Thursday, June 21, 2007

THE POLITICS OF JESUS by John Howard Yoder

The Politics of Jesus is John Howard Yoder's treatise on Jesus' political inclinations, based on and in response to twentieth century biblical scholarship. Yoder was a Mennonite biblical scholar, theologian, and professor of theology. The 1994 version of this book is a revision and expansion of his original version, published in 1972.

Yoder points out early that this book is an ethical methodology, not an exegesis. Indeed, he spends the majority of the work building on and responding to the thought of innumerable other twentieth century scholars. His primary target is twentieth century Christian systematic theology that argues for various reasons that Jesus is not a valid source of personal ethics. Yoder does a thorough job of demonstrating that Jesus was indeed politically minded, and one of the consequences of this is the discovery that Jesus has intended us to follow his pacifist lifestyle.

Contrary to what at least one reviewer has complained, Yoder does address the Old Testament as it relates to a modern Christian pacifism, albeit briefly. Yoder's treatment of Romans 13, however, is thorough.

Most of the criticism of this book seems to be from people who are inherently opposed to Christian pacifism, as many arguments are from that ground rather than on anything Yoder has done incorrectly. That is, people tend to reject his arguments based on their personal beliefs and traditions. Many arguments say "Yoder didn't address such and such," but a book can only be so long.

The book does contain a lot of the vocabulary and jargon of Christian scholarship, and people unfamiliar with such may have a little trouble with it.

The Politics of Jesus is the finest book on Christianity I have read in a long time. Yoder does an excellent job highlighting parallels and themes running through Jesus' life, and of making the case for Christian pacifism. I recommend this book to everyone.