John Roth has written a helpful and realistic description of the Mennonite/Anabaptist contribution to Christian life and thought. It is realistic in the sense that he includes how much we Mennonites practice Anabaptist beliefs and the questions and differences we have in understanding them. He purposely wrote it to generally follow the contents of the 1995 Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective and it provides good help for users of that document.
As he suggests, the audience most interested in this description of Mennonite/Anabaptist faith and practice would probably be persons with Christian background and seekers of Christian ideas rather than skeptics who want to be convinced of the value of religion. The "Mennonite agnostics" who are Mennonites because of social needs and want to support denominational service and relief agencies will need to go elsewhere with their questions about miracles, prayer, the afterlife, Biblical authority, and the logic of God talk. Roth states he is writing from the viewpoint of a believer.
So in that regard, the questions of his Japanese airline seatmate that helped initiate this book may not get entirely answered. Neither is he aiming at providing academic level Anabaptist theology. Roth is writing more for Mennonites and other interested Christians whose faith may be shaped by customs and social pressures and who don't remember what it means to be a Mennonite. Those who merely seek stress relief in a more shallow church life without reflecting on what they are doing in worship and church activities should find this book thought provoking and renewing.
One of the values of Roth's writing is the way he clarifies the Anabaptist contribution without arrogance. An Anabaptist perspective is offered as a way that heals and encourages believers to live the Jesus way that is different than what society accepts. With some current Christian groups shaping the gospel to fit American economic and military imperialism, it is a badly needed contribution. But Roth doesn't write an apologetic that criticizes those who differ. He admits Mennonites do not have all the truth and need to dialog with other views. Chapters 4, 6, 9, and 12 are the opposite of a dogmatic approach. These chapters have the unique feature of discussing the temptations, distortions, and unresolved questions Mennonites can unexpectedly encounter when focused on a discipleship kind of faith and using the ambiguity of Christocentric scripture interpretation.
It is helpful that issues are raised in a down to earth way without using theological/religious jargon or "brand names." (Names of the various atonement theories, for example, were not listed but are described.) I did wonder if listing some of the two-kingdom theories common in other groups would have helped to clarify by contrast the kind of participatory nonconformity that Mennonites try to live.
As an instruction book in Mennonite faith it doesn't replace Michelle Hershberger's recent fine book, God's Story, Our Story, aimed at preparing youth for church membership. She traces the Bible story, describes basic beliefs, and inserts provocative questions that help persons decide about commitments. However, Roth's book, aimed at a different audience, would be a valuable supplement for any teacher using the Hershberger book. It is so readable it should be on the Choice Book racks for non-Mennonite readers who think Mennonites are Amish or Mormon. But it is also a helpful book for Sunday School teachers, church libraries, and for Mennonites unaware of our Anabaptist contribution, not only for the information on beliefs but for those four chapters on "critiques and ongoing questions." We owe thanks to Roth for producing this well written useful resource.