(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

John H. Yoder’s major work is an exegetical defense of passivism and a call to social involvement by Christians. He argues that Christians too often read the scriptures only in terms of personal salvation as relief of personal anxiety, when in fact the scriptures demand that Christian disciples understand the collective, social implications of faith in Jesus Christ. Many erroneously conclude that the message of Jesus was irrelevant or that he was disinterested in political situations. Yoder argues to the contrary, that Jesus was specifically political, and that his death by crucifixion demonstrates his renunciation of a dehumanizing political system operative in his day:[T]he cross is beginning to loom not as a ritually prescribed instrument of propitiation but as the political alternative to both insurrection and quietism.

Yoder’s claims stand in opposition to other political and religious viewpoints, such as liberation theology, Marxist ideology, subjective irrelevance, and Jewish zealotry, all of which have been prominent at various points in history. Yoder argues that nonviolent, social involvement, modeled by Jesus in the New Testament, is the appropriate model for Christians. He initially argues this based on a close reading of the Gospel of Luke, then follows with an examination of Pauline writings. Yoder points out that the most significant temptations of Jesus, as recorded in the New Testament, concern an appeal for him to use violence in response to injustice.

The Christian community is to be a new kind of community. Justification is to be understood in more than personal guilt before God, who grants amnesty on the basis of one’s faith. Rather, justification has to do with breaking down walls that separate segments of a larger society. It has to do with making peace with those who might otherwise be enemies. Yoder reads that to be in Christ is to be part of a community wherein creation is new. He goes beyond an individual reading of one’s existential status before...

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(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Carter, Craig A. The Politics of the Cross: The Theology and Social Ethics of John Howard Yoder. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brazos Press, 2001. According to one reviewer, “first systematic survey of Yoder’s work” and the first place to turn for elucidation of Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus.

Hauerwas, Stanley, ed. The Wisdom of the Cross: Essays in Honor of John Howard Yoder. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1999. The essays address questions surrounding nonviolence, biblical interpretation, method or antimethod, ecclesiology, and other aspects of Yoder’s thought, attesting the diversity of his theological concerns. Bibliographical references.

Hughes, Richard T., ed. The Primitive Church in the Modern World. Urbana: Illinois University Press, 1995. A collection of essays originally presented at Pepperdine University in 1991. Includes an essay by Yoder. Contains an index and bibliographical references.

Niebuhr, Richard H. Christ and Culture. New York: Harper & Row, 1951. A classic study that offers five positions that Christian communities have historically held in relation to faith and society.

Rouner, Leroy S., ed. Foundations of Ethics. Notre Dame, Ind.: Notre Dame University Press, 1983. Part of the Boston University series on the study of philosophy and religion, this collection contains an essay by Yoder. Index, bibliographic references.

Whitmore, Todd, ed. Ethics in the Nuclear Age: Strategy, Religious Studies, and the Churches. Dallas, Tex.: Southern Methodist University Press, 1989. A collection of essays from the Colloquium on Religion and World Affairs, held at the University of Chicago. The volume includes an essay by Yoder.