The Politics of Jesus

I am going to spend this post studying John Howard Yoder and particularly his book The Politics of Jesus written in 1972.

Here is what Wikipedia says about him.

John Howard Yoder (December 29, 1927 – December 30, 1997) was a Christian theologian, ethicist, and Biblical scholar best known for his radical Christian pacifism, his mentoring of future theologians such as Stanley Hauerwas, his loyalty to his Mennonite faith, and his 1972 magnum opus, The Politics of Jesus

It is obvious from his books that Yoder is a pacifist who strongly believes that it is not God’s will for us to be constantly killing each other through politically invoked wars. Of his many books, the most widely recognized has undoubtedly been The Politics of Jesus; it has been translated into at least ten languages.

The book was written in 1972. In it, Yoder argues against the then popular views of Jesus, particularly those views held by Reinhold Niebuhr, which he believed to be dominant in the day. Niebuhr argued for he called Realism philosophy. Yoder felt this philosophy failed to take seriously the call or person of Jesus Christ. For me here is one of the most notable quotes from the book:
Recent systematic tradition tells us that we must choose between the Jesus of History and the Jesus of dogma. If Jesus is the divine Word incarnate, then what we will be concerned about is the metaphysical transactions by means of which he saved humanity by entering into it. We will then leap like the creed from the birth of Jesus to the cross. His teachings and his social and political involvement will be of little interest and not binding for us. (underlining is mine)

He goes on to say that we seek to understand the “Jesus of history” as well as the Jesus of dogma. In other words the life of Jesus was meant to teach us how to live our lives and was therefore a very important part of our existence.
Yoder attempted to demonstrate by the Gospel of Luke and parts of Paul’s letter to the Romans that, in his view, a radical Christian pacifism was the most faithful approach for the disciple of Christ. He argued that being Christian is a political standpoint, and Christians ought not ignore that calling. He believed the primary responsibility of Christians is not to take over society and impose their convictions and values on people who don’t share their faith, but to “be the church.” By refusing to return evil for evil, by living in peace, sharing goods, and doing deeds of charity as opportunities arise.
In my opinion The Politics of Jesus is a little dry and boring in places, but if you hang in there it is a book well worth reading. The book was named by evangelical publication “Christianity Today” as one of the most important Christian books of the 20th century. I’m not sure of that but for those interested in the philosophy behind Christian pacifism it is a good book to have on your shelf.

2 thoughts on “The Politics of Jesus

  1. I know I keep plugging Boyd to you, RJ, but you may be interested to know that Yoder is one of the strong influences on Greg Boyd’s superb book “The Myth of a Christian Nation.” As an incisive analysis of how the late-20th/early-21st Century Evangelical churches have gotten it wrong, particularly in North America, “Myth” is as good as it gets, and it’s not dry at all.

    Too many of Boyd’s critics dismiss him as a heretic because of his “Open Theology” and never give this book a chance, but I can tell you having read this one first, that I didn’t even know about the OT controversy and this book did not contain a hint of it. Strongly recommended!


  2. Dan, actually I have read some of Boyd. His book entitled “Is God To Blame?” was very helpful to me. I just dug out the book and pulled out one of the memorable passages. Here it is:

    In a world of ambiguity, how can we determine what God’s will is? More specifically, how are we to know what we should accept as good and what we should confront as evil? How do we know when God is at work, when Satan is at work or when a set of circumstances are the chance result of a myriad factors?

    I won’t go into just what he said after this but these types of questions are at the heart of many who are seeking a more thorough understanding of Jesus, including myself. The stock answer is the read the Bible but that is really a shallow response in that the Bible does not address the specific issues of today’s circumstances (at least in my belief). For instance, is the Internet good or evil? As is often the case it is a matter of shades of gray rather than black and white/ good or evil as many evangelicals want to believe.

    Yeah, I just put the Myth of… in my shopping cart at Amazon. I’ll give it a spin. Thanks for the suggestions.


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