Simon Barrow

The world re-described

By Simon Barrow
August 18, 2011

This short piece appears as part of a festschrift for Alan and Eleanor Kreider, who spent many years at the London Mennonite Centre. The book was co-published in July 2011 by the Institute of Mennonite Studies and Herald Press in the US. [1]

In psychosomatic terms, temporal distance is liable to degrade, distort and cloud the memory – or else to enhance it in stimulating but equally questionable ways. However, in spiritual terms, provided that realistic account is taken of our fallibilities, that same distance can become ‘graced space’ in which perspective is gained, wounds contextualised, and deep thankfulness realised.

This is what comes to me as I reflect on my own connections with Alan and Eleanor, as I read Chris Marshall’s clear-sighted rooting of their Christian pacifism in the world re-described through Christ, [2] and as I call to mind the gifts which Alan the theologically-inspired historian and Ellie the theologically-inspired liturgist have shared so widely over the years.

What I mean by theology in these settings – ones they have blessed with their presence and work – is ‘wrestling with the unfathomable mystery of God’, but to enlighten rather than to obscure.

I first met the Kreiders as an enthusiastic young Christian in the late 1970s. At the time I was moved by the biblical message of hope for the world, immersed in the troubled politics of my generation, and seeking a congruence between these two which I struggled to discover in the faith patterns of my inherited church.

Lurching between a Christian social activism that could be thin on spiritual resources, and a Christendom-shaped quietism that was ill-equipped to question ‘worldly realism’, I began to find through them fresh resources: ones for understanding how the calling of the eternal could be responded to faithfully and critically within the constraints of the temporal.

Active peacemaking as the Gospel’s means of affirming the ‘alternative realism’ made available in the cross and resurrection. That would be my core understanding of what those resources look like today.

Chris Marshall traces the theological, missiological, Christological and ecclesiological contours of intentional Christian nonviolence (I find the word ‘pacifism’ inadequate) with an elegant, knowing simplicity that is reflective of Alan and Eleanor’s style too.

Their charism lies in being able to condense disciplined learning and tough prayer (those two inseparable components of Christianly-formed habits of mind) into messages for the church, and through it the world, which are inspiring, communicable and enlivening.

In my work with Ekklesia I am sometimes asked questions like ‘what is your theory of the state?’ or ‘what is your theology of the media?’ I find myself saying things that go right back to an incidental remark Alan once made to me in his study at the London Mennonite Centre, around 1978. I cannot quite recall what it was (a junior moment swallowed up in a senior one, perhaps!), but it enabled me to realise for the first time that what I really needed was an ecclesiology – an account of the Christian community and my vocation within it. Not in order to out-theorise others or to set myself above them, but as a way of discerning, with others, the voice of Christ amid storms of complexity. Deo Gracias.


[1] James R. Krabill and Stuart Murray, eds., Forming Christian Habits in Post-Christendom: The Legacy of Alan and Eleanor Kreider (Institute of Mennonite Studies / Herald Press, 2011).

[2] See the chapter entitled ‘Pacifism as Christian Realism’, by Chris Marshall, Head of the School of Art History, Classics and Religious Studies at Victorian University, Wellington, New Zealand.


© Simon Barrow is co-director of Ekklesia. An Anglican by affiliation, he is also a trustee of the London Mennonite Trust and shares the coordination of the UK Anabaptist Theology Forum.

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