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Yoder’s Warsaw Lectures

In the last year, several books by John Howard Yoder have been posthumously published, all concerned in various ways with the issue of nonviolence. The biggest of these is, of course, Yoder’s Christian Attitudes to War, Peace, and Revolution. The most anticipated, however, may well have been The War of the Lamb. Less heralded is the most recently published of the three, Nonviolence: A Brief History. However, I would perhaps recommend Nonviolence even more highly than The War of the Lamb.

There are several reasons for this. First of all, Nonviolence and The War of the Lamb have significant overlap—in terms of subject matter, actual content, and size/approachability. They both contain the same chapters—“From the Wars of Joshua to Jewish Pacifism” and “The Science of Conflict”—which to my mind is indicative of how closely tied the books are, yet also how different they are, editorially speaking. It’s the editorial difference that leads me to commend Nonviolence over The War of the Lamb.

My concern is that the editors of The War of the Lamb seem to have taken too many liberties in their work of crafting the book form of these essays. Comparing the shared chapters between the two volumes is quite revealing. In Nonviolence, for example, there are a total of 6 footnotes in “From the Wars of Joshua to Jewish Pacifism,” all of which the editors make clear in their introduction are their own addition to the text. In The War of the Lamb, by contrast, “From the Wars of Joshua to Jewish Pacifism” contains 16 footnotes, many of which speak in the first person, as though they are in fact from Yoder himself, though they appear to be editorial additions (The War of the Lamb also contains some footnotes that the editors claim as their own).

These differences between the books makes me worry that the editors of The War of The Lamb took some liberties that served to blur Yoder’s voice with their own. In particular, it seems that Glen Stassen’s “just peacemaking” project lurks in the background of certain editorial decisions. For example, the back cover summary, Stassen’s introductory essay, the unspecified editorial additions to the footnotes and subtitles of the chapters—these all work to give the impression that the argument of Yoder’s book supports Stassen’s own project, which is centered around a rapprochement of the just war tradition and pacifism. Indeed, the back cover “summarizes” the book as arguing that the “Christian just war and Christian pacifist traditions are basically compatible.” As I have argued on this blog, this reading of Yoder’s work is patently false. Most distressingly, the text of The War of the Lamb actually refutes the back cover’s summary of it. Yoder is straightforward that his dialogical approach to the just war tradition is not because he thought it complementary to pacifism in any sense:

I know from having tested it for thirty years from inside that the just war tradition is not credible. I don’t dialogue with it because I think it is credible, but because it is the language that people, who I believe bear the image of God, abuse to authorize themselves to destroy other bearers of that image. (p. 116)

Fortunately, as the above quote demonstrates, Yoder’s voice rings through, and thus the book still has very real and indispensable value. However, those of us interested in Yoder’s work being disseminated simply for its own sake and in its original form have reason to be disappointed by the way in which this book was packaged and slanted towards bolstering a project that was not, in any explicit sense, Yoder’s own.

Nonviolence is a different matter altogether. Many of the same themes are covered in similar depth, but the editorial judiciousness is deeply refreshing. The editors of Nonviolence, no less than Stassen, are invested in advancing arguments about how Yoder ought to be read and the direction of his thought. However, none of this agenda is brought to bear on the text of the lectures in the way that Stassen’s just peacemaking seems to appear in The War of the Lamb. For this kind of editorial judiciousness, I am very grateful.

Both of the books are indispensable and very helpful. I highly recommend both. My preference for Nonviolence reflects my judgment that scholars ought to separate clearly the tasks of presenting Yoder’s own thought from offering their own reflections upon it.


  1. aew wrote:

    Using the criteria that “scholars ought to separate clearly the tasks of presenting Yoder’s own thought from offering their own reflections upon it,” how would you assess Ochs’ and Cartwright’s job of editing Jewish-Christian Schism Revisited? This isn’t a rhetorical question: just honestly interested in what you think.

    Friday, June 25, 2010 at 7:05 pm | Permalink
  2. Halden wrote:

    Yeah, I think their work there was too heavy-handed as well, but in a different way. In that case it wasn’t an effort to covertly slant Yoder in a particular direction, but more of a kind of critical “fencing-in” of Yoder’s argument within the book itself. It just seems to me like a book should be allowed to stand on its own, and then be subsequently critiqued after it has been read as a whole. In JCSR every single chapter is framed with extensive critique from Peter Ochs. To me that seemed to break up the flow and take away from the book as a whole. Criticism shouldn’t be internal to a book in that manner, especially a posthumously published book. At least in my opinion.

    I actually feel similar about The Royal Priesthood, though obviously to a lesser extent since at least it doesn’t insert critique throughout the book.

    Friday, June 25, 2010 at 7:13 pm | Permalink
  3. aew wrote:

    That sounds like a correct analysis to me. In terms of how they actually edited the text, Ochs and Cartwright did a good job.

    Saturday, June 26, 2010 at 7:04 am | Permalink
  4. D C Cramer wrote:

    Having read War of the Lamb, I agree with your assessment. And I’m even more so looking forward to Nonviolence, given your endorsement here. Thanks!

    Saturday, June 26, 2010 at 3:07 pm | Permalink
  5. I have to say that although I want to read Nonviolence (I’ve seen some of the chapters as essays Yoder wrote while at the Kroc Institute), I think you wrong the editors of War of the Lamb. They very carefully distinguish between the footnotes by Yoder and those by them. There is also two different senses of “compatible” being used that you seem to have missed.

    I had assumed that War of the Lamb would simply rehash material from Yoder and the essays would only be loosely connected as in The Priestly Kingdom. But Yoder clearly was in the process of reworking material for a very tightly argued book–maybe his best since POJ. I think the editors (mainly Stassen) brought this out.

    Saturday, July 3, 2010 at 4:57 am | Permalink
  6. Andy Alexis-Baker wrote:

    The Warsaw lectures add very little to what Yoder has already written. Although the editors and publisher claim that it represents his most sustained engagement with the civil rights movement, he does not really “engage” with it at all; he merely recounts a history of that struggle for people in a far away land. There are some helpful correctives in the book, such as his very positive assessment of Tolstoy, which counterbalances his extremely negative overview of Tolstoy in Christian Attitudes to War, Peace and Revolution. But by and large, the book is not all that necessary reading for studying Yoder.

    As far as editing the text of the Warsaw lectures, Marten added footnotes, which mostly consist in finding the sources where Yoder got his quotations and such, or adding a few explanatory notes for words or historical references. Having read the original unpublished works, however, I know that they had to do some work on the text at a few points. The original version had lots of Yoder’s handwritten notes in the margins correcting the text, moving material around and other work. They followed Yoder’s own editing for the most part. There is an index. However it is not always helpful. Sometimes it functions more like a concordance than an index. (In my biased opinion, Christian Attitudes to War, Peace and Revolution, has the best index of any of his books….partly because I learned from professional indexing books on how to actually do it and do it right! Yoder, I thought, deserved that kind of careful training on my part.)

    War of the Lamb on the other hand has some extremely important chapters, notably the first chapter, “Theological Critique of Violence” and his chapter where he uses traditional Protestant iconoclasm to critique violence. Those are just fabulous chapters. I believe that book is probably his best book to date. As far as the editing goes, I think you have been too harsh on them and most people do not realize how much work other people have always put into Yoder’s books. The Politics of Jesus, for example, would never have seen the light of day without the tireless work of C.J. Dyck, who put his own career on hold for several years to edit those lectures, and edit them extensively. That meant putting some of YOder’s words into footnotes, cutting some of them, rearranging them etc. When Yoder finished writing something he had a hard time bringing it to publishable form because he simply moved on to the next project. All of his major works have been edited, some of them extensively.

    Taking Yoder’s words and putting them to footnotes instead of in the text is not distorting Yoder, but necessary at times to keep his argument flowing in the text itself, and like I said, Yoder allowed people to do that while he was alive and depended on them to do it. That said, Glen and Mark did not do as good a job as they could have editing the text.

    The editors were lax in looking up page references and finding Yoder’s sources when he cited something, which I think is lazy. They left YOder’s lazy “ff.” and did not bother to find exact pages for instance. Or take page 32 in which there is a “quote” from an anabpatist that is not footnoted or sourced (it may even be a paraphrase). That was lazy editing on Stassen and Nation’s part. There are numerous examples like this in the text. They should have taken the time to source these things. Ted Koontz and I spent enormous energy tracking down sources for CAWPR. Just two more: page 214n2, Yoder’s sentence in the text is about Joseph Allen’s book, but the note is to RAmsey. Note 3 is to Allen. The editor’s mixed up the footnotes and put 3 where 2 should be. ON page 205n21, the link is bad. all CAPS are needed for the link. There are more examples I could give of problems like that.

    There are other things the editors could have done that would have strengthed the text. For instance, Yoder wrote the first chapter a long time ago when male pronouns for God were standard. He did the same in the first edition of POJ. But in the second edition, those pronouns are taken out and God is not referred to in gendered language. Thus from Yoder’s own growth, they could have edited those gendered pronouns out. This shows a lack of familiarity with how other people, including Yoder himself” edited previous works.

    Once again the index is not very helpful. For instance, the entries to Garrison and Balou are to passing mentions that say nothing. It is annoying when editors make indexes that add entries like that. It wastes readers’ time thinking Yoder said something substantive, but he didn’t. A few hundred pages of reading in index guild books could correct it. And anybody who wants to claim the title “editor” should be forced by publishers to take the time to do these things correctly.

    There are more serious problems though. In page 60 a quote is used, but it is not clear if it is a quote because there is no citation. Again, laxity in seeking out sources. If it was not a quote, no quotations marks should have been used.

    On page 206n5, there is a reference to Glen Stassen’s work from 2003, which, since Yoder died in 1997, had to have been Stassen’s addition, but that is presented as if it were Yoder’s. This raises the question of what other notes were not marked off as editorial comment. Unfortunately the introduction, which STassen wrote (please note that Mark NAtion did not help to write the introduction or sign off on it), gives absolutely no clue as to their editorial method, where one can find the original manuscripts to compare them (they are not the MCUSA archives for public access, I checked).

    The headings in many of the chapters are not Yoder’s own headings, and they do not appear to be in Yoder’s own words. Adding headings is not wrong, we did that in CAWPR. But we tried our best to find some words in the text and use Yoder’s own language and words to make those headings. Headings allow people to follow the argument a little easier. But they can distort the text if an editor puts an interpretation on the text with the heading. I believe some of the headings in this book are not quite up to par and they gave us no indication that they added these headings. But they most certainly did. If Mark had added them, I would not be mistrustful, but Stassen sees his own image everywhere, and wants to stamp his face on everything he can (there are some of us though who he will not be able to co-opt so easily).

    All that is to say that yes the editors, especially Glen Stassen could have been forthright about their editorial method, and obviously needed to do some work if they wanted that title. There is evidence to suggest that they added things to the text without letting readers know they did so, particularly in the footnotes, which contain numerous errors, and in the headings in the chapters (some are added, some are not). (And I will leave Stassen’s intro aside…again, he sees his own image in things).

    But, nevertheless this book is really good, in my estimation it is one of his very best. I’ve read perhaps 90% of everything Yoder ever published, and a large chunk of what is yet to be published, and listened to hundreds of hours of audio recordings of Yoder. And I do think this book is top-notch in his corpus. We are in Mark and yes Glen Stassen’s debt for making sure the book got published at all.

    I think, that Halden has been a little hard on Cartwright, given that Yoder himself approved of the way Royal Priesthood was put together. The Jewish-Christian Schism book contains a lot of dialogue, but I think Yoder would have appreciated it immensely. The only problem is that he was not around to reply to Och’s analysis.

    Thursday, July 8, 2010 at 8:50 am | Permalink
  7. Andy Alexis-Baker wrote:

    In the above, I did not mean to say you have been too harsh on the editors of War of the Lamb. I think that only with Cartwright. Nevertheless, I still think War of the Lamb is far superior to the Warsaw lectures book.

    Thursday, July 8, 2010 at 8:58 am | Permalink
  8. Brad A. wrote:

    This is helpful, Andy. Thanks.

    Thursday, July 8, 2010 at 3:35 pm | Permalink
  9. myles wrote:

    Thanks to Halden for the kind editorial words. As one of the editors of the Warsaw book, let me offer a brief apologia for what I take to be the significance of the book:

    As Andy points out, the themes which are present in the Warsaw Lectures are not entirely foreign to Yoder’s work. He deals in other places with the social sciences, MLK Jr, and other figures. I would say that his work specifically on the Catholic tradition in this manner is more substantial than what appears in other places, but the significance of the piece lies rather in the sustained argument of the work.

    Many of Yoder’s works are essay-driven, which is to say, they draw together works synchronically across a particular theme. While this approach is helpful in terms of gathering together thoughts from otherwise scattered fields, it has the effect of obscuring chronology and giving the unintended impression that Yoder thought the same thing all the time about all things. This is patently not the case. Yoder’s conversation partners and social location changed radically from his time in France until his death. And accordingly, so did his thinking about the nature of nonviolence.

    Thus, the benefit of having a monograph length work from the 1980s is significant in that it helps us see what has changed since the work he that made his name: how is Yoder putting the pieces together in ways that he did not, in say, Christian Witness to the State or Original Revolution? Where does Jesus factor into nonviolence is ways unlike Christian Witness? What argument is being made about the synthetic nature of various approaches to nonviolence? I’d argue that what’s being levied here is not incongruous, but significantly different.

    Again, thanks to Halden and Andy for reviewing this.

    Saturday, July 10, 2010 at 5:19 am | Permalink
  10. myles wrote:

    As to the argument that I think Warsaw is making: I think Andy points to it best in his review over at Jesus Radicals where he suggests that what is going on here is a kind of “natural theology”. I’d actually suggest it’s close to a kind of “natural law”. Now–what to make of this kind of argument remains the next step with regards to interpreting Yoder’s corpus: is this an idiosyncratic move, or is this a larger turn in Yoder’s corpus?

    Saturday, July 10, 2010 at 5:46 am | Permalink
  11. Andy Alexis-Baker wrote:

    Yeah the book is only 150 pages or so, and is really a light read. It makes helpful corrections and counterbalances to things he says elsewhere, particularly CAWPR. The natural theology that one can see emerging in this text also shines through in many other Yoder writings, so it is not necessarily essential to get that. But what it might do is help bring it out a little better. Of course, Yoder would hate that suggestion. But I think it is a far more christocentric type natural theology than what is traditionally under that name. It is in fact a mirror of Barth’s work. Glad you thought favorably of my review Myles. I put that up within weeks of its release! Thanks for your work in getting it out tot he public!!! I had wanted to get a journal to allow me to review it but they all had already assigned the text. My review of War of the Lamb will in the Mennonite Quarterly Review sometime soon.

    One more point about editorial additions in War of the Lamb: chapter 4 is taken from the Warsaw lectures, (chapter 6). If you compare the chapters you can see that the headings in War of the Lamb are missing in the actual Warsaw lectures. They are not in the original typed Warsaw papers either. Thus Stassen added them, but did not make note of it.

    But again, War of the Lamb is superb. In my humble opinion, his very best.

    Saturday, July 10, 2010 at 10:13 am | Permalink
  12. myles wrote:

    Thanks, Andy. I disagree with you on the Yoder-Barth connection, as I see it as one Yoder undermines pretty directly, but that’s a different conversation.

    Saturday, July 10, 2010 at 12:49 pm | Permalink
  13. Andy Alexis-Baker wrote:

    Well it is something of a different conversation and something of the same one. I do not at all buy the argument that Yoder had several radical shifts in his theology, particularly in the way Martens puts it, so that in the end Yoder assimilates theology into secular sociology and looses the particularity of Jesus. There is a radical continuity in Yoder’s work even on this issue.

    I have an essay coming out in the Scottish Journal of Theology that argues that we should read Barth as providing a Christologically disciplined natural theology: that is, he reframes what it means to be human in terms of Christ (and particularly the anhypostatic-enhypostatic doctrine) and argues that all of reality revolves around this. It is not knowable apart from Christ beyond vague shadows, but it is a kind of natural theology Christologically disciplined. Yoder does a very similar thing and had done so for most of his career (I can argue this chronologically if you like, but I’ll just point to Branson Parler’s excellent essay in Radical Ecumenicity for one strand of that argument).

    So I don’t accept the radical changes and discontinuities theses that lead to Yoder being accused of loosing his faith or being a secular liberal at the end of his life (or at least inadvertently being a closet liberal). It just shows a lack of familiarity with his works as a whole. That is in part Yoder’s fault for his occasional work and refusal to do any systematic work of note. But ultimately it is not fair to him as a whole.

    I personally would not call any of this “natural law” because that may, depending on how it is then nuanced, unmoore his work from Christology. But that is the same worry Barth and Yoder had with “natural theology” as it had been construed.

    Monday, July 12, 2010 at 3:21 pm | Permalink
  14. Myles wrote:

    Thanks, Andy. Again, this is too large of an argument to have on a blog vis-a-vis the chronology issue–there’s too many moving parts–but I see there as some big movement. Again, part of the problem of the essayist nature of his works is that chronology gets completely obscured, such that Jesus can show up in a late 1980s work, but the essay itself is from the 1960s. Arguments of chronology have to have careful reconstruction of the origins of the essays within the larger publications. My problem with 90% of Yoder scholarship is that it’s just not careful readings, taking continuity for granted in ways that we wouldn’t do for any other scholar. No one assumes that Barth I.1 and Barth IV.2 are exactly the same, for example; why does Yoder get that pass?

    It’s fairly pejorative to say that disagreement in conclusions based on a chronological reading is a “lack of familliarity”. I won’t argue that he’s a “closet liberal” or “losing his faith”–that would be too much, I think. But I will argue that there are shifts which occur, as I alluded above–his positioning of Jesus in Warsaw is very different than the ‘Christocentric ethic’ of Politics. It’s just not the same thing. In Warsaw, Jesus is part of a larger history, whereas in Politics, Jesus reframes the issues. The literature on the chronological shifts is just now being written, but I think that Martens is mostly right on with his assertions. His forthcoming book with Cascade will flesh a lot of this out.

    Tuesday, July 13, 2010 at 4:53 am | Permalink
  15. Andy Alexis-Baker wrote:

    “In Warsaw, Jesus is part of a larger history, whereas in Politics, Jesus reframes the issues.”

    That is the rub. I am pretty familiar with Yoder and chronological reading. I agree with you about some of that. In one of my essays criticizing people who use him to justify policing I take them to task on that very issue.

    But your statement is very close to saying that by 1983 Yoder had subsumed Jesus into a larger history than Jesus himself. I disagree completely with that way of reading him.

    That is why my use of “natural theology” in the Jesus Radicals review could be taken completely wrong if by that you thought I meant that he unhinged his nonviolence from Christology. That is why I emphasized that he has continuity with Barth on this issue and is actually saying that Jesus really did change reality, the grain of the universe, and so reframes what it means to be human, though in a slightly different way than Barth by making nonviolence part of the pattern.

    If that will lead to misunderstanding, that “natural theology” language, then I am more than willing to completley drop it, because both Barth and Yoder would not be happy with it.

    In fac tyou cannot find one place where Yoder will come out and say, I have changed my mind on this or that major issue. I have changed my mind that Jesus is the center of history and not just one figure within it. When asked to write about how Karl Barth changed his mind, Yoder wrote an essay entitled “How Karl Barth Changed HIS Mind.”

    I am not arguing that he did not develop intellectually. I would definitely argue, however, that most of what he says has continuity over time, and that he personally prided himself in never having to change his mind because he felt that he got it right int he first place (I have heard several of his former colleagues at AMBS say they had conversations with him where he told them something just like that). But Yoder did not have any great breakthroughs that caused him to see Jesus as less central, as seeing secular liberalism as somehow wider than Jesus. The changes in Yoder are expansions and learning, not major shifts in his outlook. For instance, in researching CAWPR we looked at his syllabus and class notes from 1960′s to 1996. All that time he changed very little in what he said or taught.

    Martens, and apparently yourself, are using a nitpicking chronology that rips isolated pieces out of their corpus to turn Yoder into a Protestant liberal. Martens says as much: “he is merely presenting a form of Christianity that is but a stepping stone to assimilation into secularism” (Martens, Sacraments in the Thought of John Howard Yoder, 73).

    Again Branson Parler has an excellent essay in Radical Ecumenicity that answers Martens very well.

    Tuesday, July 13, 2010 at 6:41 am | Permalink
  16. Andy Alexis-Baker wrote:

    Again, though Miles, I am grateful for your work in getting out those Warsaw lectures, and I am also very grateful that you and Martens did not use the introduction to try and tear him down. It is to your great credit that you refrained from using that introduction to make those arguments, though Martens did raise the question, he did not try to pursue it any more than that. Again, that was wise and is a great credit to both of you.

    Tuesday, July 13, 2010 at 6:45 am | Permalink
  17. Myles wrote:

    Our concern, Andy, in getting these texts out is that any argument about Yoder has to be made from texts. Introductions can raise questions about the texts, but, as you say, the arguments about the texts should be made elsewhere. As to the chronological question, I wouldn’t call it “nitpicking” so much as reading collections of essays as they were composed–chronologically–such that Priestly Kingdom doesn’t get read as “a 1984 document”, so much as a collection of pieces, some of which appeared ten years earlier, and the same with For the Nations, and so on. Again, why does Yoder not get the same treatment as other figures? Why the reticence to examine his writings in these ways?

    Conrad Grebel Review is doing a full issue on the book in Spring 2011, I believe. Look forward to your thoughts.

    Tuesday, July 13, 2010 at 10:11 am | Permalink
  18. dbarber wrote:

    Myles, regarding the natural law / theology reading — I like this idea insofar as it would broaden the context in which Yoder’s interests are located. But what, i’m wondering, would such a reading make of Yoder’s claims, in his writings on the Jewish-Christian schism, that it (the schism, but the principle applies more broadly to historical effects) did not have to be. Do you think such a principle can coexist with claims about something called “nature”?

    Tuesday, July 13, 2010 at 12:52 pm | Permalink
  19. Andy Alexis-Baker wrote:


    I agree: introductions are not places to repudiate an author or to somehow put them on board with one’s own agenda (too bad Stassen does not agree with us on that!). We can argue in journals, books and online about how to receive it.

    I am not at all saying that Yoder did not learn things, only that he did not throw away his central conviction that Jesus is Lord of history, not the reverse. That is Paul Martens’ accusation. And that seems to be what you mean when you say “natural law” or “natural theology.” That is not how I meant “natural theology” at all. I think the review I did at JR made that clear…at least I hope it did. When I use it I am using it in a very Christocentric way, much like Hauerwas in his Gifford lectures, but that is another matter.

    I am not at all reticent to examine Yoder’s essays and books in chronological order. As I said, I did some of that in a published essay called “Unbinding Yoder from Just Policing” and accuse Jim Wallis and a few others of distorting Yoder’s work by claiming that “at the end of his life” he was working on a “systematic theology” of policing. That is a bunch of rubbish and in their case really is unfamiliarity with Yoder (they often cite only POJ, 204). Branson Parler also examines Yoder’s work in a detailed chronology. And he does a really good job with it.

    So the problem is not that some readers of Yoder want to read his work carefully and see development and changes. The problem is when somebody puts an artificial grid onto his work. Martens does not just read him chronologically, but uncharitably at points and does not take him at his word. Instead, for Martens, at the beginning of his career, Yoder believed Jesus was lord of history, then in the middle he waters that down a little, but by the end of his life he as Martens puts it, Yoder presents “a form of Christianity that is but a stepping stone to assimilation into secularism.” That is not coming from a careful read of Yoder’s work and charitable view of his overall project, nor does it take him at his word, even at the end. For instance, what does Yoder do in the War of the Lamb, his last planned book? Does he repudiate that Jesus is lord of history or subsume Jesus into some larger narrative of nonviolence? That in and of itself repudiates Martens’ thesis. Fact is, Martens’ accusation is not all that new (only in the detailed chronology). People have accused Yoder of subsuming theology to ethics since POJ. It’s a misreading, as Yoder himself states in the preface to the 2nd edition published in 1994. War of the Lamb, in my opinion, should help repudiate such views, but some folks are too bent on destruction.

    That said, despite the will to see if this article was really written in 1960 though only published in 1980, when Yoder wrote a piece in 1960 but then chooses to publish it in 1980, it represents for him not merely a 1960 thought, but also a 1980 thought (unless he were to specifically say differently). Thus Priestly Kingdom is not merely a collection of past thoughts, but of thoughts that Yoder thought were still relevant and ones he still believed in at the time of publication, and ones he never repudiated.

    BTW: I am aware of the upcoming issue of CGR, and am not very hopeful that particular journal will be very fair. I’d be happier if MQR were doing an issue. Perhaps Jeremy Bergen, being the new editor at CGR, will shift their direction. I doubt it, but maybe. I will have a book review in the issue: Radical Ecumenicity.

    Tuesday, July 13, 2010 at 2:22 pm | Permalink
  20. Andy Alexis-Baker wrote:

    The issue is how we know what “nature” is. If nature is defined by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, so that we see what it means to actually be human in Jesus, then we can say that Barth and Yoder both provide us with a “natural theology” because they both make that claim. Jesus shows us very clearly what it means to be a “creature”: that is our nature. If however, we want to say that there is some mooring outside of Christ that can get us to any substantive view of God or God’s will for out lives, then that would be something neither Barth nor Yoder would assent to. As Barth says, Jesus shows us ‘what life is’ and as such shows us what a properly ‘natural theology’ involves:

    “It is with the whole man in what is almost exclusively his ‘natural’ existence in the narrower sense, his physical existence, his existence as it is determined by the external form and force of the cosmos to which he belongs. . . . He is delivered from every torment and embarrassment and he can breathe again. He can be a man again—a whole man in this elemental sense. His existence as a creature in the natural cosmos is normalized. We must not ignore or expunge the phrase—as a creature in the natural cosmos. It is as such that he is radically blessed by the miracles of Jesus” (CD, IV/2, 222).

    Tuesday, July 13, 2010 at 2:28 pm | Permalink
  21. dbarber wrote:

    Andy, while I obviously recognize what you say — it is a rather common point — I’m not sure how it addresses my question.

    Tuesday, July 13, 2010 at 2:38 pm | Permalink
  22. Andy Alexis-Baker wrote:


    I think that Yoder did not think people should split from each other in order to be faithful. Only when one group uses violence to drive out another group is a split necessary, and then it is not necessary because of faithfulness, but because unfaithfulness drove it that way. For him, Christians have a mandate to be patient and listen to others and any split that we initiate is by definition unfaithful. Only when the Anabaptists were driven out of the towns and churches was their a split in his reading. Same with Christian/Jewish thing, accept Christians have a lot of blame unlike the Anabaptists. I think that is what Yoder meant by “it did not have to be.” He did not mean that Jesus did not matter and could have been subsumed under a larger heading of “Judaism” or something. I think it could coexist with “nature” in that the “nature” of the church is christologically defined in a way that would preclude a radical split so we can go be holy on a mountaintop.

    Tuesday, July 13, 2010 at 2:55 pm | Permalink
  23. dbarber wrote:

    Andy, I am now completely perplexed, but that’s fine. Perhaps my point was unclear: it is that the idea of things not having to be implies a rather strong commitment to contingency — he means this specifically, of course, with regard to historical events, but I think it’s fair to generalize somewhat. So… if there is a strong commitment to contingency, wouldn’t this make it difficult to speak of nature, given that nature itself (and at the very least our conception of nature) would also then be contingent. I’m just curious about the tension here, if Myles, or you, or whomever, had any thoughts on it.

    Tuesday, July 13, 2010 at 7:16 pm | Permalink
  24. Charlie Collier wrote:

    Halden goes out of town, and I assume nothing is happening on his blog!

    Andy, thanks for sharing your thoughts about the various recent Yoder publications. I’m also interested in this emerging debate with Myles and Paul Martens (FYI: we’re publishing Martens’s book-length treatment of the subject, “The Heterodox Yoder?,” sometime in 2011, so stay tuned).

    But I wonder if you might say more about this claim: “That is why I emphasized that he has continuity with Barth on this issue and is actually saying that Jesus really did change reality, the grain of the universe, and so reframes what it means to be human, though in a slightly different way than Barth by making nonviolence part of the pattern.”

    Parsed in a particular way, I might agree with this—if it’s the “reality” of “the world” (as Yoder typically construed “the world,” and not as our friendly apocalypticists want to) that is changed by Jesus, then I agree with the claim.

    But I think Yoder actually wanted to say more fundamentally that this wasn’t to change reality at all, but rather to reveal it. “The world” under the dominion of the powers is actually a form of unreality, or fallen reality, even a privation of reality, and thus Jesus in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension is most accurately described not as having changed reality, or the grain of the universe, but as having manifested it to us.

    At least that’s how I read passages like this one:

    “[T]he choice of Jesus was ontological: it risks an option in favor of the restored vision
    of how things really are. It has always been true that suffering creates shalom.
    Motherhood has always meant that. Servanthood has always meant that. Healing has
    always meant that. Tilling the soil has always meant that. Priesthood has always
    meant that. Prophesy has always meant that. What Jesus did—and we might say it
    with reminiscence of Scholastic christological categories—was that he renewed the
    definition of kingship to fit with the priesthood and prophecy. He saw that the
    suffering servant is king as much as he is priest and prophet. The cross is neither
    foolish nor weak, but natural. ”

    _For the Nations_, p. 212.

    Wednesday, July 14, 2010 at 11:00 am | Permalink
  25. dbarber wrote:

    Charlie’s interpretation seems right to me. The question that would then emerge for Yoder, i think, regards discourse, or signification, or as Charlie says “manifestation.” Nature always emerges discursively, via a sign, or through a manifestation. So, how is one to think the relation between nature and signification? Lurking here is the Barthian answer whereby nature becomes nature only through Christology. What’s interesting to me, however, is that Yoder appears to be moving beyond that. So what would it mean to think the relation between nature and signification without falling into the foundationalism of natural law or the foundationalism of Christology?

    Wednesday, July 14, 2010 at 1:19 pm | Permalink
  26. Andy Alexis-Baker wrote:

    Charlie I agree with you. “Reveal” is a much better word than “change” for what happens here. But it is not as if that revelation can happen outside of Christ. I suppose if we do not say reveal but insist on change, this could lead to supercessionism and any number of other issues such a word brings up.

    But if by this we would take Yoder to mean that Jesus is just a figure in a larger history, as Myles suggests Yoder means (and Martens suggests this and says it is secularism), then it is a misreading and misuse. Only Jesus can reveal it because only Jesus is its author. He thinks this is unique to Yoder, nothing to do with Barth. But even Barth acknowledges that human “nature” has always had this shape:

    “The point has also to be considered that no single [person] and therefore no criminal is identical with the indwelling wolf. It is not his nature. It belongs to the corruption of his nature. All [people] know, either in an obscure and feeble or perhaps a clear and forceful way, that they are ordained and disposed to respect human life, and this in a far more original form than can be said of the evil readiness to kill. In this respect, too, [humanity] has been created good and not evil. At bottom, he knows very well that the life of his fellow [human] is sacred and protected against him and that he ought not to murder. Even if he does kill, and kills arbitrarily, criminally and murderously, whether from hunger for bread or money, from exotic lust or passion, or from revenge or pure delight in killing, he does not do so without at least trying to justify himself by one or other of these motives.” (Barth, CD III/4, 414).

    And for Barth, “nature” here has to do with election, and election has to do with Jesus alone, and only enhypostatically with the rest of us. The “real” human is the obedient human, the one subservient to God, the one whose first ethical act is to pray, to keep the Sabbath, to confess. That is revealed in the life of Christ. That is the way God always intended it, but only Jesus actually reveals it and takes us up in it. That is a natural theology, but christologically disciplined. I think Yoder is bent in this direction, not in a “secularization” direction.

    I guess I was thinking along these lines…

    Wednesday, July 14, 2010 at 2:51 pm | Permalink
  27. Charlie Collier wrote:

    Dan, I’m not sure what you mean by christological foundationalism, so I’d be interested in hearing more about that and about how you see Yoder moving beyond it.

    Thursday, July 15, 2010 at 6:05 am | Permalink
  28. dbarber wrote:

    I meant Christological foundationalism as a shorthand for Barth’s position. Foundationalist in reference to the fact that Christology provides the foundation for all other themes — natural law included, such that natural law is revealed only through Christ. For Yoder, I don’t think this is the case. Obviously Yoder is heavily Christological, but it seems to me that there are contexts where he finds it best not to begin with Christology — such as appears to be the case with the discussions of Gandhi, Tolstoy, etc, in the Warsaw Lectures. There are principles at work in Yoder, such as his critique of historical necessity, his distinction between historical and cultic religions, his appreciation of sociology, that are not reducible to, and that do not necessarily arise from, Christology.

    Thursday, July 15, 2010 at 7:11 am | Permalink
  29. myles wrote:

    To clarify my own position (I can’t speak for Paul, though I think you’re being uncharitable to his position–he says that this approach in the later work “opens the door to” a kind of secularism…not that it IS secularism–saying that Yoder described something “as secularism” is problematic in terms of Yoder’s own church/world distinction):

    I think that within the Warsaw text, there is a trajectory which makes Jesus part of a larger story. This is not to say that in earlier works, Jesus isn’t what you say in terms of the one who posits what nature is (though to make Yoder into a Barthian on this point is a misreading, as Yoder doesn’t appeal to Barth to make this claims about ‘world’). But within the later texts, there’s analogies posited which make it increasingly difficult for Yoder to say exactly what Jesus adds that can’t be seen from other sources. That’s a big claim, to be sure. But the key here is that use of analogy in Yoder: what kind of analogies are in play between Christian practice and ‘world’ practice, and how does Jesus fit here? I’d argue the answer Yoder gives in his early stuff is much more ‘apocalpytic’: Jesus’ conquest of the powers establishes the church, which follows in Jesus’ wake, such that ‘world’ appears as ‘not church’, but under Christ’s reign (Discipleship as Political Responsibility). In the later work, there are much stronger analogies which we find, i.e. between ecclesiology and democracy, between ‘church offices’ and agents who can be described apart from theological discourse, etc, creating a different paradigm for how Jesus is narrated.

    I’m open to the suggestion that Dan makes below that this narration has to do with a certain situatedness, except that this approach isn’t unique to Warsaw. One finds this priority of nonviolence over specificity of religious tradition in a number of places post-POJ.

    Thursday, July 15, 2010 at 10:00 am | Permalink
  30. Andy Alexis-Baker wrote:

    I am not being uncharitable.

    Martens: “In the following pages, I will sketch Yoder’s gradual evolution from articulating a strong Jesus-centered ethic towards an articulation of a less-than-particularly Christian social ethic rooted in a construal of a universal history . . .” (Martens, Power and Practices, 131–32)

    Martens goes on to say things like “Peace Without Eschatology” written first in 1954, but published numerous times afterward with Yoder’s approval represents “early Yoder” not “later Yoder” even if it was reprinted later. That , however, assumes that the later publication of the article was just pro forma and represented nothing of Yoder’s own later thought. But if he allows it to be republished, and if he does not say “I no longer believe this,” then it stands that his early article is still a representation of his later thought as well. He may expand, but he did not repudiate his earlier views. Again, you cannot find one single instance in his writings, correspondence or anywhere else where he would say that.

    This is all phantom chasing. It is based on seeing a cryptic code that once deciphered cracks Yoder’s “real” meaning. It is based on seeing “subtle and substantial semantic shifts” as evidence of “his apparent reduction of Christianity to a socio-political posture.” Martens claims that Yoder repudiates his earlier claim that the “only valid starting point” for Christian nonviolence is Jesus’ life death and resurrection and ends up starting with sociology. He thus “changed his mind.”

    Martens claims that when Yoder says history should be seen doxologically he is moving in this direction, not the direction of Church Dogmatics where the first ethical act of Christians is worship acts. I think that is what Yoder was doing, and he even says as much when he defends Barth himself against this very charge in discussing Marquardt.

    I am not being unfair. Martens does say that Yoder reduces Christianity to sociology and that he presents a less than Christian Christianity that repudiates his earlier views that Jesus is the center of it all. We’ll just have to disagree and I’ll drop it for now. My only hope is that hope people won’t just accept the forthcoming book or the already published as they stand simply because the author claims to be doing a “careful reading” — but that people would read Yoder for themselves.

    I suppose a wider concern I have in this is that ultimately this argument will provide fuel for a position that sees Yoder’s supposedly “early” position as basically untenable, he came to see “reality” like Bonhoeffer, and gave up all that particularly Christian stuff. That of course is not Martens’ intent, to the contrary I hope. But nevertheless, one cannot cut down a sequoia forest, pave it over and hope to see it grow back in all its “early” glory.

    Thursday, July 15, 2010 at 12:35 pm | Permalink
  31. aew wrote:

    Very informative discussion all around.

    Andy’s analysis of Martens’ work is spot-on. In some ways Martens’ project seems to be an extension of Jim Reimer’s attempt to show that Yoder is in some way “heterodox.” The arguments Andy makes undermine pretty convincingly any claim that the Yoder of “Peace without Eschatology” has different Christological commitments than the Yoder of the Warsaw lectures of of The War of the Lamb.

    Re. Yoder and Barth: Yoder directly points to Barth as an an influence on Yoder’s discussion of the political character of church practices. Specifically, Yoder cites Barth’s essay, “The Christian Community and the Civil Community” as an influence. Key Yoder texts on Barth where this gets fleshed out are “The Basis of Barth’s Social Ethics” and “Karl Barth, Post-Christendom Theologian.” I’d suggest that for Yoder Gandhi, Tolstoy, etc. function like Barth’s “parables of the kingdom extra muros ecclesiae.” True, Yoder doesn’t reference Barth’s treatment of parables of the kingdom, but Barth’s discussion of Christian community/civil community falls into line with Barth’s discussion of parables of the kingdom, so Yoder’s sympathy with the one arguably suggests sympathy with the other..

    Thursday, July 15, 2010 at 4:17 pm | Permalink
  32. Myles wrote:

    “That people would read Yoder for themselves”–you’ve named there our purpose for doing this book, Andy. Martens’ intention is to get people to see that, while Yoder offers endless resources for Christian discipleship, we have to have more than Yoder to describe nonviolence or discipleship in a fully theological sense (FYI–I don’t buy the argument regarding Bonhoeffer).

    There’s a lot to appreciate about Yoder. If we didn’t believe that, we wouldn’t bother getting his stuff out there. But there’s a difference between believing that Yoder is worth reading and saying that Yoder’s method and reasoning were always helpful/theologically orthodox. And that’s where the discussions will be had, I think.

    As for AEW, this isn’t Jim Reimer’s project.

    Thanks all for a vigorous discussion.

    Friday, July 16, 2010 at 3:17 am | Permalink
  33. Andy Alexis-Baker wrote:


    I do not want to harp on this, and I have basically said what I needed to say. But you said I was being uncharitable in saying Martens sees Yoder’s work at the end of his life in a secularizing stream where Jesus is not primary. Not only did I quote Martens to that effect, but in your reply you admitted that “there’s a difference between believing that Yoder is worth reading and saying that Yoder’s method and reasoning were always helpful/theologically orthodox.” I just wanted to highlight that you said here that Yoder was not orthodox, presumably meaning with Martens at the end of his life. For all others: War of the Lamb, Yoder’s last planned book. Read it and then evaluate that statement by Myles and use it to evaluate anything Martens has to say in this regard.

    Best wishes on the project.

    Friday, July 16, 2010 at 9:13 am | Permalink
  34. Charlie Collier wrote:

    I too am glad to see this conversation taking place. I think Yoder is difficult, and that the more people read him and even, and perhaps especially, push back against him, the better sense we’ll ultimately have of his relative achievement as a Christian theologian. I think it’s no small matter that we can’t quite figure out if Yoder was just being a good Barthian, or if he was in some crucial sense transcending Barth.

    It’s interesting that, in this very conversation, we have Dan Barber, who might be said to emphasize the secular in Yoder’s thought, and Myles (and by extension Martens), who seems to be worrying about what Dan is affirming. Let’s call this the orthodoxy/secularity antinomy.

    It’s also interesting, indeed ironic, that, at least in the American context, Yoder is typically read by those who consider themselves theologically “orthodox” as being a sectarian and thus as anything but a theologian who dissolves robust Christian particularity into a less-particular secularity. Let’s call this the orthodox/sectarian antinomy.

    I think we might put the first (alleged) antinomy under a bit of pressure by attending to the importance of responding to the second (alleged) antinomy in Yoder’s work. For it’s the critics of sectarian withdrawal who dominated the conversation before Yoder entered the fray. And they are the ones to whom Yoder spent the lion’s share of his time responding.

    My own view of the chronological development of Yoder’s thought is that the change to be seen is an organic intensification of his earliest commitments—or to put it differently, the change has to do with Yoder becoming increasingly sophisticated in demonstrating just how wrong the sectarian charge was and is. The first antinomy is arguably a result of just how thoroughly the late Yoder has defeated the second antinomy.

    That doesn’t settle the question of whether or not Yoder’s mature theology has gone too far and, say, abandoned Christian particularity for something ostensibly broader or more basic (e.g., history). I consider it a very large uphill battle to demonstrate that Yoder did this. He was not an insecure Mennonite. He was not embarrassed by his confessional roots, or star-struck by the achievements of the mainstream Constantinians. He was committed to demonstrating that the oppositions being forced upon him by mainstream political theology were false—we don’t have to choose between fidelity to the particularity of Jesus, on the one hand, and political relevance in the wider, secular world, on the other.

    In some ways, it sounds like Myles/Martens are saying, “Yes you do.” Or perhaps, “Yes, Yoder did.”

    Am I tracking this conversation correctly?

    Friday, July 16, 2010 at 9:59 am | Permalink
  35. dbarber wrote:

    Charlie, i appreciate the narration, and certainly there’s something positive about Yoder’s work that allows it to generate such disagreements. I would want to emphasize that in saying Yoder is a secular thinker, this does not (for me) mean that he has entered a realm that would be free of religious or theological commitments. In fact, what’s interesting about Yoder (again, for me — there are clearly many Yoders!) is that he sees theological discourse and secular discourse as non-competitive. I’m getting the sense from some others in this thread that there is an opposition between a Yoder that would be Barthian and a Yoder that would be a non-Christian secular sociologist. I have no idea why one would want Yoder to be either of these — and this, again, is because Yoder seems most interesting in his ability to think without respect for these boundaries.

    Friday, July 16, 2010 at 2:50 pm | Permalink
  36. Myles wrote:

    One caveat to Charlie’s narration: I don’t think any shifts in Yoder’s thinking had anything to do with his insecurities as a Mennonite, but rather fault lines within his own structuring of church/world which become increasingly problematic as analogous forms of ‘secular discipleship’ start coming to the fore.

    Sunday, July 18, 2010 at 11:00 am | Permalink

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