New user? Register here:
Email Address:
Password:
Retype Password:
First Name:
Last Name:
Existing user? Login here:
 
 
Book reviews >

Bring this social ethicist out of the shadows

John Howard Yoder: Mennonite patience, Evangelical witness, Catholic convictions
Mark Thiessen Nation

Eerdmans £11.99 (0-8028-3940-1)
Church Times Bookshop £10.80

Sam Wells commends a thinker whose work is too little known inthe Church of England

THE AMERICAN John Howard Yoder (1927-97) is one of the great figures in Christian social ethics of the 20th century. That he is largely disregarded in the British academy, and almost unknown in the British Church, is largely for two reasons: first, he was a Mennonite, a denomination that is obscure to the British theological imagination; second, he challenges just about every assumption dear to the mainstream Church of England ethos, with its ready access to the officers of state and its cohort of diocesan social-responsibility officers.

Mark Thiessen Nation, a convert to the Anabaptist tradition and a former director of the London Mennonite Centre, has written an outstanding overview of Yoder’s work. Nation, who has an awe-inspiring and personal knowledge of this “brilliant, relentlessly consistent, and incredibly prolific” man, traces a narrative through Yoder’s career. (In this he contrasts with the other major work on Yoder, Craig Carter’s The Politics of the Cross, which takes a cross-section through his theological position.)

Nation points out the importance of Yoder’s early writing on Anabaptist history — a very helpful anchor for those of us rather eager to skip on to Yoder’s more accessible work. He goes on to outline Yoder’s ecumenical arguments, which would be considered outstanding if they were more widely known.

Only in the second half of the book does Nation turn to Yoder’s signal achievement, The Politics of Jesus, and the debates around pacifism and social responsibility with which his name is most frequently associated.

This is an exemplary book. It offers a simple framework for comprehending a vast literature and long career, but does not try to squeeze every elusive detail into a tidy scheme. It is readable and accessible, but still offers an impressive scholarly apparatus to support its claims. It is not uncritical, but takes time to set out key arguments thoughtfully and faithfully.

I would still say to interested readers that they must read The Politics of Jesus, and preferably The Original Revolution and The Priestly Kingdom as well; but if they are looking to understand why Yoder is so remarkable and so important, Nation will be their guide.

My only query about this admirable work would be why it seems to say so little about the cross. For Yoder, the cross and resurrection were the “axis of history” — as is highlighted by the title of Craig Carter’s book. Yoder’s central tenet is that we must imitate Jesus in one respect above all: his renunciation of violence in his humble walk to the cross.

Nation’s illuminating treatment of Yoder’s neglected themes perhaps has the unintended effect of taking attention away from Yoder’s central message — which is why Nation’s book, like all such analyses, should take the reader back to enjoy the original work at first hand.

The Revd Dr Wells, an Hon. Canon of Chichester, is Dean of the Chapel and Research Professor of Christian Ethics at Duke University, USA.

To place an order for this book, email details to CT Bookshop

Job of the week

Professor of Divinity

London and Home Counties

Gresham CollegeFounded 1597 Gresham Professor of Divinity Gresham College has provided free public lectures for over 400 years in the City of London and now operates worldwide via the internet. Fo...  Read More

Signup for job alerts
Top feature

Finding life over death

Finding life over death

Denise Inge, who died on Easter Day this year, discovered that her home was built over a charnel house. This prompted her to write a book exploring the challenge of living well in the face of mortality  Subscribe to read more

Question of the week
Are foodbanks an effective way of dealing with poverty?

To prevent multiple voting, we now ask readers to be logged in. This is free, quick and easy, honestly. Click here to login or register

Top comment

Fighting inequality and corruption in the world

Efforts are being made to combat corruption and sharp practice in global finance. Peter Selby has seen this at first hand  Subscribe to read more

Tue 25 Nov 14 @ 13:39
Pope Francis addresses Parliament of "aged and weary" Europe - @GavinDrake reports for us from Strasbourg http://t.co/KFpO66E1Ls

Tue 25 Nov 14 @ 10:42
The number of people attending midweek services at cathedrals has doubled in the past 10 years https://t.co/JeApjBGxgb