Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Yoder's Politics of Jesus

I skipped through Yoder's famous book today and have been discussing it in broad strokes in a couple classes.  Many who come across this post may know much more about Yoder's thinking than I so I welcome refinement and correction.

I would summarize Yoder as follows.  God is the one who fights for us; followers of Jesus do not fight for themselves, especially not through violence.  Violence is never appropriate for a Jesus-follower.  The structures of the world, the powers of the world, are usually full of evil.  Our task as Christians is not to fight against the worldly powers but to give a witness by our voluntary submission to the hierarchies of a fallen world.

Yoder answers a number of objections to using the model of Jesus as a model for us to follow.  He of course also argues for a certain model of Jesus (thus Jesus didn't use his whip against the money changers but to drive the animals out of the temple).
  • The objection that Jesus' ethic was limited to his years on earth, an "interim" ethic before a kingdom that was going to come in force later.
  • The objection that Jesus' model was for a situation in which it was not conceivable to change the system.
  • The objection that Jesus only provides a model for individual response, not for government, which more appropriately turns to God the Father as a model.
I suspect that Yoder is far more right than wrong, although he represents one end of the spectrum to me.  
  • I accept the basic principles of Just War theory laid out by Augustine.  
  • I believe that Jesus' earthly ministry was phase one and that in the second coming phase he will not be so meek and mild
  • I do believe we should work for change more vigorously and engagedly with worldly powers when we can, although not usually with violence (I support Bonhoeffer's deviation in regard to Hitler).  I do accept reasonable force to protect the lives of others and, in some cases, in self-defense. 
  • I do think that God the Father provides a better model for governance and justice rather than Jesus when he was on earth.

But what do you think?


dan said...

I think his baseline for using Jesus as a model is that the cross is Jesus acting out the Kingdom of God. That Jesus revealing is a new ethic for us to live out; an ethic different than that of the kingdoms of this world. [I think this is fleshed out really well in Resident Aliens by Hauerwas]

I think that we need to make a distinction about, how God is fighting for us. Its that God's attack is the attack of love and justice.

[[And Yoder actually wrote a book [more a collection of essays] about practically living out nonviolence from practical examples.]]

As to Bonhoffer, Walter Wink (I believe), makes the note that his violence actually prolonged the war. Because when Hitler didn't die, he said it was God's providence which is keeping him moving. That injustice only leads to more injustice.

mwp said...

"Jesus didn't use his whip against the money changers but to drive the animals out of the temple"

Every time this account is used in a discussion of Jesus and violence (usually after the US has launched another war) I feel called to point out that this is it for the pro-violence side: one reference to a whip in one gospel. I'm not accusing you of misusing it here, but it's often referenced as if it were one example among others, rather than the whole ball of wax.

Ken Schenck said...

Good continuance of Dan's comment on the Facebook version.

mwp, I strongly agree. American Christianity is far more in need right now of the Yoder/Hauerwas voice than the Rambo Christian one.

Lysander Spooner said...

*Disclaimer* I have not yet read Yoder's book.

I agree with use of force in personal self defense, and in the defense of others. However, my objections to war as waged by the state -"just" or "unjust"- stems purely from the means by which it is funded. Everything the state does is a result of direct physical force or threat thereof. Therefore in the case of so called "just" wars they are still being funded by money taken by physical force from individuals who very well may not support said war. Thus, even just wars result in unjust violence.

I'm not advocating that Christians not pay taxes in light of what they are spent on. I believe that Romans 13 and its boarder literary context make it clear that we should adhere to the laws of the land as much as possible while maintaining allegiance to Christ and living at peace with society.

These objections aside, it is astonishing to see the "Christian Right" blindly and enthusiastically support a state of perpetual war, nation building, trampling of national sovereignty, and tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths in wars that are unconstitutional, unjust, and most definitely not waged in self defense.

How we can we possibly reconcile this with anything in the New Testament? I apologize that ended up being more of a rant than a question.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Why is it necessary to find A "evangelical voice"? Why not embrace liberty of conscience as "the voice"? Isn't that what our American values support? Those that want to be "anti-government", super-spiritual, or those that want the other extreme, nominalism or skepticism could agree to disagree as to politics, and the political when it comes to "faith issues".

The only reason, it seems to me that faith needs definition is when power seeks to subvert a certain segment of society as to "liberty of conscience".