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Christian spirituality does not consist of a life of contemplation instead of action, nor of withdrawal instead of full participation in the social order. Rather, Christian spirituality is the experience of every dimension of human life being oriented around and animated by the very Spirit of Jesus. [1] 

To be “spiritual” is to live every aspect of our lives inspired by and aligned with the Spirit of Christ. To be “carnal” is to be oriented by a very different spirit. [2] 

Christian spirituality is the process of following Jesus Christ under the inspiration of the Spirit in the context of a shared life within the Messianic community. [3]

I received the news of John Driver’s death with mixed emotions—mixed because while I am sad, I am also grateful for his fruitful life and ministry of teaching throughout the world, particularly in Spanish-speaking countries. What follows was originally published in 2014, after I met John and his wife Bonnie for the first time.

I learned unexpectedly that he lived close to where I was staying. As soon as I found out, I decided to find him and talk with him. The retirement center where John and Bonnie Driver lived was next to Goshen College, where I was doing research at the Mennonite Historical Library.

Resolved on finding Driver, I set off in the electric wheelchair that the historian John David Roth had secured for my use, enabling me to navigate around the campus and its environs during my stay. After ten minutes, I came upon the building where I had been told that the Drivers lived. A neighbor kindly gave me their house number, and I rang the doorbell. John Driver greeted me with a smile. I told him that I was visiting Indiana from Mexico, and as a good Latin American had dared to visit him without notice, with hopes of scheduling a conversation for another day. He immediately welcomed me into his home and introduced me to his wife, Bonnie. I told them that, although we had never met, I knew of their work as missionaries and teachers in various Spanish-speaking countries. I added that I felt a kind of kinship with John, since I had read and re-read several of his books.

On their invitation, I returned the next day for lunch and conversation. John was 90 years old, in good health, and contagiously cheerful. We initially sat together alone at their table, as Bonnie was out. Upon her return, I learned that she had been taking food to elderly residents who were unable to feed themselves, a generous service she carries out three times a week on bicycle.

When Bonnie entered, John and I were already drinking coffee, having spent a little over an hour eating and conversing. I asked John about his life as a missionary and Christian brother in Latin America. He began in Puerto Rico during World War II, since he was a conscientious objector who did not wish to participate in armed conflict. From there he went to Uruguay and then Spain. The Drivers combined extended stays in these countries with regular missionary and educational journeys throughout Latin America. They spent almost four decades in dedicated service, and according to Bonnie they called thirty-eight different places “home” during that period.

John’s first book, Community and Commitment, was published in 1974. [4] He recalled how this book came together after René Padilla suggested publishing his notes, then circulating in mimeographed form, from his courses in Uruguay, Argentina, and nearby countries. As John reflected on the friendships he formed during the course of his ministry, he brought up several other names.

He recalled the Latin American Theological Fellowship (FTL, in its Spanish abbreviation) and several of its founders, among others Pedro Savage, Samuel Escobar, and René Padilla. He shared, too, of his friendship with José Grau, who in 1978 published John’s reflection on the Sermon on the Mount, Militantes para un mundo nuevo, through the European Evangelical Publishing House. [5] When this book came out in English two years later it was titled Kingdom Citizens, but its original title—Grau’s idea—translates as “Militants for a New World.” Between the book’s title and its red cover, it caused quite a stir in those years of political agitation. I told John that this book had been very important in my own early studies of Anabaptist theology. I remain grateful that books published by the European Evangelical Publishing House, edited by José Grau and his wife, María Beltrán, somehow arrived in Mexico—and that a group of evangelical university students were able to find them.

I told John about the Center for Anabaptist Studies educational project, a ministry of the Evangelical Mennonite Church of Mexico, and that one of the courses offered by the Center uses as its text book his Radical Faith: An Alternative History of the Christian Church. [6] That book’s editor, Raúl Serradell, was a mutual friend, whose prologue serves as a brilliant introduction to the text.

Other works by John Driver include Becoming God’s Community; How Christians Made Peace with War; Images of the Church in Mission; Life Together in the Spirit: Radical Discipleship for the Twenty-First Century; and Understanding the Atonement for the Mission of the Church. [7] Most of his books were written first in Spanish and then translated to English, in spite of the fact that English is his first language.

I said goodbye to John and Bonnie Driver in their front garden, using a formality that was common when I was a youth: a kiss on the hand of each as a sign of respect. I returned to my research deeply moved, intellectually as well as emotionally, by an encounter that I treasure in the storehouse of my memory.

Carlos Martínez García is an historian, journalist, and pastor based in Mexico City. This essay was first published as “Juan Driver, discípulo radical,” Protestante Digital (March 20, 2022), https://protestantedigital.com/kairos-y-cronos/64395/juan-driver-discipulo-radical. Translation by Jamie Pitts.

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[1] John Driver, Life Together in the Spirit: Radical Discipleship for the Twenty-First Century (Goshen, IN: Institute for the Study of Global Anabaptism, Goshen College, 2011), 2, available online at http://www.anabaptistwiki.org/mediawiki/images/b/ba/DriverLifeTogetherintheSpirit2011.pdf.

[2] Driver, Life Together in the Spirit, 5.

[3] Driver, Life Together in the Spirit, 74.

[4] Driver, Comunidad y compromiso (Buenos Aires: Ediciones Certeza, 1974), translated as Community and Commitment (Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1976).

[5] Driver, Militantes para un mundo nuevo (Ediciones Evangélicas Europeas, 1978), translated as Kingdom Citizens (Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1980).

[6] Driver, La fe en la periferia de la historia. Una historia del pueblo cristiano desde la perspectiva de los movimientos de restauración y Reforma radical (Guatemala City: Ediciones SEMILLA, 1997), translated as Radical Faith: An Alternative History of the Christian Church (Kitchener, ON: Pandora, 1999). The Spanish version of this book is hard to find in print, but is available online: https://archive.org/details/lafeenlaperiferi00driv_0.

[7] Driver, Becoming God’s Community (Elgin, IL: Brethren Press, 1981); How Christians Made Peace with War: Early Christian Understandings of War (Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1988); Images of the Church in Mission (Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1997); Life Together in the Spirit; Understanding the Atonement for the Mission of the Church (Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1986).