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The New Yoder

Somehow, embarrassingly, I’m only just realizing that the last sixth months have seen two new collections of essays on the work of John Howard Yoder: Power and Practices: Engaging the Work of John Howard Yoder (eds. Anthony Siegrist and Jeremy Bergen) and The New Yoder (eds. Peter Dula and Chris Huebner). Most of the essays will already be familiar to those who follow this literature, unfortunately, but it is extremely good news that the work of interpretation and application is being continued in public. Hopefully these collections will continue to prove that Yoder’s work has more than in-house Mennonite significance—see especially Nekeisha Alexis-Baker‘s essay on Yoder and womanist theologies, Peter Blum’s essays on Yoder and Derrida and Foucault, and Dan Barber‘s essay on Yoder and secularity. Also, given how protective Mennonites have tended to be of Yoder, their one famous theologian, it’s good to see that serious critique is apparently now openly underway.

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  1. February 19, 2010 at 9:33 am

    It’s interesting to note that the directions, for the most part, that are being taken with these new engagements are philosophical (Foucault, Virillio, Stout, et al). I think part of this has to do with the fact that most of the “new Yoder” engagers are related to Duke, and most of them take Yoder in an epistemic direction; nonetheless, as you say, these are nice additions.

  2. February 19, 2010 at 10:45 am

    “Nonetheless,” you say—would you prefer to see these studies taken in another direction? or is there a direction you’re seeing as neglected?

  3. February 21, 2010 at 8:46 am

    I think that these are helpful directions, but I think engaging Yoder theologically, i.e. with other players in the tradition seems to be an equally, if not more important, task; how does Yoder’s vision of Christ’s humanity square against, say, transcendental humanism, or how might Yoder’s arguments for church-as-practice be read against Lumen Gentium in mutually informative ways?

    That, and I think the dominant assumption is that Yoder effectively said the same thing, allowing for picking and choosing across his corpus, which is probably the myth that hinders Yoder readings the most.

  4. February 21, 2010 at 8:47 am

    I still think the philosophical tenor of most of the essays is provocative and really well-done, but my worry is that this implicitly assumes that the theological mining of Yoder is pretty much done.

  5. February 21, 2010 at 3:50 pm

    I was quite drawn to Romand Coles’ contribution to The New Yoder. A different version of his essay “The Wild Patience of John Howard Yoder” appears in his book “Beyond Gated Politics” as well. He also co-authored a book with Hauerwas. Coles is one to keep an eye on, I think. (And, interestingly enough, Coles also teaches at Duke).

  6. February 22, 2010 at 12:00 pm

    He DID teach at Duke, til this year. He’s now out in Arizona, as the chair of an Enivronmental Studies program.

  7. February 23, 2010 at 11:48 am

    Myles, do note Gerald’s excellent article on Yoder and Augustine. I think these new directions are important and helpful–they at the very least help to break Yoder out of the mold of the old debates around the Niebuhrs. That said, I am sympathetic to Myles on the importance of engaging Yoder alongside the classical theological tradition. Craig Carter’s work on Yoder I’m afraid has done more harm than good in beginning to see how Yoder fits into the theological tradition. The problem with Carter is not simply his poor reading of Yoder, but perhaps more basically, his poor reading of the Christian theological tradition. This should not steer us away from reading Yoder alongside Augustine and others–and although I do have some hesitations about “just policing” proposals, I do think this can be seen as an extension of Yoder’s ecumenical work and engagement with the just war tradition at Notre Dame. Ultimately, this is, I think, what Gerald is attempting to do.

  8. dbarber
    February 27, 2010 at 12:27 pm

    Of course, Yoder did not really situate himself within the “classical theological tradition.” What would be gained by doing so? What’s the interest? Though perhaps “theological mining” means something else, perhaps the production of new theological concepts? In any case, for me, what’s so interesting is Yoder’s distinctiveness (which does not mean non-theological, though it does mean not starting from a a location “within” the “tradition.”

  9. Alain Epp Weaver
    April 10, 2010 at 7:59 pm

    Brian–Just chanced across your blog. Glad to see you highlighting these two books. In response to Dan’s last comment, I’d simply note that bringing Yoder into ad hoc engagements with theologians from the “classical theological tradition” might yield new insights–the goal wouldn’t be the Craig-Carter-esque attempt to safeguard Yoder’s orthodoxy by showing how he fits in that tradition.

    Finally, as a Mennonite, I hope I don’t come off as too defensive in contesting your off-hand comment about the Mennonites’ “one famous theologian”: Gordon Kaufman, emeritus theology prof at Harvard is arguably as famous as Yoder (just not in the same theological circles), is an ordained Mennonite minister, and understands his theologizing as emerging in part from his Mennonite background.

  10. June 6, 2011 at 11:19 pm

    Just now came across this blog (on Halden’s recommendation). Since this post there’s been another Yoder collection, Radical Ecumenicity, worth checking out. Also, I reviewed the two books you mentioned along with RE in the Jan 2011 MQR and raised some of the issues mentioned here regarding the philosophical/theological use of Yoder. Finally, Paul Martens has a few collections of Yoder’s essays out or just coming out, including one on Yoder’s spirituality published by Orbis.

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