John Howard Yoder

John Howard Yoder

Infobox Person
name = John Howard Yoder

birth_date = birth date|1927|12|29|mf=y
birth_place = Smithville, Ohio
death_date = death date and age|1997|12|30|1927|12|29|mf=y
death_place = South Bend, Indiana
occupation = Theologian
spouse = Anne Marie Guth

John Howard Yoder (December 29 1927December 30, 1997) 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".


Yoder earned his undergraduate degree from Goshen College where he studied under the influence of Mennonite theologian Harold S. Bender.cite web |url= |title=John Howard Yoder: Mennonite, Evangelical, Catholic |author=Mark Thiessen Nation |publisher=The Mennonite Quarterly Review |month=July | year=2003 |accessdate=2007-03-14 ] He completed his Th.D. at the University of Basel, Switzerland, studying under Karl Barth, Oscar Cullman, Walther Eichrodt, and Karl Jaspers. Anecdotally true to form, the night before he was to defend his dissertation on "Anabaptism and Reformation in Switzerland", Yoder visited Barth's office to deliver an entirely different document: a thorough critique of Barth's position on war which he had written in the meantime called "Karl Barth and the Problem of War".

After World War Two, Yoder traveled to Europe to direct relief efforts for the Mennonite Central Committee. Yoder was instrumental in reviving European Mennonites following World War II. Upon returning to the United States, he spent a year working at his father's greenhouse business in Wooster, Ohio.

Yoder began his teaching career at Goshen Biblical Seminary. He was Professor of Theology there from 1965 to 1984. While still teaching at Goshen Biblical Seminary, he also began teaching at the University of Notre Dame, where he became a Professor of Theology and eventually a Fellow of the Institute of International Peace Studies.

From the summer of 1992 to the summer of 1996, Yoder submitted to the discipline of the Indiana-Michigan Conference of the Mennonite Church for allegations of sexual misconduct. Yoder publicly acknowledged misconduct and apologized for his actions. Upon the conclusion of the process, the church urged Yoder "to use his gifts of writing and teaching".


Yoder is best remembered for his reflections on Christian ethics. Rejecting the assumption that human history is driven by coercive power, Yoder argued that it was rather God -- working in, with, and through the nonviolent, non-resistant community of disciples of Jesus -- who has been the ultimate force in human affairs. If the Christian church in the past made alliances with political rulers, it was because it had lost confidence in this truth.

He called the arrangement whereby the state and the church each supported the goals of the other "Constantinianism," and he regarded it as a dangerous and constant temptation. Yoder argued that Jesus himself rejected this temptation, even to the point of dying a horrible and cruel death. Resurrecting Jesus from the dead was, in this view, God's way of vindicating Christ's unwavering obedience.

Likewise, Yoder argued, the primary responsibility of Christians is not to take over society and impose their convictions and values on people who don't share their faith, but to "be the church." By refusing to return evil for evil, by living in peace, sharing goods, and doing deeds of charity as opportunities arise, the church witnesses, says Yoder, to the fact that an alternative to a society based on violence or the threat of violence has been made possible by the life, death, resurrection and teachings of Jesus. Yoder claims that the church thus lives in the conviction that God calls Christians to imitate the way of Christ in his absolute obedience, even if it leads to their deaths, for they, too, will finally be vindicated in resurrection.

Book summaries

The Politics of Jesus (1972)

Of his many books, the most widely recognized has undoubtedly been "The Politics of Jesus"; it has been translated into at least ten languages. In it, Yoder argues against popular views of Jesus, particularly those views held by Reinhold Niebuhr, which he believed to be dominant in the day. Niebuhr argued for Realism (international relations) philosophy, which Yoder felt failed to take seriously the call or person of Jesus Christ. After showing what he believed to be inconsistencies of Niebuhr's perspective, Yoder attempted to demonstrate by an exegesis of the Gospel of Luke and parts of Paul's letter to the Romans that, in his view, a radical Christian pacifism was the most faithful approach for the disciple of Christ. Yoder argued that being Christian "is" a political standpoint, and Christians ought not ignore that calling.

"The Politics of Jesus" was named by evangelical publication Christianity Today as one of the most important Christian books of the 20th century.


Yoder was a major influence on his colleague at Notre Dame, Stanley Hauerwas. Hauerwas now teaches at Duke Divinity School.

elected works

* "The Christian and Capital Punishment" (1961)
* "Christ and the Powers" (translator) by Hendrik Berkhof (1962)
* "The Christian Pacifism of Karl Barth" (1964)
* "The Christian Witness to the State" (1964)
* "Discipleship as Political Responsibility" (1964)
* "Reinhold Niebuhr and Christian Pacifism" (1968)
* "Karl Barth and the Problem of War" (1970)
* "The Original Revolution: Essays on Christian Pacifism" (1971)
* "Nevertheless: The Varieties and Shortcomings of Religion Pacifism" (1971)
* "The Politics of Jesus" (1972)
* "The Legacy of Michael Sattler", editor and translator (1973)
* "The Schleitheim Confession", editor and translator (1977)
* "Christian Attitudes to War, Peace, and Revolution: A Companion to Bainton" (1983)
* "What Would You Do? A Serious Answer to a Standard Question" (1983)
* "God's Revolution: The Witness of Eberhard Arnold", editor (1984)
* "The Priestly Kingdom: Social Ethics as Gospel (1984)
* "When War Is Unjust: Being Honest In Just-War Thinking" (1984)
* "He Came Preaching Peace" (1985)
* "The Fullness of Christ: Paul's Revolutionary Vision of Universal Ministry" (1987)
* "The Death Penalty Debate: Two Opposing Views of Capitol Punishment" (1991)
* "A Declaration of Peace: In God's People the World's Renewal Has Begun" (with Douglas Gwyn, George Hunsinger, and Eugene F. Roop) (1991)
* "Body Politics: Five Practices of the Christian Community Before the Watching World" (1991)
* "The Royal Priesthood: Essays Ecclesiological and Ecumenical" (1994)
* "Authentic Transformation: A New Vision of Christ and Culture" (with Glen Stassen and Diane Yeager) (1996)
* "For the Nations: Essays Evangelical and Public" (1997)
* "To Hear the Word" (2001)
* "Preface to Theology: Christology and Theological Method" (2002)
* "Karl Barth and the Problem of War, and Other Essays on Barth" (2003)
* "The Jewish-Christian Schism Revisited" (2003)
* "Anabaptism and Reformation in Switzerland: An Historical and Theological Analysis of the Dialogues Between Anabaptists and Reformers" (2004)

Articles and book chapters

*(1988) The Evangelical Round Table: The Sanctity of Life (Volume 3)
*(1991) Declaration on Peace: In God's People the World's Renewal Has Begun
*(1997) God's Revolution: Justice, Community, and the Coming Kingdom

ee also


External links

Book summaries

* [ A simplified summary of John H. Yoder's classic book: The Politics of Jesus] by Nathan Hobby with James Patton


* [ Yoder's New York Times obituary]
* [ Yoder's obituary]
* [ Memorial Page on FindaGrave]

Online writings

* [ The Limits of Obedience to Caesar: The Shape of the Problem] by John Howard Yoder
* [ Peacemaking Amid Political Revolution] by John Howard Yoder
* [ The Racial Revolution in Theological Perspective] by John Howard Yoder
* [ The Theological Basis of the Christian Witness to the State] by John Howard Yoder

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