Winning Jesus’ way
What would John Howard Yoder tell the Christian right?
The peerless Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder did more than write The Politics of Jesus, which ensured his immortality in college lecture halls. Less famously, he spoke to the people in the pews as well as the scholars.
We can hear Yoder’s popular voice in Radical Christian Discipleship, new from Herald Press. Fifteen years after Yoder’s death, it presents some of his magazine articles and sermons from the 1950s through the 1970s.
It is, as the back cover says, Yoder for the rest of us.
The book is planned as the first of three collections of Yoder’s work. The series theme, “Challenge to the Church,” declares that even 60-year-old articles, written when Yoder was still in his 20s, offer a prophetic word for the 21st century.
Of Yoder’s many memorable words, “politics” stands out. It’s what grabs attention in that celebrated title — the idea of a political Jesus. To say that Jesus was political is to assert that he is the model for our behavior in the organized community — the polis, to use the Greek word at the root of “politics.”
Today, when we think of politics, we fixate on elections and government. In an election year, some think of little else. Right now, the most intense pondering about faith and politics is happening on the Christian right. From the presidential campaign to Senate races to issues of abortion and same-sex marriage, Christian conservatives felt the cultural tide turn against them as the votes were counted.
Does John Howard Yoder have a prophetic word for the frustrated Christian right? He does, but it doesn’t hold the secret to success at the ballot box. In fact, Yoder rejects the idea that Christians ought to spend their time trying to be political winners.
Instead, he echoes the words of Jesus: Take up your cross and follow.
In The Politics of Jesus, Yoder writes: “The cross of Jesus is the extreme demonstration that agape [love] seeks neither effectiveness nor justice [for ourselves]… . Christians are to love like Jesus [and] know that in spite of the way things appear, God’s purposes will prevail with the coming of God’s kingdom… . With this assurance, Christians do not need to seek control, to make things come out right.”
Don’t let worldly political failure worry you, Yoder says. Be faithful, though you may not be effective. Direct your political energy where Jesus did: taking the side of the poor and oppressed. Show compassion and speak humbly. Leave the results to God, who will win in the end.
Yoder says Christians should not obsess over proving they are right. In a 1977 sermon, “Peace as Proclamation,” published in Radical Christian Discipleship, he says Christians are called to proclaim, not prove. To proclaim Christ is to live and love as he did. If our lives show Christ’s way, others will get the message.
Trying to prove you’re right is the essence of worldly politics. By that measure, the Christian right lost Nov. 6. Yoder points us instead to the politics of Jesus, who declared the winners to be those who love the most.
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