Siemens-Brunk Christianity

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September 23, 2010

I'm looking forward to the upcoming issue of the Canadian Mennonite where some attention will be given to the life and work of former Conrad Grebel University College professor A. James Reimer.  Though I never worked closely with Jim, I was a student in more than one of his theology classes and I was a big fan of his bluegrass gospel performances.

Earlier this year I watched as he articulated a very thoughtful question to Bob Rae, who was making a brief speaking visit to the CGUC campus, asking just exactly what kind of democracy are we as the west exporting.  Mr. Rae was ready with a well thought out answer, but the eloquence of the question made me second guess if my question was worth asking (I wish some of the political grandstanders in attendance had been similarly affected).

Like all of the CGUC profs, Jim was always happy to engage students in discussion, in and out of the classroom setting, but his willingness to reflect on his own weaknesses and failings was especially refreshing.  He once spoke of his expectation when he was younger that aging would naturally bring about more wisdom, maturity and a calmer temperament, or in a word, righteousness.   This lined up with my own unspoken, unarticulated expectations, but he said that reflecting on his own aging process he could no longer hold that belief.  I'm still intimidated by the resulting assumption that I must be continually intentional about my own increase in righteousness as I age.

I have a few of his books on my shelf.  I'll be honest and say that I haven't done much with my copy of "Mennonites and Classical Theology" since I graduated, but I have often turned to my copy of "The Dogmatic Imagination".  This book is a collection of short essays on heavy theological issues, but using very common images and metaphors to make the discussion accessible.  While many compared faith to a jigsaw puzzle, where we must work as individuals or corporately to assemble the correct answer, but Jim suggests that it is much more accurately understood as a game of Scrabble, where there are rules and limitations on how the game is played but each player is given a different set of pieces and must respond to a different situation playing out in front of them.  He also writes an essay about Noah, saying that even though God promised to never again destroy the earth by flood, he still leaves open the possibility of God destroying the world by other means and the possibility that we could destroy the earth ourselves without God's interference.

The essay I refer back to the most though, is one where he contrasts the  Christianity of Yasch Siemens with George Brunk.  I too had read Armin Wiebe's humourous book about a young man who comes to faith gradually and carefully despite the faithfulness of his community.  Like many other readers, I enjoyed it, felt guilty for enjoying it, and at the same time recognized some theological truth was being spoken.  I also experienced a slightly different form of revival Christianity.  Though I have questions about that kind of evangelism now, my own tearful coming to the front was an important event in my faith journey.  Both forms of salvation were crucial to both my and Jim's understanding of faith, and perhaps that is why he was so easy to understand for me and many other students.

The Mennonite world has lost one of its great theologians, now the rest of us need to step up in his place.

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