The Politics of Jesus, 2nd EditionThe Politics of Jesus, 2nd Edition
John Howard Yoder
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(PUBEerdmans)A standard in many colleges and seminaries. Yoder makes a strong case for the Anabaptist view of Jesus' radical critique of society as well as for an intense though pacifistic involvement. "One of the most significant studies in some time,"---Christianity Today. 256 pages, softcover.

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From the preface to the first edition

The meaning of this book is not immediately or easily classified. On the least sophisticated, most argumentative level, it is the simple rebound of a Christian pacifist commitment as it responds to the ways in which mainstream Christian theology has set aside the pacifist implications of the New Testament message.

On the deepest level, it represents an exercise in fundamental philosophical hermeneutics, trying to apply in the area of the life of the Christian community the insights with regard to the distinct biblical worldview which have previously been promoted under the name of "biblical realism." Since the pioneer statements of Hendrik Kraemer, Otto Piper, Paul Minear, Markus Barth, and Claude Tresmontant, it has become thinkable that there might be about the biblical vision of reality certain dimensions which refused to be pushed into the mold of any one contemporary worldview, but which stand in creative tension with the cultural functions of our age or perhaps of any age. The main thrust of the "biblical realist" movement a generation ago was in the areas of metaphysics and the personality of God. It led to a renewal of concern for ecclesiology and for eschatology without which neither ecumenical developments since then nor Christian thinking about hope since then would have been understandable. What the present volume offers is a late ripening, in the field of ethics, of the same biblical realist revolution, in which precisely ecclesiology and eschatology come to have a new import for the substance of ethics.

Between the argumentative and philosophical levels, this work testifies to the conviction that, well beyond the questions of formal orientation, there is a bulk of specific and concrete content in Jesus' vision of the divine order which can speak to our age as it seldom has been free to do before, if it can be unleashed from the bonds of inappropriate a prioris.

The preparation of this text has been facilitated by the support, here gratefully acknowledged, of the Institute of Mennonite Studies and the Schowalter Foundation, and by the counsel and critique of many friends and colleagues.
From the preface to the second edition

Each of the chapters of the 1972 book was then a summary of the widely known scholarship of the time. As New Testament scholarship it was popularization, not fresh research. Its preparation back then had required a few years' attention to the then current scholarly publications, but I never pretended to be a professional New Testament scholar.

Obviously I am farther from being a specialized scholar in that field today than I was a quarter-century ago. Meanwhile, each of the major subfields represented in the book has seen considerable new scholarly work since I wrote. These themes have continued to receive attention during the past twenty years, not because of what I wrote in 1972, but because what I wrote then was representative of the lively research agenda in the field.

It would therefore have been quite inappropriate, in the frame of reference of such a brief text as this, that I should have attempted to rewrite the text proper to catch up with a quarter-century of frontier scholarship on all its topics. After all, the original purpose of the book had not been to offer a compendium of New Testament scholarship for its own sake, but only to select a few representative specimens pertinent to the general thesis of the book.

That "general thesis" belongs in the field not of exegesis but of ethical methodology. It has to do not with the substance of the moral testimony of the New Testament texts for its own sake, but with whether their total witness is "political."

Nevertheless the reader will be right to wonder whether the kinds of insights summarized in the synthesis of 1972 have been supported or left behind by ongoing research. By and large, the answer is "supported," but of course only study in detail could validate that summary. What that state of affairs means for this present revision of The Politics of Jesus is that while leaving the text proper with only minimal changes, most chapters will be followed by a brief epilogue, by way of update, in which I seek to identify the lines that further research has taken. In the preparation of these epilogues and in other updating details I have been aided by Kim Paffenroth.
Two things that I generally cannot and should not do in an update like this are: (a) to give an overall accounting for "how my mind has changed in a quarter-century," or (b) to respond in detail to criticisms of particular passages. There are of course numerous points where my original statement in the 1972 text would need to be corrected or retracted. There are others where it would be fitting to defend it against misinterpretations or to argue it further against the interlocutors who understand it correctly but disagree. That kind of argument would, however, usually call for much more text, and a more fine-grained kind of argument, than the original passage. To do that generally would unduly burden the revision.

A separate matter is the style changes needing to be introduced within the original text for reasons of tone, and to take account of today's sensitivities as to gender-related overtones. In this editing the most important contributions have been made by the Reverends Augustus and Laurel Jordan.

My first preface referred to "biblical realism" as characterizing my mode of reading Scripture. That phrase was current among specialists in the 1960s. It was, like the substance of the survey, no idea of my own. Yet it never became widely known, nor did the scholars whom it then described try in any concerted way to work together as a team or a "school." It named an approach which sought to take full account of all of the tools of literary and historical criticism, without any traditional scholasticism, yet without letting the Scriptures be taken away from the church. In a way foreign to my intentions, this book has been taken by some as representing an original way to relate the Bible to the church or to ethics. [This was done, e.g., by Bruce Birch and Larry Rasmussen, whose two editions of Bible and Ethics in the Christian Life (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1976 and 1989) used me in different ways, citing different texts; similarly Charles F. Curran and Richard A. McCormick (eds.), The Use of Scripture in Moral Theology, Readings in Moral Theology No. 4 (New York: Paulist, 1981).] Others have called it "fundamentalist"; also a misreading.

If I had known the book would be put on review as a prototype of something methodologically ambitious or profound, I might have gone further into the discussion of theoretical prolegomena--or I might have refused to do so, since one can very soon come to a point, in the abstract discussions of method, where that very discussion gets in the way of letting the text play its role as the documentary spine of the church's identity.