John Howard Yoder (1927–1997)
DUNCAN B. FORRESTER
John Howard Yoder was born in 1927 and raised in an Amish Mennonite family, living in Wayne County, Ohio. He was nurtured as a Christian in Oak Grove Mennonite Church, where his father, a prominent leader, was declared to be “one of the most powerful, influential, and widely known bishops in the Amish Mennonite church during the last four decades of the nineteenth century.”1 Yoder was educated largely in Mennonite schools, but his education was in no way narrow or sectarian. After World War II, with other young American Mennonites, he helped with postwar reconstruction in Europe, played a part in the revival of the Mennonite cause in France, was active in ecumenical discussions, particularly of pacifism, and took a doctorate after studying with Karl Barth and others in Basel, Switzerland.
When Yoder returned from Europe to the United States, he was at the height of his powers, but he held down a variety of jobs, some administrative, some educational, many of them part-time. He taught at the Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart from 1960 to 1965, and from 1965 to 1973 he was at Goshen Biblical Seminary. All the while he was producing essays, articles, and lectures, although he published mainly with small Mennonite publishing houses and was not yet widely known outside Mennonite circles. The publication of The Politics of Jesus in 1972, however, caused something of a theological sensation and gave him a high profile as a constructive and critical theological thinker of the highest rank, one whose work had to be taken seriously by Christian theologians of all varieties. In 1977 Yoder became a full-time professor at the University of Notre Dame, an interesting sign of recognition, which provided him with a platform from which to address a wider audience and an opportunity for dialogue with Roman Catholic theological traditions. He became a respected dialogue partner with a number of legal scholars, perhaps most notably Thomas L. Shaffer,