Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Keeping Yoder Christian

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
"Love is a battlefield"
As John Howard Yoder's legacy continues to make an impact on the theological academy, his work has become somewhat of a battleground for how to read and interpret his work. One recent book, Paul Martens' The Heterodox Yoder, attempts to make the argument that Yoder's theological ethics became quite non-theological over the course of his career, or that his "politics" came at the expense of Christian particularity and theological commitments.

While I am by no means an expert on Yoder, I have relied on the guidance of one of the world's leading Yoder scholars, my theology professor at Eastern Mennonite Seminary, Mark Thiessen Nation. When Mark's not working on his forthcoming "Bonhoeffer was not in on the plot to assassinate Hitler" book, part of his time is spent offering constructive and defensive writings on Yoder's theological project and its legacy. And Mark's take on Yoder runs completely counter to where Martens goes.

Yoder never loses theology at the expense of politics because, as Branson Parler notes, "Yoder, like Augustine, sees politics as always already doxology and ethics as always already theology." Politics is theological and theology is political. This is one of the more fundamental points to Yoder's approach, which many readers of Yoder can't seem to wrap their heads around, and such a mis-reading is indicative of Enlightenment thinking of which, ironically, Martens accuses Yoder.

My contribution to this argument is merely to signal two resources available online which have helped me understand Yoder in respect to this question of Christian particularity and theology in ethics and politics.
  1. "The Politics of John Howard Yoder Regarding The Politics of Jesus: Recovering the Implicit in Yoder's Holistic Theology for Pacifism" by Mark Thiessen Nation
    A lecture available online from "John Howard Yoder and the Stone-Campbell Churches"conference in 2009, whose presentations later became chapters in
    Radical Ecumenicity: Pursuing Unity and Continuity after John Howard Yoder
  2. "The Forest and the Trees: Engaging Paul Martens' Heterodox Yoder" - A review by Branson Parler, which I quoted above.
[3/23 update] Two posts just came out today from Mark Thiessen Nation and John Nugent, on this very subject. Here they are:

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