Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Reading Yoder

Many readers here know that I owe much to the work of the late Mennonite theologian, John Howard Yoder (1927-1997). I have often recommended his writings. But my experience with teaching both undergraduate and seminary students has shown me that they often have difficulty with Yoder’s writings. Church Bible Study or peacemaker groups often have problems even with some of Yoder’s more popular writings. For many, apparently, reading Yoder is not easy.

So, if you fall into this boat, I have good news. Marco Funk of Manitoba, who blogs at Anabaptist Rants, also has another blog, Reading Yoder. Here Marco is summarizing and explaining Yoder’s major writings, chapter by chapter. He is currently going through the various chapters of Nevertheless, Yoder’s typology and evaluations of nearly 30 different kinds of religious arguments for rejecting war.

This blog could be an enormous boon to peace theologians and ordinary Christians. Visit and interact with Marco whether your knowledge of Yoder is great, small, or somewhere in-between.

February 12, 2007 Posted by | John Howard Yoder, pacifism, theology | 6 Comments

The Major Writings of John Howard Yoder

Major Writings of John Howard Yoder (1927-1997).

1958 The Ecumenical Movement and the Faithful Church. Herald Press.1959 Peace Without Eschatology? Herald Press. An early Yoder critique of “liberal” Christian pacifism.

1961a As You Go: The Old Mission in the New Day. Herald Press.

1961b Anabaptism in Flanders, 1530-1650: A Century of Struggle. Translated from the Flemish by JHY. Herald Press.

1961c The Christian and Capital Punishment. Herald Press.

1962 Christ and the Powers. By Hendrikus Berkhof. Translated from the Dutch by JHY. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Considering the huge influence since then of the “Principalities and Powers” theme in both NT studies and contemporary theology, Yoder’s translation of Berkhof has to count as one of his major contributions.

1964a. The Christian Witness to the State. Faith and Life Press. Rev. Ed. 1977. New edition by Herald Press, 2002.

1964b. The ‘Pacifism’ of Karl Barth. Church Peace Mission.

1964c Discipleship as Political Responsibility. Herald Press. Rev. Ed., 2003.

1968 Reinhold Niebuhr and Christian Pacifism. Church Peace Mission, 6. Herald Press.

1970 Karl Barth and the Problem of War. Abingdon Press.

1971 Nevertheless: The Varieties and Shortcomings of Religious Pacifism. Herald Press. 2nd Ed., 1976. Revised and Expanded, 1992.

1972a The Politics of Jesus: Vicit Agnus Noster. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Revised and Expanded Edition, 1994. Yoder’s most influential work.

1972b The Original Revolution: Essays on Christian Pacifism. Herald Press. Reprinted Wipf & Stock, 1998.

1973 The Legacy of Michael Sattler. Classics of the Radical Reformation, 1. Herald Press. Edited and translated by JHY. This made the life and major writings of this early Anabaptist leader available in English for the first time.

1977 The Schleitheim Confession. Translated by JHY. Herald Press. The earliest Anabaptist confession of faith.

1981 Preface to Theology: Christology and Theological Method. Privately Published. Posthumously published by Brazos Press, 2002.

1983a Christian Attitudes to War, Peace, and Revolution: A Companion to Bainton. Privately Published. There are plans to publish this

1983b What Would You Do?: A Serious Answer to a Standard Question. Herald Press. Revised and Expanded 1992. The first half of the book is Yoder’s attempt to answer the standard question to pacifists, “If a violent person threatened a loved one, what would you do?” The second half of the book are alternative answers by other pacifists: Count Leo Tolstoy, S. H. Booth-Clibborn (early British Pentecostal), C. J. Furness (Fellowship of Reconciliation, writing during WWII), Henry T. Hodgkin (British Quaker, Cambridge philosopher and one of the founders of the F.O.R.), Joan Baez (American Folk Singer), Dale W. Brown (Church of the Brethren theologian), Dale Aukerman (Mennonite theologian), Tom Skinner (African-American former gang member turned evangelist), anonymous missionary, Gladys Aylward (British missionary to China), Terry Dobson, Dorothy T. Samuel, Sarah Corson, Angie O’ Gorman, Peggy Gish (Church of the Brethren), Art Gish (Church of the Brethren), Lawrence Hart (Mennonite minister and traditional Cheyenne Peace Chief).

1984a The Priestly Kingdom: Social Ethics as Gospel. University of Notre Dame Press.
The first major collection of JHY’s perspectives on method in Christian ethics, advocating a non-Constantinian view of the Church.

1984b When War is Unjust: Being Honest in Just-War Thinking. Augsburg-Fortress Press. Revised Edition published by Orbis Books, 1996. This is one of the first and most serious pacifist attempts to take the Just War tradition seriously and reflect on what it would take to make such a moral system work. Many Christian Just War thinkers have been profoundly challenged by this work to strive to get their churches to recognize the difficulty and seriousness of JWT and not simply “baptize” whatever war or weapons or tactics governments want Christians to endorse. As a former soldier turned pacifist, this work influenced me to study JWT more thoroughly than most people who consider themselves in the JW tradition. I have used this to enlist JWT folk against particular wars.

1985. He Came Preaching Peace. Herald Press. A collection of Bible lessons for adults.

1987 The Fullness of Christ: Paul’s Vision of Universal Ministry. Brethren Press.

1989 Balthasar Hubmaier: Theologian of Anabaptism. Edited and Translated by H. Wayne Pipkin and John Howard Yoder. Herald Press. This is the first major collection of Hubmaier’s writings in English.

1991a A Declaration on Peace: In God’s People the World’s Renewal Has Begun.
Co-written with Douglas Gwyn, George Hunsinger, and Eugene F. Roop. Herald Press. This was a joint peace statement issued by the Historic Peace Churches and the Christian section of the Fellowship of Reconciliation. JHY represented the Mennonites, Gwyn the Friends/Quakers, Hunsinger, a Presbyterian, represented the FOR, and Roop the Church of the Brethren. JHY is the major author. I think I detect elements of Hunsinger, but since both Yoder and Hunsinger were deeply influenced by Barth, it’s hard to tell. Most of the book is classic Yoder.

1991b The Death Penalty Debate: Two Opposing Views of Capital Punishmnent. Word Books. Co-written with H. Wayne House. House, an influential figure with the Conservative Baptist Association, argues in favor of capital punishment for murder. Yoder argues against. The comparison and contrast highlights issues of biblical interpretation and moral reasoning.

1992 Body Politics: Five Christian Practices Before a Watching World. Abingdon Press. 2nd Edition, 2001.

1994 The Royal Priesthood: Essays Ecclesiological and Ecumenical. Edited with an Introduction by Michael G. Cartwright. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Some excellent essays, but Cartwright’s introductions are far too long, and unnecessarily expensive.

1996 Authentic Transformation: A New Vision of Christ and Culture. Abingdon Press.
Co-written with Glen H. Stassen and D. M. Yeager with a previously unpublished essay by H. Richard Niebuhr.

1997 For the Nations: Essays Public and Evangelical. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Here
is some of Yoder’s most subtle reflections on the relation of “church,” and “world.” The title is a deliberately chosen reply to the work of Yoder’s friend and sometimes follower, Stanley Hauerwas.

2001 To Hear the Word. Wipf and Stock. Posthumously published reflections on biblical hermeneutics.

2003a The Jewish-Christian Schism Revisited. Edited by Michael G. Cartwright and Peter Ochs. Eerdmans Publishing Co. A major work in Jewish-Christian dialogue, it circulated privately for years and was never finally published until after Yoder’s death.

2003b Karl Barth and the Problem of War and Other Essays on Barth. Edited by Mark Theissen Nation. Cascade Press.

2004 Anabaptism and Reformation in Switzerland: An Historical and Theological Analysis of the Dialogues Between Anabaptists and Reformers. Ed. C. Arnold Snyder. Translated by David C. Stassen and C. Arnold Snyder. Pandora Press. This is the first translation in English of Yoder’s Th.D. dissertation at the University of Basel, previously published only in German.

A collection of Yoder’s writings on war and peace, edited by Glen H. Stassen and Mark Theissen Nation is due out soon under the title War of the Lamb.

Yoder often had to be pushed by friends to publish writings that he, a perfectionist, did not think all that important. So, doubtless more posthumous collections will continue to appear. I know, for example, of a series of lectures that Yoder gave throughout Latin America during the 1970s. They were extraordinarily well received and the mss. have circulated in Spanish and English ever since, but the lectures have never been published in either language. (Yoder was a true polyglot who was conversationally fluent in English, German, French, and Spanish, with advanced reading capability in Dutch, Flemish, and Portuguese as well. Toward the end of his life he was studying modern Hebrew and Arabic in hopes of spending an extended stay in the Middle East.)

August 12, 2006 Posted by | books, heroes, John Howard Yoder, theology | 2 Comments

Mentors, #1: John Howard Yoder

John Howard Yoder (1927-1997) is one of my mentors and heroes. He was the most important Anabaptist theologian since Menno Simons(1496-1561). Educated at Goshen College and the University of Basel, Yoder taught at both the Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary and at the University of Notre Dame. Most famous for his work, The Politics of Jesus (1972), which destroyed the popular image of Jesus as an apolitical figure, showing that Jesus was creating a new people whose nonviolence, mutual servanthood, and economic sharing, constituted a political threat to the Powers and Authorities. Although trained mainly as a historical theologian, Yoder wrote in several fields in ground-breaking ways: biblical studies; church history; theology; Christian ethics. Although “mainstream” Christians often read Yoder as representative of “the Mennonite view,” Yoder was often controversial in his own denomination, challenging it to renewal.

Yoder was influenced at Goshen College by Harold Bender, the first Mennonite to be elected president of the American Society of Church History.
Bender successfully sought to renew North American Mennonite life through both ecumenical contact and renewed attention to the 16th C. “Anabaptist Vision.” Largely due to Bender’s influence, Mennonite scholarship in church history became well-known before contributions in other fields.

After college, Yoder, like so many Mennonites of his generation, volunteered for mission, relief, and development work in post-War Europe, aiding in renewal both in European Mennonite life and beyond. (Yoder met and married the French Mennonite schoolteacher, Anne Marie Guth, through this work.) During this work in Europe, Yoder simultaneously enrolled in doctoral studies at the University of Basel and engaged in the early post-War development of the ecumenical movement with the founding of the World Council of Churches, thereby presenting the Churches of the Reformation with their first sustained encounter with a representative of the Radical Reformation since the 16th C. The influence went both ways: Work for peace was placed on the WCC agenda from the beginning, and Yoder became deeply influenced by the work of both Karl Barth and, even more, by the growing “Biblical Theology Movement” of the era.

Those remained the dominant sources in Yoder’s creative synthesis: Bender and 16th C. Anabaptist sources; Karl Barth; the “Biblical Realism” of one major strand of critical biblical scholarship. Later influences included post-Vatican II Catholic thought (Yoder taught for years at the University of Notre Dame); the “Believers’ Church Conferences,” which brought representatives of many different Free Church or Believers’ Church traditions together and began a lifetime dialogue between Yoder and certain strands of Baptist thought; the nonviolent strand of the U.S. Black Freedom movement; a sustained and lengthy interaction (both approval and critique) with Latin American Liberation Theology; and post-Holocaust Jewish-Christian dialogue. A true polyglot with an incredible ear for languages, Yoder carried on these many dialogues in several different languages.

Painfully shy but with a booming voice and glowering countenance, many believed Yoder to be aloof or arrogant, but it was rather that John had few “people skills.” As many will attest, it was difficult to be his friend. Yet, both personally and through his work, Yoder touched numerous lives. He encouraged my own work as the external reader of my dissertation and in an email a few days before his unexpected death. At his funeral, I met people from around the world, including a young white man from South Africa who, influenced by The Politics of Jesus, refused to be drafted into the apartheid-era South African army and served time in jail in response.

Suffice it to say that my intellectual and personal debts to “JHY,” as he was often called, are immense. I will post a bibliography of Yoders major works later today.

August 12, 2006 Posted by | heroes, John Howard Yoder, mentors, nonviolence, pacifism, theology | 9 Comments