The Anabaptist Story: A Book Review

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*Click on the link at the bottom of the post to read the entire review.

William R. Estep, Jr., The Anabaptist Story, 3rd Edition (Eerdmans, 1995).

William R. Estep (1920–2000) was a historian who served as a distinguished professor of church history at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) from 1954–1990, though he continued to teach even after his retirement. His educational background is rooted in the Baptist tradition, receiving a master’s degree from Southern Seminary and a doctorate in theology from SWBTS. His education prepared him to contribute to the scholarly world, particularly in the areas of history and mission. He authored a number of books, including Renaissance and Reformation (1986), and Whole Gospel, Whole World (1994). In addition, he served organizations such as the American Society of Church History and the Conference on Faith and History, while laboring in numerous churches. James Leo Garrett, a heavyweight in the Baptist world, once stated that Estep “represented the best of Southwestern” and was a “first-rate scholar.” The present work, The Anabaptist Story, surely displays the capabilities of the late Dr. Estep.[1]

The Anabaptist Story first appeared in 1963 and was well received (vii). The work was updated in light of the four hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the launch of the Anabaptist movement. The second edition (1975) retained the title and structure while updating the book in light of the most up-to-date scholarship.

The third edition was released thirty-three years later, in 1996. Estep, though he considered writing a completely new book, instead offered an updated version of the original work. Estep thought it worth his effort to update the volume due to the success of the book, the appearance of new translation of Anabaptist sources, new monographs and reference works that had appeared covering different parts of Anabaptist thought, as well as his continuing belief that a study of the 16th century Anabaptists “can be instructive for those of us who seek to follow Christ in obedient discipleship…” (xiii).

The aim of The Anabaptist Story is clear from the outset. Estep endeavors to (re)tell the story of 16th-century Anabaptists. Clearly, Estep does not believe the story of the Anabaptist tradition has always received a fair representation. Though he does not intend to paint over their faults, he does intend to paint a more positive and honest picture of the tradition. However, Estep is not interested in helping the reader simply gain historical and intellectual weight. He wants to “impart something more than information” (xiii). He hopes the stories of early Anabaptists “come alive” in order to help the modern reader understand what motivated them to live as they did in the face of pain and hardship. Perhaps, if we learn of their ancient example of faithfulness, it will strengthen us for faithfulness today.

Read the entire summary and Estep (Review).

[1] Corey J. Hailey, “Baptist historian W.R. Estep dies; ‘scholar of scholars’ among accolades,” Baptist Press, www.bpnews.net/6192, July 17, 2000.

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