The Politics of Jesus | John Howard Yoder (Ch. 7)


Chapter 7: The Disciple of Christ and the Way of Jesus


1972: Since it’s possible to posit a gap between the kingdom Jesus announced (as recorded in the Gospels) and the shape of the early Christian church, we will now reflect on the apostolic ethical tradition. One of the strongest themes that relate apostolic ethics to Jesus is the idea of participation/correspondence which is described primarily by two overlapping metaphors: discipleship and imitation. This theme is based on the doctrine of imago dei, given new reality by in the New Testament by the Spirit.

Yoder proceeds to give a massive amount of primary evidence from the later New Testament books which he categorizes under the following three main headings:

  1. “The Disciple/Participant and the Love of God”
  2. “The Disciple/Participant and the Life of Christ”
  3. “The Disciple/Participant and the Death of Christ”

The mass of evidence is not as neat as the headings (and subheadings) suggest. However, it’s clear that Jesus’ social-ethical Kingdom proclamation translated clearly into the context of the early church. It’s only an age that is unaware of Jesus’ social and political life that could understand a phrase like “dying with Christ” as a mystical reality instead of a very real consequence of discipleship/imitation.

We must be careful not to misuse Jesus’ cross in a way that makes it less than it is. It’s not just something that makes our suffering meaningful, or an inward experience, or subjective brokenness, or ascetic self-denial. It’s the to-be-expected result of Jesus’ social-ethical stance clashing with the powers of the world.

Again, the only way the New Testament church was called to imitate Christ was in his cross. This is the only way we can follow and imitate Jesus.

1994: Anthony Tyrell Hanson’s study, The Paradox of the Cross in the Thought of St. Paul (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1987) is a helpful companion to this chapter. He researches:

  1. How paradox is a theological value
  2. Paul’s scriptural citations and allusions
  3. The overlap between Paul and the Gospels

Paul and the early church understood that they were continuing the work of the cross which was challenging the ethos of Caesar. Even the Franciscan theologian Bonaventure recognized that the only binding example of Christ on the believer was his cross.


It’s going to take me a while to think through the New Testament and digest the idea that we are only called to imitate Christ’s suffering and death. I’ve always understood Jesus’ tendency to spend time with undesirables as something to imitate—I suppose Yoder would suggest that that’s part of the way Jesus challenged the ethos of Caesar which led to his cross.

Yoder’s comments on the Golden rule in this chapter were also fascinating. He said that the Golden Rule is not Jesus’ key ethical concept. In fact, the “new commandment” (John 13:34; 15:12) is to love others as Jesus has loved us. Just think about that. It’s one thing to take out the trash for my neighbour when he’s on vacation because I hope he’d do that for me. It’s another thing to put my life on the line for him because that’s what Christ did for me.

I think I’m starting to see why Yoder isn’t popular. His Jesus leaves little room for the comfortableness of the modern church’s metaphorical cross.

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