Bluffton College religion professor J. Denny Weaver's two recent books go hand-in-hand. The first book, Anabaptist Theology in Face of Postmodernity: A Proposal for the Third Millennium, is Weaver's answer to a two-part question that has been fueling his work for some time. The first question: Do peace churches, namely Anabaptists and Mennonites as a peace church, have (or ought they have) a particular perspective on Christian theology? The second: Do peace church assumptions shape this perspective in such a way that Anabaptist theology might produce a different view of classic questions from that of the majority Christian tradition?1 While he works through his affirmative response to these two questions in Anabaptist Theology, the second book, The Nonviolent Atonement, provides us with Weaver's full-blown treatment of the ways his Mennonite theological perspective is interested in questions that classical treatments of Jesus Christ's atonement are not particularly interested in exploring. So, in describing the premise of the first book, one also lays the foundation for the second.

The first two paragraphs of the author's preface to Anabaptist Theology are important background because in them Weaver both describes his self-awareness of his agenda and recounts two conversations that contributed to this project. First, Weaver points to his foray into postmodernity with the encouragement of two of his colleagues, and second, he relates the gist of a conversation he had with John Howard Yoder not long before Yoder's death. Yoder believed that there is an unacknowledged assumption that has been foundational for Mennonite theologizing in the twentieth century: the existence of a theology-in-general that has driven Mennonite efforts to engender theology that simultaneously built on and was distinct from the supposed general theology of mainstream Protestant orthodoxy.2 One cannot underestimate the importance of Yoder's observation for Weaver's work.

In the first chapter, Weaver dives right into an analysis of Mennonite academic theology as the discipline is pursued in Canada and the United States. This move is especially appropriate given the merger and separation of the General Conference Mennonite Church (GCMC) and the Mennonite Church (MC) into Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Church USA based on differences in our national identities and contexts, which Weaver points out have just as much (if not more) to do with the role of civil religion in Canada and the United States as they do with differences based on the heritages of Russian, Dutch, North German, South German, and Swiss forbears. Yet, Weaver cautions that to make the shape of the national culture an intrinsic dimension of theological equation is actually a surreptitious way to enshrine a nonChristian [sic] authority (a national ethos) in a determinant role.3 Weaver's alternative to allowing national identity to have so much power over our identity as Mennonite Christians is to argue that it is the Jesus' story and the 'politics of Jesus'--not the shape of a national ethos or fourth- and fifth-century creedal formulas--that should determine the contour of our theological agenda.4

This line of argument is probably the most controversial aspect of Weaver's work. Yet, this point of view does describe a failing of Mennonite theology throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries: turning Jesus' rejection of the sword into an add-on to traditional theological formulas that do not address violence. Moreover, this kind of adding-on makes the status quo or dominant view normative and puts [us] in the awkward position of defending theology of the oppressors of Anabaptism.5 Again, there is an alternative: Weaver writes, I call for [the] development of a new peace church theology, rather than merely adding a couple of components or in some other way trying to salvage Christendom's violence-accommodating formulas."6 This is why Yoder's observation is so important to Weaver's project.

In the final chapter of Anabaptist Theology, Weaver attempts to model theological dialogue that he considers to be the future of Mennonite theology. His initial conversation partners are theologians working in the black and womanist theological traditions: James Cone, Karen and Garth Kasimu Baker-Fletcher, and Delores Williams.7 In The Nonviolent Atonement, he adds feminists Rita Nakashima Brock, Joann Carlson Brown, Carter Heyward, Julie Hopkins, Rebecca Parker, and Rosemary Radford Ruether to the conversation as well as womanists Katie Canon, Kelly Brown Douglas, Jacquelyn Grant, JoAnne Terrell, and Emilie Townes.

In the introduction to The Nonviolent Atonement Weaver describes a long-running conversation about christology and atonement. People who are part of this conversation are interested in the person and work of Christ. For Weaver, Mennonite theological reflection must assume the responsibility of confronting images and assumptions of violence that are basic to and dominate this conversation. Such confrontation is an important goal of his book. He works toward this goal in two ways. First, Weaver's own theological, ethical, and biblical concerns as a Christian pacifist committed to nonviolence come into direct conversation with both the contextual voices of feminist, womanist, and black theologies and the voices of Christendom using his own atonement model: narrative Christus Victor. Second, Weaver looks at the questions and criticisms of traditional atonement models that feminist, womanist, and black theologies have raised in recent years. These voices offer what he calls contextualized critiques and are important because they expose the problems of the received theology of Christendom. And it is Christendom that gives violence a central place in the life-story of Jesus Christ. Readers who are new (and not so new) to the academic side of the atonement conversation will find Weaver's survey of traditional atonement motifs helpful as he sets up his own model.

Chapters 2 and 3 are where the dimensions of narrative Christus Victor are spelled-out in biblical terms and in christological terms. What is narrative Christus Victor exactly? In short, it is a view of atonement where the event of Jesus and the church around Jesus unfolding in the realm of history as depicted in the biblical story rather than a cosmic depiction of the battle between good and evil give Jesus' work its meaning. Weaver is interested the in concrete realities of good and evil that are symbolized in the Christus Victor motif. For example, in the book of Revelation, it is clear that the symbolism of conflict and victory of the reign of God over the rule of Satan is a way of ascribing cosmic significance to the church's confrontation of the Roman empire in the first century.8 This historical reality that corresponds to cosmic imagery, Weaver argues, provides the Christian community with a narrative.

The development of narrative Christus Victor is a creative approach to difficult issues. On the one hand there are issues of real and personal violence Jesus experienced through his very violent death by crucifixion. How are we to talk about this violence as Christians who hold Jesus' death as sacred because we believe that it saves us? On the other hand are issues of systemic violence that contextual critiques describe as theological problems. How does Jesus' person and work confront and save us from social injustices like white privilege, sexism, racial discrimination, militarism, and so on?

Ultimately, The Nonviolent Atonement is a critique against the Satisfaction motif. This is a theory of atonement originated by Anselm of Canterbury in the Middle Ages that argues that human sin offends God the Father's honor requiring God the Son to come into the world to pay our debt against God's honor, which he achieved through his perfect obedience that culminated in death on the cross. Weaver holds that, Satisfaction atonement depends on the assumption that doing justice means to punish, that a wrong deed is balanced by violence.9

At the same time, Weaver's nonviolent understanding of atonement is a conversation starter for Mennonite, black, feminist, and womanist theologies. By taking a view of Jesus' life and death as one that confronts violence, Weaver is directly addressing issues that are at the heart of these other theological perspectives as well. He is also clear to underscore something that theology-in-general downplays: In spite of their specific names, each of these theologies [black, feminist, womanist] addresses every Christian from a particular perspective.10

Both of Weaver's books present Mennonite academic theology with a clear direction in which it might move forward. As an academic theologian myself, I routinely confront the assumption that because I am doing theology that addresses dominant theology's sanctioned violence against women as well as its values associated with is often called white supremacy, my work is not theological but merely cultural studies. I am appreciative of Weaver's work because it challenges these kinds of assumptions and stands as an important contribution to an on-going conversation because of his tenacious refusal to allow the violence in our Christian imagination to go unchecked.

At the same time, I find that Weaver's work fails to lay bare issues of whiteness and sexism/male supremacy in Mennonite theology. For example, in his efforts to bring Mennonite theology into conversation with black and womanist theology, I wonder at his choice to ask whether Mennonites' penchant for adhering to theology-in-general has anything to do with whiteness and racism. Or what of our own systematic silencing of domestic and sexual abuse, issues of great concern to feminist and womanist theologians--including Mennonite women--and well-documented in Peace Theology and Violence against Women?11 In other words, I encourage Weaver to make a stronger connection between the issues of interest to contextual theologies and how their concerns might shape Mennonite theology; after all, these theologies are addressing us too.