Paul Doerksen’s latest book is one he hoped he would never have to work on.
Doerksen, Associate Professor of Theology and Anabaptist Studies at Canadian Mennonite University (CMU), is the editor of Toward an Anabaptist Political Theology: Law, Order, and Civil Society. Published this past October by Wipf and Stock, the book is a collection of essays by the late theologian A. James Reimer.
Reimer, who was diagnosed with cancer while working on the book, called Doerksen in 2010 and asked if Doerksen would finish the book and find a publisher for it if he were to die before completing it.
“I agreed in a heartbeat out of respect for him and his work,” says Doerksen, who developed a deep friendship with Reimer after Reimer served as the advisor for his Master’s thesis. “I recall hoping that I wouldn’t have to keep good on the promise – that he would survive long enough to finish it himself. That would have been great.”
Six weeks after that phone call, Reimer died.
Doerksen and Reimer had collaborated in the past, and Doerksen approached his work preparing Reimer’s essays for publication with sadness, respect, and a sense of privilege.
“His voice comes through so clearly in his writing that it just felt like the work was continuing, only more slowly than if he had been there,” Doerksen says.
More slowly, and not as fun. Reimer was a humorous, engaging man who enjoyed cooking for friends and family.
“I missed all those things,” Doerksen says. “Nonetheless, the voice and the development of an argument – and the passion for what he was trying to do – was sort of a constant companion when I was working with his material.”
Political theology is a burgeoning field. In the book, Reimer argues for a more positive embrace of law, order, and civil society than Anabaptists have historically offered.
“He was trying to do Anabaptist work in the field, but in a way that was far more open to classical Christianity, especially the kind that was developed in the first four centuries,” says Doerksen, adding that he appreciates the comprehensiveness of Reimer’s project. “I think it’s a fresh voice.”
Reimer was Professor of Religious Studies and Christian Theology at Conrad Grebel University College and at the Toronto School of Theology, and was named Distinguished Professor Emeritus upon his retirement in 2008.
He was an alumnus of Canadian Mennonite Bible College, one of CMU’s predecessor colleges. In 2010, CMU presented him with a Blazer Distinguished Alumni Award in recognition of his contribution of service, leadership, and reconciliation in church and society.
Toward an Anabaptist Political Theology is the third book by Reimer published posthumously.
Christians and War: A Brief History of the Church’s Teachings and Practices was published the month after his death, and La dynamique de la foi chrétienne: Quand les dogmes libérent l’imagination – a French translation of his 2003 book, The Dogmatic Imagination – was published last year.
Reimer’s wife, Margaret Loewen Reimer, says she is happy Toward an Anabaptist Political Theology is available.
“Paul did a really good job of presenting the essays,” Loewen Reimer says. “Jim would have been delighted.”