|Birth: ||Dec. 29, 1927|
|Death: ||Dec. 30, 1997|
John Howard Yoder is regarded as one of the greatest theologians of the 20th Century.
Yoder earned his undergraduate degree from Goshen College where he studied under the influence of Mennonite theologian Harold S. Bender. He completed his Th.D. at the University of Basel, Switzerland, studying under Karl Barth, Oscar Cullman, Walther Eichrodt, and Karl Jaspers. Anecdotally true to form, the night before he was to defend his dissertation on Anabaptism and Reformation in Switzerland, Yoder visited Barth's office to deliver an entirely different document: a thorough critique of Barth's position on war which he had written in the meantime called "Karl Barth and the Problem of War."
Yoder is best remembered for his reflections on Christian ethics. Rejecting the assumption that human history is driven by coercive power, Yoder argued that it was rather God -- working in, with, and through the nonviolent, non-resistant community of disciples of Jesus -- who has been the ultimate force in human affairs. If the Christian church in the past made alliances with political rulers, it was because it had lost confidence in this truth.
He called the arrangement whereby the state and the church each supported the goals of the other Constantinianism, and he regarded it as a dangerous and constant temptation. Yoder argued that Jesus himself rejected this temptation, even to the point of dying a horrible and cruel death. Resurrecting Jesus from the dead was, in this view, God's way of vindicating Christ's unwavering obedience.
Likewise, Yoder argued, 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, the church witnesses, says Yoder, to the fact that an alternative to a society based on violence or the threat of violence has been made possible by the life, death, resurrection and teachings of Jesus. Yoder claims that the church thus lives in the conviction that God calls Christians to imitate the way of Christ in his absolute obedience, even if it leads to their deaths, for they, too, will finally be vindicated in resurrection.
Of his many books, the most widely recognized has undoubtedly been "The Politics of Jesus"; it has been translated into at least ten languages. In it, Yoder argues against popular views of Jesus, particularly those views held by Reinhold Niebuhr, which he believed to be dominant in the day, particularly in the United States, where Niebuhr had an enormous influence, presidents and politicians being amongst his followers due to his attempts to justify the existence of the military in a supposedly Christian nation. Niebuhr argued for a "Realist (international relations) philosophy", which Yoder felt failed to take seriously the call or person of Jesus Christ. After showing what he believed to be inconsistencies of Niebuhr's perspective, Yoder attempted to demonstrate by an exegesis of 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. Yoder argued that being Christian is a political standpoint, and Christians ought not ignore that calling.
Yoder's teachings in this book can be summarised in these four key points:
1. The church is called to become a messianic community in the midst of society and the world. Yoder demonstrated that the church must bear the message of the Gospel by actually becoming that message. He argued that if the gospel of God's love had political implications for Jesus' disciples, it would also have political implications for contemporary Christians. If the gospel decisively shaped the life of Jesus' first followers, it must also shape the life of the Church today.
2. Jesus is truly our normative authority. Yoder helped us to see clearly that Jesus the Savior was deeply concerned with the agenda of politics and the related issues of power, status, and right relations. He showed that the impact of Jesus' life and ministry on his disciples' social behavior points to a special kind of pacifism in which the Cross is the model of Christian efficacy. In other words, the radical way of life to which Jesus called his disciples is also the key to Christian faithfulness for us today.
3. Discipleship and pertinent witness requires that we engage in a lifelong study of Scripture. Yoder modelled for us what it means to take the Bible seriously and how to allow the inspired text to show us the way of God's shalom. For example, in Latin America and elsewhere he demonstrated that the messianic expectation of God's reign is one of the major keys for an adequate interpretation of the Bible in today's world.
4. Our practice of ecumenical conversation must not be separated from the biblically grounded vision of the faithful church. Such a vision calls for transformation for Christians of all communions, including the heirs of the Radical Reformation. Yoder taught us how to remain open and respectful as well as truthful and prophetic in such an ecumenical practice, as illustrated in his many dialogues with representatives of the "just-war" tradition.
"The Politics of Jesus" concludes with a short Latin phrase: "Vicit agnus noster, eum sequamur." ("Our Lamb has conquered; him let us follow.") The conviction that victory has been accomplished by Jesus Christ was the source of Yoder's hope that sustained and guided his endeavors until the end.
Yoder helped bring to the fore Jesus' radical overturning of the social conventions of his age and his subversion of the rule of Pharisees and Rome. By looking at Jesus through the prism of his teachings of social justice, Yoder calls attention to the need for every Christian to be involved in taking a political stance against the injustices of his or her age.
Yoder was one of many who has helped to reinvigorate the pacifism of the Early Church for the new millenium. By successfully countering one of the last, and most influential, adherents of the "Just War" doctrine, Reinhold Neibuhr, Yoder justifies the belief that Christ's teachings are wholly non-violent and that every Christian must oppose the military and all military action in the current age, just as the early Church had done.
Yoder died of an aortic aneurysm the day after his 70th birthday.
Sumption Prairie Cemetery
St. Joseph County
Created by: D. L.
Record added: Jun 21, 2008
Find A Grave Memorial# 27738286
Despite his inner demons and personal troubles, Yoder was a truly great thinker who advanced our understanding of God and successfully rebutted Niebuhr's flawed and dangerous philosophy. One of the great pacifists.|
Added: Jun. 22, 2008