The Politics of Jesus | John Howard Yoder

If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know that I’ve summarized and reflected on each of the 12 chapters that make up The Politics of Jesus. Since all the details have been covered, I’ll offer a few final thoughts here.

The Politics of Jesus was a landmark book. It was first published in 1972 in a world that didn’t take the ethical-social stance of Jesus seriously. In this right-place-at-the-right-time book, Yoder defended his belief that Jesus’ teaching has direct ethical implications today. The book was updated with additional material in 1994 to review the theological and sociological landscape since the first printing.

The book is 40 year old, and it shows its age. We miss the revolutionary impact today that it had in the 1970s because the main battle has been won. Yoder’s passionate defense of Jesus’ ethical-social relevance feels almost quaint in an age where that point has become a given. It’s akin to hearing arguments for the importance of wearing seat-belts. The war’s over.

Even though the main point’s commonplace now, the book is still worth reading for the wide variety of angles Yoder takes to support his thesis. When I read Hauerwas I’m amazed at the seemingly random conversion of stand-alone essays into chapters. Now I know where he got that style from! In one chapter, Yoder’s summarizing evidence for political relevance of Jesus throughout the Gospel of Luke. A few chapters later, he’s delving into the Stoic antecedents for the Haustafeln. This style might excite or terrify you, depending on how your brain’s wired.

I have to admit that Yoder stretches the exegetical evidence at times to strengthen his case. In the end, though, we’re left with a groundbreaking study on the political relevance of the Messiah.

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