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The Politics of Jesus

4.07  ·  Rating details ·  2,966 Ratings  ·  108 Reviews
Tradition has painted a portrait of a Savior who stands aloof from governmental concerns and who calls his disciples to an apolitical life. But such a picture of Jesus is far from accurate, according to John Howard Yoder. This watershed work in New Testament ethics leads us to a Savior who was deeply concerned with the agenda of politics and the related issues of power, st ...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published October 20th 1994 by Authentic Media (first published December 1972)
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I don't usually review books that I didn't finish, but in this case I thought the reason I didn't finish it was relevant to a review.

Yoder asserts that complete non-violence is an ethical imperative for every follower of Jesus. In his view, noble ends cannot justify violence. Instead, we should act peacefully and trust the outcome of all our actions to God. We are obligated to lives of peace, fairness and love, and no end-goal can abrogate those obligations. At all times, we must put the welfare
J.M. Hushour
Nov 17, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Probably the most misunderstood and misquoted thinker since Adam Smith (or Richard Simmons?), the Jeez, as I call him, actually had a lot of nice things to say about other people, even the ones that hated it. And his call to his followers to emulate him with the idea of spontaneous unconditional love for others (I know, right, white-guy America? Feelings?! Gross!) is definitely not cited enough. In fact, as Yoder points out, there are lots of arguments and exegesis trying to justify all the shit ...more
Jacob Aitken
While I think this book is wrong on several levels, it marked a valuable turning point in Evangelical ethical reflection. To say Jesus's message was political is commonplace today. It wasn't when Yoder wrote.

Thesis 1: Jesus’s ministry has a political claim that we often hide from ourselves (Yoder 2).

Yoder is against a “Creation Ethic” (8). While his primary target is natural law ethics, he also lists “situation ethics” under the same label: we discern the right be studying the realities around u
Jan 18, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Yoder is apparently regarded as one of the pre-eminent theologians of the twentieth century, I think because of his emphasis on pacifism and his questioning of the Church's relationship with government and political authority. Perhaps his ideas have been so absorbed into the Christian mainstream that I am not struck by their novelty. Certainly his writing is abysmal: meandering and circling back upon itself, full of double negatives and endless subordinate clauses, heavily footnoted with long wa ...more
Jul 17, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion
I think I've been close to considering becoming a pacificist for a while, but Yoder moves me that much closer. And the reasons for this have very little to do with philosophical argumentation, i.e. I would not become a pacificist as an "intellectual" position. They have much more do to with my Christian convictions that our behavior ought to be modelled on the form of Jesus' life and ministry. Yoder, first of all, convinces completely that this form of life was political in character (crucifixio ...more
Nick Klagge
Jan 20, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I got interested in Yoder through Stanley Hauerwas and decided to read this book. For some reason, probably at least partly bias because of the Amish last name, I had assumed that this book would be simple and folksy. It is far, far from that--even if its message is reasonably simple, Yoder's style is heavily-footnoted, erudite academic (which I don't mind). In fact, I learned six new words from this book, which may be a record:


The main
Jul 09, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: gave-up
I have exhausted my reading of Christian pacifists. I got about 20 pages into this book and realized I had made an mistake. Mr. Yoder--an Anabaptist and pacifist--posits the Jesus was a complete pacifist, and that those who call themselves Christians should be pacifists as well.

I object. As I said in an earlier book review (Toward a Theology of Peace), I'm all for peace, but let's not kid ourselves about who God is or the world He made for us to live in. I admit I find Anabaptists a trifle anno
marcus miller
Jan 19, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion
I tried reading this when I was in college. I remember bogging down somewhere in the middle and never finishing the book. Reading it 30 years later I found the book much more understandable which says much more about me and where I was at in college than it does about John Howard Yoder and his writing. If I understand him correctly, Yoder states that we should read the New Testament through the person of Jesus and that we should pay attention to the political dimensions of his message. Some of m ...more
After reading Christian Witness to the State I felt like re-reading this book. The re-read confirmed that this as one of my all time favorite books. Yoder's thesis is rather simple: Jesus Christ is the norm for Christian ethics. He is responding to the argument, made by many Christians, that Jesus' ethic, his way of life, is just not practical or was never intended to be the way that Christians live. Yoder makes no claim at this being a full systematic study, but the ground he does cover in maki ...more
Greg Williams
Dec 24, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an older book initially published in 1972, long before the conservative Christian preoccupation with right-wing politics in the US. So don't be misled by the title to think it is concerned with the Moral Majority of the 80's or the conservative Christian attachment to the Republican party in the US. Instead, it is a scholarly argument against the idea that the New Testament is focused on spiritual truths that have no bearing upon a Christian's political loyalties.

This is a more difficult
Nov 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I am rereading this for my dissertation on James McClendon, a Southern Baptist theologian that regarded reading this book to be a "second conversion" in his faith.

This book came out in the heyday of Nienuhr-style "realist" Christian political engagement, which ended up supporting the status quo on a lot of issues, namely race and economic injustice. "Realism" meant compromise. Yoder's study, at the very minimum, demonstrates that Jesus was enacting a new political strategy for liberation throug
Aug 18, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
John Howard Yoder does not want to uncover so much the politics of Jesus as much as he wants to show that everything Jesus did was incisively political. Yoder’s aim is to disengage Jesus from the conceptions that he was a catatonic spiritual teacher whose aim was to mend one’s inner struggles and sate one’s spiritual ennui. The popular-pietistic understanding of atonement in Protestant circles, the idea that Jesus died for the sins of others through a precise mechanism of debt remission, is equa ...more
Feb 09, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am not, strictly speaking a pacifist, and I don't view Constantine or so-called "Constantinianism" in the same way as people like Yoder. However, it is a generally well-argued point Yoder makes regarding the root of Christian social action being in Christ's renunciation of violence AND coercion. For any on the Left or Right who want to use political power to further their social agenda, or who (more likely) are manipulated by the "powers" (politicians, ideologies, structures, etc.) to sanctify ...more
Leroy Seat
May 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a most significant book, and one that needs to be read slowly and thought about deeply.

John Howard Yoder (1927-97), the premier Mennonite scholar of the twentieth century, made a major contribution to Christian theology/ethics with the publication of this book, and I have profited greatly by reading it again.

This book is primarily for Christians. At least, those who are not Christians will doubtlessly not agree with the central themes of the book. But most "liberal" Christians who have a
Clif Hostetler
Since being published in 1972 this book has been widely recognized as an explanation of anabaptist theology. The book’s approach is to study the Gospel of Luke and parts of Paul’s letter to the Romans to show that Jesus’ message was one of radical Christian pacifism in behalf of the cause of the week, poor, and disenfranchised. The book makes the case that Jesus had a social agenda that proclaimed the cause of a new society while not using violence to achieve those ends which in turn resulted in ...more
May 19, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011
I moved between liking this book and not liking it. On the one hand, Yoder is an able thinker and writer who has great faith in the power of God to change people/places by the alternative witness of the church in society. On the other hand, I don't see how forming what amounts to convents and monateries affects the public at-large. I know he insists that it's not sectarianims that he's talking about, but I'm not clear on how his vision works out in the world of laws, law enforcement, and war.

I t
Jul 24, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: theology
Yoder's arguments are very compelling and now I understand why many Christians believe the church cannot support war at all in any circumstances. Yoder first argues that Jesus is socially relevant and that the way we are called to be like him is in the realm of social ethics. He concludes by explaining that we are called to the way of the cross, which means giving up any attempt to take control of history and instead obey in a radical way by submitting to suffering.
Jan 07, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great book for all those who, like me, grew up learning that Jesus primarily wanted to cultivate inner goodness in people. Instead, this book examines how Jesus' ethics were social and political by nature, and that it was always his intention that his followers have a correspondingly challenging, integrated ethic--both inward and outward. SUCH a good read!
Joel Morris
Jun 06, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: humans
Possibly the most influential book in my spiritual development thus far... its value lies its cunning exposure of some very fundamental assumptions that we make when approaching God and determining what he wants from us.

Do not get side-tracked by his seemingly simplistic agenda towards non-violence. It is more nuanced than it appears at first look.
May 16, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A little repetitive and overly academic at times, but this is a very thorough and convincing book explaining the social relevance of Jesus, something I never thought much about before.
Logan Isaac
In 1972, John Howard Yoder set out, in his Politics of Jesus, to recapitulate a kind of “biblical realism” as an alternative to the reigning theological framework of his day. The Christian realism of Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Ramsey supposed that a solidly scriptural “ethic of imitation [of Christ]” was an irresponsible model for Christian politics, since it failed to account for the persistence of political states and their right to survive. Biblical realism, on the other hand, “sought to take ...more
Feb 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this book back in the mid 70's. I was still of draft age and the Vietnam War was still outstanding in my mind. Although I never adopted the pacifist stand that its Anabaptist author advocates it is still one of the best expositions of Christian pacifism written for the general Christian reader. Yoder makes a very good argument that this is authentic Christianity. This book still stands up today as one of the clearest presentations of that view. I was always too much a pragmatist and, perh ...more
Feb 04, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
A frustrating mish-mash of theological kites
Alex Parrish
Mar 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is thick reading. It is also highly valuable. I had to read this text in small pieces, because the time it took me to digest the truth that I was reading was considerable. It was a deeply enriching experience, and I imagine I will have to come back to this book again to catch all the things that I know I missed the first time. The stance which Yoder takes on pacifism and practical gospel living are revolutionary.
Reid Belew
Look, this is probably a good book. I quit in the middle of it because Yoder doesn't use enough commas, and I believe his insistence of Jesus as the proto-social justice warrior was far too rigid and constraining, ultimately undermining the divinity of Christ in a weird way. Mostly because of the lack of commas, though. I'll probably try it again at some point.
Nov 30, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Structured like an essay, this book is a bore for anyone trying to really delve into the subject without feeling like they'll be tested after reading it. Despite Yoder's thesis being that Christ's political and social involvement insist upon a nonviolent and community based social ethic, you feel as if his arguments halfway through are incredibly disconnected from the argument of pacifism. He makes many bizarre statements concerning tithing, bridging into a feeling of socialism or communism in c ...more
Jan 21, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: all
In The Politics of Jesus, John Howard Yoder wrote a controversial book that covers many ideas worth discussing. I understand why some Christians have attacked the book, but the actual contents weren't at all what I was expecting based on their attacks. Instead, I saw a surprising theme develop, the idea that "God is in control", from which all of our actions proceed accordingly. I was challenged by Yoder's call to see nonviolent actions and other Christ-dictated responses not as the most effecti ...more
Rodney Farrell Sr
First I must say that Eerdmans Publishing dropped the ball by not editing JHY’s writing to give us non-academic-layman better insight to the thesis and discussion of each essay. The Politics of Jesus is a compendium of essays and conference presentations causing the flow of thought and clarification to be disjointed. With the second edition one would think that the editors would have cleaned up the writing - JHY added more clarification using Epilogues at the end of each chapter for some relief ...more
Roland Clark
Feb 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
When it was first published in 1972, The Politics of Jesus offered a radical re-reading of the early Church’s political stance based on the best New Testament scholarship of the day. Time and subsequent research has only reinforced many of Yoder’s conclusions. Yoder begins by unpacking Jesus’ own teachings, noting that ‘”kingdom” is a political term’ and that Jesus proclaimed the year of jubilee (Luke 4:18-19), a practice of redistributing wealth that directly challenged the socio-economic struc ...more
Mar 11, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is, in many ways, a foundational book for Christians, and has been influential among those who might be called new evangelicals. Yoder does a good job in pointing out the many ways in which the ministry of Jesus involved a confrontation with the political principalities and powers present in 1st Century Judea.

In my opinion the latter chapters are stronger than the earlier. The book is polemical in nature against those who claim that Jesus was apolitical or that his ethic presupposed his ea
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Yoder was a Christian theologian, ethicist, and Biblical scholar best known for his radical Christian pacifism, his mentoring of future theologians such as Stanley Hauerwas, his loyalty to his Mennonite faith, and his 1972 magnum opus, "The Politics of Jesus".
More about John Howard Yoder...

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“The cross is not a detour or a hurdle on the way to the kingdom, nor is it even the way to the kingdom; it is the kingdom come.” 15 likes
“Traditionally, common social location meant that the two partners used the same family name. In recent years alternative patterns of naming have been developed, for reasons which are more convincing to feminists than they are to genealogists or to mail carriers.” 4 likes
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