A Comprehensive Bibliography of the Writings of John Howard Yoder

By Nation, Mark Thiessen | Mennonite Quarterly Review, January 1997 | Go to article overview
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A Comprehensive Bibliography of the Writings of John Howard Yoder


Nation, Mark Thiessen, Mennonite Quarterly Review


Ten years after The Politics of Jesus was first published, Edward LeRoy Long Jr. stated that it "has become as frequently cited in discussions of social ethics as Paul Ramsey's Deeds and Rules in the discussion of norm and context." (1) More recently, Philip Wogaman, in Christian Ethics: A Historical Introduction, selected John Howard Yoder as one of a handful of people who deserved their own section in his chapter on "Formative Christian Moral Thinkers" in the twentieth century. He titled the section, "John Howard Yoder and the 'Politics of Jesus.'" (2) James McClendon pays tribute to the importance of Yoder's theology by opening his three-volume systematic theology with the following sentence: "Nineteen seventy-four, I believe, was the year I read John Yoder's Politics of Jesus." (3) Stanley Hauerwas has said that "when Christians look back on this century of theology in America The Politics of Jesus will be seen as a new beginning." (4) Without question, Politics exhibits a depth of knowledge in biblical scholarship, historical theology and ethical issues as well as a serious commitment to ecumenical dialogue. Beyond these strengths, to a number of us it conveys a compelling vision of what it means to be Christian, to be church in the midst of the world.

Moreover, what many of us have come to see is that John Howard Yoder is much more than the author of one significant book. Some would say, with James Gustafson, that Yoder is "the most eloquent and persuasive American" representing what Gustafson referred to as a Protestant "historicist" view. (5) Others have come to believe that Yoder is, arguably, the most profound theologian ever produced by the Mennonite church and one of the most significant theologians of the twentieth century. Furthermore, we would agree with Gustafson that "the radical Christian ethics of Yoder mark a substantive position for which there are many sound defenses; to opt against it is to opt against some fundamental claims of traditional Christianity." (6) But then why is it that more have not been persuaded by Yoder's arguments? Of course, there are a variety of reasons; one of them, however, is not a lack of sound defenses by Yoder. Quite the contrary. This bibliography should demonstrate beyond doubt that John Howard Yoder has given powerful voice to "fundamental claims of traditional Christianity" that are difficult to ignore. It should also demonstrate that Yoder has been on the same theological trajectory since the late 1940s.

Yoder has made significant contributions to seven different aspects of the life of the church. In 1947 he published his first article, which appeared in the denominational magazine of his own church, the Mennonite church. Many times during the next fifty years he gave lectures or wrote articles that related directly to the life of the Mennonite church, contributing to its understanding of discipleship and missions and more broadly to a claiming of its Anabaptist heritage. This is his first area of contribution.

Two years later Yoder went to Europe to direct Mennonite Central Committee's post war relief effort in France. While in Europe he pursued a second interest, quickly getting involved in ecumenical conversations. From that point forward he pushed his own church more actively to acknowledge the unity of the church across denominational lines. He argued for the integrity of his own tradition while pursuing ecumenical (and inter-faith) dialogue, attempting faithfully to interpret and critique those from other theological traditions and arguing that the renunciation of violence is part and parcel of ecumenical relations.

Third, Yoder capped off his academic training by doing a doctoral dissertation at the University of Basel on the debates between his own spiritual ancestors, the Anabaptists, and Zwingli in sixteenth-century Switzerland. Ever since this initial research he has served as translator for some of the primary writings of the Anabaptists, contributed to the discussions regarding contemporary appropriations of this movement and helped substantially in the fostering of broad-based conversations around the theological typology variously characterized as believers" church, free church, Baptist or Radical Reformation tradition.

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