I can’t help but think that Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus is one of the most important books of the 20th century. Reading through it for the second time (the first time was during undergrad) has really allowed me to spend time “meditating” on its content. This isn’t to say that it is one of the best written books I’ve encountered. In fact, Yoder’s short chapters often leave the reader hanging, desiring more exposition. But perhaps that is one of its strengths. Rather than overloading the reader with reasons and further textual proofs he succinctly makes his points and moves on. The lingering that arises in the reader therefore causes him/her to ponder further the snippet of truth just presented. It is almost an artistic veiling that resists the urge to say too much. Or perhaps even more correct: the veiling is the epistemological effect of the ontological resistance of Truth.
That said, for all the positive that comes from The Politics of Jesus, I do have two general questions/concerns about Yoder’s thesis:
(1) Yoder asserts that the “church” is not equipped or intended to be offensive, but merely defensive. Quoting Berkhof, Yoder agrees that
One is not called to do more than one can do by simply believing. Our duty is not to bring the powers to their knees. This is Jesus Christ’s own task. He has taken care of this thus far and will continue to do so. We are responsible for the defense, just because He takes care of the offense. Ours it is to hold the Powers, their seduction, and their enslavement, at a distance… Our weapon is to stay close to Him and thus to remain out of the reach of the drawing power of the Powers (149).
While I appreciate Yoder’s treatment of the church’s otherness as being subordinately revolutionary, I can’t help but wonder if he is missing something profoundly important in the task of those who claim to follow Jesus. That is, sure, Jesus “takes care of the offense.” But isn’t that through the material existence of the activity of his followers? Does Yoder himself not claim that their very existence signals the defeat of the Powers as they proclaim the cross? I understand his unwillingness to in any way support the use of violence in pursuit of liberation. But even from within a pacifistic paradigm one need not remain passive or defensive. In fact, it seems that the opposite is the case, and would be more powerful: namely, through the “church’s” adamant rejection of violent means of liberation they expose the Powers’ weakness in using violence as the only means of its power. If death is the Powers’ only stranglehold then by virtue of death being overcome in Christ their power is already negated. Therefore, with the Powers characterized by an unrecognized impotence, the “church” must then actively pursue offensive means in order to expose and overcome any vestiges of oppression that remain. And while Yoder might not disagree, how is this not “offensive”?
(2) He claims that the apostles retained Jesus’ radical social ethic of liberation, even in light of Paul’s and Peter’s insistence on the continuation of certain social/cultural expression of inequality (ex. women with headcovering, being obedient to government, etc.). I guess what I’m wondering is: was not Jesus more radical than Paul et al regarding egalitarian ethics?