Monday, June 15, 2009

Politics Jesus of The - the theology of Yoda.

I have been reading the amazing book 'The politics of Jesus' by John Howard Yoder (here from Amazon but other online bookshops are available).

I cannot state too strongly at the beginning - this is hard mental strain theology. The book is packed with clinical examination, careful criticism and referenced comments. Indeed, sometimes the pages are more than half full of footnotes which can be very offputting.

OK, that health warning out of the way, the theology is highly charged and dangerous. Yoder's central thesis is that too often the Church and Christianity has sought to minimise the social dimensions of Jesus' ministry in the gospels to the extent that we now are in a position of finding reasons to ignore his direct commands.

For a start, I found two points extremely well argued. First, the dichotomy of the biblical narrative in who actually owns and controls the world. Yoder argues that the essence of the 'right' way of things is divine even when the structures are not. So the notion of laws protecting the innocent are God-given, but the way they are used are not. Further, we constantly find ways to worship these broken structures rather than God who gave them. So for you and I, our faith is more likely to be in things like the NHS, our pensions, job security, social security, dole etc than God. These things are not necessarily bad, but they are not God.

Second, Yoder has some things to say about the stormy relationship many people have with the epistles. He argues that rather than attempting to correct and temper the impression given of the Christ in the gospels, the epistles are actually largely older than the written gospels. Hence the oldest writings are of the heavenly spiritual Christ and this is tempered by the memories of the human Jesus written in the gospels within people's memory.

Further, in an amazingly good point, Yoder demolishes the subsurvient and dominating attitude some derive from reading some of the epistles. Rather than being the 'natural order of things' for women to be under the men, for example, this is written to people who already know that there are no men or women or jew or greek in the body of Christ. Paul's argument then becomes one of encouraging those who now understand that they have self-determination to exercise it with humility, even to the extent of humble submission to men in order to win them over. I cannot equal the force of the argument, but Yoder argues that there would be no point in Paul stating that women, slaves etc were inferior because everything in the societies where they lived was literally screaming that this was so. The radical gospel was the one stating that they were actually equal, spiritual individuals who were empowered to make choices for themselves.

It strikes me that good talking points from this include:

1. In what way are we actually living in submission to the God we profess rather than other earthly structures - other than not at all?

2. If we truly believe that other people are worth as much as we are (and, by the way, isn't it interesting how we conveniently ignore the injunction to 'love each other as I have loved you') it is almost impossible for us to live as we do. For example we would oppose any immigration controls because our poor migrant brethren have as much right to the resources we take for granted as we do. The notion of a nation state would be entirely redundant.


Blogger Karin said...

Are you on the way to becoming a Christianarchist or a Jesus Radical, Joe? I'm sure I've heard Keith mentioning Yoder.

2:04 PM  

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