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Yoder on the Holy Spirit

It’s not uncommon to hear Yoder critiqued for giving too little attention to the Holy Spirit, to the Trinity itself really; for being somewhat “Christomonist” (I think that’s Zizioulas’s slam, not applied to anyone in particular). So it was interesting to find this little passage in one of Yoder’s earliest “professional” essays, “Reinhold Niebuhr and Christian Pacifism” (paper given 1953, published in the Mennonite Quarterly Review in 1955). He names three doctrines Niebuhr underplays, and then says this:

The common denominator of the above-mentioned doctrines of resurrection, the church, and regeneration is that all are works of the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is likewise neglected in Niebuhr’s ethics. In the New Testament the coming of the Spirit means the imparting of power, and that power is not a mythological symbol for the infinite perfectibility of human rationality but rather a working reality within history and especially within the church. This power opens a brand-new realm of historic possibilities; not “simple possibilities,” but crucial possibilities.

I don’t think it would be hard to make the case that Yoder carries through on this, stressing throughout his life the “brand-new realm of historic possibilities” opened up by the Spirit, and maintaining that without the Spirit, those possibilities are not possible. But if not, at least there’s an early indication that Yoder at one point thought he should have said so.

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  1. June 16, 2010 at 2:44 pm

    Further to this, from The Royal Priesthood:

    “But Christian ethics calls for behavior that is impossible except by the miracles of the Holy Spirit. When we set up the question ins such a way that the ethical prescriptions we hope to unfold must be within the realm of possibility, the cards have been stacked against a Christian answer.” (p. 174)

    I think there are also hints of this in p. 217-18 in For the Nations in the essay “Are You the One who is to Come?” Where he argues that “present empirical readings of possibility” are overcome precisely in connection with the presence of the Spirit in the church as a foretaste of the kingdom.

  2. June 16, 2010 at 2:44 pm

    Sorry, that should say pages 216-18 in For the Nations.

  3. June 16, 2010 at 4:31 pm

    Excellent examples. I think I have a few other places in The Royal Priesthood marked that say more or less the same thing, though he comes around and says it less often—and says less about it—than one might wish.

  4. June 16, 2010 at 9:40 pm

    In Yoder’s For The Nations, he has an excellent essay entitled,”The Spirit of God and the Politics of Men.” He lays out several points of departure for the Christian doctrine of the Spirit in politics and “worldly” politics.

    My favorite quote:

    “In the Spirit of God, the jealous God who wants us to serve none other, there is no disincarnate or ideal value worthy to demand the sacrifice of the concrete personal and communal values of our real neighbor. Those abstractions will remain valuable in the measure in which they help us better serve our neighbors.” page 232

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