I'm going to go easier on John Howard Yoder's "The Politics of Jesus" this week. Much of the criticisms I could make of last Friday night's reading would be repititious. However, in the three chapters I read last Friday evening, Yoder articulates some theological positions worthy of our attention.
The first position is his view of worldly powers, particularly what Paul labeled as "principalities and powers" and "thrones and dominions." While in a footnote Yoder acknowledges that these could refer to evil supernatural forces, he focuses primarily upon social and political structures as what Paul was speaking of here. While we could legitimately contest Yoder's emphasis, he's not entirely off the mark here. In Yoder's considering of social structures as powers, he states that while these are fallen, they were originally part of God's plan for humanity before sin marred His creation; society, history, even nature itself would have been impossible without a regulatory system provided by power structures. Now these structures seek to seperate us from the love of God and subject Man to servitude. (Still, God in His providential sovereignty manages these structures for the good.) Yoder cites William Stringfellow's "Free in Obedience" as influencing his views on this subject. An example from Stringfellow's book as to how these structures operate to enslave: you are an up and coming employee in a major business concern, the boss summons you for a private conference, he tells you that while the firm values your work, having too many children could be a hindrance to advancement. It would not be out of bounds to attribute such pressure as the work of principalities or powers. Yoder is not off the mark to include the pressure to control, even to enslave, as included in the Enemy's plan to enslave God's highest creation, Man. Yoder criticizes some Christian traditions, such as the Lutheren tradition, which views all rebellion against these social and political structures as rebellion against God and God's order. Instead of starting with Romans 13 when considering submission to authority, Yoder claims that the real starting point in considering submission is Philippians 2, in which Paul states that Christ on His own accord submitted to the Father in taking on the form of a man and dying for our sins. All submission is voluntary: the wife submits voluntarily to the husband, the slave to the master. Those that submit for the sake of Christ do so voluntarily, as free moral agents of equal worth to those who are submitted to. The Christian response to tyannical powers is defensive, to refuse to be seduced by them. It is Jesus who defeats the powers. I suppose this is the origin of Yoder's theology of Christian pacifism. I will include the scriptures Yoder cites on my study blog.
Yoder began "The Politics of Jesus" with a critique of those who believe that Jesus' orginal teachings had no bearing on contemporary social ethics. Those who think thus believe Jesus believed the world would soon end. When His followers realized this was not so, they had to borrow from another ethical systems, such as Stoicism. However, Yoder does a masterful job in demonstrating the incompatibility of Stoic and Christian morality. Stoicism urges Man to live up to his own nature; it addresses Man in his own dignity. Furthermore, it aims its message at the dominant men in society, not those occupying the lowest rung. The New Testament writers were the first to address the lowliest of society as free moral agents with a responsible ministry to the world. The submission of wives, children and slaves was their moral choice with the purpose of witnessing to God. Their submission was their choice, not a matter of fate. In Stoicism there is no heart change, no expectation of reward. Stoicism assumes that the man of society whom it addresses will always act right once he is aware of the right action to take.
In an earlier review, I noted that I know people who highly respect Yoder and "The Politics of Jesus" and that I found the book a disappointment. I suspect that it is the arguements put forth in what I read last Friday night that produces their enthusiasm. Taken out of context of the entire book, there is great merit in what Yoder writes in this section. Unfortunately, when I read the book as a whole, I cannot endorse it.
I have sixty more pages to read.