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Faculty: In Their Own Words – Dr. Paul Doerksen

PaulDoerksenOct2016Dr. Paul Doerksen, Associate Professor of Theology and Anabaptist Studies, has taught at CMU since 2011. His new book is Take and Read: Reflecting Theologically on Books (Wipf and Stock, 2016).

What are you teaching right now that most excites you?

Theological Ethics. I’ve got just under a dozen students who are really bright, articulate, interesting, and willing to really go after questions that are raised by other students or by the readings that we pursue. Every class, it feels like there’s something at stake. That’s exciting.

What are you researching and writing right now?

I’m working on what I hope will be a book-length project on moral patience. The heart of the project is a line from Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics where he writes that God grants us the space and time to become who we were intended to be. That’s a wonderful way of thinking about God’s relationship to humanity, but then I wonder if there’s something in there for the way that humans can get along with other humans. My kids think it’s hilarious and ironic that I’m writing about patience.

What are you reading for enjoyment?

Some of the specific books include Silence by Shūsaku Endō. It’s about a Jesuit priest being persecuted in early modern Japan, and is a take on martyrdom that is absolutely fascinating. Martin Scorsese directed an adaptation that’s finally coming out within the next few months, which I’m looking forward to. I just started reading Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett. It’s really good. And, I’m looking forward to David Bergen. He’s got a new one out that I don’t have my hands on yet.

What do you most long for in your work?

I hope that my work, and the work of CMU more broadly, can be part of encouraging the church and the academy to be faithful Christians. I hope that we appreciate each other’s contributions and understand that we’re involved, at very deep levels, in the same project – namely, trying to figure out what it means to be faithful to Christ.

Do you have any interesting projects underway in the broader community or church?

My Take and Read theology book discussion group continues to be a delight. Thirty people get together four times over the winter to discuss four different books over dessert. It keeps me reading and thinking in ways that are different from the classroom or formal research. My new book is a collection of reflections I’ve written on various books we have discussed at Take and Read over the years. I’m looking forward to being independently wealthy because of the royalties.

What saying or motto inspires you?

The Catholic theologian Gerald O’Collins once said, “Theology is watching our language in the presence of God.” I think about this a lot. We believe that watching our language means not cursing, but there’s much more at stake here than impolite language. All of the Christian life is, in a sense, learning more and more how to talk about God and use that grammar of faith. It doesn’t come naturally, at least not to me. I need to be trained in it and I need to keep working at it.

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CMU prof completes unfinished book by mentor, friend

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.

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Paul Doerksen (right), Associate Professor of Theology and Anabaptist Studies at CMU, is the editor of Toward an Anabaptist Political Theology: Law, Order, and Civil Society, a collection of essays by the late theologian James Reimer (left).

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.

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Reimer graduated from Canadian Mennonite Bible College, one of CMU’s predecessor colleges, in 1963.

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.

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Doerksen with Reimer’s wife, Margaret Loewen Reimer, at the Waterloo launch for the book.

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.”