The conference from which the essays in
this collection are drawn had a multitude of origins and
was indebted to many sources of encouragement,
inspiration, and serendipity, not all of which can be
named or even recognized.
One place we might start, however, is
with the whirlwind of ideas, events, and people
associated with Anabaptist communities in Pittsburgh
while we were in that city completing our graduate work
at the University of Pittsburgh during the early 1990s.
We recall challenging conversations and difficult dreams
shared with Scott Holland, pastor at the Monroeville
Church of the Brethren, and John and Milonica Stahl-Wert,
then pastors at Pittsburgh Mennonite Church.
Our brotherly and sisterly exchanges
bore much fruit, including one apple that seemed rotten
at first: plans for a conference in Pittsburgh on
Anabaptist Radicalism and Postmodern Publics
that never happened due to lack of registration.
Fortunately, John D. Roth, editor of Mennonite
Quarterly Review, consented to publish the
presentations prepared for that conference in a special
issue devoted to the subject of Mennonites and
Postmodernity in April 1997, thus advancing and
broadening discussion of the agenda slated for the
failed Pittsburgh conference.
As we attended churchwide gatherings in
the following years, we discovered that more and more
church leaders and academics in Anabaptist-identified
communities were dealing with concerns that tend to fall
under the rubric of postmodernity.
Particularly significant was a consultation on
Anabaptists in Conversation: Mennonite and Brethren
Interactions with Twentieth-Century Theologies,
planned by Theron Schlabach and hosted by the Young
Center for the Study of Anabaptist and Pietist Groups at
Elizabethtown College June 19-21, 1997. Discussion after
discussion at this event turned from the impact of modern
religious thinkers like Barth, the Niehburs, Bonfhoeffer,
and Troeltsch to disturbing questions raised by such
postmodern writers as Foucault, Derrida, Lyotard, and
Gadamer. This consultation inspired us to consider the
possibility that a conference such as we had helped to
envision at Pittsburgh might now generate enough interest
to transpire at Bluffton College, where we were now
On our way home from the Elizabethtown
consultation we discussed this prospect with our Bluffton
College colleagues J. Denny Weaver and Gerald Schlabach.
They were enthusiastic about the idea and subsequently
agreed to serve on a planning committee with us for a
projected conference on Anabaptists and postmodernity.
Fortunately, our planning committee convened in the
forward-looking and intellectually inspiring climate of
the Bluffton College campus, where an atmosphere of
mutual encouragement prevails among faculty and
administrators. Such an environment helped confirm for us
that what had been postponed in Pittsburgh was now
possible at Bluffton.
In the end, the conference on
Anabaptists and Postmodernity that took place
August 8-10, 1998, exceeded our highest expectations. The
call for papers received so many exceptional responses
that we had to revise and extend our program. The goal of
getting at least thirty and as many as sixty people to
attend the conference was replaced by the struggle to
manage the nearly 200 registrations that poured in.
The spirit and intellect present at
that conference was the most immediate source of
inspiration for the work of editing a collection such as
this. We have sought in the selection and organization of
the essays to capture at least some of the wisdom and
delight we experienced during those three intense days of
presentation, dialogue, argument, and worship.
We owe a great debt of gratitude to the
C. Henry Smith Series Editor, J. Denny Weaver, for his
painstaking review and correction of our work and for his
many helpful suggestions during the process of gathering
and polishing these essays into a book. Dennys
greatest gift to us, though, has been his untiring
devotion to rigorous and principled scholarship on behalf
of the church, a lifework that has profoundly shaped our
own aspirations and commitments.
Michael A. King, of Pandora Press U.S.,
was enthusiastic about this book from the beginning and
shepherded us through territory unfamiliar to us as
first-time editors. He provided substantial assistance in
framing the revisions for which we asked and gave us
considerable latitude in shaping the schedule by which we
We are thankful for the financial,
institutional, and intellectual support provided by
Bluffton College for this project. Wesley Richard, Chair
of the Communication and Theatre Department in which we
hold our appointments, and John Kampen, Vice President
and Dean of Academic Affairs, were both forthcoming with
resourcesincluding student assistance and computer
equipmentthat were crucial. Whitney Lehman, who
served as a research assistant to the Communication and
Theatre Department while we were completing the book,
assisted with numerous word processing tasks and compiled
the select bibliography and the index for the book. By
accepting the book into the C. Henry Smith Series, the
college contributed a sizable subsidy to the publisher
associated with that seriesthus keeping the
books price as modest as possible.
Finally, as president of Bluffton
College, Lee Snyder has led the way in making the college
a hospitable community for hopeful dreams and visions of
all kinds, such as those which led to the
Anabaptists and Postmodernity conference. Her
personal interest and support for both the conference and
this book demonstrates an ingenious administrative craft
that is concerned with both programs and people, with
both bottom lines and blossoming vines, and with both
strategic plans and intellectual inquiries. We dedicate
this book to her.