Rant Regarding Anabaptist Scholars

One of the things that infuriate me about my study of Anabaptistica is the ridiculous price points of scholarly works. I am not engaged in a shallow reading of the material where I can get a brief idea of where this group came from and a cursory knowledge of the hot issues like pacifism at present then throw them in an Evangelical Protestant package. I am deeply in invested in this group in order to see how their original belief and praxis can be translated into the present effectively.  Not because of human admiration or worship but for the reason that I genuinely believe the Anabaptists was the 16th century expression of New Testament first century Christianity. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1 NIV). It is in the sense referred to here that I “follow” the original historical Anabaptists. Hence, it should be obvious why not getting access to materials well within my budget can be seriously frustrating. There is one culprit in particular that I want to highlight that exemplifies what I am addressing. The book in question is A Companion to Anabaptism and Spiritualism, 1521-1700 authored and edited by John D. Roth and James M. Stayer, published by Brill Academic Publishers.


The hardback edition of this work is €140.00, which is $181.00 in US dollars


The paperback version is €37.00 in USD it is still a lot for a book at $48.00

This is not even the easily accessible Anabaptist/Mennonite works regardless of where you look. The price points on much of that stuff are still considerably high. When you look at the historical and scholarly works of other groups, you can find the majority at reasonable prices. If the Anabaptist scholars want, people to familiarize themselves on the topic they need to make it cost-effective. If they are, looking for money then charging outrageous prices will not do it because not everyone is fascinated by this topic as I am. At the end of the day, it looks as if I am going to have to shell out the $48.00 for the paperback edition.


14 thoughts on “Rant Regarding Anabaptist Scholars

  1. Keep in mind, Allen, that any scholarly text is going to be expensive because it represents the investment of much time, effort, and resource that it takes to get to it. As you can see, it’s pretty expensive for you to do the research you are wanting to do. Imagine the effort made by these gentlemen to seek out and utilize primary sources.

    If, however, you really want to understand Anabaptists, then perhaps you should seek, not for the scholarly texts, but to spend time with the people and with works that are less of the scholarly sort and more of the practical and personal sort. Take some time and find a Mennonite church or other Anabaptist rooted organization and spend some time talking to people.

    A book that defines a good bit of what Anabaptists today, a nice cheap thing actually (in other words, free) is the following PDF.


    Another good book, though, for modern Mennonites is to read “The Third Way” by Paul Lederach (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0836119347?ie=UTF8&tag=httpwwwgoodco-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0836119347&SubscriptionId=1MGPYB6YW3HWK55XCGG2). I took a look around my basement the other day and I believe I have two copies. I can verify and, if so, I can get you this copy.

    As I mentioned in my own blog, the root of Anabaptism is following Jesus. It’s a living out of the character of Jesus. So, to understand Anabaptists, even the historical ones, it’s best to observe how they live, work, and worship.

    • Keep in mind, also, that the book is 7 years old and most likely is not a current book in print. Those prices are probably more on the lines of prices for people collecting and less about consumer priced books. There are considerably more books than this one to satisfy your thirst for knowledge about Anabaptists and their history…but again, I think you may find a better primary source in the lives and stories of the folks who live it out…

      • One more thing… if you are interested in Anabaptism for simply the scholarly curiousity, then I seeking scholarly texts like these are the way to go.

        But, if you are seeking after Anabaptism as a means to re-discover the praxis of the early church… it may be better to follow their example and practice it yourself. Anabaptist converts, past and present, find their inspiration less in the scholarly histories and texts and more in the way people lived their lives… stories like Dirk Willems… or, for me, more personally, the story of Christian Martin, prisoner in Tracheswald Castle in the 1690’s for daring to profess a faith in Jesus that was not submitted to the state church… My ancestor of 10 generations back…

      • Also as much as I appreciate the concern I do not need someone telling me to practice it. This is the reason why I am studying them so intensely because I want to and trying to practice it. I am not looking for a Evangelical Protestant hybrid praxis.

        As much as I hear complaints from people involved in contemporary versions I am trying to stay away from them. I want to go back to the Root (Radix) of my faith.

      • Robert

        It is print on demand at least the paperback is therefore the issue of running low on stock is never an issue. Also as I study these scholarly materials they address their praxis. Most of these works contain nothing but that because as we both know Anabaptists emphasized discipleship.

      • Another thing to remember is this: Your rant targets Anabaptists as being at fault for the high prices… trust me… Anabaptists don’t charge the high prices, the book sellers do. 🙂

      • I understand that… but consider that what you’re getting in your scholarly work is a scholar’s interpretation of the praxis… There are those of us who are not seeking an Evangelical/Protestant hybrid either and who are seeking to follow Jesus as our ancestors did…. If you look at folks like Fitch, McKnight, and so on… yes, they come from the Evangelical/Protestant stream originally… but they have, in essence, set aside that as their primary source and have turned a different way.

        Studying the history tells you about who THOSE Anabaptists were…it tells you nothing about what Anabaptism is expressed today… Because Anabaptism is a following of a living Jesus, you can expect Anabaptism to look different today than it did back then…it will look different in the USA than it does in England…it will look different in the urban centers than it does in the rural.

        Anabaptist groups who spend too much time in their past get, as Anne McCaffrey put it in her dragon rider series, “hide bound”… they get stuck in defending and preserving the past and lose sight of what it means to live in the present, moving towards the future. This is what has happened to some sects and congregations of the Mennonite Church and it is why I’m suggesting that you seek out people who are living out Anabaptism with an anchor in the past but with a living faith in the present. I think you’ll find a much deeper, much more radical faith than the Evangelical/Protestant hybrid.

        As for the publishers… ever try and get a scholarly work published? There are very few publishing houses who will do such work… and, for that matter, because it is such an intensely scholarly work, you’re not going to have the high demand market which allows for volume publishing. If they could mass produce hundreds of copies and expect them all to sell, you can guess that the price would be lower. But because they probably only sell a couple every year or so, on demand printing demands a high cost…

        That’s just the simple truth of the publishing industry.

      • Robert
        I am familiar with Scott McKnight and other Neo-Anabaptists and I have learned a lot from them within certain parameters. While yes the Messiah is living, that does not mean that the original Anabaptists version of say baptizing an adult after they have been taught and dedicated themselves to God has to change. The Anabaptist view of the visible Church or Ekklesia does not have to be modified to fit today’s tastes. From what I can tell there is very little that needs to be altered as for as doctrine and praxis is concerned. Can you name one thing that they did back then that for the most part they believed in that cannot be practiced at present?

      • Sure… sprinkled baptism in a barn. 🙂 Only necessary because they were on the run… some Mennonite/Anabaptist praxis today avoids “dunking” because “That’s not the way we historically did things”.

        or, the ban of instruments

        or, the singing of particular hymns

        or… well, you get the picture. There are a LOT of “practice” things that were culturally oriented due to conditions that are no longer necessary today. It again comes down to practicing a Jesus-life where you are… Back then, they didn’t participate in politics because politics=state=state-run-church… today, in the USA, is that necessarily anathema? I don’t always vote….but I don’t see as it is something to be avoided as unChristian…

  2. See, we just need to write our own Anabaptist scholarly material and make it fee on the Internet! Oh, if only someone had put Martyr’s Mirror on the internet! What, they have? If only there were a Mennonite encyclopedia on the net– what? It’s already there?

    I guess it depends on which scholarship you want. You want recognized scholarship on subjects that have a small audience? You’ll pay the highest prices for it. There is this one commentary on Matthew in three volumes I’ve wanted for years, and each volume is 70 dollars each. There’s a John Driver history I’ve wanted for years, but I can’t bring myself to pay 50 dollars for it.

    It bugs me too, but I can’t complain to the anabaptist world about it. It’s not their fault.

    • Steve

      The book I am sending you, well I assisted in publishing that book and I helped set up the publishing company. I have studied this issue quit in depth and trust me these scholars have a choice and they can make the book cost efficient if they chose to do so.

  3. One thing that we tried locally is to have a Mennonite scholarly library, which people could check out volumes. Actually, you might be surprised at how much Anabaptist scholarship is available at your local, well stocked Bible school.

    • I know that Biblical Seminary, where I went, actually has a LOT by guys like Yoder and Hauerwas as well as the complete writings of MennoSimons. For that matter, if you connect via your local library, they usually have the means to do interlibrary loans with universities to obtain other texts… There are plenty of cheap ways to get the expensive texts without dishing out hundreds of bucks. 🙂

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