July 2003 In This Issue


Midway through the twentieth century
the Mennonite Church in North America faced a critical moment in its history.
World War II–‘the ‘Good War”had mobilized the patriotic zeal of the
entire nation, forcing Mennonites to articulate anew their understandings
of service, nonresistance and the nature of civic allegiances. In the
decades that followed, a generation of young Mennonites left the relative
isolation of their agrarian congregations to participate in relief work,
pursue degrees in higher education, and raise their families in the suburbs,
where they entered into the cultural mainstream with new confidence and

The manner in which the Mennonite church
negotiated this crucial passage of cultural, social and economic transformation
is a fascinating and complex drama. However historians choose to tell
that story, one of its leading characters will have to be John Howard
Yoder. Born in 1927 into a progressive Mennonite family in Wayne County,
Ohio, Yoder devoted his entire life in service to the church, first as
a relief worker, missionary, and administrator, and then later in life
as a teacher, writer and a world-renowned theologian and ethicist.

Yoder’s theology, both resolutely particularistic
and warmly missionary, defies easy summary. His restatement of Biblical
nonresistance in The Politics of Jesus (1972) challenged
readers–Mennonite and non-Mennonite alike–to rediscover the social relevance
of the teachings of Jesus. His defense of a believers church ecclesiology
found a ready audience among Christians searching for alternatives to
the reigning idolatries of nationalism and consumer capitalism. Yoder
held to a high view of Scripture that nonetheless resisted a retreat into
fundamentalism; he balanced a deeply Christocentric approach to ethics
with Trinitarian orthodoxy; and he became a leading proponent of ecumenical
conversations without ever relinquishing his commitment to the believers
church tradition. In the years since Yoder’s untimely death in December
of 1997, his writings have continued to find a broad readership and conversations
about his theology’in articles and books, panels and conferences’abound.

0n March 7-9, 2002 organizers of the fourteenth
Believers Church Conference hosted a gathering on the campus of Notre
Dame University on the theme of "Assessing the Theological Legacy
of John Howard Yoder." Nearly all of the articles that follow in
this issue originated as papers presented at that conference; together
they offer a glimpse into the on-going dialogue about Yoder’s ideas and

We begin this issue with several biographical
essays. Mark Thiessen Nation, compiler of the most extensive
bibliography of Yoder’s voluminous writings and author of a recent interpretive
study of Yoder’s theology, opens with an appreciative review of Yoder’s
career organized around the themes of his Mennonite, evangelical and Catholic
involvements. Donald Durnbaugh, a friend and colleague of
Yoder for many decades, follows with an overview and analysis of Yoder’s
pivotal role in a series of ecumenical conferences in Europe focused on
the theme of ‘The Lordship of Christ Over Church and State.’ The conferences
created a postwar forum for serious discussion of topics related to biblical
pacifism and helped to solidify the theological identity of the Historic
Peace Churches. Craig Carter, author of another recent book
on Yoder’s social ethics, follows with an insightful summary of Yoder’s
critique of H. Richard Niebuhr’s classic Christ and Culture.
Retracing the outlines of Yoder’s trenchant argument, Carter exposes the
weak Christology of Christ and Culture and suggests that
Niebuhr’s view of the Trinity represented a departure from Nicene orthodoxy.

Long before postmodernity became an academic
byword, Yoder’s writings reflected a nonviolent epistemology that challenged
the coercive logic of post-Enlightenment foundationalism. Ted Grimsrud,
professor of theology at Eastern Mennonite University, summarizes the
creative way in which Yoder affirmed Truth as a meaningful category for
moral reasoning while avoiding both the Scylla of foundationalism and
the Charybdis of ethical relativism.

If all this sounds overly laudatory, the
three essays that follow serve as reminders that Yoder’s legacy, like
that of all seminal thinkers, will continue to be contested. Ray
Gingerich suggests that Yoder’s resolute focus on Jesus as the
basis for Christian nonviolence deflected important questions about the
nature of God. Gingerich’s critique of Yoder’s ‘warrior God’ continues
the conversation about the character of God and the place of violence
in Christian understandings of the atonement that have enlivened the pages
of this journal in recent issues (e.g., January 2003). John Zimmerman
suggests that Yoder’s reliance on the gospel of Luke in The Politics
of Jesus led to a radical view of Christian economics more characteristic
of Luke’s opinions than of Jesus’ actual teachings. By way of contrast,
J. Denny Weaver concludes this special issue with a critical
essay on various ways in which contemporary scholars have (mis)appropriated
Yoder’s thought and blunted the radical edge of his thought.

Perhaps there is no greater tribute to
Yoder’s legacy than this evidence of the ongoing scholarly debate regarding
his work. I look forward to helping that conversation continue to find
a voice in the pages of MQR in the future.
– John D. Roth, editor

The Mennonite Quarterly Review
The Mennonite Quarterly Review