felt the need to speak into a social or political issue, I had to determine whether it rose to the level of writing a long-form blog post, opinion piece for the local paper, or article for a periodical. If I did not have the time and energy to invest in a more thoughtful piece, then I concluded it was probably something my spouse and I could simply complain about to each other over coffee. If I did put the time and energy into saying something meaningful and substantive enough for a venue beyond Facebook, then I allowed myself to share on Facebook whatever I produced after it had been published or posted elsewhere.

In general, these modifications made Facebook into a boring but useful tool for gathering and sharing information rather than a substitute for human communication and enjoyment. I could use it to quickly see if any of my congregants had a birthday, for example, and, if so, rather than adding to the chorus of friends posting on their Facebook wall, I would take a few minutes to write them an e-mail or card or give them a call. If I saw that a congregant’s grandparent passed away, then rather than adding a sademoji or comment to the post, I would make a note to try to attend the viewing or funeral—or at least to check in with the congregant in person. These may seem like small adjustments. But after implementing them, I noticed that I engaged Facebook much less but with much greater intentionality. Doing so gave me more time for ministry and made me more attentive to the needs of my congregation. In the words of Doris Janzen Longacre, I found that with social media, I got more with less.


Much has happened in the two years since I conducted my experiment. Within weeks of concluding my digital detox, the world went into quarantine after the outbreak of COVID-19. Suddenly, many of the non-digital forms of communication that I had taken for granted during my experiment became impossible. These changes led me to reintroduce forms of social media that I had eliminated or drastically modified. Even such fundamental ends of pastoral ministry as preaching and pedagogy became next-to- impossible without a livestream on Facebook. My reliance on other digital communication tools, such as Zoom or Google Meet, to facilitate personal communication increased dramatically as well.

At the same time, social media platforms became implicated in spreading misinformation regarding election processes and the safety and effectiveness of vaccinations. In addition to increasing attention on these platforms’ business practices and environmental impact, such revelations drastically changed the relative weight of the costs of utilizing such technology to the point where the benefits may no longer justify their use, even given modifications and adaptations. These considerations point to the reality that digital discernment cannot simply be a one-time experiment but must be, as it is with Amish communities, an ongoing process of negotiating changing circumstances together in community.*

DavidC. Cramer is Managing Editor of the Institute of Mennonite Studies at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana, and teaching pastor at Keller Park Church in South Bend, Indiana.

[1] I presented a draft of this paper at the Pastors and Leaders 2020 and Deep Faith conference on the theme Shaping Faith in a Digital Culture, held at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana, on March 5, 2020. Many thanks to those in attendance who offered helpful feedback. Thanks especially to Beverly Lapp, Andy Brubacher Kaethler, and Brent Greber, who were invaluable conversation partners on these themes during the 2019– 20 Scribes for the Reign of God research project, and to Jamie Pitts for directing it. For more on Scribes for the Reign of God, see

[2] Malinda Berry, “Extending the Theological Table: MCC’s World Community Cookbooks as Organic Theology,” in A Table of Sharing: Mennonite Central Committee and the Expanding Networks of Mennonite Identity, ed. Alain Epp Weaver (Telford, PA: Cascade, 2011), 284-309. Cf. Malinda Berry, “The Five Life Standards: Theology and Household Code,” in LivingMorewithLess, ed. Doris Janzen Longacre, 30th anniversary edition (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press), 36.

[3] Berry, “Extending the Theological Table,” 288.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 286.

[6] By speaking of Amish communities in the collective, I do not intend to minimize the differences among various Amish groups. My purpose is to identify the implicit theo- logics of Amish discernment practices as described by scholars of the Amish, though how these theo-logics are applied will often differ among the communities—with some taking a more permissive approach to adopting new technologies and others taking a more restrictive approach. Similarly, some Amish communities take a more communal approach to discernment around technology adoption, while others adhere to a more hierarchal or even authoritarian approach. I am indebted to an anonymous peer-reviewer for raising these important qualifications.

[7] Cal Newport, DigitalMinimalism:Choosinga Focused Life in a Noisy World (New York: Portfolio/Penguin, 2019), 53, emphasis in original.

[8] Kevin D. Miller, “Technological Prudence: What the Amish Can Teach Us,” ChristianReflection20 (2011): 20.

[9] Ibid., 26, emphasis added.

[10] Ibid., 25, emphasis added.

[11] Steven M. Nolt, “‘You Hold the Whole World in Your Hand’: Cell Phones and Discernment in Amish Churches,” Vision 16, no. 2 (Fall 2015): 29, emphasis added.

[12] Karen Johnson-Weiner,“Technological  Diversity and  Cultural  Change among  Contemporary Amish Groups,” Mennonite Quarterly Review 88 (2014): 21, 22, emphasis added.

[13] Newport, DigitalMinimalism, 51-52.

[14] Donald B. Kraybill and Steven M. Nolt, “Taming the Powers of Technology,” in Amish Enterprise: From Plows to Profits, 2nd ed. (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004), 106, emphasis added.

[15] Ibid., 106, emphasis added.

[16] Nolt, “‘You Hold the Whole World in Your Hand,’” 27.

[17] Charles Jantzi, “Amish Youth and Social Media: A Phase or a Fatal Error?” Mennonite Quarterly Review 91 (2017): 71-72.

[18] Nolt, “‘You Hold the Whole World in Your Hand’”; Jantzi, “Amish Youth and Social Media.”

[19] Miller, “Technological Prudence,” 21.

[20] See Jantzi, “Amish Youth and Social Media.”

[21] Following Augustine, I distinguish between use (uti) and enjoyment (frui), where the former identifies means and the latter ends. In On Christian Doctrine, Augustine writes, “There are some things . . . which are to be enjoyed, others which are to be used, others still which are to be enjoyed and used. Those things which are objects of enjoyment make us happy. Those things which are objects of use assist and (so to speak) support us in our efforts after happiness, so that we can attain the things that make us happy and rest in them.” Augustine, On Christian Doctrine I.3. I suggest that social media can be used to attain the things that make us happy but in themselves should not become the things that make us happy.

Table of Contents | Foreword | ArticlesBook Reviews

The Enduring Significance of the Incarnation for the Church in a Digital Age

Andy Brubacher Kaethler
ABSTRACT: This essay begins with a discussion of the bearing of the Incarnation of God in Jesus on contemporary Christology and communicating the Good News, and then proceeds to outline a theological anthropology that affirms the creational goodness of human finitude and offers guidance on how far we should embrace online and other technologies that seek to overcome human limitations. The author evaluates models of Anabaptist-Mennonite ecclesiology developed by J. Denny Weaver, A. James Reimer, Thomas N. Finger, and Robert J. Suderman in order to suggest an appropriate stance toward the world and technology, and concludes with a framework for reorienting the church as the embodied presence of God in today’s digital milieu.


The general consensus among church leaders and sociologists is that the church is in decline in Canada[1] and the United States.[2] While the drop in church attendance and the decreasing investment of Christian individuals and communities in a distinctly Christ-like way of living cannot be tethered only to the Enlightenment and the subsequent rise of science and technology in a simple, direct line, there is a  correlation  to  explore.  Particularly worth investigating is the relationship between our growing reliance on disincarnate, digital communications with models of ecclesiology that are rooted in the Incarnation of Jesus as both medium and message of the Good News, and with a theological anthropology that embraces human finitude and embodiment. In a digital age, a church that is both theologically faithful and effective in practice will foster and maintain a strong commitment to the Incarnation, the embodied presence of God in the world. My argument in this paper is that acknowledging the enduring significance of the Incarnation will govern the process of identifying and avoiding technologies that disembody us and cultivating practices that bring bodies together.

I will begin by considering the bearing of the event of the Incarnation of God in Jesus on our contemporary Christology and on communicating the Good News today. The Incarnation of Jesus then informs a theological anthropology that affirms the creational goodness of human finitude. If human finitude is understood as a gift of creation rather than a curse of the Fall, this impacts the extent to which humans should embrace technologies that seek to overcome human limitations. Next, I will explore four contemporary models of ecclesiology to evaluate what each proposes to be the basic stance of the church in and toward the world. The term ‘world’ is not synonymous with ‘technology,’ yet technology is an indisputable aspect of civilizations and cultures. How the church understands its role in the world influences if, when, and how the church views and adopts technologies used around it. I conclude the discussion by posing questions—and offering a framework for how the church can recalibrate and reorient itself in the technological milieu of our present age.

Help and Harm from the Same Technological Hand

Writing an essay on the church and technology[3] is admittedly easier today than ten, or even five, years ago. This is not because our situation is less complex. On the contrary, it is more complex as our daily civic and religious lives have become increasingly enmeshed with technology—especially digital and surveillance technologies—and the times and places where we exist and interact without the presence and mediation of these technologies are fleetingly rare. The possibility of opting out of technological adaptation, including in sacred space such as a church sanctuary, requires immense intentionality and effort.

What has changed is the burgeoning acknowledgement that adopting technologies and aligning our lives to them come at a cost. The costs are exposed by mid-20th-century thinkers such as Martin Heidegger, Jacques Ellul, and Marshal McLuhan, who identified the central features of a society whose relationships are intimately mediated by technology. A subsequent wave of thinkers then critiqued the logic by which this is possible. This wave includes George Grant, Ursula Franklin, Ivan Illich, Neil Postman, and Albert Borgmann. Cultural critic Alan Jacobs suggests both waves share a “Standard Critique of Technology (SCT),” a similar way of observing and critiquing how “powerful technologies come to dominate the people they are supposed to serve, and reshape us in their image.”[4] Technology frames the way humans interact with the world (Heidegger), prescribing (Franklin) and manipulating (Illich) human interaction. The pervasive use of devices coalesces into a paradigm for social organization (Borgmann), aptly described as a “technopoly” (Postman).

The social cost of technopoly is obligatory submission in a culture of compliance (Franklin). Psychologically, the cost is a loss of human agency. Theologically, the cost is a loss of fidelity expressed as subservience to technological systems and idolatrous worship of technological objects. Technologies adopted to solve one problem create new problems, some foreseeable and others unforeseeable. The tradeoffs need to be more rigorously considered than they have been in the last two centuries.

The swelling recognition that both help and harm come from the same technological hand and the waning myth of technotopiaprovide a moment of opportunity for faithful discernment. It is also an opportunity to identify and engage in practices that reorient us to human flourishing. The church has an important role to play in identifying not only the spiritual hazards of techno-theismand technolatry, but the hazards to bodies and relationships as well. The church will communicate he Good News with integrity if it nurtures commitments and practices that demonstrate what it is for rather than emphasizing what it is against.[5]

Although practices vary widely today among groups of Anabaptists, the impulse to critically evaluate whether to adopt a new technology is rooted in Anabaptist history and theology.[6] Historically, the question is not so much about the Christian’s relationship with technology per se, but about the choices of behavior and lifestyle that maintain a distinction between the church and the state or the church and the world. I want to invite Anabaptists of all streams to revisit the original ethos of the Radical Reformation and to reinvest in intentional discernment about adopting new technologies. Anabaptist communities need to re-embrace some of the very ideas that have faded in memory and practices precisely because the world needs them now more than ever.[7] I do not wish to emphasize what we are against, but to reorient our daily practices of work, worship, and rest around what we are for. With the radical reformers we need to turn to Jesus and the Good News of God’s Kingdom, paying particular attention to how a Jesus-shaped visible church cultivates practices that embrace kinship and place.

Incarnation  as  God’s  Embodied  Presence

What technologies would Jesus use? This question has intrigued some church people, especially in regard to tools for evangelism and outreach. While addressing it at face value may seem anachronistic, it is not anachronistic to ask about the commensurability of the content of the Good News and how Jesus shares that content or to reflect on what the commensurability of medium and message means for the church’s witness today. Jesus communicates almost exclusively in speech and action.[8] He teaches and heals, he prays and liberates. He recites Scripture and he models reconciliation. Jesus is the Incarnation, the embodiment, of God’s Word and work. He does not use these ancient body-bound forms of communicating God’s all-encompassing love simply because social media or the internet had not yet been invented. The Incarnation is God’s chosen way of sharing the Good News in both Jesus’ time and our time. Embodiment is not accidental to God’s love; it is essential to it. The Incarnation is enduring.

One hundred and twenty-five years ago Charles Sheldon famously posed the question, “What would Jesus do?”[9] In the late 1990s and early 2000s, his question was rebooted as the WWJD movement, and in more recent years has been modified for the age of social media. For instance, “What would Jesus tweet?” is asked seriously by Matthew Gindin in Sojournersmagazine.[10] Entirely overlooked in the WWJD recast is the equally intriguing but prior question of whether Jesus would use Twitter at all. Many today assume that he would indeed use Twitter or any modern technological medium at his disposal to communicate the Good News, and that his followers today should do likewise.

The assumption that social media is an effective and desirable way to communicate Jesus’ love relies on a hard medium-message dichotomy that separates the way a message is shared (the medium) from the message itself— and makes the vehicle for sharing the Gospel unimportant.[11] This cleaving of medium and message is inconsistent with the Gospel itself, and especially with biblical and theological accounts of the Incarnation. Stated succinctly, Jesus, the Messiah, is both medium and message. He is both the bearer of Good News and the Good News itself. The Good News is not just an idea, it is God’s presence.[12] In the Incarnation there is complete congruency between medium and message, between the person of Jesus—who was born, taught, healed, was crucified, and rose again—and the Good News of salvation, liberation, and reconciliation. In short, much hinges on the Incarnation.

Communication through bodies is God’s  chosen  best  practice for Christian witness and Christian formation. The implication of the Incarnation for theological anthropology, explored in the next section, is that the goodness of humanity’s embodied existence is not diminished by the Fall but is in fact re-affirmed in Jesus. The implication for ecclesiology, as I will show, is that the church becomes the physical assembly of Jesus- followers who, as a people, continue to embody Jesus’ teaching and practices of salvation, liberation, and reconciliation. Jesus did not commission an institution to continue his ministry but rather a community of people.

Embracing  Human  Finitude

Human beings are fashioned by the Creator in the imagoDei. This truth is affirmed in Genesis 1 and 2, and vigorously reaffirmed in the Incarnation. The birth, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus all signal the goodness of the body and the sacredness of physical existence. Humans are valued as members of God’s creation, not inspiteoftheir finitude and frailty but intheir finitude and frailty. Human finitude is a gift of the garden, not a curse of the Fall.[13] It is both a prelapsarian and postlapsarian reality. The Fall neither weakens nor diverts God’s profound love for all humanity, nor does it erode God’s strategy of communicating through human bodies.

Many traditional theologies hold that Adam and Eve experienced perfect knowledge and complete clarity of understanding before the Fall, unimpaired by human finitude and not “vexed by the mediation of interpretation.”[14] James K. A. Smith disagrees. In The Fall of Interpretation he espouses a creational hermeneutic that acknowledges imperfections of language and human finitude “on the basis of an affirmation of the goodness of creation.”[15] To deny human finitude, the limits of language, and the diversity of interpretation is anti-creational.[16] Moreover, human desire is formed and fostered through daily practices. In DesiringtheKingdomSmith winsomely depicts the human being not primarily as homosapiens(discerning, reasoning) but as homoliturgicus(worshiping). Humans are ultimately “liturgical animals” because they are “fundamentally desiring” creatures: “We are what we love, and our love is shaped, primed, and aimed by liturgical practices that take hold of our gut and aim our heart to certain ends.”[17] With his definition, Smith also uncovers “the anatomy of desire,” the process by which our desires are cultivated and our loves are aimed. Habits are formed by communal practices, which in turn focus our attention on certain objects or ends.[18] Our “ultimate love [is] that to which we ultimately pledge allegiance, that which we worship.[19] Importantly, the anatomy of desire reveals that non-religious practices also incite desire and direct us to an ultimate love. In the age of screens and digital advertising, our attention is an incredibly valuable commodity.[20] Cultural liturgies of the mall, the stadium, the theater, and the internet are powerfully formative.[21]

In order to develop the intersections of Smith’s theological anthropology with technology and ecclesiology, Nolan Gertz and Brad Kallenberg offer instructive perspectives. Gertz asks, “Why do we see so much of life as a problem?”[22] Why do we seek to avoid anything that requires effort, makes us uncomfortable, or entails some suffering? He responds to his own question by positing that the malady of our time is a “life-denying” technological nihilism that “leads us to prefer being exploited to being free, to being responsible, to being human.”[23] The antidote to it is to embrace— rather than to deem problematic—what reminds us of human finitude. Gertz deepens the theological anthropology laid out above by identifying how the tools we use to enhance our lives may actually erode the very meaning of what it means to be alive.

For his part, Kallenberg provides a model for how individuals and the church can be the people of God, proclaiming the Gospel in a way that is consistent with both an Incarnational Christology and a creational hermeneutic. The Good News is best communicated through bodies and in daily lives of Christian communities. Conversion to the way of Jesus is not simply a decision one individual makes about what they believe; it is the ongoing formation of daily habits, practices, and identity within a collective body. “In attempting to show the gospel to nonbelievers by tracing the character of our believing communities, we are adopting a very ancient strategy,” Kallenberg observes, the very “robust character of the early church that was the bottom line. . . .”[24] The church is not immune to being “bewitched by technology” and regularly confuses the efficiency of mass media methods for the Good News itself.[25]

Communicating the Good News entails three conditions, according to Kallenberg. These conditions endure through all eras: time, location, and bodies.[26] A fourth condition, we might add, is Christian community, the church, which binds these three together. Communication of the Good News requires the church and the convergence of time, place, and bodies that together coalesce into the living Word. These conditions are not problems to be overcome or to be remedied by the latest technological solutions. Rather, they are means of communication that are faithful and effective throughout all the ages; that is, before Pentecost as well as after Pentecost, before modern tools for communication were invented and after these tools become obsolete.

The Church as Peoplehood

Lydia Neufeld Harder suggests that theology is like a game: it is dynamic and plays out differently each time because conditions and players’ strategies differ. But games also have consistent rules and a basic structure that set general parameters.[27] If we accept her metaphor, then the church is the setting where the game is played out, where theology is interpreted and applied by communities of players. Harder identifies one of the consistent dynamics of the Anabaptist game of theology as a tension between twin hermeneutical approaches: suspicion of the world and obedience to God.[28] This tension is sometimes framed as the separation of church and state or the separation of church and world. Technology is not usually the chief concern in such framings, except that the use of tools and technological developments are inseparable from the practices of the state (especially technologies of warfare) and of the world (especially in dress, communication, transportation, agriculture, and business).

Four contemporary Anabaptist theologians provide examples that shed further light on how Anabaptists take seriously these twin hermeneutic approaches and develop strategies for relating with the world, including the world of technology. I characterize these strategies as discontinuity (J. Denny Weaver), continuity (A. James Reimer), soft dualism (Thomas N. Finger), and peoplehood (Robert J. Suderman). Each has strengths and weaknesses, but I will argue that the strategy that emphasizes the peoplehood of God is the most consistent with the Christology and Anabaptist theological anthropology that I have outlined above.

Weaver:Discontinuitywith Tradition

Weaver’s ecclesiology follows his unwavering commitment to the Gospel of peace and nonviolence. The ability of the church to communicate the Gospel through word and deed is dependent on its distinctiveness from society and the world. The church’s peace witness is compromised if it is “fused with the social order,” and therefore the church must develop a theology that clearly distinguishes it from that order.”[29] The church distinct from the world is a visible church, conspicuously independent of the social and political structures that would ultimately compromise its ability to model the peace and nonviolence of Jesus’ life. If the church is going to be a “visible outpost of God’s justice on earth,”[30] Weaver asserts it must embody more than the four traditional marks (one, holy, catholic, apostolic).

Weaver’s ecclesiology highlights distinctiveness and difference. The church that is faithful to Jesus will defactobe distinct, especially in its practices, structures, and allegiances. A strength of his approach is that it provides a simple and clear motivation for distinctive living, including the use of technologies that directly and indirectly cause harm. Drawbacks are that it undervalues commonalities among other Christian  traditions,  is more reactional than invitational, and does not provide explicit guidance for practices that are not overtly violent, such as the use of technologies where the violence is subtle or removed from the user.


In sharp contrast to Weaver, Reimer’s ecclesiology recognizes persistent connections with, and dependence on, Catholic and Protestant theological traditions. The doctrine of the church must be developed in relation to the entire canon but especially in relation to the creedal statements on the Trinity and Jesus Christ.[31] Peace theology is not an organizing principle for Reimer. Because God is not a pacifist, to overemphasize Jesus’ nonviolence flirts with the heresy of Marcionism. Reimer acknowledges that Mennonites do possess distinct theological emphases (such as free will, conversion, foot washing, non-conformity, nonresistance, avoiding oathtaking, the Christian and the state) but it is actually in ecclesiology that they have the most continuity with other denominations.[32] Reimer values ecumenical dialogue with a shared theological language. However, by bracketing distinctiveness and particularity, his strategy risks weakening the church’s position to critique harmful and unfaithful cultural practices—including technological practices—slipping into becoming an invisible church and fostering an inward-spiritual versus outward-effective dichotomy.

Finger: Soft Dualism

With Reimer, Finger draws on the larger scope of Christian theological tradition. His ChristianTheology: An Eschatological Approach[33] is one of the few examples of an Anabaptist systematic theology.[34] Here, ecclesiology is the outworking and result of other theological considerations, such as eschatology,  Christology,  anthropology,  and  soteriology,  but  is  not  the culmination of them.[35]  The church is not God’s great work; creation and Christ are. In comparison with Weaver and Reimer, Finger sees the church as less normative, maintaining Scripture alone as the “propositional norm.”[36] Finger espouses a soft dualism whereby the church-world distinction is  more  muted  than  Weaver’s  but  more  pronounced  than  Reimer’s. Finger consciously “excludes the extreme dualism of Schleitheim and the Hutterites,”[37] but he does not want to lose sight of some important distinctions between church and world.[38]  He embraces the world as “a common stage on which humankind’s movement toward God’s purpose is acted out,”[39] but does not want to forfeit the eschatological significance of the new creation with its markedly different social, political, and economic structures. The role of the church, then, is twofold: to expose how the “nonchurch world” stymies the actualization of the new creation, and to embody a “church world” alternative.[40]The church functions as an “eschatological sacrament.”[41] This soft dualism allows us to acknowledge positive and negative characteristics of both church and world. Finger’s eschatological approach is not dependent primarily on socio-political realities and the way things are (Reimer) or the way things ought to be (Weaver) but on God’s work inside and outside the church. However, what is lost is clarity about the church’s role in social eschatological fulfilment. Further, Finger’s use of “standard theological categories” (trinity, Christology, atonement, etc.) is susceptible to losing distinct Anabaptist understandings and being subsumed into traditional, standard understandings.[42]

Suderman:A People in the World

The approach to ecclesiology and the relationship of the church to the world by Suderman[43] diverges from the above models in three significant ways. First, he writes as a practical theologian and church leader, reflexive in theory and practice. Second, his theologizing is born out of global experience and testing, not just the experience of the European and North American church. Third, Suderman emphasizes the peoplehoodof the church. It is to this third distinction that I will pay special attention.

The central question for Suderman is, What is the vocation of the church? In Re-ImaginingtheChurchhe asks it this way: “Do we really believe that the paradigm-busting, all-encompassing, alternative-generating, Incarnation, reconciling/saving vocation of people (the church) is the foundational strategy of God for the transformation of the world . . . ?”[44] This is a rhetorical question theologically, but a live and provocative question psychologically  and  formationally.  If  the  church  is  first  and  foremost a peoplehood—rather than an institution—this “specially vocationed peoplehood” is commissioned to live “outside the norm,” that is, to be an ek- klesia, in “communities that serve as signs that the kingdom of God as taught and lived by Jesus of Nazareth is among us.”[45] The agenda of the ekklesia derives directly from the agenda of God’s kingdom; thus “its interests are ... broadly inclusive of all things that impact the welfare of society as well as creation.”[46] The church, an alternative community, supplants the values of society with the priorities of the Kingdom of God. This peoplehood is “radical, counter-cultural, and prophetic,”[47] “cultivat[ing] the good news so that it is not forgotten, but is accessible and can be lived and experienced over and over again.”[48]

Suderman accepts the counter-cultural calling of the church without overemphasizing its against-ness.He acknowledges continuity with earlier traditions but locates the arc of continuity in the Bible and biblical depictions of the people of God rather than in the history and traditions of institutions. The church is for the kingdom of God and “the new shape of things revealed in the coming, life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ,”[49] which suffices to set the agenda and priority of the people of God. Discernment of God’s logic and how to enact God’s politics[50] is central to the church’s vocation. This people-centered and context-sensitive approach allows for some diversity of practice based on cultural and geographic differences. A limiting factor is that it may not be the best at navigating or adjudicating between particular practices of groups when these practices conflict. It is easy to say that our unity is in Christ, but when particular groups discern the will of God in Christ differently, they still need to navigate between those practices. Nevertheless, the strength of Suderman’s strategy is that it provides a tangible way to understand the continuity between the historic embodiment of God in Jesus and the enduring role of the church as the physical sign of and witness to the Kingdom of God.

Practices of (Re) Orientation and Resilience

Suderman’s peoplehood approach is especially relevant for my purposes here. First, it warrants a robust analysis of the effects and implications of the adoption of technologies on individuals and communities. Second, it helps us resist reducing individuals to consumers or producers in a technological culture or objects of evangelism. Explicit in the ecclesiology of peoplehood is the conviction that the Good News is for humanity, and thus how the Good News is presented must not harm humanity in the process of being presented. This ecclesiology is not institutionally self-serving and self-preserving. Rather, it serves its Lord and master Jesus by serving all. It communicates through bodies and humbly acknowledges the limits of human existence to time and place.

In the preceding sections I presented a Christological basis for continuing to prioritize embodied communication of the Good News, a theological anthropology that rejects the notion that human finitude is a problem to be overcome, and an ecclesiology that recognizes that neither as individuals nor as institutions but as a people that we are most faithful. In this final section I explore ways to resist technology-inspired rebellion to these theological commitments.

A crucial aspect of an Anabaptist understanding of embodiment— both the embodiment of God in Jesus and our acceptance of the limits of bodies as humans—is that we are not only embodied to ourselves but also to others. Through the body and its senses of sight, sound, touch, and smell, we perceive the world around us. Yet our existence is not solipsistic. Through these same bodies we create shared understandings of our environments. A community is not simply an accidental collection of human objects out there in the world to be perceived; it is a physical gathering of individuals who create shared, collective experiences in the world. Thus, the whole is greater than the individual parts that comprise it. A peoplehood is greater than the individual persons who compose it.

If a peoplehood is indeed more than the sum of individual persons comprising it, it is imperative that we consider what technology gives the peoplehood and what it takes away. Both discernment and practice need to occur within the context of community. Collective discernment and collective practice are already counter-cultural in societies that value autonomy and individual freedom. But it is precisely collective discernment and shared practices that constitute the church’s basic existence and mark its flourishing. In “From Tech Critique to Ways of Living,” Alan Jacobs asks, “If Neil Postman was right, so what?” Since the Standard Critique of Technology (SCT) that Jacobs outlines is broadly assumed in this present essay, I contend that we must respond to Jacobs’s question and to his observation that “for all its cogency, the SCT is utterly powerless to slow our technosocial momentum, much less alter its direction.”[51] The presumed problem is that SCT is intellectually compelling but behaviorally impotent. Jacobs may be right that it has failed to significantly change the practices of persons. However, I think it is because those who have sought to name and resist technopoly have done so primarily as individuals and in an adhocmanner.

Jacobs’s response to the impotence of SCT is to adopt cosmotechnics, a “technological Daoism” that “provides a comprehensive and positive account of the world and one’s place in it that makes a different approach to technology more plausible and compelling.” While SCT only gestures in the direction of human flourishing, says Jacobs, cosmotechnics is an explicit and assessible way for everyday life.[52] An example of technological Daoism is the “Californian ideology,” a unique “combination of capitalist drive and countercultural social preference.”[53] But if the Californian ideology is a satisfactory example, it is unfortunately still a very individualistic and scatter-shot approach.

A viable alternative to technological Daoism that takes communal bodies into account is the pedagogical theology of Kosuke Koyama. In WaterBuffaloTheologyand ThreeMileanHourGod,[54] Koyama observes that God teaches, and humans learn, at the scale of what is perceivable by the human senses and at the speed of walking—the realm and pace of human bodies tending to community. God spent forty years, while the Israelites walked the desert together, teaching their community one lesson: “‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matt. 4:4, NRSV).[55] Jesus did much of his teaching – and the disciples did much of their learning while walking together. “God goes slowly in the educational process” of humans, Koyama observes, asserting that “‘forty years in the wilderness’ points to [God’s] basic educational philosophy.” God’s way, affirmed in the life and death of Jesus, is a “slow and costly” way for God to remind the people of God’s covenant relationship with humanity.[56] Slow, costly, communal, and effective is the patient velocity of love.

Jay Y. Kim similarly suggests that “slow and steady” is the way to go. In AnalogChurch[57] he asserts that worship, community, and reading Scripture must occur with others who are physically present in actual places and interacting with concrete things. In the contemporary hybrid world of digital and analog interactions, Kim contends that experiencing the transcendent God, experiencing the richness of diversity in Christian community, and reading the Bible transformationally require doing so in embodied ways. Christian flourishing and Christian witness depend on the church’s ability to “help people lift their collective gaze away from the abyss of their digital devices” and step out in faith onto the water with Jesus.[58]

But re-scaling to miles and  hours  alone  is  not  enough.  Even  at this scale we can still give our attention to causes that are inconsistent with the Good News. Thus, reorientation is also crucial. Despite Jacobs’s complaint that the SCT has no real impact on human behavior, Postman and Borgmann provide helpful, practical steps towards reorienting human behavior, especially when widely employed by communities and not just by individuals in isolated cases.

Postman’s six questions concerning technology can inspire thoughtfulness and intentionality precisely because they empower individuals and communities to pause and consider the consequences of adopting a technology beforeadopting it. In the shadow of Michel Foucault and Jacques Ellul, Postman’s questions remind us that although we are irreversibly part of a social and technological systems, we have agency to resist manipulation. Our gaze and our desires are not simply at the whimsy of those with power and influence. By seriously considering the six questions we are empowered to make competent decisions and take consequential actions.

  1. What  is  the  problem  to  which  this  technology  is  the
  2. Whose problem is it?
  3. Which people and what institutions might be most seriously harmed by a technological solution?
  4. What new problems might be created because we have solved this problem?
  5. What sort of people and institutions might acquire special economic and political power because of technological change?
  6. What changes in language are being enforced by new technologies, and what is being gained and lost by such changes?[59]

Particularly valuable are questions about consequences of our technological choices for ourselves and for persons and communities not in our immediate realm of time and place.

Borgmann provides further guidance for reorienting our lives. Changing the direction of our gaze and desires by definition entails changing them fromsomething. In CrossingthePostmodernDivide, he encourages us to make three turns to reorient our gaze and priorities: from “Baconian realism” to honesty, integrity, and wholeness; from “Cartesian universalism” to particularity and patience; and from “Lockean individualism” to peoplehood and community.[60] He is particularly hopeful about the reorienting power of Christian practices and rituals such as communion and fellowship meals, weekly worship and devotion to Jesus Christ, retreat to the wilderness, and practicing patience in relationships and community life.[61]

The COVID-19 global pandemic disrupted and radically altered work, education, social relationships, and religious life from late in 2019 and into 2022. During this long period when social distancing and isolation have been encouraged by health and government officials in most countries, digital communications and social media have become the primary means for many by which to maintain a modicum of normality in work, relationships, and worship. This recent deep dive into the world of online digital communications provides an opportunity to evaluate online worship and fellowship in light of the Incarnational Christology, the theological anthropology that embraces human finitude, and the ecclesiology of peoplehood that I have set forth here. In order to do this, let me employ some of Postman’s questions and Borgmann’s framework of focal realism, patient vigor, and communal engagement. The digital technologies employed to address the challenges of social distancing instigated by the pandemic provide some immediate solutions, but they also introduce and amplify potentially harmful long-term and concealed consequences.

During the pandemic Zoom has helped many of us see the faces and hear the voices of persons with whom we should not have otherwise been physically close. Thus, in response to Postman’s first question—What is the problem to which this technology is the solution?—it is presumably the problem of being required to social distance and not worship in enclosed spaces. Zoom is the alleged technological solution: we can worship from the safety of our own homes. While worshiping over screens appears to have provided a solution, other possible solutions were not deemed as desirable or viable and were not fully explored, such as worshiping as family units or in small groups outdoors. Another way of answering this question is from the perspective of theological anthropology. The problem is then human finitude, the fact that humans are fettered in time, place, and bodies. Online worship “overcomes” these natural human limitations by virtual surrogate of faces and voices on screens. However, although online worship temporarily assuages the desire to be together, this putative overcoming of finitude perpetuates Baconian realism by virtually alleviating bodily interaction and by severing the human person into independent components of body, mind, and soul.

Postman’s third question, Which people and what institutions might be most seriously harmed by a technological solution?, requires that we take seriously the impact of our consumption of digital media on those who are not in our daily realm of awareness and are vulnerable to harm stemming from changing patterns of work, education, and socializing. This question can also be asked with Christology in mind, considering whether the medium of Zoom and digital communication is consistent with gospel message. Does the use of Zoom assume that access to the internet is universal, or that everyone has the cognitive ability to navigate graphical user interfaces? Moreover, gauging the commensurability of medium and message must consider the environmental cost of extracting metals and minerals necessary to manufacture digital devices and the health and safety conditions of those who work in mining and manufacturing. It must also include how electronic waste is processed, and the well-being of those in desperately poor neighborhoods in Africa and Asia where metals are reclaimed from discarded electronics. The question of what harm may be associated with the adoption of technologies is fundamentally pertinent when positing a Christology in which Jesus’ earthly life signals that the bodily well-being and dignity of all people is central to the Good News.

While the third question prompts us to be mindful of the impact of the adoption of digital technology across social and geographic places, the fourth question—What new problems might be created because we have solved this problem?—prompts us to consider the impact across time and deleterious longer-term implications. Many contemporary human- induced environmental crises began as technological solutions to problems identified by previous ages and generations. What problems are we creating for the future by moving work, education, and worship online? The long- term consequences of sourcing, producing, and disposing of electronics are enormous. As well, there are crucial social and mental health considerations. Despite the claims that social media and web-based communications enhance “community” and “connection,” there is a growing recognition that the opposite occurs over time and that there is a correlation between the amount of time spent on social media and feelings of isolation, dissatisfaction with one’s life, and mental health problems.[62] The increase in digitally-mediated worship and communication during the pandemic further acclimatizes us to disembodiment, making synchronous time, common place, and bodies optional or unessential. None of these concerns originate with the pandemic or online worship, but the pandemic has hastened trends already in motion and intensified our awareness of change.

Who acquires increased economic and political power from technological change? Postman’s fifth question has been widely covered in the media. Owners and stockholders of digital communications companies such as Zoom Video Communications, e-commerce and digital streaming companies such as Amazon, computer companies such as Apple, and social media companies such as Meta (Facebook) and Twitter have all benefited from massive rises in the worth of these companies during the pandemic as profits soar. But the question is vitally relevant if we adopt an ecclesiology of peoplehood. If profits are more important than people, and if the already affluent gain increased power relative to the whole, this maintains Lockean individualism, exacerbates social division, and weakens community. All of these undermine Christian peoplehood, flourishing, and witness.


We must not lose sight of Alan Jacobs’s warning that the critique of technology alone is not sufficient to alter techno-social momentum and direction. Jacobs insightfully observes that a clear and compelling analysis of a situation may hint at a simple solution that may be overwhelmingly difficult to actually implement. At the same time, we should note that Jacobs underestimates the transformative potential of the practices of a Christian community that foster patience and contentment in the gift of human limit and finitude, practices that include both critical questioning and counter-cultural living. Practices of (re)orientation and resilience do not eradicate our temptation as homoliturgicusto avert our gaze from Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God. We will still be drawn to the easy solutions of techno-messiahs. However, practices of orientation and resilience do continuously invite our gaze and nudge the desires of the people of God toward the patient, persistent way of Jesus.

This way includes the way of the cross, which indeed has its own weightiness but is hardly futile. The cross is a sign that God’s Incarnational strategy works, not that it has failed. The cross proclaims that God’s strategy of Incarnation is simultaneously hard but life-affirming, and acknowledges that human finitude is not a curse of the Fall but a gift of the garden. God’s embodied presence, initiated in the garden, affirmed and fully manifest in Jesus, extends to the church as the peoplehood of God. I hope that this essay will help us all to be boldly confident in God’s enduring and effective strategy of Incarnation, as manifested in Jesus and continued in the church.*

AndyBrubacherKaethleris Associate Professor of Christian Formation and Culture at AnabaptistMennoniteBiblicalSeminaryinElkhart,Indiana.

 [1] A recent Pew Research Center report indicates that the percentage of Canadians who report praying daily or attending a religious service weekly has dropped to 29%. See Michael Lipka, “5 Facts About Religion in Canada” July 1, 2019, tank/2019/07/01/5-facts-about-religion-in-canada/, accessed June 20, 2021.

[2] Membership in a church, synagogue, or mosque in the U.S. has fallen to below 50% of the population, the first time in Gallup’s eight-decade history of polling. Jeffrey M. Jones, “U.S. Church Membership Falls Below Majority for First Time,” poll/341963/church-membership-falls-below-majority-first-time.aspx, accessed June 20, 2021.

[3] When referring to technology, I am following Elaine Graham’s broad definition: technology is not only the machines and devices humans use to achieve ends and extend human capabilities, it is also the social, political, and economic systems by which their use is possible and desirable. Technology shapes the worlds that humans inhabit and even our basic understanding of what it means to be human and to be spiritual creatures. See Elaine Graham, “‘Nietzsche Gets a Modem’: Transhumanism and the Technological Sublime,” Literature and Theology 16, no. 1 (March 2002): 65-80.

[4] Alan Jacobs, “From Tech Critique to Ways of Living,” The New Atlantis 63 (Winter 2021): 25.

[5] The distinction between centered sets and bounded sets informs the strategy I am suggesting, with a clear preference for centered set approaches to Christian communication of the Good News. See Paul G. Hiebert, AnthropologicalReflectionsonMissiologicalIssues(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1994), 110-36.

[6] Numerous Anabaptist traditions are associated with cautious approaches to technology. Most notable are the Amish who, at least at the level of leadership, make intentional decisions about whether to adopt a new technology based on how it will enhance or hinder relationships and communication within the family, church, and community. The Hutterites are open to using a wide variety of technologies, including very advanced ones, for production of food and communal manufacturing industries, but restrict individual ownership of devices and use of electronics for entertainment. It is a stereotype that the Amish and Hutterites are simply against technology, but it is true that apart from the leadership many individuals in these communities are not conscious of the rationale by which technologies are disallowed or restricted. Some Mennonites, including Old Order Mennonites and Conservative Mennonites, are similarly circumspect about adopting new technologies. Progressive Mennonites, however, are almost undistinguishable in practice from the general public in their adoption of technology in personal lives, churches, and workplaces.

[7] Paul Peachey wonders whether it is possible to revisit the Radical Reformation ethos of shedding the “traditional establishment-engendered institutional and liturgical modalities.” Peachey laments that modernization “disengages us from the ascriptive solidarities of kinship and place” and that “contemporary modes of ‘church,’…are little suited to respond to…our detached subjectivity, [which] may well be the most acute of our personal problems today.” Paul Peachey, “The ‘Free Church?’: A time whose idea has not come” in AnabaptismRevisited: EssaysinAnabaptist/MennoniteStudiesinHonorofC. J. Dyck, ed. Walter Klaassen (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2001), 184, 187.

[8] John 8:3-8 describes Jesus writing in the sand but not what he wrote. Willard Swartley offers one possible motivation that Jesus had for writing in the sand: to redirect the gaze of the accusers from the woman taken in adultery to Jesus himself so she could regain her dignity. See Willard M. Swartley, John, Believers Church Bible Commentary (Harrisonburg, VA: Herald Press, 2013), 212.

[9] Charles M. Sheldon, InHisSteps(Philadelphia, Chicago: John C. Winston, 1937 [original 1896]). Sheldon urged Christians in late-19th century industrial America to embrace the social justice movement and act in a manner reflecting Jesus’ love for all, especially the economically and socially maligned. Criticism of the recent WWJD movement includes how Sheldon’s calling Christians to repentance, discipleship, and compassion has been sloganized and commodified, neutering it of the original call to turn from false idols of modernity. See John D. Caputo, WhatWouldJesusDeconstruct?:TheGoodNewsofPostmodernismfortheChurch(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 19-31.

[10] Matthew Gindin, Sojourners,November 6, 2017. jesus-tweet, accessed June 15, 2021. Others suggest that TikTok is a great medium to reach non-Christians, done easily in a few minutes on a lunch break. Amy Noel Green, “Could Jesus go viral on TikTok?” tiktok.html, accessed June 15, 2021.

[11] Rick Warren popularized this position in his “purpose driven” series of books. Warren coaxes readers not to “confuse methods with the message. The message must never change, but methods must change with each new generation.” Rick Warren, The Purpose-Driven Church: Growth Without Compromising your Message and Mission (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995), 61-62. In the heritage of communications theorist Marshal McLuhan and philosophers George Grant and Jacques Ellul, contemporary Christian thinkers such as Albert Borgmann,

Brad Kallenberg, Shane Hipps, and Brian Brock have traced the emergence of technology as a medium that overshadows and distorts the message itself. Albert Borgmann, Technology andtheCharacterofContemporaryLife:A Philosophical Inquiry (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1984); Brian Brock, ChristianEthicsina Technological Age (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010); Shane Hipps, TheHiddenPowerofElectronicCulture:HowMediaShapesFaith,theGospel,andChurch(El Cajon, CA: Youth Specialties, 2006); Brad J. Kallenberg, LivetoTell:Evangelismina Postmodern World (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2002).

[12] John Howard Yoder, David Fassett, Beth Hagenberg, Gayle Gerber Koontz, and Andy Alexis-Baker, TheologyofMission:A Believers Church Perspective (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014), 310-21. Chris Huebner clarifies and deepens Yoder’s assertions that medium and message must be commensurate and that Jesus Christ is both medium and message. See Chris K. Huebner, “Globalization, theory and dialogical vulnerability: John Howard Yoder and the possibility of a pacifist epistemology,” Mennonite Quarterly Review 76, no. 1 (2002): 49-63.

[13] By locating human finitude in the Garden of Eden we are not let off the hook for addressing the ongoing implications of the Fall. The postlapsarian realities of sin have harmful implications on human relationships with God, with each other, and to creation. Humans have the ability to distort knowledge and the propensity to strive for goals that are destructive.

[14] James K. A. Smith, TheFallofInterpretation(Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 18.

[15] Ibid., 18-19; 133-84.

[16] One common “problem” identified is the combination of a hermeneutic gap and the diversity of interpretation, which purportedly lead to hermeneutic violence, violence toward the text, and/or violence toward interpreters who disagree with each other. A “solution” is to find a space of immediacy and “pure” interpretation. See Smith, TheFallofInterpretation, 37, 38.

[17] Smith, DesiringtheKingdom(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009), 40. Smith intentionally uses the noun animalfor human, following Alasdair MacIntyre in Dependent,RationalAnimals(Chicago: Open Court, 1999), 5.

[18] Smith, DesiringtheKingdom, 47-49, 52-63.

[19] Ibid., 51.

[20] Tim Wu exposes how human attention itself becomes an incredibly valuable commodity in the world of screens and digital media advertising. Tim Wu, TheAttentionMerchants:TheEpicScrambletoGetInsideOurHeads(New York: Vintage Books, 2017), 5-6, 85-181.

[21] In DesiringtheKingdomand the next two books in the series, ImaginingtheKingdom(Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2013) and Awaiting the King(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017), Smith pays almost no attention to technology. This is particularly surprising because Smith draws heavily on Heidegger, for whom technology features prominently in the framing of human modes of engagement with the world. His critique of the modern conception of humans as autonomous reasoners primarily addresses the notion of humans as reasoners, not the equally modern focus on autonomy. It is in AwaitingtheKingwhere Smith develops his ecclesiology. Riffing off  Oliver O’Donovan’s TheDesireoftheNations (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996), he accentuates public theology and the church’s political role to such a degree that there is little space for the collective identity of Christians in community or the notion of a peoplehood. See Smith, AwaitingtheKing, 53-90.

[22] Nolan Gertz, NihilismandTechnology(New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2018), viii.

[23] Ibid., 5.

[24] Kallenberg, LivetoTell, 53.

[25] Brad J. Kallenberg, FollowingJesusina Technological Age (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2011), 1-21.

[26] Ibid., 28-43.

[27] Lydia Neufeld Harder, “Power and Authority in Mennonite Theological Development,” in Power,Authority, and the Anabaptist Tradition, Benjamin W. Redekop and Calvin Redekop, eds. (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 2001), 73-74.

[28] Ibid., 92.

[29] J. Denny Weaver, AnabaptistTheology in theFace ofPostmodernity(Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 2000), 28.

[30] Ibid., 134-35.

[31] A. James Reimer, MennonitesandClassicalTheology(Kitchener, ON: Pandora Press, 2001), 230. Both Weaver and Reimer situate their contemporary ecclesiology and theology in developments in the Reformation era. Weaver stresses differences between the radical reformers and Protestant reformers, while Reimer stresses similarities. For example, Reimer highlights Balthasar Hubmaier’s “organic understanding of the universal church as mother and the local church as daughter, both concretely existing communities, but one a part of the whole.” Weaver, conversely, emphasizes Hubmaier’s attempts to establish local religious autonomy. See J. Denny Weaver, BecomingAnabaptist(Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1987), 42-46; Reimer, MennonitesandClassicalTheology, 549.

[32] Reimer, MennonitesandClassicalTheology, 241-44. Reimer follows Howard Loewen in this observation about close ecclesiological conformity between Mennonites and other Christian denominations. See Howard Loewen, OneLord,OneChurch,OneHope,andOneGod(Elkhart, IN: Institute of Mennonite Studies, 1983). Reimer is drawn toward the “congregational catholicity” model of Miroslav Volf, which corrects a Free Church ecclesiology by weaving in Trinitarian commitments. Ultimately, Reimer faults Volf for being “too congregationalist” and not concrete enough in his understanding of the church universal. Reimer, MennonitesandClassicalTheology, 548.

[33] Thomas N. Finger, ChristianTheology: An Eschatological Approach(Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1987).

[34] James McLendon’s SystematicTheologyis another example. See James William McClendon, SystematicTheology, rev. ed., vols. 1-3 (Waco, TX: Baylor Univ. Press, 2012).

[35] Finger, ChristianTheology,vol. 2, 245.

[36] Finger, ChristianTheology,vol. 1, 238-43.

[37] Thomas N. Finger, A Contemporary Anabaptist Theology: Biblical, Historical, Constructive (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 321.

[38] For example, Finger notes that the New Testament and early Anabaptists use the term kosmos(world) in two ways. Positively, the kosmosis “the total of physical and social environments humans live in” and constitutes “the basic structures and processes that shape human life”, “God’s good creation” and “the object of God’s love.” Negatively, the kosmosis also “the dynamic collective momentum of many forces or a way of being” and “the collectivity of behaviors, values, and institutions that oppose God.” Finger, ContemporaryAnabaptistTheology, 310.

[39] Finger, ContemporaryAnabaptistTheology, 315.

[40] Ibid., 309, 319-21.

[41] Ibid., 321.

[42] J. Denny Weaver, “Parsing Anabaptist Theology: A Review Essay of Thomas N. Finger’s A Contemporary Anabaptist Theology,” Direction: A Mennonite Brethren Forum 34:2 (2005): 241-63.

[43] Robert J. Suderman and Ray Dirks, The Baby and the Bathwater:Aspirationand Reality intheLifeoftheChurch(Victoria, BC: Tellwell Talent, 2021).

[44] Robert J. Suderman, Re-Imaginingthe Church: Implicationsof Beinga People in the World (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2016), 24.

[45] Ibid., 10. Suderman observes with Paul Minear that the New Testament uses 96 “word pictures” to describe what it means to be a “kingdom community,” many of which are descriptions that originate with Jesus. Ekklesiais just one of these 96, but it has become “a shorthand way of talking about all of them.” Suderman, Re-ImaginingtheChurch, 9-10, 12-17.

[46] Ibid., 11.

[47] Ibid., 10.

[48] Ibid., 11.

[49] Ibid., 81.

[50] Ibid., 88.

[51] Jacobs, “From Tech Critique to Ways of Living,” 26.

[52] Ibid., 33-37. Similarly, Jacobs suggests that the Daoist way is concordant with, even if latent in, Christianity. Franciscan spirituality is the vein of Christianity that most closely approaches the wisdom of Daoism. Jacobs, “From Tech Critique to Ways of Living,” 41.

[53] Ibid., 42.

[54] Kosuke Koyama, ThreeMileanHourGod:BiblicalReflections(Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1980); WaterBuffaloTheology(Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1974).

[55] Ibid., 3-5.

[56] Ibid., 6-7.

[57] Jay Y. Kim, AnalogChurch:WhyWeNeedRealPeople,Places,andThingsina Digital Age (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2020).

[58] Ibid., 29.

[59] Neil Postman, Buildinga Bridge to the 18th Century (Vintage Books, 2000), 42-53.

[60] Albert Borgmann, CrossingthePostmodernDivide(Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1992), 20-47, 110-47. The modern orientations Borgmann encourages us to turn from were themselves intentionally developed and woven into our political, social, economic, and religious lives over centuries.

[61] Ibid., 116-30.

[62] See Jean M. Twenge, iGen: Why Today’s  Super-Connected  Kids  Are  Growing  Up  Less  Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood (and What This Means for the Rest of Us) (New York, NY: Atria Books, 2017); Sherry Turkle, AloneTogether: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other (New York: Basic Books, 2011).

Table of Contents | Foreword | ArticlesBook Reviews

Violent Inclinations

Maxwell Kennel
ABSTRACT: A new road that Mennonites should consider in responding to the problem of technology runs through the philosophy of technology, media studies, and theposthumanities.’ The author surveys work by David Wills, Adriana Cavarero, and Thomas Moynihanscholars who dispute the notion that technological tools are morally neutral and contend that technologies both conceal, and incline us toward, politically saturated and value-laden ends. Concepts discussed include dorsality, spinal catastrophism, uprightness, inclination, and Mennonite ethics. Drawing on J. Lawrence Burkholders rejection of moderation in favor of the excess of love and ex-Mennonite Grace Jantzens critique of violence, the author offers an Anabaptist- Mennonite response to Wills, Cavarero, and Moynihan that places the problem of technology close to the problem of violence—and challenges the assumption that humanity stands safely apart from technology.


While Mennonite responses to the problem of technology may come from the perspective of Christian theology or from technicians or practitioners in STEM fields or industry, one road not taken by Mennonites runs through the philosophy of technology and the emerging fields of media studies and the ‘posthumanities.’ This is the path I take below while tracing deep connections between humanity, technology, ethics, and violence.

In roughly the past twenty years, thinkers who situate themselves between the study of literature, science, and the arts have suggested that technology is not as separate from humanity as modern thinking would lead us to believe. Drawing on the foundational work of technology theorists like Ernst Kapp, who argued that tools like the axe were prosthetic “organ extensions” of human body parts like the arm,[1] recent work in the interdisciplinary humanities has taken a “posthuman” turn that resists assuming that the category of the “human” should be the dominant point of reference in relation to “technology” and “animality.”[2] For example, in the 1990s French philosopher Bernard Stiegler undertook a multivolume project called TechnicsandTime,which sees technology and humanity as being deeply intertwined in a process he called “the invention of the human.”[3] For Stiegler, the invention of the human implies both that humans invent technology and that technology has inventive and formative effects on humanity, and furthermore that there can be no pure separation of the two categories.

Rather than simplistically dividing the “human” user from the neutral or instrumental domain of tools and “technology,” several thinkers taking the posthuman turn now consider the human body itself to be profoundly technological, especially because the body is already involved in the activities of techne, craft, and making, well before external tools arrive on the scene. Below I survey three exemplary figures in this liminal philosophical discourse who— seemingly unbeknownst to each other—have shown how technology is related to the ethics of inclination: David Wills, Adriana Cavarero, and Thomas Moynihan. The survey will show how each thinker shares a concern for how technology cannot be separated from the human body and its many inclinations. Following an analysis of how each thinker understands humanity and technology to be inextricably intertwined, I provide one Anabaptist Mennonite response to their work that places the problems of technology close to the problems of violence. Overall, I seek to challenge the notion that humanity stands safely apart from technology, and this entails rethinking established definitions of technology that contrast it with humanity. Definitions that rest upon instrumental divisions between means and ends or causes and effects, where the human being uses technological tools that are morally neutral, are exactly what these three thinkers are disputing when they explore how technologies both conceal, and incline us toward, politically saturated and value-laden ends.


David Wills situates his work in a “technological turn” that is really a “turn into a technology that was always there.”[4] By playing with the resonances of terms like ‘turning back,’ Wills disputes the notion that technology is defined by novelty and suggests instead that it is the human spinal column or characteristic of “dorsality” that is the original technology. The articulations, twists, and turns of the spine are movements that Wills understands to be deeply technological. Defining the human as “a someone who turns,” he argues that “there is technology as soon as there are limbs, as soon as there is bending of those limbs, as soon as there is any articulation at all.”[5] Lest we worry that Wills is engaging in a semantic bait-and-switch where a pre-existing and stable definition of technology is changed to suit his purposes, we should note that his argument hinges on the idea that the word ‘technology’ refers to very concrete acts of crafting and making that cannot be adequately theorized by separating a neutral tool from the human user.

"As soon as there is articulation, the human has rounded the technological bend, the technological turn has occurred, and there is no more simple human. Which for all intents and purposes means there never was any simple human."[6]

Wills argues against the notion that there is an original humanity upon which technology is imposed or from which it is extended. Rather than thinking about humanity and technology as separate categories that come into contact with each other and require moderate forms of mediation, “we should think technology beyond the confines of a human-mechanical relation” and instead as a “bending outside itself deep within itself.”[7] Throughout the rest of his complex and layered exploration of literary and philosophical texts from Friedrich Nietzsche to Jacques Derrida, Wills traces a history of dorsality as “that which, from behind, from or in the back of the human, turns (it) into something technological” and in so doing points to departures, deviations, divergences, and differences from the image of a straight and narrow path.[8]

Although Wills’s work is significantly richer and more layered than I can account for in this article, I can gesture toward the ways that Wills rejects simple definitions of technology that would categorically separate human nature from technological tool use. If we follow his inclinations, we can see that the term ‘technology’ does not name something that begins with the computer or the internet, or even with the stone knife or opposable thumb. Instead, technological forms of crafting, using, and making began with the human body, specifically the spine that allows human beings to bend over and pick up tools, and also allows us to turn back from walking along particular narrative paths between birth and death. For Wills, the term ‘technology’ points toward the myriad ways that human inclinations become prosthetically extended by both amputating from and adding to the body.[9]


Political resonances within the study of technology and the body grow stronger when we turn to the work of Italian feminist philosopher Adriana Cavarero, whose Inclinations:A Critique of Rectitude also focuses on the articulations of the spine and the theme of inclination.[10] Although Cavarero may not initially seem to be a philosopher of technology, we need only apply Wills’s insight— that the body’s spinal inclinations are never separate from technological acts of crafting and making—in order to see that Cavarero’s work on rectitude contributes to the study of technology. Similar to Wills’s approach to dorsality, Cavarero argues that the word ‘inclination’ “points to a geometrical imaginary” that is both the domain of “an I whose position is straight and vertical” and a confluence of righteousness and rectitude.[11] More clearly than Wills, she argues that the geometrical uprightness of the body has everything to do with ethics. The spine and straight back represent not only a confluence of the human and the technological (Wills), but also a kind of rectitude that seeks to dignify certain behaviors and rectify others (Cavarero), and thereby constructs a normative social habitus that provides members with prescriptive definitions of technology, moderation, and violence.

Throughout Inclinations, Cavarero sets forth  a  “postural  ethics” that questions the apprehensiveness about the concept of inclination that traditional philosophers tend to show. She shows how erotic and artistic inclinations are passions that threaten dominant philosophical perspectives which fear the disordering and excessive inclinations of love. She writes that “the most frequent and feared inclination, love, is an attack against the self ’s balance” and therefore threatens ways of understanding the self that want to keep it in a state of stasis or equilibrium.[12] For her, the concept of inclination is ethically and ontologically significant because it points to how the most basic faculties of human attention are reflected in bodily form.

Throughout her reflections on art, literature, philosophy, and religion, Cavarero rejects patriarchal structures of inclination that desire to regulate women’s bodies, and critiques Immanuel Kant’s rejection of children despite his notion of inclination (Neigung) as affection and desire.[13] Surveying figures as disparate as Virginia Woolf and Plato, Cavarero’s work fits loosely within the posthuman turn because she rejects the essential division between human and animal that animates postural ethics. Her basic notion that the problem of the inclination of the body is intertwined with the problems of morality, ethics, attention, and desire is most clearly expressed as she turns from Thomas Hobbes and Elias Canetti to Hannah Arendt and her concept of “natality.”[14]

Opposing the idea that mortality defines humanity, Arendt argues that natality— the fact that we are born—should be central to our understanding of the human condition. Rather than focusing on the fact that we will all die, she suggests that our ontological condition of being in the world should remind us that we “are not born in order to die but in order to begin.”[15] Arendt attempts to point a way beyond natural labor and productive work, and toward the good life as defined by actions that are not reducible to technological mediation, all while suggesting instead that natality and birth are essential for this kind of vitaactiva. Cavarero’s insight is that Arendt owes her conceptions to two Christian ideas—the messianic coming of the Christ child, and Augustine’s commentary on creation—and that this lineage is meaningful for political action.[16]

Cavarero shows how refocusing on natality rather than mortality overturns the linear notion that life is defined by a straight line heading toward death. Rather, the act of interrupting such a linear heading with a re- emphasis on birth (natality) reconfigures our inclinations by a miraculous shattering of predictable circularity.[17] Cavarero challenges Arendt’s seeming disregard for “mothers, nannies, and children” and sets forth a feminist “Schemata for a Postural Ethics” that argues that “Maternal inclination could work as a module for a different, more disruptive, and revolutionary geometry whose aim is to rethink the very core of community.”[18]

Cavarero’s feminist ethics of natality relies upon the idea that human inclination is as much about instrumental and technological means and ends as it is about narrative and ontological beginnings and ends. But the relationship between beginnings and ends that mortality and natality represent is not just metaphysically significant; it is historically and temporally significant as well. The narration of a life between the beginning and the end is structured by theopolitical ways of periodizing the time between natality (birth) and mortality (death).[19] How we imagine our bodily and technological inclinations in this interim period often depends upon influential technical terms and images. This connection between the inclinations of the spine and the technological making of history is taken up by Thomas Moynihan, an emerging voice in a new scholarly field called “future studies.”[20]

Spinal Catastrophism

In SpinalCatastrophism:A Secret History, Moynihan presents a dizzying historical catalogue of analogical connections between the human spine and natural history.[21] Contesting the idea that philosophical genealogies must be linear accounts of reasonable causes and effects, he suggests that instead of classical arguments that rely upon the suspicious unmasking of causes mistaken for reasons, there is another way to think about time and history based on a “hypergenealogy.”[22] Rather than thinking about history as being accountable to linearly ordered and reasonable explanations of events, Moynihan wants to re-narrate natural history in a way that privileges making rather than discovering.[23] We ought to “allow thought of the world to become a worldmaker,” while asking “What could be more historical than creation?”[24] For him, we do not discover history. We make it.

Moynihan’s work rests upon a basic idea seen already in Wills and Cavarero. While revisiting the relationship between planet and person, one of Moynihan’s central contentions is that “we are able to orient ourselves upon Earth’s mundane sphere only because of thecontingentfactof our vertical posture, our orthograde backbone.”[25] Like Wills and Cavarero, he too considers the spine to be far more important for thinking about technology, ethics, and history than is usually the case. Moynihan’s secret history suggests a deep figural connection between the spine, the earth, and the use of tools for human ends. He writes that “the human spine’s axis traces a continuation of Earth’s own radius” and furthermore that the uprightness of the spine and our “ability to exert cognizance and control on a planetary scale results from the same species-specific peculiarity as its [humanity’s] susceptibility to back pain.”[26] More playful and humorous than many academic texts seeking to understand humanity and technology, Moynihan’s book is dedicated to his scoliosis, a joke that if taken seriously can lead us further down the twisted path taken by these three thinkers: the same characteristic that allows human beings to exert technological power over space and time also makes them vulnerable to pain.

This reorientation of the terms of human nature and history leads Moynihan to conclude after much exploration that memory is held in the body and that history is held in objects. These two insights oppose the popular conception that ‘technology’ refers to neutral tools which reflect and respond to human desires without reciprocal influence. He concludes that “ever since we realised that the universe is one colossal chronometer – and every object an hourglass – the meaning of ‘inside’ and ‘out’ has never been the same....”[27] For Moynihan, space and time are not categories that can be abstracted from each other. Instead, they are deeply linked because spatial objects hold time within them. By playing with temporal indicators and mixing past and future tense, he gestures toward the central question that we began with: What should be the relationship between humanity and technology?

For Wills, Cavarero, and Moynihan there is no straightforward way of asking this question by dividing humanity and technology in two. These thinkers contend that it is too simple to consider humanity to be the subject and technology to be the object, or to think of humanity as a given and technology as something made. Rephrased, Moynihan’s caution is that we do not always know how to divide a human interior from a technological exterior, because the two are always being mediated by spinal means.

Uprightness,  Inclination,  and  Ethics

By disrupting clean dualisms commonly used to think about humanity and technology, and by challenging the desire for a definition of technology that satisfies instrumental desires, the three thinkers surveyed above reveal something essential about technology and humanity that those in the Anabaptist Mennonite tradition should respond to. Too often theological perspectives on technology remain comfortably within the discipline and do not feel obliged to respond to the claims of philosophical or secular thinkers. Below I attempt to provide one response to these three thinkers that also troubles the distinction between the religious and secular from a Mennonite subject-position.

What unites the works of Wills, Cavarero, and Moynihan is not only the notion that the spine is a technological part of the body or that we cannot divide up the world so easily by using the two terms ‘humanity’ and ‘technology,’ but also that our dorsality, inclination, and spinality are not morally neutral or reducible to linear and causal relationships between means and ends. It is tempting to think of technologies and tools as merely objects available for use by human beings that come with no pre-given moral orientation. However, if we stop thinking of technology in hard distinction from humanity, we can begin to see that technologies are in fact morally loaded and value laden. Tools and technologies teach us how to use them and they incline us toward forms of both instrumental use and violent abuse.

For  evidence  of  the  deep  connections  between  spinal  posture, technology, and ethics, we need only look to the work of French historian Georges Vigarello, who clearly traces the historical linkage between physical uprightness and moral rectitude from the sixteenth century onward.[28] The legacies of pedagogy, manners, propriety, and deportment rely upon the idea that posture both reflects and influences morality. We do not even need the connections that Vigarello draws to see the coercive and implicit ways that morality is both reflected and enforced through the regulation of the body. The very notion of propriety is based upon the idea that the physical act of standing up straight is linked with moral uprightness. The problem of posture takes center stage in most attempts—historical and contemporary— to be proper, unoffensive, and upright. Vigarello traces the history of this connection by showing its influence on the 16th-sixteenth century invention of ‘civility,’ a term used in our notion of civil society despite its connection with histories of slavery, violence, and colonial rule.

Throughout the Middle Ages, Vigarello argues, posture was a key indicator of moral standing. Citing the stigma associated with the hunched back and the connection between admonitions to sit up straight and the project of western education, he shows that there is no history of the body without a history of epistemology: “Sixteenth-century pedagogy could not avoid the general tendency of that century’s epistemology: duplication and similarity. In its proportions the body must evoke relationships that go beyond it.”[29] For him, “the body, just like uprightness, is ‘caught’ in a web of categories dominated by moral expectations.”[30]

An Anabaptist-Mennonite Response

How can the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition  respond  to  the  problems and questions of technology if, as I am arguing, technology is not separate from =humanity, the body, or morality? Perhaps better! It is easy to think of technology as belonging to an external and instrumental domain that is value-neutral. But if we place technology at a distance, we can easily avoid the ways that tools and technologies both reflect and influence human interests, values, and desires. When we separate a technological exterior from a human interior, tools simply do what we want them to do, and technology is outside us and does not call us to be introspective about human nature and morality. But Wills, Cavarero, and Moynihan show that this false division between humanity and technology only obscures how we are already technologically entangled by virtue of having a spine. The moral and ethical stakes of the connection between technological tools and the human body become clearer still when we consider that the history of propriety and deportment is also connected to a violent civilizing process by which some behaviors and peoples were subjected to oppressive postures of slavery and servitude. Calls to be civil, to be upright, and to be righteous are propped up by histories of erect posture and the condemnation and forcible containment of those deemed to be crooked, bent, queer, and so forth.

If  the  problems  of  technology  cannot  be  sectioned  off  into  the domain of neutral tools, and if technology is instead related to how we carry our bodies and what turns we make between birth and death, then an Anabaptist-Mennonite response must consider how these terms are mediated while opposing the violent articulations that have often defined the confluence of technology and humanity. By resituating the problem of technology in relation to bodies and their morally saturated articulations, we can ask our basic question again, but differently: What human-technological articulations and mediations are violent? What violent articulations should we refuse? How can we work toward peace when, as French philosopher Jacques Derrida says, “Violence appears with articulation”?[31]

Derrida’s provocative assertion should prompt us to consider how pacifist desires to be separate from violence can miss how even the most innocuous inclinations and articulations of the spine contain within themselves both histories and possibilities of violent action. When I refer to violence here, I am thinking not of the typical violations of the body used as exemplars of the concept of violence (like war and murder) but of the norms and values defining the boundaries that are said to be crossed when violence is done. Violence is always defined in relation to value-laden boundaries and their transgression, so what matters for all definitions of violence is what normative boundaries are taken to be violated when violence is done.[32]

However, rather than speak from  a  theological  subject  position that would require a very different epistemology from that of my sources above, I will give an Anabaptist-Mennonite response that critiques violence by drawing from the minor philosophical and humanistic tradition within Mennonite thought.[33]Although examples of the humanist strain in Mennonite thinking include Clarence Bauman’s combination of Anabaptism and humanism,[34] Robert Friedmann’s existential Anabaptism,[35] J. Lawrence Burkholder’s philosophical rejection of moderation in favor of the excess of love, and ex-Mennonite Grace Jantzen’s critique of violence, for the sake of brevity I will focus on the latter two voices to articulate a response to the violent articulations within the confluence of technology and humanity.

It is not difficult to see that something is violated, and some violence is done, by the normative prescriptions of uprightness, rectitude, and their straight and narrow path. Rigid pedagogical prescriptions to conduct oneself in an upright manner are part of a long history of rectitudinal righteousness that relies upon the notion that moderation and temperance should restrain theexcessesofhumannature(includinginclinationstowardartandtheerotic). Furthermore, the desires for clear, stable, and linear definitions of ‘humanity’ and ‘technology’ are often based upon severe and austere sensibilities that seek to curb passion and restrain unruly bodies. Although Mennonites are certainly given to the maintenance of communities by appeals to rectitude and righteousness, I now turn to one exceptional Mennonite thinker whose engagement with the philosophical tradition challenges the assumption that uprightness and straight and narrow morality are commensurate with the gospels and Jesus Christ.

In his essay “The Generosity of Love,” J. Lawrence Burkholder disputes the Aristotelean notion that the virtuous life is conducted by moderating and mediating between extremes.[36]3Burkholder points out that some interpret the writer of Ecclesiastes in this way by arguing that moderation is the meaning of those verses that suggest there is a time for everything. But against Aristotle’s “golden mean” and against an interpretation of Ecclesiastes 3:1-4 as a limitation on excess, Burkholder suggests that there is no biblical basis for living the moderate life that mediates between two stable extremes. Instead, both radical politics and the imitation of Christ demand excessive and generous forms of love and mutual aid. Contrasting Aristotle’s limited and limiting philiawith the unlimited excess of Christ’s agape, Burkholder calls his readers to a boundless love that is both the “final norm of Christian ethics” but also something profoundly human.[37] He points to the excesses of giving, forgiving, and hoping, and calls readers to have unreasonable hopes for the future. His faith that “hopes all things” is not bound to existing reasons and facts but instead “penetrates the world of facts to detect and create living possibilities.”[38]

Burkholder resists seeing the world as defined by set relations of normativity, and he  concludes that “the world is neither a closed system of causality nor a purely human drama of will and flesh and blood (‘human all too human’).”[39]   This places him in continuity with the ‘posthuman’ thinkers surveyed above, because he opposes forms of mediation that try to take temperate middle-paths between supposedly opposed terms. For Wills, Cavarero, and Moynihan important dorsal, rectitudinal, and spinal inclinations challenge simple divisions between humanity and technology. Similarly, Burkholder’s refusal of approaches that dignify ‘both-sides’ or seek a golden mean align him with these thinkers because he refuses to construe his religious and political values as a search for moderation between extremes.

Burkholder considers the world to  belong  to  God  and  asserts that God “turns the night of despair into the dawn of a new day,” but he admits that this kind of hope is “intemperate.” Whereas this unbalanced and excessive temperance hopes only in “some things,” he argues that love hopes in “all things” while “depending on God.”[40] But not all Mennonites have remained within the fold of this hope. For some ex-Mennonites the answer to the regulating demands of rectitude and propriety are too violent to stay within ecclesial bounds. Grace Jantzen, who grew up in a Mennonite Brethren church but later became a Quaker, articulates a different critique of uprightness and rectitudinal righteousness, from outside of the bounds of the Christian church and Mennonite identity—although she retains some admiration for the peace church tradition in her late work.

Summarized well in her 2002 article, “Roots of Violence, Seeds of Peace,” Jantzen’s final project Death and the Displacement of Beauty explained how violence persists in the common-sense world of the cultural habitus.[41] Her argument, which draws upon Arendt and Cavarero, is that we should refocus our understanding of human nature on natality rather than allow the obsession with death govern our thinking. Rather than define humanity by mortality (that we will all die), Jantzen initiates a careful process of focusing on natality (that we all have been born) without seeking to displace or replace one term with the other. Deeply resonant with the Mennonite commitment to peace and justice, Jantzen challenges Derrida’s notion that even the most basic articulations are violent.[42] Her work centers on addressing the roots of violence in our everyday ways of thinking, while planting seeds of peace by emphasizing newness, creativity, birth, and the positive status of difference. She moves beyond Arendt and Cavarero by critiquing the long legacy of violence in the history of the western world. She argues against appeals to human nature that make violence seem natural, normal, and neutral, and does so in a way that, like Burkholder, refuses to simply mediate between established oppositions. For Jantzen, humanity is not defined by either a peaceable or violent nature, and this means that peace and violence are mediated in her work in ways that reject the violent displacement of one term by another. Elsewhere I argue that the unique contribution of her late work lies in her ability to challenge violence without repeating violent patterns of displacement that consider things, concepts, and ideas to exist in zero-sum terms or at the expense of each other.[43] Such a perspective would benefit Mennonite responses to technology—particularly those that see technology as an enemy or other that supposedly threatens to displace theological values.

Like Burkholder, Jantzen does not see either opposition or moderation between extremes as appropriate goals for those who want to resist violence or work for peace. Against neutral mediations that seek to find something positive in both sides of a political argument, and against polarizing desires to choose sides and defend them, her work is defined by a careful mediation of key terms like ‘natality’ and ‘mortality’ through which she refocuses and re-emphasizes our attention to birth and beauty without ignoring the realities of death and violence. Both Jantzen and Burkholder articulate interesting and exceptional Mennonite-related positions that chart a third way apart from either-or ways of thinking. What is exceptional is that they do not take recourse to mediating positions that try to stand in the middle, and they avoid the temptation to synthesize opposing terms or positions in ways that deny their real difference. Instead, Jantzen and Burkholder give indications of an Anabaptist Mennonite humanism that responds to the problems of technology without moderation or displacement.


The histories of humanity and technology are inextricably intertwined. They are not even one entity but multiple and complex. For Wills, dorsality enjoins us to look back and see that we have never been without technology. We cannot put ourselves at a safe analytical distance from technology that would free us from considering human nature in tandem with the problem of technology. For Cavarero, the historical equation of rectitude and righteousness requires a postural ethics that opposes rigid and linear ways of thinking about life narratives between birth and death. Cavarero’s inclinations indicate that something is lost when our conception of human life is bound to linear narratives of progress and providence, or circular narratives of habit and routine. Better that our stories would be interrupted by birth, even messianic birth. Moynihan too disputes the assumption that natural history can be explained by linear and teleological narrations of events that cleanly attribute meaning to the past by seeing causes as reasons. His revision of genealogical critique shows that the history of human action relies upon the same reason that we can have back pain: the spinal column. Each thinker surveyed in the first part of this article points to the fact that the catastrophic violence that humanity has wreaked upon itself and the world is not separate from human technéand making because we have always made instrumental and technological use of ourselves and others. The history of the regulation of the body by training the spine to be straight, and the intertwining of rectitude and righteousness, show that the technologies of power used to keep people in line are not different from the technologies of violence used to wage war.

The Mennonite humanism represented by Burkholder and Jantzen opposes the violent inclinations of humanity-technology. Burkholder’s excessive love bears a striking resemblance to Cavarero’s interruptive love wherein new birth exceeds linear and cyclical visions of time and history. Jantzen’s emphasis on natality extends Cavarero’s revision of Arendt and refuses to use displacement or linear succession in attempts to solve the problems of violence. Both Burkholder’s challenge to moderation and Jantzen’s argument for a non-displacing emphasis on natality give key resources for thinking about our violent inclinations, and in closing I draw from their work the following two questions.

First, is moderation the best guide for the use of technology? Many popular approaches suggest engaging with technology in moderation. But if the real problem is not found in mediating between the two stable categories of humanity and technology, but in examining how human-technological confluences and articulations do violence, then perhaps the focus on moderation does not provide what we need. For Mennonites who seek to follow the gospels, Burkholder shows how the excessive love of Christ does not translate into a moderate and conciliatory approach to moral problems that neutrally mediates between extremes or dualisms. Instead, it is all about excessive and generous forms of love that hopes in all things.

Second, are the images of erect posture or the straight and narrow path the best ways to imagine the good life? Given how rectitude and the rhetoric of uprightness have been used to violently coerce people into rigid and codified systems of both religious and secular morality, is it not incumbent upon those who concern themselves with Mennonite life and technological problems to question whether things can or should be made straight?

The history of humanity and technology cannot be told in a straightforward and linear fashion that keeps humanity on one side and technology on the other. Why then should the narration of a life story, and its periodization by theological and political means, rely on linear images that put life in the service of death by emphasizing mortality at the expense of natality? Perhaps it is time to give up the straight and narrow path and be honest that life is rarely conducted linearly, and furthermore to retire the terminology of uprightness because of its intimations of respectability that avoid the scandalous excesses of Christian love.

In light of the technological insights of Wills, Cavarero, and Moynihan, and in conclusion, I suggest that we may find it instructive to think deeply about the distinctive third ways of Burkholder and Jantzen that mediate between entangled terms; articulate, and extend beyond, the desire for moderation and displacement; and challenge the notion that our humanity and technology can be divided so cleanly.*

MaxwellKennelis a SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department for the Study of Religion at the University of Toronto, and the author of Postsecular History: Political Theology and the Politics of Time (PalgraveMacmillan,2022).

[1] Ernst Kapp, Elementsofa Philosophy of Technology: On the Evolutionary History of Culture. Ed. Jeffrey West Kirkwood and Leif Weatherby. Trans. Lauren K. Wolfe (Minneapolis, MN: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 2018 [original 1877]).

[2] Cary Wolfe, WhatIsPosthumanism?(Minneapolis, MN: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 2010). Wolfe writes that posthumanism “comes both before and after humanism: before in the sense that it names the embodiment and embeddedness of the human being in not just its biological but also its technological world, the prosthetic coevolution of the human animal with the technicity of tools…” (xv).

[3] Bernard Stiegler, TechnicsandTime,1. The Fault of Epimetheus. Trans. Richard Beardsworth and George Collins (Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ. Press, 1998), Part 1.

[4] David Wills, Dorsality:ThinkingBackthroughTechnology andPolitics(Minneapolis, MN: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 2008), 3.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid., 4.

[8] Ibid., 4-5.

[9] See David Wills, Prosthesis(Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ. Press, 1995), 133.

[10] Adriana Cavarero, Inclinations:A Critique of Rectitude. Trans. Amanda Minervini and Adam Sitze (Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ. Press, 2016).

[11] Ibid., 6.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid., 22-24, 27-28, 33.

[14] Ibid., 107.

[15] Hannah Arendt, TheHumanCondition(Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1958), 246. Quoted in Cavarero, Inclinations, 107.

[16] Cavarero, Inclinations, 108-110.

[17] Ibid., 111-12.

[18] Ibid., 120, 131.

[19] For more on theopolitical reconfigurations of origins and ends see the discussion of Grace Jantzen’s work below.

[20] See Thomas Moynihan, X-Risk:HowHumanityDiscoveredItsOwn Extinction (Falmouth, UK: Urbanomic, 2020) and the work of Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute (FHI).

[21] Thomas Moynihan, SpinalCatastrophism:A Secret History (Falmouth, UK: Urbanomic, 2019).

[22] Ibid., 6

[23] Ibid., 7.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid., 10.

[26] Ibid., 10, 13.

[27] Ibid., 283.

[28] Georges Vigarello, “The Upward Training of the Body from the Age of Chivalry to Courtly Civility,” Trans. Ughetta Lubin, in Fragments for a History of the Human Body, Part Two. Ed. Michel Feher (New York: Zone, 1989). Original: Georges Vigarello, Le corps redressé: Histoire d’un pouvoir pédagogique (Paris: Delarge, 1978).

[29] Ibid., 154.

[30] Ibid., 157.

[31] Jacques Derrida, “Violence and Metaphysics,” in Writing and Difference. Trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1978), 147-48.

[32] For a more developed presentation of this perspective on violence, see my dissertation, “Ontologies of Violence: Jacques Derrida, Mennonite Pacifist Epistemology, and Grace M. Jantzen’s Death and the Displacement of Beauty,” Department of Religious Studies, McMaster University, 2021.

[33] See my summary in “Philosophy” in the GlobalAnabaptistMennonite Encyclopedia Online. Update  to  the  1989  entry  by  J.  Lawrence  Burkholder. (April 2020).

[34] See Herb Klassen, “Bauman, Clarence (1928-1995),” GlobalAnabaptistMennoniteEncyclopediaOnline. Nov. 2005.,_Clarence_ (1928-1995).

[35] See Robert Friedmann, TheTheologyofAnabaptism:AnInterpretation(Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1973) and Robert Friedmann, Design for Living: Regard,Concern,Service, and Love. Ed. Maxwell Kennel (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2017).

[36] J. Lawrence Burkholder, “The Generosity of Love” in TheCompassionateCommunity, ed. H. Ralph Hernley (Scottdale, PA: Association of Mennonite Aid Societies, 1970), 53-54.

[37] Ibid., 55.

[38] Ibid., 60.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Ibid, 61.

[41] Grace M. Jantzen, “Roots of Violence, Seeds of Peace,” The Conrad Grebel Review 20, no. 2 (Spring 2002): 4-19. See also Grace Jantzen, FoundationsofViolence: DeathandtheDisplacementofBeauty, Vol. I (London: Routledge, 2004); ViolencetoEternity: DeathandtheDisplacementofBeauty, Vol. II, ed. Jeremy Carrette and Morny Joy (London: Routledge, 2009); A Place of Springs: Death and the Displacement of Beauty, Vol. III, ed. Jeremy Carrette and Morny Joy (London: Routledge, 2010).

[42] Jantzen, ViolencetoEternity, 24.

[43] See my article, “Violent Displacements,” Angelaki27, no. 6 (forthcoming 2022).

Table of Contents | Foreword | ArticlesBook Reviews

Tech Ethics: Lessons from Anabaptism and Peacebuilding

Lisa Schirch
ABSTRACT: The legacy of debates on the ethics of technology is long, but the pace at which technologies are harming humans and the planet is accelerating. This article begins by offering an overview of new technologies not originally built as weapons that can be weaponized to cause great harm, and then surveys Anabaptist and peacebuilding ethics that can inform how individuals and communities use technology. Next, the author describes how these ethics can be operationalized to design technologies that anticipate harms and facilitate empathy, dialogue, and deliberation. The article closes by naming specific tech ethics” emerging from Anabaptism and peacebuilding.


In the 1600s, early Anabaptist leader Jacob Ammann instructed his followers to reject the use of buttons to fasten clothing. Armed forces used shiny button on their uniforms. Ammann believed the technology of buttons was a prideful, secular mark. Ammann’s followers, now called Amish, were instructed to use hook and fastener to bind clothing, which they continue to do today. The Anabaptist Amish, who became known as Häftlers(hook- and-eyers), split with the Anabaptist Mennonites, who were known as the Knöpflers(button people).

New technologies pride themselves on connecting humanity. Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook (now Meta), describes the technology company’s goal as “a social mission to make the world more open and connected.”[1] These technologies are like shiny buttons on a military uniform, a mark of secular life with the illusion of connecting the social fabric. While the decorative brass military button was mostly for show, Facebook is less benign. While it does connect people across the planet, it also increases addiction and depression, spreads disinformation, false conspiracies, and hate, and undermines democratic elections. Repressive governments hire troll armies to use social media to attack human rights activists. Facebook is a weapon of mass destruction causing a “techtonic shift” in human relations.[2] How do Anabaptists today determine how to relate to new technologies

like Facebook? This paper begins with a brief overview of new technologies that were not built as weapons but can be weaponized to cause great harm. Next, the paper provides a broad overview of Anabaptist and peacebuilding ethics that can inform how individuals and communities use technology. The paper then describes how these ethics can be operationalized also by engineers working to design new technologies. The paper closes with a list of the tech ethics emerging from Anabaptism and peacebuilding.

Weaponizable Technologies

The legacy of debates on the ethics of technology is long. But the pace at which technologies are harming humans and the planet is accelerating. Before exploring Anabaptist and peacebuilding ethics related to technology, it is important to first appreciate the scope and scale of harms related to technology.

Technology is a potent force in human history. Nuclear technologies provide energy sources but also weapons to kill. The US military funded and helped to build the internet, with the goal of improving communication and coordination in times of crisis, and using digital surveillance on foreign publics.[3] Technologies such as Google, online markets like Amazon, and social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter were designed for non- military, civilian use. People use social media to communicate with family and friends, to spread messages of peace and coexistence, to offer webinars on women’s empowerment or preventing gang violence, and to create a sense of shared experience around the world. However, people can also weaponized these technologies to mobilize hate, spread disinformation, organize gang fights, distribute violent pornography, and recruit new members to violent extremist groups. New technologies are low cost and widely accessible, which democratize access to these weapons of mass destruction. Cyber warfare attacks can destroy national health, energy, or transportation infrastructure with little to no warning.[4]

Weaponizable technology such as artificial intelligence and machine learning are unleashing a “post-truth era” where false and inflammatory posts  on  social  media  travel  faster  and  further  than  truth,  distorting political processes and polarizing already divided societies. Social media platforms like Facebook profit from surveilling every individual user and creating databanks of psychometric data useful for commercial and political advertisers wanting to target specific audiences to sell their ideas or products.[5]

Artificial  intelligence  has  already  exacerbated  surveillance  and systemic racism and discrimination against Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). Some scholars describe this as a “super threat” against marginalized groups.[6] In RaceAfterTechnology, Ruha Benjamin explain how bias and oppression are built into so many of the algorithms technology companies use to optimize profits.[7]   States like Russia, China, and Iran are using social media to surveil and repress democracy activists in their own  countries  with  troll  armies.  Digital  authoritarianism  is  increasing, particularly during the pandemic as government-backed mass surveillance and repression has increased.[8]

New technologies are vastly changing the ways humans communicate and gather information. Compared to legacy media such as radio, television, or print news, a message on social media can travel faster, reaching millions of people around the planet instantaneously. Whereas legacy media’s gatekeepers filter public information, digital technologies enable a single person to instantly post a false message about Covid-19 to millions of people across the world. People can use digital technology to post a message on any topic with near total freedom of content, unhampered by editors and with no or low cost.[9] These technologies also allow technology companies and governments to track users’ locations, friends, interests, and digital activities. Some governments have used the pandemic to greatly increase social media surveillance and repression of political opponents.[10]

The most popular social media platforms operate on “surveillance capitalism;” a profit model based on extracting private information and selling it to advertisers.[11] Access to most social media platforms is free because users are the product, not the client. Political and corporate advertisers pay platforms for access to users. Platforms collect information from them about their interests and identities. The more information a platform can gather about users, the more they profit. Advertisers are able to target audiences more receptive to their ideas or products, making advertising on social media more effective than on legacy media. Platform designers use neuroscience and psychological research to keep users on platforms longer with emotionally engaging colors and buttons and algorithms that show users sensational content. Some scholars argue social media addiction is built into the design. Algorithms on social media platforms show targeted users highly emotional material such as hate speech, disinformation and conspiracy theories because this material may capture their attention.[12]

Anabaptist Theology Relevant to Technology

People in many religious traditions have wrestled with how to respond to new technologies. Anabaptist ethics toward technology emerge from a repressive historical context. Anabaptists attempted to read both Hebrew and Christian scriptures to inform a theology that reflected more of Jesus’ teachings and less of the Empire Christianity reflected in both Catholic and Protestant theologies. Anabaptists rejected the widespread notion that belief alone was sufficient. For them, scriptures informed both theological beliefs and practical ethics for living in the world. Anabaptist theology and ethics are relevant to technology in at least three ways.

First, Anabaptists demanded the “priesthood of all believers,” which was a sort of self-determination to interpret the scriptures. They rejected the  authority  of  both  Protestant  and  Catholic  leaders,  believing  these leaders’ interests in holding political power distorted their interpretation of scripture. Anabaptists believed individuals should decide for themselves what they believed and not be forcibly baptized as infants. Anabaptists get their name from their opposition to infant baptism and their insistence on adult baptism, as only adults may decide for themselves what they believe and if they want to follow Jesus’ teachings. Anabaptists demanded agency and empowerment to read the scriptures, to do their own theology to interpret them, and to determine the ethical implications of scriptures in their life. This ethic of human agency has relevance for assessing technologies today, because new weaponizable technologies, described in the next section, too often undermine human capacities by attempting to manipulate and surveil.

Second, Anabaptists developed an ethic of nonconformity to the  world. They questioned political and religious authorities but trusted the Anabaptist  community  and  its  process  of  deliberation  and  dialogue  to make decisions on both theology and ethics. Anabaptists came to see the outside world as a threat to their church. This countercultural status plays out differently among different types of Anabaptists, as is discussed below. Mennonite pacifism and peacebuilding based on the ethic of enemy love and doing good to others continues quietly around the world despite its resistance to the methods of modern state warfare. This ethic of nonconformity has relevance for how people use technologies today, recognizing that collective action is necessary to address the growing tide of disinformation and hateful

rhetoric on social media technologies.

Third, Anabaptist theology emphasized Jesus’ teachings in Matthew 5-7 on loving enemies and doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. Anabaptists believed this teaching needed to be translated into their lives by refusing to harm others and refusing to fight on behalf of the church. Anabaptist theology on these texts has evolved over the centuries from nonresistance, a refusal to fight in state wars, to an embrace of pacifism, which is more than just a refusal to fight. Pacifism is literally an active love of peace. Some Anabaptists have pursued the practical implications of Matthew 5-7 to call for nonviolent action to address injustice and active peacemaking to prevent or reduce violent conflict. Mennonite peacebuilding and conflict transformation emerged from this evolution of Anabaptist theology and ethics of loving enemies and doing good. The peacebuilding field centers this ethic by seeking inclusion and empowerment to ensure that all people have dignity and agency. This ethic of building peace has relevance for designing technologies today that could build social cohesion and reduce polarization between groups.

Anabaptist and Peacebuilding Approaches to Tech Ethics

Anabaptists apply these three ethics in distinct ways. Each of these offers insight and is relevant to applying Anabaptist ethics to technology.

First, some conservative Anabaptists, such as the Amish and Bruderhof, apply a strict review of any new technology to evaluate its impact on the community before the technology is adopted for use. They seek to be faithful through practicing nonconformity by separating  themselves from society, and judge technologies in part by the impact they will have on secularizing their community or breaking their internal relationships with each other. These ‘plain’ Anabaptists are not naïve, or anti-technology Luddites. They are careful and prefer to choose technologies only with the test of time to decide whether they will benefit or harm their communities. While television is forbidden, washing machines may be allowed. While owning cars is forbidden, hiring someone else for transportation to the hospital is not. Some technologies impact the community’s need for collective work together, while others do not. The community decides which technologies are accepted and which are not. The Amish and Bruderhof approach to technology can be described as “Go slow, be careful, and check with the community.”[13]

Second, some progressive branches of Anabaptist Mennonites have tended to adopt new technologies without intensive community review but rather with a more individualized ethic that evaluates potential harms or unintended consequences of technology. Mennonites concerned about living simply and environmental sustainability, for example, may eschew expensive cars in favor of bicycles. Some Mennonites judge technologies based on their impacts on the wider human community. A Mennonite-based organization known as Project Ploughshares, for example, grew out of concerns for the impact of technological warfare such as nuclear weapons.

Third, conservative and progressive Anabaptists participate in peacebuilding, defined here as efforts to build bridges across social divisions and to foster social cohesion and social justice.[14] Mennonites, Amish, and Bruderhof often emphasize Jesus’ teachings on loving enemies and refusing to use violence against others, despite significant departures from this ethic related to German Nationalism, Nazism, antisemitism, and racism found in the Anabaptist community.[15] The Amish have a record of forgiveness of those who have attacked their community. The Bruderhof have supported reconciliation movements in a variety of countries. Mennonites have an active peace and justice ministry, and academic programs in peacebuilding. Anabaptist ethics are also reflected in the field of peacebuilding. These ethics are not unique to Anabaptist peacebuilding. There is nothing exclusively Anabaptist or Christian about building relationships and peace between people. Peacebuilding is the work of all religions.

As noted earlier, the Latin root of the word “religion” communicates the social function of religion to connect people. Technology companies like Facebook say they also have this mission to “connect the world.” Peacebuilding brings an ethic that technology should serve humanity and should build social cohesion. Social cohesion builds public trust in the legitimacy of institutions and community norms and laws. For example, Anabaptist-affiliated Conrad Grebel University College at the University of Waterloo hosts the “Peacetech Living-Learning Community” where students study ethical frameworks focused on how the design and evaluation of technologies impacts human relationships and communities.

Peacebuilding insists that there are no humans with more value than others. Racism, sexism, antisemitism, classism, ageism, homophobia, and all other forms of discrimination degrade human agency and dignity. For Anabaptists, a theology of peacebuilding denounces these offences but commits to active work toward full human dignity for all. Peacebuilding pays attention to and advocates for the well-being of the oppressed. This ethic is relevant to technology by insisting that it should protect human dignity. For example, researchers have written extensively about how technology algorithms at Google or Amazon seem to reinforce racism and denigrate human dignity.[16]

Peacebuilding walks toward conflict and difference, not away from it. Peacebuilding begins with active listening to an opponent. Anabaptists point to this ethic as stemming from Jesus’s modeling and teaching to love those who are different from us or do us harm. Jesus did not live within the purity paradigm that kept others away from people considered “unpure,” such as people of different ethnic groups, women, tax collectors, and prostitutes. Listening and acknowledging another person’s experiences changes the dynamics of conflict, creating an opening for transformation. These ethics have relevance to the ways people are using new technologies to cause harm. Technology should enable listening and social justice for all. Peacebuilding groups such as Build Up are experimenting with how to use technologies to support efforts to help people listen to and engage with people who are different.[17]

Applying Tech Ethics

Technology companies have at least three ethical responsibilities related to peacebuilding and Anabaptist ethics discussed in this article. First, technology companies are responsible for  anticipating  possible  harms that might occur as a result of the design of their products. Second, they are responsible for designing products that serve the good of humanity. Third, they are accountable for harms that occur as a result of intentional or unintentional product design.

These three ethics form the core of a new field of “peace engineering,” which is an emerging nexus between technology, engineering, and peacebuilding. Whether designing a social media platform, a city, a building, a healthcare system, or a mask to wear during a pandemic, new technologies and inventions impact relationships between people.[18] Peace engineering uses an interdisciplinary approach that employs “the application of science and engineering principles to promote and support peace,” as defined by the International Federation of Educational Engineering Societies (IFEES). Engineers themselves developed the concept of peace engineering[19] as they witnessed the unintended impacts of their efforts, and they envisioned what engineering might look like if it set out to have positive impacts on human relations.[20] A new engineered product or technology can alter the dynamics of a community, either creating  more conflict or improving intergroup relationships. The primary goals of peace engineering are to create new products or technologies that prevent, mitigate, and help people recover from violence and support sustainable community well-being.

Designing Technologies that Anticipate Harms

The first ethic of any innovation is to anticipate potential harms. All human behavior may cause unintentional harm. The fields of medicine and humanitarian assistance, for example, invest significant resources in assessment and planning to avoid unintended consequences. The concepts of “do no harm” shape medical ethics as well as many other fields. The concept of “conflict sensitivity” refers to the use of assessment tools to anticipate how a new program or technology might negatively impact a particular context. Conflict sensitivity starts by analyzing the local context (such as the country in which a social media platform operates) to anticipate ways the platform may be abused or contribute to social divisions or violence within that context. Social media companies can use conflict assessment tools to advance their capacity for conflict sensitivity.

Design principles can anticipate and attempt to reduce harms with assessment tools to design new technologies that take into consideration these questions: Who are the stakeholders who will be affected by a new technology? What in the wider context might be affected by it? What are potential unintended impacts of it? What can be done to minimize potential harmful impacts of an engineered solution? These questions reflect the Anabaptist ethics of human agency and dignity by including more voices in assessing technology impacts on human relationships.

A variety of organizations are producing ethical guidelines for technology companies to assess their impacts. For example, the UN has produced a series of reports that relate human rights laws to technology products. The Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University directs a program on Ethics in Technology Practice and publishes “ethics toolkits” aimed at technology companies.[21] The Toda Peace Institute in partnership with JustPeace Labs produced a review of ethical guidelines for PeaceTech.[22]

Designing Technologies that Facilitate Empathy, Dialogue, and Deliberation

No engineering project is neutral. Engineers typically design products with principles such as profitability, ease of use, improving quality of life, cost effectiveness, and visual attractiveness. As corporations often focus on profit with little care for other impacts of their products, a socially responsible business community has emerged to promote a “triple bottom line” that includes assessing the impact of a product on “people, planet and profit.”[23] Peace engineering introduces two additional sets of design principles: to reduce violent conflict, and to maximize social cohesion or “peace.” These principles reflect the Anabaptist ethics of human agency, dignity, and enemy love.

Peacebuilders also have recognized the limits of their practice. If the design of a social media platform can dramatically increase or decrease levels of violence, peace, and social cohesion, then peacebuilders need to be talking with tech engineers. Paul Heidebrecht at Conrad Grebel University College’s Kindred Credit Union Centre for Peace Advancement notes that the innovation process itself is a critical location for bringing ethics to technology design. The culture, norms, and process of innovation is a critical location for engaging engineers and entrepreneurs about ethics. Reflecting on the “tech for good” industry, Heidebrecht rightly asks how to define what is good for society and who has the power to evaluate what is good.[24]

The Center for Humane Technology (CHT) aims to inspire “humane design” of social media technology. CHT is encouraging a “design renaissance” that emphasizes “non-extraction-based design decisions and business models” that might empower people to manage their attention toward activities that benefit the social good, both personal and collective. Unlike social media platforms that have a profit motive to keep users on the platform longer, companies like Microsoft, Apple, and Samsung that make the devices that run social media platforms could design safeguards for human security since their profit model does not depend upon users sharing information online. Technology companies can design their products to protect our minds and society, and to enhance human capacity for “time well spent” rather than distraction.[25]

Peace engineering design principles begin with conflict analysis or assessment.[26] Conflict analysis provides a structured research method to determine who holds a stake in a new technology, what interests motivate them, what forms of power they leverage with or over other stakeholders, what grievances or interests they aim to address, and when and where they are affected by a new technology. Design principles for maximizing social cohesion and peace include the following questions: What divisions already exist within the community or society that will be impacted by a new technology? How will a new technology impact those most marginalized in a society? How can a new technology help to foster social cohesion, human rights, and dignity of each member of the community? How can a new technology help to promote a shared vision and increase social cohesion?

To answer some of these questions, technology companies could consult with experts who specialize in peacebuilding, facilitation, dialogue, and social cohesion.[27] Social media platforms can be designed or redesigned to better serve humanity. Technology companies can use their vast power, resources, and influence to distribute digital media literacy products to educate, socialize, and remind people of key lessons. Such literacy can also take the form of national programs, radio spots, television spots, and public service campaigns on topics such as responding to fact-checking, regulating emotions, confronting hate speech, and depolarizing by listening and building rapport before seeking to persuade.[28]

Accountability  for  Harms

Who holds technology companies accountable for harms to society? The companies and their shareholders are ultimately responsible for preventing and addressing harms. Some technology companies are working toward ethical frameworks. Microsoft’s “Digital Peace Now” campaign urges governments to protect human rights. Microsoft’s Digital Civility campaign asks tech users to sign onto four principles: live the golden rule; respect differences; pause before replying; and stand up for [oneself] and others.[29]

But without civil society and government oversight, technology companies may not be motivated to hold themselves accountable for public harms. Some governments are actively seeking to address social media threats with new regulations and initiatives to support digital literacy. The scale of social media threats requires a global regulatory policy and framework to address the relatively unchecked power of technology companies. Some governments are using new cyber laws to further repress civil society. Government regulation should ensure global humanitarian principles for digital space so that any new legislation is respectful of human rights and freedom of expression.

The Center for Humane Technology (CHT) is developing proposals for governments to put “attention extraction on their balance sheets and create better protections for consumers.”[30] Yale Law School professor Jack Balkin argues that social media companies should be treated as “information fiduciaries” to protect and care for the public’s access to accurate information.[31] The need for regulation is gaining traction. French President Emmanuel Macron, Microsoft, and other technology companies launched the Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace.[32] Microsoft is calling for a Digital Geneva Convention that would create new international rules to protect the public from state threats in cyberspace.[33] Others call for a Digital Social Contract.[34]

Social media companies could be required to acquire a government license to operate. Increased regulation might require that technology companies fund a “risk audit” for operating in every country. The companies’ ignorance often seems paired with an arrogance about not knowing what they do not know. A risk audit would require extensive consultations to listen to a wide range of stakeholders with diverse experiences and abilities to anticipate negative impacts. Governments could participate in calculating and pricing  insurance premiums  for  social media  companies  based on the financial impact and risk of chaos, violence, and political instability stemming from their business. Regulation might include user protections and requirements for hotlines to respond to crises such as posts threatening violence. Some countries have already brought lawsuits against social media companies as a result of company failures to comply with legal standards.

Governments could also tax social media companies  based  on their impact on violence or democratic institutions. Legislators could justify taxation because social media platforms spread social and political “information pollution” or disinformation that undermines social relationships and political institutions. Taxes could be channeled to fund not- for-profit offline news sources, including public-access news, information “trusts,” and civic media. Just as polluting corporations have to pay taxes toward funds that go to clean up air and water pollution, social media companies could be taxed for their contribution to information pollution, since a functioning democracy requires information.[35]

Civil Society’s Digital Peacebuilding

Civil  society  is  already  implementing  peacebuilding  ethics  to  address threats from new social media technologies. Some civil society groups are promoting digital media literacy to help the public use technology with a greater understanding of how it works and how to detect disinformation. For example, the peacebuilding NGO Search for Common Ground developed a “cyberguardian” program in Sri Lanka to promote empower youth to combat hate speech online.[36] Some civil society groups are developing memes, bots, or digital content that fosters greater social cohesion. For example, the Toda Peace Institute’s Digital Peace Factory offered cash prizes for the public to create memes that supported social cohesion during the 2020 US election.[37]

Civil society can also be involved in helping to ensure that technology contributes to the public good. The peacebuilding organization Build Up is experimenting with depolarization initiatives on Twitter and Facebook in their program called The Commons.[38] In western Europe, tens of thousands of volunteer “upstanders” support victims of digital harassment and misogynist, racist, and anti-immigrant hate speech in the #IchBinHier (#Iamhere) civil society movement.[39] In Latvia, Lithuania, and Ukraine, civil society movements counter Russian troll farms that plant false and divisive stories on social media. Russia’s goal is to undermine democratic institutions and increase polarization. Lithuania’s volunteer citizen army of “Elves” works together to protect themselves against Russian “industrial-scale disinformation.”[40] These are just a sampling of the many ways civil society peacebuilding groups are innovating responses to digital threats.


This article has identified how Anabaptist theology and peacebuilding ethics are relevant for addressing technological threats to human health and safety, and has reviewed several specific ethics to consider:

  1. Ensure a tech ethic of human agency to ensure that technologies do not undermine human capacities by attempting to manipulate and surveil.
  2. Practice an individual and community ethic of nonconformity by evaluating potential harms or unintended consequences of technology and to evaluate its impact on the community before the technology is adopted for use.
  3. Commit to a tech ethic of building peace today fosters relationships, dignity, and builds social cohesion to reduce polarization between groups.

The final section of the article has argued that these ethics can be operationalized by designing technologies that anticipate harms and facilitate empathy, dialogue, and deliberations, and by holding technology companies accountable for the harms that do happen. Like the shiny buttons on military uniforms, new technologies appeal to the human desire for social affirmation and recognition. Humans seem to love new gadgets, especially ones that make life easier or more enjoyable. But when problems of addiction, hate speech, polarization, and violent extremism first started showing up on social media, some observers rushed to argue that the problems of these technologies could be fixed with more technology. While this may be true in part, humans are not likely to prevent these harms through technology alone.*

LisaSchirchis the Richard G. Starmann, Sr. Professor of the Practice in Peace Studies, at the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, as of July 1, 2022. She is also a Senior Research Fellow for the Toda Peace Institute, Tokyo, Japan.

 [1] Kathleen Chaykowski, “Mark Zuckerberg Gives Facebook a New Mission,” Forbes, June 22, 2017., accessed January 19, 2022.

[2] Lisa Schirch, SocialMediaImpactsonConflictandDemocracy:TheTechtonicShift(Sydney: Routledge Press, 2021).

[3] Yasha Levine, “Surveillance Valley: Why are internet companies like Google in bed with cops and spies?,” TheBaffler, February 6, 2018.

[4] Jürgen Altmann, Technology,ArmsControlandWorld Order:FundamentalChangeNeeded (Tokyo: Toda Peace Institute, 2020).

[5] Varoon Bashyakarla, “Persuasion by Personality: The Use of Psychometric Profiling in Elections,” Tactical Tech, May 18, 2018.

[6] Ruha Benjamin, RaceAfterTechnology:AbolitionistToolsfortheNewJimCode(Cambridge: Polity Press, 2019).

[7] Cathy O’Neill, WeaponsofMathDestruction(New York: Broadway Books, 2017).

[8] Erol Yayboke and Sam Brannen, PromoteandBuild:A Strategic Approach to Digital Authoritarianism (Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2020).

[9] Schirch, SocialMediaImpactsonConflictandDemocracy.

[10] Adrian Shahbaz and Allie Funk, ThePandemicsDigitalShadow(Washington, DC: Freedom House, 2020).

[11] Shoshana Zuboff, TheAgeofSurveillanceCapitalism:TheFightfora Human Future at the New Frontier of Power (New York: Public Affairs, 2019).

[12] Schirch, SocialMediaImpactsonConflictandDemocracy.

[13] Donald B. Kraybill, Karen M. Johnson-Wiener, and Steven M. Nolt, “Technology,” in TheAmish(Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 2013), 312-44.

[14] Lisa Schirch, “Eight Ways to Strengthen Mennonite Peacebuilding,” The Conrad Grebel Review 35, no. 3 (2017): 361-84.

[15] Benjamin Goossen, ChosenNation:Mennonitesand Germany in a Global Era (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press, 2017).

[16] Safiya Umoja Noble, AlgorithmsofOppression:HowSearchEnginesReinforceRacism(New York: New York Univ. Press, 2018).

[17] Anooj Bhandari, “The Commons: Where are we at in 2021?”, Medium, 2021.

[18] Alpaslan Ozerdem and Lisa Schirch, “Peace engineering in a complex pandemic world,” in Richard Rubenstein, ed., ConflictResolutionafterthePandemic(Sydney: Routledge, 2021).

[19] Engineering schools around the world are offering new courses and graduate degrees in peace engineering. Examples in the U.S. are Drexel University, University of St. Thomas, University of New Mexico, University of Colorado, and University of Texas at El Paso.

[20] Darshan Mukesh Arvinda Karwat, “Engineering for the People: Putting Peace, Social Justice, and Environmental Protection at the Heart of All Engineering,FrontiersofEngineering:ReportsonLeading-EdgeEngineeringfromthe2018 Symposium (Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2018).

[21] Shannon Vallor, Brian Green, and Irina Raicu, “Ethics in Technology Practice: A Toolkit,” 2018. Markkula Center for Applied Ethics.

[22] Jennifer Easterday, Hana Ivanhoe, and Lisa Schirch, “Comparing Guidance for Tech Companies in Fragile and Conflict Affected Situations.” Tokyo: Toda Peace Institute, 2021.

[23] John Elkington, “25 Years Ago I Coined the Phrase ‘Triple Bottom Line.’ Here’s Why It’s Time to Rethink It,” HarvardBusinessReview, 2018.

[24] Paul Heidebrecht, “Peacebuilding and the Norms of Technological Change.” Tokyo: Toda Peace Institute, 2021.

[25] Center for Humane Technology (2020)., accessed January 19, 2022.

[26] Lisa Schirch, ConflictAssessmentandPeacebuildingPlanning:A Participatory Approach to Human Security (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2013).

[27] Lydia Laurenson, “Polarisation and Peacebuilding Strategy on Digital Media Platforms: Current Strategies and Their Discontents.” Tokyo: Toda Peace Institute, 2019. https://toda. org/.

[28] Schirch, SocialMediaImpactsonConflictandDemocracy.

[30] Center for Humane Technology, 2020., accessed January 19, 2022.

[31] Jack Balkin, InformationFiduciariesandtheFirstAmendment(Yale Law School Faculty Scholarship Series, 2016).

[32] Arthur P.B. Laudrain, “Avoiding a World War Web: The Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace,” Lawfare, December 4, 2018.

[33] Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah, “Why We Need a Digital Geneva Convention,” Diplomatic Courier, April 23, 2018.

[34] Digital Social Contract, 2020:

[35] Lisa Schirch, MappingResponsestoSocialMediaThreats.Tokyo: Toda Peace Institute, 2019., accessed January 19, 2022.

[36] Ramanaish Katheravelu, “Cyber Guardians: Empowering youth to combat online hate speech in Sri Lanka.” Cyber_Guardians_Final_Evaluation_2020.pdf.

[37] Toda Peace Institute, Digital Peace Factory, 2020:

[38] Build Up, “The Commons: an intervention to depolarize political conversations on Twitter and Facebook in the USA,” 2019.

[39] Jessica Bateman, ‘“#IAmHere’: The people trying to make Facebook a nicer place,” BBC, June 10, 2019., accessed January 19, 2022.

[40] Kim Sengupta, “Meet the Elves, Lithuania’s digital citizen army confronting Russian trolls,” Independent(UK), July 17, 2019. lithuania-elves-russia-election-tampering-online-cyber-crime-hackers-kremlin-a9008931.html, accessed January 19, 2022.

Table of Contents | Foreword | ArticlesBook Reviews

Book Reviews

Philip G. Ziegler. MilitantGrace:TheApocalypticTurnandtheFutureofChristianTheology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2018.

Thomas Lynch. ApocalypticPoliticalTheology: Hegel, Taubes and Malabou. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2019.

Whether it’s syrupy pop culture movies or somber environmental assessments, we’ve become somewhat accustomed to speaking of “the end of the world.” We talk of the world and its possible end because it is something other than simply dirt, air, and water. It is something we are involved in, even if it is also somehow beyond us. Among the warnings and proclamations, contemporary theology is still grappling with how to talk about the world and its possible end. Recent contributions by Philip Ziegler and Thomas Lynch offer distinct approaches to apocalyptic theology, a discipline of thinking, speaking, and acting in the specter of the world’s end.

Philip Ziegler’s MilitantGraceremains firmly within confessional Christian theology and more specifically a strand of Protestant readings of the Apostle Paul. This results in a project of thinking the world and its end in light of the cross and the transcendence of God. The apocalyptic key struck by the author takes decisive form, for the cross and resurrection of Christ are considered transcendent in origin and unsurpassable in time, allowing him to speak of the apocalypse as “the finality, singularity, and unsurpassable effectiveness of the saving judgment that God renders in Jesus Christ” (11).

While Ziegler acknowledges that his project is open to the criticism of being merely “strong poetry,” he nevertheless plunges headlong into rhetoric that rarely acknowledges, never mind engages, present or past material realities. Such an apocalyptic theology forms a closed loop of self-justified reflection in which Christ is both the end and somehow surprisingly new. However, this newness seems still to find its best expression in the well-worn interlocutors Luther, Bonhoeffer, Barth, and the like.

As if protesting too much against the strong poetry accusation, Ziegler offers consistent flourishes of hyperbole figuring his theology as militantand a form of revolt, speaking of the grace of God as accostingand assaultingthe world, even characterizing disciples as chattelof God’s victory. Despite using such visceral (and often problematic) language, there is no blood on the page, no acknowledging the violent implications of such language and theology whether in past or present realities.

Ziegler’s apocalypse is already signed and sealed by the cross, and seemingly vouchsafed by the fathers of Protestant theology. All the lofty rhetoric of the church militant finally runs aground in an ethics that asserts a fearless ability to attend to the world-shattering ideality of the cross but also guards against what Ziegler calls “moralism,” from which Christians might actually dare experiment with what the Gospel might be, or point to moments or movements of this world-shattering message hitherto unrecognized by the church or its theology. The book reads in the end of Christ at once radical but captured, militant but domesticated. Of course Ziegler denies this impotent conclusion, but all I can find in his rebuttal is more strong poetry.

The approach of Thomas Lynch in ApocalypticPoliticalTheologyreads in stark contrast to Ziegler. For Ziegler the end is assured and unsurpassed in the transcendent inbreaking of Christ, while for Lynch the end is contingent and as yet unformed, latent in the immanent workings of the present. While Ziegler assumes the Christian tradition as normative for understanding the end, Lynch extends the question of what both the political and theological may yet have to say. Where Ziegler requires militant grace, Lynch reminds us that “endings take work” (1). Flowing from this image, Lynch considers apocalypticism as a tool for thinking and living. In constructing it, he spends considerable and productive time assembling his resources by clarifying what is meant by “political theology” and then deploying his definition through the work of G.W.F. Hegel (1770-1831), Jacob Taubes (1923-1987), and Catherine Malabou (b. 1959).


It is clear that Lynch and Ziegler are engaging differing projects. Lynch helpfully outlines the various modes of political theology. He recognizes that some are working in a sectarian mode doing political theologyand are thus having “a different conversation” (10). He also recognizes a form of political theology that tends to focus on the politics of religion and often serves a secular agenda. Distinct from those approaches, Lynch seeks to explore how theology and the political remain entangled in their formations and expressions. He then moves on to sketch his understanding of “the world.”

The world was created by ordering the earth and its people through law. The law allows for appropriating, naming, and dividing the earth and its inhabitants. Lynch outlines what he considers the primary divisions of the modern world—namely nature, capital, gender, and race. These distinctions are not to be taken as equally equivalent to one another but rather to “indicate the general shape of the world” (25). By contrast, Ziegler appears uninterested in actually knowing the world but in simply stating that it has been “twice invaded,” that is, by sin and by Christ. With Lynch we are equipped to think the formation of the world and its “normality,” which is violent in its very divisions. Apocalyptic political theology then enables us to explore “the antagonisms that constitute the world” (32).

Having situated his project, Lynch spends the bulk of the book thinking with Hegel, Taubes, and Malabou. Hegel is the most important figure engaged. There are stretches where the non-specialist reader might feel a little lost in the weeds, but Hegel is discussed not in order to follow his conclusion but to see in his project a way of rejecting a hierarchy of theology and philosophy (or religion and politics) and of allowing the world to come under critique without defaulting to an answer in theological transcendence (like Ziegler) or a recuperation in existing political categories (such as liberalism).

In Taubes we encounter a figure at once uninterested in maintaining the world as it is but also unwilling to leverage theology as a special force or category forming a space of the no-longer and the not-yet. Taubes writes: “For the coming age is not served by demonizing or giving life to what-has- been, but by remaining steadfast in the no-longer and the not-yet, in the nothingness of the night, and thus remaining open to the first signs of the coming day” (quoted, 77-78).

In order to extend  this non-hierarchical, non-investment in  the world, Lynch deploys Catherine Malabou’s notion of “plasticity,” which refers to the malleable (constructive and destructive) nature of reality. This is in distinction to static philosophical categories or transcendent authority as found in Ziegler. Here reality contains the possible and the contingent, which can become the necessary, and the necessary can in turn be undone. This does not mean that anythingis possible at a given moment. These movements are always being defined by the conditions of the world. Resisting transcendent authority and the present order, one can examine past and present points for what could have been and could still be otherwise.

Concluding with the question of living apocalyptically, Lynch addresses the pessimism articulated in expressions of queer and Black thinking, such as the tendency and temptation of queerness being incorporated into “acceptable” lifestyles, or naming more accurately a world that in its totality is founded and maintained on anti-Blackness. This pessimism leads to the possibility of a posture of engaged divestment, a sort of “practiced refusal” of the present.

If there is any continuity between these two volumes, it may be in their hesitation over what individuals can do about the world. Both authors acknowledge a type of human impotence. For Ziegler, Christ stands as the one who has overcome the world. For Lynch, the world will always overcome individual efforts. Ziegler’s position of course has significant biblical and theological warrant, but I find it increasingly difficult to accept his claims. Despite decades of critics thoroughly interrogating the relationship between Christian theology and global colonialism (the making of a world that sought to end others), theologians like Ziegler continue to make the broadest of claims about the world without even the smallest gesture addressing theology’s abuses. This is no abstract challenge.


A current challenge for churches in Canada is wrestling with the legacy of Indian Residential Schools that sought to eliminate Indigenous life—”killing the Indian in the child”—in order to assimilate them into the “new world” brought (not found) by European settlers. Lloyd Comber, who grew up in the 1950s and ’60s on Pikangikum First Nation in Northern Ontario, talks about the Mennonites who came as missionaries and helped run a residential school. At first, there appeared to be some benefit from this meeting, with the Europeans bringing useful and practical skills. However, the horizon of the missionaries was the gospel, surpassing the traditional Indigenous spirituality it encountered. This led Mennonites to literally overthrow the “grandfather stones” from a sacred site on Berens River into the water, attempting thereby to sever traditional spiritual ties. Comber reflects on these events, stating that they were “the absolute end of the world.”

An insidious problem with Ziegler’s theology is that it conceals its own internal contradiction and ultimate agenda. Christ stands as the unsurpassable, surprising, and world-shattering figure of the apocalypse. However, this figure is always somehow recuperated into the standard tropes of majority (White) Christianity. While this theology may not always lead individuals to explicit forms of violence, it does continue and maintain a form of structural violence within Christian theology that the church still must reckon with.

Contrast Ziegler’s militant rhetoric with Lynch’s patient and often (admittedly) disappointing attention given to the world and our place in it. Lynch is careful to avoid the luxury of certain pessimisms of withdrawal, acknowledging the weight and the cost that this world places on others. I find in such a project more hope than in Ziegler’s bold proclamations, for at this stage any hope mustinclude removing Christian theology from any transcendent privilege and emptying itself, so to speak, in order to see the world more clearly—not as already or neatly vanquished by our proclamation of the risen Christ, but as an extension of our universal claims that spread to overcoming other worlds as it grew.

We must unequivocally acknowledge and denounce the manner in which such theology came to Lloyd Comber’s world and set about ending it. Worlds, their beginnings and endings, remain in our past and on our horizon. Perhaps not all worlds can and should survive, perhaps some exact too high a cost on others and on the earth. Both within Christian theology and beyond, there remain apocalyptic practices of “worldly divestment” releasing forms of care and justice, come what may.

David Driedger is an independent scholar and associate minister at First Mennonite Church, Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Table of Contents | Foreword | ArticlesBook Reviews

Elaine Enns and Ched Myers. Healing HauntedHistories:A Settler Discipleship of Decolonization. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2021.

Healing Haunted Histories, both a memoir and a workbook, provides settler Christians with a detailed roadmap with which to engage the lifelong work of decolonization. Each chapter invites readers to closely examine their personal and communal “Storylines”—the places, people, and traditions that have shaped their past and present realities. The authors encourage deep engagement with family memories and legacies so that readers can unravel threads of privilege, trauma, complicity, and superiority. Only by grappling with the hauntings of half-told narratives, historical silences, and fragmented immigration stories can readers learn to embody “restorative solidarity” in their present context.

Using Elaine Enns’s Russian Mennonite family narrative as an example, the authors begin the tender yet sacred exercise of teasing apart her settler identity. They begin by examining “Landlines”—the places where her ancestors lived and moved, and the circumstances that prompted them to emigrate and immigrate. This geographical mapping frames Enns’s family story “in the context of larger patterns of conquest and colonization” (63) while acknowledging their own experiences of displacement and upheaval. Through “Bloodlines” analysis, the authors query how the family’s stories have been told, inquiring about silent gaps in communal narratives and the impact of trauma across generations. Part 1 concludes with the examination of “Songlines”—the traditions that sustained Enns’ ancestors and nurtured resilience during hard times. In the face of war, famine, and poverty, these traditions offered a counternarrative to the oppressive forces of empire.

In Part 2, the authors explore the Landlines, Bloodlines, and Songlines that have shaped Enns’s family since their settlement in the Saskatchewan River Valley in the 1920s. Here Landlines analysis involves learning the stories of the prairie lands and original peoples, and interrogating the colonial methods by which Mennonites acquired and settled prairie land. Further study of Enns’s Bloodlines serves to question her family’s integration into white-dominant culture and their acceptance of privileges afforded them based on their ethnicity. Enns and Myers then turn to past and present Songlines that continue to challenge the settler colonial system and inspire a more redemptive future. Drawing on justice movements, civil rights history, and examples of Indigenous resurgence, they highlight rich traditions of moral reimagining and political courage that can aid settlers in their journeys of decolonization.

The last chapter discusses the practical implications of working with Landlines, Bloodlines, and Songlines. A discipleship of decolonization must ultimately move beyond inner investigations to an outward embodiment of restorative solidarity. The authors glean wisdom from the story of the rich man in Mark 10 who asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. For Enns and Myers, Jesus’ answer clearly outlines the preconditions for discipleship: “Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor.” Redistributive justice is critical to the work of decolonization.

1 Kings 21 is also a site of significant theological analysis. In the book’s interlude between Parts 1 and 2, the authors recall how King Ahab covets the vineyard of a traditional landowner named Naboth. In their interpretation of this story, Ahab operates with a colonial ideology of land possession, whereas Naboth’s Indigenous cosmology teaches stewardship of the land. According to the text, Ahab murders Naboth and takes possession of his vineyard when Naboth refuses to give over the land. Then the prophet Elijah reveals the divine consequences of Ahab’s landgrab, stating that disaster will befall him and all his descendants. Enns and Myers understand the need to speak truth to modern-day Ahabs. For them, decolonial work requires standing in solidarity with Indigenous peoples struggling for land repatriation.

A restorative justice educator and an activist theologian respectively, Enns and Myers approach decolonization through an interdisciplinary lens. Conversation partners range from neuroscientists to social workers, and from sociologists to biblical studies professors. The book’s comprehensive scope has the potential to appeal to many audiences but makes for dense reading. Of the well over five hundred sources engaged, many do not receive the space and detailed analysis they deserve. Still, the book’s extensive bibliography is an invaluable resource that introduces many key figures in the decolonial discipleship movement.

Although HealingHauntedHistoriesis geared primarily towards  settler Christians in North America, Enns and Myers state that “you don’t have to be person of faith … to benefit from this book” (xxvii). Nevertheless, the strong focus on Enns’s family narrative may appeal most to readers who share a similar heritage. The authors model particular steps that settlers of European origin must take to deconstruct the colonial identity of whiteness.

The deep inner work of decolonization is not for the faint of heart, and this volume requires settler readers to be in it for the long haul. As Harry Lafond writes in the afterword, “there is no shortcut to a lasting, long-term relationship between Indigenous and settler communities” (315). Enns and Myers demonstrate that healing is possible and incredibly worthwhile, and offer a valuable Songline for all settlers seeking inspiration and liberation.

Allegra Friesen Epp, Intern, Mennonite Church Canada’s Indigenous Settler Relations Office and Christian Peacemaker Teams’ Turtle Island Solidarity Network, Winnipeg, MB.

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Dianne Rayson. BonhoefferandClimateChange:TheologyandEthicsfortheAnthropocene. Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books/Fortress Academic, 2021.

In a broad-reaching interdisciplinary volume, Dianne Rayson searches the works of German Lutheran pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer for an answer to Bonhoeffer’s question, “Who is Christ for us today?” amid the anthropocentric climate change of the current age. While Bonhoeffer may be familiar as a dissenting voice in 1930s Germany, Rayson situates his theology as a resource for creation care amid human induced climate breakdown.

The  introductory  chapter  situates  theology  in  the  discourse  on climate change and is a good starting point for anyone new to the discussion around climate breakdown as a theological topic. Chapter Two connects anthropocentric human behavior and influence on Earth’s systems and the effects of climate change on vulnerable populations who contribute little pollution to the ongoing climate breakdown. The author offers a brief review of theological movements that have prioritized ecological concerns, such as womanist, feminist, and liberation theology. She also outlines various theological reasonings for Christian complicity in the ongoing domination of the earth, which may be familiar to readers in light of Bonhoeffer’s CreationandFalllectures. Dominion, for Bonhoeffer, is an invitation into a relationship with fellow creatures that mirrors God’s delight in creation.

Chapter Three deals with Bonhoeffer’s Christology as an ethical response to the notion of Christ as Lord of the World, which Rayson argues is the basis for all of Bonhoeffer’s theology. After briefly touching on Luther’s influence on Bonhoeffer, she highlights Bonhoeffer’s focus on the immanence of Christ as justification of the world. Because God in Christ binds God’s self to the earth, so too are humans bound to the earth as those made in the image of God. It is only through Christ, for Bonhoeffer, that reality is unified. In Chapter Four, Rayson moves to Bonhoeffer’s CreationandFall. She highlights in Bonhoeffer’s exegesis of Genesis 1-3, the importance of God’s transcendence and freedom, the presence of the Trinity in creation, and the goodness that God sees in creation.

Chapter Five establishes that for Bonhoeffer, the Christ event reconciles the world with God and includes both human and non- human creation. Through Bonhoeffer’s dissertation SanctorumCommunioand his Ethics, Rayson employs two concepts to ground his ecological ethic: Stellevertretung (vicarious representative action) and Sachgemäßheit(responsibility bound by context) (96). She highlights the concept of AnalogiaRelationis, which supports Bonhoeffer’s theory of “sociality,” which connects a reconciled and restored relationship with God with relationships with fellow creatures (97- 100). The author draws upon Bonhoeffer’s 1932 paper “The Right to Self- Assertion” and the term Entzweiung(humankindsdividedness)(113). While he is speaking about the problem of war, Rayson argues that the same thirst for power undergirds doing violence to ecology.

Chapter Six highlights the “this worldly” focus of Bonhoeffer’s theology, from which one can argue that an ecological ethic is theologically significant. A “this worldly” eschatology, Rayson argues, combats escapist eschatology, which privileges the spiritual over the material, the future over the present, and humans over non-human creation.

Chapter Seven deals mainly with Bonhoeffer’s ethical focus. Rayson takes his question “How do you really imagine the Kingdom of God on earth?” and suggests that for him it is not merely a question of imagination but of what actions are required to realize it (183). Bonhoeffer sees Christian faith not merely as intellectual assent but as response to God’s salvific action in Christ. The authentic expression of Christian faith, in his view, necessarily requires the ethical act as a response. “Given the concrete act of God in Christ,” writes Rayson, “how do those who profess faith in that act manifest their faith in a similarly concrete way?” (184) She draws on Bonhoeffer’s Ethicsas the outworking of following Christ and suggests that this naturally supports taking care of creation seriously. If God is for others, Christians are to be likewise, which naturally extends to all of creation.

The book concludes by asking who Christ might be in the Anthropocene, extending Bonhoeffer’s “Who actually is Christ for us today?” (233). Having already made her argument, the author answers that Christ for us today is both the human and non-human creation that are marginalized, abused, and taken advantage of in the human-induced climate crisis.

This volume is a valuable contribution not only to the ongoing theological discussion about combatting human induced climate change, but to extending Bonhoeffer’s rich theology beyond his own historical context. Topics are explained clearly and in detail, allowing the book to serve both scholarly and non-scholarly audiences. The chapter on Bonhoeffer’s Christology, in particular, should be required reading for all would-be Bonhoeffer scholars. While Bonhoeffer was not writing or thinking about anthropocentric climate change, his theology nevertheless offers a compelling ecological Christian ethic.

ConnorJay, M.Div. student, Martin Luther University College, Waterloo, Ontario.

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John M. Lanzen, Harold F. Miller, and John C. Yoder, eds. MennonitesandPost-ColonialAfricanStudies.London and New York: Routledge, 2021.

Opening this volume revived a host of memories from an earlier but deeply influential tranche of my life. Of the twenty authors (not including the three respondents at the end), I personally worked with, or in the same institutional systems with, ten of them. Hence my first time through was an “easy read,” since many names, places, and experiences were familiar to me.

Clustered in three sections, the book’s essays offer reflections of “pioneers,” “professors,” and “practitioners.” Each author was asked to describe how they got to Africa, how living and working across the continent defined their careers, and how their Anabaptist heritage shaped their vocations. All the essayists earned graduate degrees and in some form throughout their careers engaged academic currents related to the histories, politics, cultures, economies, and ecclesiastical realities of post-colonial African countries. Co-editor John C. Yoder describes the careers and influence of the pioneers: Donald Jacobs (d. 2020), Melvin Loewen, and David Shenk. Beginning in the 1950s, Jacobs mined anthropology for missiological insights, Loewen advocated for high-level policy engagement in economic development, and Shenk studied, practiced, and taught Christian-Muslim dialogue.

Many of the professors arrived in Africa as young adult volunteers with Mennonite Central Committee. For most, this first encounter also fulfilled their alternative service requirement as draft-age conscientious objectors during the US war in Vietnam. Donald Holsinger, Curtis Keim, Karen Keim, John Metzler, John C. Yoder, and Lauren Yoder taught in Algeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Zambia. John Janzen was a Pax volunteer in the Congo.

Several featured professors are represented by essays written by others; John C. Yoder summarizes the work of economist Wayne Nafziger, who first traveled to Nigeria for graduate research. James Krabill, himself a scholar of African hymnody, profiles two important Mennonite careers in Africa. David A. Shenk studied and served with the West African Harrist Church, while musician Mary Oyer embraced a second career delving into African musical forms and  introducing them  to North Americans.  Lydia Glick Samatar describes the life and work of Somali historian Saïd Sheikh Samatar, whom she met and married during her service as a missionary in Somalia. Most of the essays describe how the authors obtained further funding, pursued research across the continent, gained academic appointments in US or Canadian universities, and invited generations of students to join in the authors’ African interests.

Among the practitioners are public health specialist Franklin Baer, whose work has been primarily in the DRC, Tanzanian educator Musoto Chirangi, entomologist David Denlinger, adult educator Merrill Ewert, educator/administrator Ronald Mathies, theologian Sara Regier, who also profiles the agricultural work of her late husband Fremont Regier, and public health anthropologist Stanley Yoder. The wide-ranging collection is book- ended by an introduction by the former president of the African Studies Association, Aliko Songolo, and “external” responses by social anthropologist Steven Feierman, scholar of religion Paul Gifford, and African Studies scholar Emily Welty.

Readers who come to this volume without the storied Mennonite experience in 20th-century Africa may wish to begin with the external responses. Feierman outlines intersections between the moral quests of Jewish and Mennonite peoples, asserting modern failures of both communities— Mennonites in the face of German nationalism, American Jews in response to the Israeli state. He names the essays “papers for a divorce of religion from nationalism,” essential reading for the 21st-century (261). Gifford underlines the Anabaptist writers’ emphasis on understanding and honoring African culture, but asserts that “this preoccupation with culture has lessened the value of, if not vitiated, much current African theology” (263). Welty sharply offers a challenging précis of most of the volume’s writers, wondering about the choices made by young adults headed to Africa seeking “adventure,” and insisting that the writers could have more clearly acknowledged their early naïveté about the colonial enterprise, their status as White Northerners/ Westerners, and their gender (mostly men).

The personal essays are remarkably spare in their articulation of Anabaptist-Mennonite distinctives that shaped the writers. Yet they are rich with human interest. Musoto Chirangi locates himself: “I belong to the Mbogo clan of the Ruri ethnic group in Musoma Rural District in the Mara Region of Tanzania” (184). Curtis Keim recalls hearing children chanting after him: “Mondele,donnezmoilacaisse!”—White person, give me the cash box! (81). Lydia Glick Samatar recalls that she and Saïd fell in love in Mogadishu and wanted to get married, but “First, there were some struggles to get through.” I wish she had said more.

Writers note what  they gained  as they learned  the languages  of the people among whom they lived and worked, became more fluent in particular cultural practices, and sought to helpfully represent their African friends and respondents to outsiders. I was struck with the more activist and even optimistic tone of the practitioners whose vocations took them into governmental and international non-governmental agencies, and likely, whose African colleagues were more globally located.

As a historical and cultural marker, this volume is needed in church, academic, and NGO libraries. As a question for all who hold some part of the future of Africa peoples and places in their hearts, it calls for more than one reading.

NancyHeisey,Professor of Bible, Religion and Theology, Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Virginia. She worked for almost twenty years with Mennonite Central Committee, living in DRC/Zaire (1973-1976) and Burkina Faso (1985), and serving as co-administrator for MCC’s programs in Africa (1977-1986).

Table of Contents | Foreword | ArticlesBook Reviews

Layton Boyd Friesen. Sedition,ConfusionandTumult:WhyReformationEuropeThoughtAnabaptistsWouldDestroySociety. Steinbach, MB: Evangelical Mennonite Conference, 2019.

John Roth  provides  a  significant  contextual  quote  in  his  introduction to this book: “But other Mennonites . . . were embarrassed by the radicalism of first-generation Anabaptists and  the  reaction  it  evoked, and have tried to assure their neighbors of the essential orthodoxy of the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition” (8). Layton Boyd Friesen explains this “embarrassment” by introducing readers to important historiography of 16th-century Anabaptists. Then, through a theological lens, he outlines four core beliefs that he takes as essential to Anabaptist identity. These include “pacifism, free church ecclesiology, radical discipleship and a commitment to sharing possessions” (13). It noteworthy that mutual aid or ‘philanthropy’ is included in this list of distinctives.

In the opening chapter, “Anabaptists as Anarchists,” Friesen outlines the political theology of Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin. He analyzes the 16th- century Swiss confederacy and the Anabaptists’ radical refusal to swear oaths. This context helps readers understand the priority of a life of discipleship over a life of citizenship. The following chapter illustrates the connection between baptism of infants and citizenship. Not baptising children was an attack on societal norms, hence the term “Uncitizenry” in the chapter title. Friesen explains that the church creates an alternative community allegiant to a higher authority and based on baptism, not geographic citizenship. His conclusion reports the state’s rationale for rooting out Anabaptists: “While zeal for theology can and did drive violence, it is not enough to explain the unity, duration and cruelty of various forces within society against the radicals. In order for an empire-wide persecution to be sustained, it needed to be viewed as the defense, not only of lofty ideas, but as a defense of home, children and town—in short, a defense of public order” (65). This defense was at the heart of the threat felt by Reformation Europe.

The chapter on “Fanatical Apocalyptics” offers insight into how various Anabaptist movements were lumped together. Understanding the times and the apocalyptic fervor prevalent in the era clarifies why they felt the end times were nigh. The historiography in this section is helpful. However, little is included about such characters as Melchior Rinck, Heinz Kraut, and Hans Schot, who held more apocalyptic fervor within the Anabaptist movement.

Friesen does provide a good overview of the Peasants’ War and the connections between Thomas Müntzer and Anabaptists, and treats the Münsterite rebellion carefully, laying out the connections and historical context of the violent episodes. He includes the Battenbergers as another example of a peripheral violent sect that created fear of Anabaptists. By including accounts from the MartyrsMirrorof later Anabaptist interrogations, he helps readers grasp the perceived connections to these sects and understand society’s suspicions.

In the “Economics of Subversives” the author outlines the genesis of the Anabaptist movement that put mutual aid at the core. “Though not all believed in the abolition of the autonomous household the way the Hutterites later did, the notion of the common purse or goods in common was prevalent” (92). He references redistribution, economic justice, a preference for the poor, and an attack on the wealthy church. He also includes important social history by discussing the Anabaptist approach to family life and marriage, which was seen as weakening traditional households. The Anabaptists’ refusal to pay tithes for the upkeep of cathedrals and monasteries and disputing the legitimacy of taxes for war further alienated them. This chapter’s conclusion summarizes the integration between faith and life: “The Anabaptist concept of the church as a community of people committed to each other’s well being proved in itself to be an economic critique of their times. Their very identity was molded in such a way that they caused a disturbance to all the comfortable” (117). Being a faith community meant loving humanity: in short, philanthropy.

This volume is accessible, readable, and carefully researched. It is a great entry into the roots of Anabaptism and can help anyone new to Anabaptism in the 21st century to understand why baptism, discipleship, pacifism, and economic communitarianism are core to Anabaptist-Mennonite identity. Sedition,ConfusionandTumultmay inspire a new generation to explore Anabaptism in a quest for change and social justice that is rooted in faith.

FredW.Martin, Director of Advancement, Conrad Grebel University College, Waterloo, Ontario.

Table of Contents | Foreword | ArticlesBook Reviews

Denise M. Nadeau. UnsettlingSpirit:A Journey into Decolonization. Montreal, QC: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2020.

In the wake of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) (2010-2015), churches, ministers, and scholars of religion and theology (primarily white people) are confronted with what it means to identify as a Christian while recognizing  and  transforming  their  complicity  in and benefits from historical and ongoing systemic colonial oppression of Indigenous Peoples. This is the context in which Denise Nadeau writes. She is an educator, scholar, and activist of mixed European heritage who has spent several decades “working at the intersection of somatic therapy, spiritual practice, decolonization, and racial justice” in Canada (https://denisenadeau. org/). This book invites readers, especially those with European ancestry, to join Nadeau on her ongoing journey into decolonization.

The journey turns upon a poignant question posed by the late Lakota Christian, Richard Twiss: “Why do we talk about ‘what do I do about being an Indian now that I am a Christian,’ but not ‘what do I do about my whiteness now that I am a Christian?’” (9). Nadeau does not offer an answer but instead tells her own story, seamlessly weaving together personal embodied experiences and interdisciplinary research. It reads like a kind of conversion story: from deeply rooted western Catholicism to Great White Helper social justice warrior, to her humble steps into decolonization. Indigenous Peoples have challenged the national perception of the “Indian problem” by turning to the “settler problem.” Similarly, Nadeau challenges the church’s notion of the “Indian problem” by turning to the “Christian problem” of whiteness. Perhaps the most insidious form of this problem is the Great White Helper.

Critical social theorist Sara Ahmed has observed that “whiteness is only invisible for those who inhabit it.” Nadeau’s journey is a testament to this; her reflections on her mistakes and confrontations with her whiteness will resonate with and encourage more honest critical self-reflection among white settler Christian readers. Inspired by liberation theology along with her childhood desires to be a good Christian, Nadeau discusses how she internalized a notion of herself and the duty of other white Christians to be helpers for the helpless and voices for the voiceless.

Unfortunately, this benevolence was based on an understanding of Indigenous Peoples as helpless and voiceless, which in turn fostered a deficit model of healing. Instead of seeing Indigenous Peoples in their complexity as carrying both resilience and trauma, the Christian-based helping professions and missionary work influenced Nadeau to perceive them solely as victims, but herself and other Christians as the Great White Helpers. As one Indigenous colleague said: “We have a voice, it is just that you never listened” (65).

The truth that Nadeau learned was that the Great White Helper model was  extremely  detrimental  to  Indigenous  Peoples  and  reinforced  racist stereotypes and myths of white supremacy. She echoes what Indigenous Peoples have been saying for decades, that “the civilizing mission of settler Christianity has been transformed into the vocation of the professional helper, counsellor, and therapist who offers processional empathy and advocacy” (65).

The author additionally names the role of churches as the Great White Helpers in response to the TRC: “The dominant media, the federal government, and the churches framed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as victim-centered, and, as a result, it focused on healing and cultural recovery. While useful for survivors, this has played into the Great White Helper mentality that is so integral to colonialism. The emphasis on healing from ‘historical trauma’ continues to appeal to churches and NGOs that provide funding for it. Settlers are comfortable with this focus because it means that they don’t have to look at themselves” (81).

The pathologizing of trauma and the individualism and apoliticism of contemporary western therapy has failed Indigenous people on multiple fronts. The disconnection of their trauma from historical context and ongoing structural oppression enables violence towards them to continue and lets benevolent settler Christians off the hook for fundamental socio- economic, political, and theological change.

One very important element of Nadeau’s journey is that she does not let her “sins” of the past shame or guilt her into inaction (a common occurrence among white settlers confronted with their racial privilege). Instead, she describes learning to take constructive criticism from Indigenous colleagues in stride, and to continue taking steps into decolonization, no matter how messy and complex. This is a critical practice that settler Christians must take up: acknowledge our complicities in violence, receive criticism, reflect deeply, and walk humbly into the journey of decolonization that is inherently embodied in ourselves, our communities, and our nations.

Melanie Kampen, Faculty Fellow, Canadian Mennonite University, Winnipeg, Manitoba. I respectfully acknowledge that I am a white settler living in the ancestral and traditional territories of the Anishinaabe, Anishininew, Assiniboine, Cree, Dakota, Dene, and Métis Nations

Table of Contents | Foreword | ArticlesBook Reviews

John P. R. Eicher. ExiledAmongNations:GermanandMennoniteMythologiesina Transnational Age. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020.

In this clear-eyed and creative book, John Eicher retells the tumultuous history of the two Mennonite groups who established the Menno and Fernheim colonies in the Paraguayan Chaco in 1926 and 1930/31, respectively. Over a broader period spanning the 1870s-1940s, he analyzes how these communities constructed and adapted the collective narratives, or mythologies, through which they made sense of experiences of dislocation. Drawing deftly on a rich body of literary and historiographical theory, Eicher shows that mythmaking about Mennonites was not only self-reflective but strategic. Narratives served mobile communities—and a host of outside actors seeking to make use of them—as instruments to carve out a fixed place in unstable and perilous local environments.

Keeping its focus trained closely on state peripheries, Eicher’s study offers a useful vantage point from which to track the effects of modern nationalism, displacement, and racialization on minority populations. Further, it reveals the essential role that Mennonitism’s margins played in shaping the institutional and ideological infrastructure that undergirds today’s global church. This excellent work deserves a wide readership.

The first two chapters locate the origins of Mennonite myths in parallel pre-histories of colonists’ arrival in the Chaco. For those who would found Menno Colony in 1921, a conflict with the Canadian government over the forced enrolment of children in public schools served as a moment of primary narrative acquisition. “Separatists” interpreted the Dominion’s withdrawal of earlier exemptions as a test of communal resolve, one that they passed by adopting the sanctifying role of God’s faithful wanderers. Just as they had done when emigrating from the Russian Empire to Canada decades earlier, this group sought out still unnationalized territories (recently and forcibly confiscated from Indigenous peoples), where they could achieve the “transchronological goal of living as early-modern subjects” with corporate privileges (35).

Eicher accentuates Menno Colony’s desire to withdraw from history and deems the project largely successful. Fidelity to an unchanging group narrative explains, for example, Menno colonists’ refusal to provide military assistance during the Chaco War and indifference to evangelizing Enlhit people. Fernheim colonists, in contrast, embraced both endeavors (chapter 3). The author lends nuance to what could become an essentialized depiction of  “separatist”  Mennonites  by  demonstrating  their  reliance  on  modern political, technological, and ecological conditions to achieve their objectives.

If Menno colonists’ self-understanding remained stable, the stories that outsiders told about the 1929 displacement of Mennonite fugitives from Moscow to the South American interior were far more malleable. In an insightful review of global newspaper coverage and correspondence surrounding the refugees’ plight, Eicher demonstrates how this small group functioned as a screen on which a host of actors—German, Canadian, and Paraguayan governments, Nazis, communists, and a host of relief organizations, including the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC)— projected their vision of the modern world. Lost in this cacophony were the displaced themselves, who were left to remake a collective sense of themselves in a distant new home, Fernheim.

Chapters four through six illuminate how North American Mennonites (especially the MCC) and German nationalists vied with one another to shape this process in Fernheim Colony. Eicher’s comparison of these competing parties is highly illuminating, revealing significant overlap in underlying assumptions—that all people groups had singular, circumscribed identities—and ends—the settlement of mobile communities, their homogenization, and their integration into transnational associations with people who shared the same essential qualities.

Influenced by the allure of “nationalist paradigms and fantastic solutions” (178), the MCC mutated from an ad hoc relief effort into a major landowner seeking to facilitate the birth of a Mennonite “state” that reflected a particular Anabaptist vision. Concurrently, key Fernheim leaders allied with Nazi agents to unite the colony through a völkischsolidarity that relegated religious life to a private sphere. Eicher lends color to these projects of persuasion by intermingling reconstructions of a series of remarkable events with fresh, fair, but not flattering portraits of protagonists.

Ultimately, the author shows, material concerns shaped Fernheim colonists’ willingness to appropriate these competing myths. While grateful to the MCC for its role in facilitating their flight from the Soviet Union, many Fernheimers were put off by the organization’s use of its position as creditor to encourage assimilation to North American designs. Meanwhile, once the dream of possible German repatriation evaporated in the early 1940s, violent factionalism within a once numerous völkischcontingent assured its demise. The colonists’ enduring capacity to frustrate nation-builders, whether inspired by dreams of creedal unity or racial purity, will inform current re- evaluations of the early history of the MCC and Mennonite implication in Nazism.

It is notable that, even as they eschewed mythologies ascribed to them, Fernheimers proved unable to generate a shared self-understanding of their own. That is the impression left by an analysis of a broad collection of memoirs, archived correspondence, and, most importantly, confessional periodicals. These media, Eicher acknowledges, reflect the sentiments and aspirations of elite male colonists. In light of his careful assessment of the limits of the press’s opinion-forming power on a broader Mennonite population, one wonders what consideration of other forums of persuasion, those created by the “mundane realities of life,” would reveal about the influence of women, largely absent from this book, on processes of communal mythmaking. Such analysis might have proved particularly illuminating for Menno Colony, where, in the absence of mass media, vernacular orality, foodways, and agricultural practices took on outsized communicative potential.

DavidY.Neufeld, Visiting Assistant Professor, Conrad Grebel University College, Waterloo, Ontario.

Table of Contents | Foreword | ArticlesBook Reviews

Judith Butler. TheForceofNonviolence:AnEthico-PoliticalBind. London and New York: Verso, 2020.

In TheForceofNonviolence, philosopher Judith Butler addresses nonviolence particularly in the context of social and political movements in the United States. Nonviolence, for her, becomes less a tactical or moral question than a matter of general ethical and political orientation, especially as resistance to violence. She argues that this requires taking a hard look at what passes for violence in our societies and at which arguably violent practices escape that label, notably those that ostensibly maintain peace and order. “Violence,” Butler contends, never simply exists but always comes already interpreted, and the power to define whose actions count as violent and whose do not may be at the core of political rule.

At the root of a nonviolent orientation must be, according to Butler, a commitment to interdependency: Any political imaginary that conceives persons as principally individuals is at best incomplete. Interdependency makes arguments in favor of “self-defense,” an often-named exemption to nonviolent commitments. This is profoundly complicated, for where does this “self ” begin and end? Must it not—and does it not frequently—include “my” family, country, people, even values and traditions? Isn’t most violence committed in presumed “self-defense”?

Ultimately, Butler argues, an argument from self-defense relies on making a (racist) distinction between those lives I am willing to defend—that are part of my “self ” and that I would mourn if they were lost—and those lives that do not matter to me (or to our polity) in the same way. A nonviolent stance, she continues, must resist such a distinction between “grievable” and “ungrievable” lives, and instead embody a radically egalitarian commitment to equal “grievability.”

Although there is a lot in this book, the idea of grievability—whose lives, when lost, registeras a loss?—is likely to be the main takeaway for many readers. In a sense, it embeds the idea of individual worth or right to life in both a relational rather than individualistic view of creaturely existence. That is, my death is conceived less as a violation of my rights than as a loss to those with whom I am bound up and in a biopolitical view of power (power as the regulation of life and the production and disciplining of certain kinds of life). The context of police violence and the deaths of refugees on Europe’s borders may both have been at the forefront of Butler’s mind while writing this volume, but it is not hard to imagine the idea of grievability shedding light on analyses of the coronavirus pandemic or other contemporary political debates.

The  Force  of  Nonviolence  is  a  timely  publication  that  seeks  to address both a need for philosophically rigorous work on nonviolence in conversation with poststructuralist thinking (a first, as far as I am aware) and for politically engaged scholars to take up and speak to contemporary issues in social movements. That said, it is not immediately clear for whom the book is intended. On the one hand, its economical 200-odd pages and relative lack of rigorous academic argument suggest it is intended for a general audience. On the other hand, readers not already familiar with poststructuralist philosophy and psychoanalysis will likely have a hard time following what precisely is going on.

For example, towards the end of the book there is a detailed reading of the death drive in Sigmund Freud, ending with the suggestion that “manic” refusal of reality might better animate protest movements than nonviolent self-restraint, for the superego is “pure culture of the death drive.” The result is that both academic and general audiences may come away a little unsatisfied, which ultimately limits what this book could be. Readers may further be disappointed that Butler does not engage with existing literature on nonviolence by authors such as Gene Sharp, Erica Chenoweth, or Maria Stephan. A discussion of Peter Gelderloos’s HowNonviolenceProtectstheState, which argues that a commitment to nonviolence is racist, as it denies oppressed peoples the right to assert their lives as worth defending, might have been especially fruitful.

Despite these weaknesses, readers will find much to engage with in this work, including those who come to nonviolence from a particularly Christian perspective. For the “force of nonviolence” noted in the book’s title is ultimately named in terms that almost sound theological: Butler argues there is a “higher law” than that of violence, which is not “discoverable” but “seeks to compel and persuade in the direction of nonviolence” (181). “The institutional life of violence will not be brought down by a prohibition, but only by a counter-institutional ethos and practice” (61), an “egalitarian imaginary that apprehends the interdependency of lives. Unrealistic and useless, yes, but it is possibly a way of bringing another reality into being” (203).

Marius van Hoogstraten, Postdoctoral Research Associate Inventive Theology, Mennonite Seminary/Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Table of Contents | Foreword | ArticlesBook Reviews

Alain Epp Weaver, InhabitingtheLand:ThinkingTheologicallyaboutthePalestinian-IsraeliConflict.Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2018.

“I’ll teach you differences,” the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once remarked, quoting KingLear.The motto announces Wittgenstein’s boundless appetite for attending to the diversity of human language use. Attending to these differences, we attend to each other. “I’ll teach you differences” could serve as a fitting epigraph for this book on Israel-Palestine, which teaches us differences, displaying the complex and varied theological and historical contours of the conflict in order to enable more truthful solidarity.

Inhabiting theLandbuilds on Epp Weaver’s extensive work on Israel- Palestine, including two previous monographs, an edited volume, and numerous journal articles. As part of Cascade Book’s Companionsseries, this volume presents his analysis to non-specialists in a brief and accessible text. It comprises an introduction and four chapters that, while cumulative and interlinked, may also serve as stand-alone texts.

The introduction announces the book’s intent: a “Christian examination of how to think theologically about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” (2). From the start, the author strikes an effective balance between even-handed, nuanced description and being “inescapably and unapologetically shaped by… experiences and friendships” born of decades of work in and about Palestine (3). The introduction also sets a pattern of practicality with a series of rules of thumb for conversation about the issue, such as “Don’t deny Palestinian or Jewish attachment to the land” or “Don’t assume that Palestinians and Israeli Jews are homogenous” (14, 15).

In the first chapter, Epp Weaver provides a concise history of Zionism and Palestinian nationalism as modern and intertwined movements. Perhaps more than any enduring modern conflict, the struggle for Israel-Palestine has been dehistoricized and described as an eternal conflict pitting timeless religious forces against one another. Such decontextualized accounts make it difficult to reason clearly about either its causes or its possible solutions. The author corrects this. He narrates both Zionism and Palestinian nationalism as essentially modern movements rooted in 19th- and 20th- century European nationalism and colonialism, without minimizing the historical depth of Palestinian and Jewish attachment to the land. He describes the internal diversity of each, offering an especially helpful discussion of the varieties of Zionism—Labor, Revisionist, Cultural, Religious, and Binational.

The second chapter summarizes the origins and key expressions of Palestinian Christian theology through the theme of sumud, or “steadfastness.” Where Palestinian Christian theological reflection is often reduced simply to the work of one or two figures associated with Palestinian liberation theology, Epp Weaver narrates its breadth, highlighting the distinctions between denominational affiliations and between liberation theology and contextual theology, while also drawing attention to key unifying developments over time, like the KairosPalestineDocument.

In the third chapter, he narrates the historical roots of Christian Zionism, situates contemporary debates about supersessionism, and responds to both by a summary of the theology of land and election espoused by Michel Sabbah, the first Palestinian to serve as Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. This effectively introduces a key underappreciated figure in Palestinian theology while also providing a critical theological response to Christian Zionism.

The final chapter considers the state of the conflict since the Oslo Accords of the 1990s and charts possible paths forward beyond binary one-or two-state solutions. The book concludes with a detailed timeline, a series of maps to aid discussion, and a detailed list of resources for further reading. A few matters might have warranted greater emphasis in the text.

Some brief discussion of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement would have been welcome, especially since the book is intended for English- speaking audiences who may be familiar with debates around it and are looking for advice. In addition, the term “settler colonialism,” while entirely accurately applied here, has such profound valences in contemporary discourse that more discussion of its significance would be helpful.

A few months ago, a colleague asked me to recommend a single book to introduce the conflict from a Christian perspective. I had no single answer then, but I do now. Because of its accessibility and clarity, InhabitingtheLandcould be used in a variety of contexts, from church reading groups and Sunday School classes, to undergraduate courses that touch on the issue, to the interested non-academic. Epp Weaver enables us to see the complexity of contemporary life in Israel-Palestine in a way that compels not despair but solidarity.

NathanHershberger, Ph.D. candidate, Christian Theological Studies, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina.

Table of Contents | Foreword | ArticlesBook Reviews