Printer Friendly

A footnote on Jesus.

I am a Christian who walks in the tradition that John Howard Yoder characterized, depending on the emphasis of the moment, as "free church" or "peace church" or "radical reformation" or "believers' church." (1) It is from within that stream of Christian history that I respond to Daniel Boyarin, and involve myself in the conversation of Boyarin with Yoder.

In commenting on Boyarin's response to Yoder's Jewish-Christian Schism Revisited, I feel like the proverbial dwarf standing on the shoulders of giants, except that I am not claiming to seeing farther than they. As both Boyarin and Yoder made clear, this is a complex relationship. This footnote on Jesus is a question as much as a comment, a seeking to clarify and understand better what they have helped me begin to see.

John Howard Yoder, the Christian pacifist theologian, whose seminal writings on pacifism locate the rejection of violence in the narrative of Jesus of Nazareth, could say that the Jewish-Christian schism "did not have to be." The introductory section of this footnote on Jesus sets the context for the points I want to make via a brief sketch of the arguments of Yoder and Boyarin. The balance of the paper deals with the theology of John Howard Yoder. The first major section deals with Yoder's relativizing of the classic Christological statements from the fourth and fifth centuries (Nicea and Chalcedon, as well as Trinity). The next section presents Yoder's critique of historical determinism. These sections focus two dimensions of the theologizing that enabled Yoder to say that the schism "did not have to be." The concluding section of the paper introduces a further argument from Yoder concerning approaches to ecumenical conversation and offers some initial suggestions about future theologizing.

A striking confluence of historical argument appears in the independent but parallel accounts of the parting of the ways of Judaism and Christianity in Daniel Boyarin's Border Lines (2) and John Howard Yoder's Jewish Christian Schism Revisited. For Yoder, the schism "did not have to be" (3) because for at least a century Jews who confessed Jesus as messiah and those who did not could attend synagogue together without that disagreement resulting in one or the other being expelled from the community. Similarly, Boyarin described centuries-long disagreement and multiple views within the community that did not result in mutual rejection or excommunication. Yoder located the culmination of the schism earlier than did Boyarin (although Yoder also acknowledged that at least some elements did not separate until much later), but even that disagreement contributes to one of Yoder's points, namely that the absence of a consensus on when it occurred points to the fact that it did not have to be.

Both Yoder and Boyarin agreed that the beginning of the parting involved Justin's effort to define the Logos as an exclusively Christian possession, even though many or most Jews believed in the Logos. Yoder noted the role of Justin in driving a wedge "between two kinds of Christians," those like Paul who wanted to keep "the border between them and Jewry open," and those like Justin "who turn their back on the Jews in the interest of making more sense to the Gentiles." (4) Boyarin described in exquisite detail the long process, beginning with Justin's effort, through which each side came eventually to mutual exclusion sometime after the fifth century. Among evidence that Jews believed in the Logos, Boyarin noted the Jew Philo, whose view of the Logos, Boyarin said, "is surely on a way that leads to Nicaea and the controversies over the second person of the Trinity." (5) From their side, the rabbis reciprocated the Christian claim to exclusive possession of the Logos by abandoning the Logos to the Christians. They also created the myth of Yavneh as a late first-century synod that affirmed tolerance and perpetual debate as the Jewish approach to truth, over against the Christian establishment of a claimed uniform orthodoxy.

The Christian side created its own myths. Using evidence from Virginia Burrus, Boyarin described the development of the myth of Nicea as the unifying statement of belief in the Logos, along with the creative reading of the history of debate by the Fathers after Nicea so that they could claim it portrayed the development of the unifying position that they supposedly had always believed. (6) Each side rejected what Boyarin called the "hybreds," those positions that in some way belonged simultaneously to each side. Rejection of the "hybreds" had two results--the positions that had concerned a disagreement within the community were now pushed outside the community into the territory of heresy, and without the hybreds what remained were two pure, mutually exclusive traditions. The existence of these two pure religions, with Judaism the false one, was given the status of imperial law in the Code of Theodosius of 438. (7) Even as the conclusion gave him pause, Boyarin acknowledged that his historical analysis raised the possibility posed by Yoder, namely, to contemplate the prospect that it was not inevitable that this story end with a mutually exclusive parting of the ways.

Meanwhile, according to the standard account, which both Yoder and Boyarin dispute, Jesus and Christology is presumed to be the decisive dividing point between Christians and Jews. Yet Yoder and Boyarin, without surrendering their particular identities, can each say (or at least imply) that Jesus per se need not be the agent that puts Judaism and Christianity in mutually exclusive camps, and they arrive at that realization without stooping to a fuzzy ecumenism of mutual tolerance that either ignores differences or declares them unimportant. That Jesus and/or Christology need not be the agent of mutual exclusion may surprise those new to this conversation. The following section elucidates how John Howard Yoder can both profess belief in Jesus and say, "It did not have to be."

The Theology of "It did not have to be."


One dimension of Yoder's theology that sets up this statement is his relativizing of the supposed standard christological pronouncement from Nicea, which Boyarin identified as the final wedge driven between Christians and Jews by Theodosius. Yoder certainly believed that one line of development from the New Testament did pass through the Nicene formula. (8) However, the more important point for present purposes is that without rejecting Nicea Yoder also most certainly kept the door open for other lines of development. Yoder's approach to Nicea is not always understood and it must be nuanced. (9) Here are several dimensions of the discussion that emphasize his relativizing approach.

In a discussion of Christology in the course that produced Preface to Theology, which I took with John Howard Yoder nearly 40 years ago, he said that a crucial issue concerned the category that we should use to talk about continuity between God and Jesus. The classic statements from the fourth and fifth centuries (Nicea, the Cappadocian's terminology for Trinity, Chalcedon) used onto-logical categories. Yoder suggested that we did not necessarily need to be bound to those categories. "For us," he said, "perhaps the category of continuity is 'ethics' or 'history.'" That long-remembered oral comment is reflected in Yoder's published work. Writing in The Original Revolution, Yoder said, "The concept of Incarnation, God's assuming manhood, has often made us direct our thought to metaphysics,... But when, in the New Testament, we find the affirmation of the unity of Jesus with the Father, this is not discussed in terms of substance, but of will and deed. It is visible in Jesus' perfect obedience to the will of the Father." (10)

Concerning the Trinity, whose codification emerged from the discussion of Nicea, Yoder wrote: "As a matter of fact, it [doctrine of the Trinity] was not given to us by revelation.... It is something the Cappadocians figured out in the fourth century.... The doctrine of the Trinity is the solution to an intellectual difficulty that arises if we accept the statements of the Bible. It is not itself a revealed truth, but the solution (11) to the word problem we get into when we accept revelation in Jesus, the continuance of that revelation in the Holy Spirit, and hold to monotheism at the same time." (12)

In discussing the authority of the Nicene Creed, Yoder gently chided those "many Christian groups and thinkers," who reject in principle the claim of Roman Catholicism to establish normative biblical interpretation, yet "still give the Nicene creed and its trinitarian statements equal authority with the Bible. If we look back at the politics between 325 and 431, at some of the theologians' methods and motives, at the personal quality of Constantine,... Then we have to be dubious about giving this movement any authority." A bit later Yoder noted that the development of views is more clearly understood when each view is seen as a response to a preceding one. Then in a statement that foreshadows Daniel Boyarin's observation about the multiplicity of views on both sides in the centuries before the parting of the ways, and the comments of Virginia Burrus and Boyarin about the development of the myth of Nicea as a unifying statement of what was always believed, Yoder wrote, "It should, however, not be thought that just one line of development existed in which one view succeeded another. Neither should it be thought that there was just one population in which such a conversation went on. The total Christian community in the early centuries was enormously varied and enormously scattered.... Thus the clarity of types in logical sequence which is useful for our purposes should not be misunderstood as an actual description of what went on." (13)

Yoder returned again to the question of the authority of the classic creeds at the conclusion of his Preface lectures on Chalcedon. He noted that for the Catholic tradition, "the creeds are the history of the church" [Emphasis Yoder's]. Then speaking for Anabaptists he said, "Probably, if we were to be fully honest, we would need to challenge more clearly the Catholic axiom that assumed the authority of the councils and therefore of the creeds. We would need to challenge it more clearly at the point of automatic authority, while being still quite interested in listening to that history, learning from it, and sympathizing deeply with what it tried to say. But it must mean something to us that the Arians and the Nestorians--each in their own age--were less nationalistic, less politically bound to the Roman Empire, more capable of criticizing the emperor, more vital in missionary growth, more ethical, and more biblicist than the so-called orthodox churches of the Empire. At the most, these creeds fruitfully define the nature of the problem with which we are struggling. They are helpful as a fence, but not as a faith." Readers of Yoder who want to retain the creeds as a foundation can take consolation in his concluding statement: "The creeds are helpful as fences, but affirming, believing, debating for, and fighting for the creeds are probably things on which a radical Anabaptist faith would not concentrate.... A lot of dirty politics were involved in defining the creeds, in explaining their meaning, and still more in applying their authority, but this is the history with which God has chosen to lead a confused people toward at least a degree of understanding of certain dangers and things not to say if we are to remain faithful." (14) That final caveat notwithstanding, it seems unmistakably clear that Yoder relativized the standard formulas of Nicea and Chalcedon, as well as for the Trinity. That is, he saw these formulas as true answers in the language of the time to particular questions that emerged from a particular historical context, but without transforming those answers into the only possible answers. That relativizing of these formulas is one factor in enabling Yoder to say of the Jewish-Christian schism, "It did not have to be."

Another kind of indication that Yoder could contemplate other theological expressions alongside classic Nicene-Chalcedonian Christology was his purpose for studying Anabaptist history. Making use of Yoder's newly available correspondence, Earl Zimmerman makes clear in his recent analysis of the genesis of Yoder's The Politics of Jesus, that Yoder's dissertation in Swiss Anabaptism was an effort to produce Anabaptist theology as the beginning of an alternative to the standard theology of Christendom. When Yoder discovered that his European professors did not consider Anabaptist theology a valid topic in systematic theology, he did an end run around that obstacle by entering Anabaptist theology through Anabaptist history. (15)

The Preface lectures follow up that use of Anabaptism. In the context of commenting on the authority of the classic creeds, he wrote about the Anabaptists: "They assumed the Apostolic Creed.... But they did not give it any final authority.... So although most of the Anabaptists would have accepted this as part of the tradition and not debated it much, they gave the creed no dogmatic quality. They gave no special importance to the fact that the church had made decisions about phrasing in the fourth or fifth century.... In what sense are we bound to doctrinal definitions of the fourth century, or the fifth, or the sixteenth? Is it only in the sense that they are useful documents of how the church struggled to keep the centrality of Jesus straight in the language of their time? Or do we, without thinking, take over from fundamentalism, which took it over without thinking from Calvinist Orthodoxy, which took it over without thinking from the Middle Ages, the idea that there is a certain amount of post-biblical dogmatic substance that all true Christians have to believe?" (16)

Comments from Yoder on the development of doctrine presume the relativity of doctrines. For example, Yoder questioned the adequacy of any denomination's theology to present the fullness of the meaning of scripture. "Is the inherited doctrinal system of a given denomination, which claims to be identical with the total teaching of Scripture, really that accurate as a portrayal of what the Bible says? Does this not need to be tested again in every generation?" (17) Rather than seeing the development of doctrine like the ongoing growth of a tree, Yoder used the image of a vine that requires continual "pruning and a new chance for the roots." He called this appeal to origins "a 'looping back,' a glance over the shoulder to enable a midcourse correction, a rediscovery of something from the past whose pertinence was not seen before, because only a new question or challenge enables us to see it speaking to us." (18) The final norm for this looping back is the scripture, but such quotes do not adequately present Yoder's view of the authority of scripture or tradition, nor of how the time of origin functions as a norm from within history to judge acceptable or unacceptable change, nor do they refer to the terminology of classic Christology. However, these quotes do come from contexts in Yoder's writing that presume the relativity of doctrine and assume the prerogative--better stated, the necessity--of using new language to enable the biblical message to address new challenges.

The term "relativized" that appears several times in the paragraphs above to describe Yoder's view of the classic creeds is not used loosely. In fact, Yoder used the term himself to describe the approach he took to Nicea in Preface to Theology. Yoder presented the keynote address to the 1980 believers church conference, which was formulated around the question whether the ecclesiology of the believers church might have or might produce a distinct approach to Christology. In an addendum to the address, posted on his web site after the conference, Yoder described several developments that had made the conference question important. The fourth item mentioned was that in his Preface lectures, he had taken "a narrative and relativizing approach ... to the development of early Christian dogma, with special reference to the development of the Christological creedal statements." (19)

John Howard Yoder's relativizing of the standard Nicene Christology in no way results in a so-called low Christology. In Jewish-Christian Schism Revisited, he wrote, "All of the 'high' statements about Jesus as the Anointed which we find in the New Testament were made by radically monotheistic Jews and were not, when made, seen by those who said those things to be in any sense polytheistic or idolatrous." (20) He provided an exposition of five such texts with a high Christology in the essay, "'But We do See Jesus': The Particularity of Incarnation and Universality of Truth." (21)

This high Christology is reflected in a comment from Preface that concerned Trinity and the continuity between God and Jesus. Yoder said: "But the problem the doctrine of the Trinity seeks to resolve, the normativity of Jesus as he relates to the uniqueness of God, is a problem Christians will always face if they are Christian. The doctrine of the Trinity is a test of whether your commitments to Jesus and to God are biblical enough that you have the problem the doctrine of the Trinity solves." This assertion of Jesus' link to God within Trinity is followed by a relativizing comment, and another statement of high Christology. "It may be that there will be other solutions, words, phrasings or ways to avoid tripping over the problem the way the Greeks did. But we shall have to examine them with the same commitment to the man Jesus, and the same commitment to the unique God that they had, or else we shall have left the Christian family." (22)

Another comment that belongs to the discussion of Yoder's high Christology and relativizing of Nicea and other classic formulas appears in Politics of Jesus. He wrote that the view he presents in Politics of Jesus "is more radically Nicene and Chalcedonian than other views. I do not here advocate an unheard-of modern understanding of Jesus. I ask rather that the implications of what the church has always said about Jesus as Word of the Father, as true God and true Man, be taken more seriously as relevant to our social problems, than ever before." (23) Those sentences have been cited supposedly to show Yoder's adherence to the classic formulas. In fact, however, they show a adherence to ideas behind these formulas, and leave the door wide open, in words just cited, to "other solutions, words, phrasings or ways" to express the ideas behind these formulas.

Yes, John Howard Yoder had a high Christology. But the point to underscore for the present discussion is that his relativizing of the classic formulas that belonged to the wedge between Christians and Jews constitutes one dimension of Yoder's argument that the Jewish-Christian schism "did not have to be."

On historical determinism

This discussion of the relativizing of classic christological vocabulary complements, or is complemented by, Yoder's challenge to historical determinism. In Jewish-Christian Schism Revisited, Yoder raised the possibility that "it did not have to be." One principal aspect of that argument came from his challenge to the common approach to historical writing that identifies a contemporary situation, and then searches for the cause of that situation. The common assumption, Yoder said, is that "events had to go the way they did." The historian then seeks to explain the factors that led to that causation. Yoder's argument is that the personalities involved in the events did not think that they were involved in a scenario with an inevitable outcome, that they did not know how things would come out, and that they in fact faced real choices and could have made other decisions, and events could have come out differently. (24) Thus the historian is most true to the events when he or she acknowledges those choices and the possibility of other outcomes. This is the historical perspective from which Yoder said of the Jewish-Christian schism, "it did not have to be."

In another essay, Yoder expanded somewhat on the discussion of reading history from the viewpoint of the protagonists and their genuine choices rather than from the perspective of a presumed inevitable outcome. (25) The discussion in that setting used two primary historical examples. One involved the radicals' break with Ulrich Zwingli and Michael Sattler's parting from the reformers in Strasbourg in the emergence of Swiss Anabaptism in the sixteenth-century. The other example cited was the Jewish-Christian schism. A third example comes from the conference for which Yoder wrote this particular essay. It was the keynote address for a 1992 conference at Bethel College (Newton, Kansas) that explored a nonviolent perspective on American history. One of the questions for the conference was to show that, contrary to the common assumption, United States wars were not inevitable. Conference organizer James Juhnke wrote, "In the new history we are envisioning, American wars will be exposed as the human failures they were rather than acclaimed as triumphs for human freedoms otherwise unattainable." (26) In Jewish-Christian Schism Revisited, Yoder challenged the inevitability of the American Revolution, the American civil war, and the First World War, and said that "at least some Christians in Germany were ready to say that there did not have to be an Auschwitz." (27)

Yoder did challenge historical determinism, and he envisioned and participated in discussions that revealed choices rather than inevitable outcomes. From this challenge to historical inevitability and the examples provided, it is only a short step sideways to reach a challenge to the inevitability of the development of the standard doctrine represented by Nicea and Chalcedon. In the previous section, it was said that he relativized these supposed foundational statements. It is a parallel argument to say that Yoder's rejection of the idea of historical inevitability leaves wide open the possibility of other theological formations alongside those from the fourth and fifth century that from the Christian side became the wedge that made the parting from Judaism appear inevitable. This challenge to the inevitability of these formulas is even more relevant in light of arguments that appeared after Yoder's death, namely the discussion from Virginia Burrus and Daniel Boyarin that demonstrate the creation of the myth of Nicea as a unifying document that established a unified tradition.


It bears repeating that Yoder's relativizing of standard Nicene Christology did not result in a low Christology. Stated differently, the Jesus of Yoder's high New Testament Christology is "Jesus the Jewish pacifist." It is a Jesus who is fully a part of and a continuation of the story of Israel.

In spite of his high claims about Jesus, claims not shared by Daniel Boyarin, Yoder can proclaim that faith in this Jewish pacifist Jesus is not something that puts him outside the people of Israel. Likewise, neither does Boyarin's rejection of these high claims about Jesus place him outside of the people of Israel. In this sense, the parting of the ways "did not have to be" in terms of a mutually exclusive arrangement of mutual expulsion.

This essay's footnote to Boyarin's conversation with Yoder comes from the Christian side of the discussion. It is an understatement to say that this conversation has implications for future Christian theologizing. An aspect of Yoder's thought not emphasized thus far is Yoder's ecumenical Christian perspective. He was ecumenical in his ability to pose Jesus, or the good news about Jesus, as the possession of every Christian. Future Christian theologizing should take this ecumenical perspective seriously. That future theologizing would then begin with the narrative of Jesus the Jewish pacifist, who carried forward the outlook of Jeremiah and Esther and Daniel and his three friends of "not being in charge." Christian theologizing would change markedly with that beginning point in place of the wedge identified by both Yoder and Boyarin that was pounded in by Theodosius. As both Yoder and Boyarin are teaching us, this is theologizing that should happen without the mutual exclusion of Christians and Jews.

I want to add a final essay from Yoder to his discussion of how "it did not have to be." In a posthumously published article, Yoder contrasted ecumenical discussion "from above," that is, conversation that searches for agreements, with conversation that begins "from below," that is, on the basis of differences. Conversation from above produces the most rapid, measurable results, Yoder wrote, but its problem is that it favors the agenda of the dominant party in the discussion. Precisely that which distinguishes the minority party from the majority is the item pushed to the periphery where it is presumed to be not central to the conversation. If one wants to honor the agenda and the identity of all parties in the group, one should commence discussion with differences. It is in discussing differences that the agenda of both minority and majority parties receive equal billing. (28)

Yoder's article on ecumenical conversation had a specifically Christian application. I have referred to this the article on more than one occasion in an effort to avoid allowing the rejection of violence to become a peripheral issue in the context of ecumenical conversation based on a presumed standard Nicene-Chalcedonian Christology, where the narrative of Jesus and its ethical application are not present. However, it appears to me that the case of Jewish-Christian conversations may be the other side of Yoder's argument. In this case, both Boyarin and Yoder point to belief in the Logos among both Jews and Christians in the first three centuries. In fact, according to Boyarin, given the multiple views on both side of the line between Jews and Christians, including for some Jews worship of an entity distinct from God, a "second person," the vital difference between Christians and Jews concerned details of the incarnation. Thus Boyarin says, "This leads me to infer that Christianity and Judaism distinguished themselves in antiquity not via the doctrine of God, and not even via the question of worshipping a second God,... but only in the specifics of the doctrine of this incarnation. Not even the appearance of the Logos as human, I would suggest, but rather the ascription of actual physical death and resurrection to the Logos was the point at which non-Christian Jews would have begun to part company theologically with those Christians--not all, of course--who held such doctrines." (29) In his specific response to Yoder, Boyarin stated it thus: "Indeed, I would assert that there is no particular theological claim or expectation that marks Christianity as 'other' to the Judaism of its time, excepting, of course, the claim that Jesus of Nazareth is the one."(page 10) Applying Yoder's model to the conversation between Christians and Jews brings us to see that Yoder conceived of the conversation between Christians and Jews as one where disagreement about whether the messianic age had begun in Jesus was not one which resulted in removal from the conversation and the community. Quite obviously what to believe about Jesus as Messiah is not an unimportant issue, but disagreement on this important issue is not one that nullifies the location of one or the other sides within the children of Abraham.

Discovering that this disagreement need not mean mutual exclusion is in no way an indicator that the disagreement lacks ultimate meaning. On the contrary. In fact, discovering this disagreement to be a 'family argument' that can proceed without the ominous ending of mutual excommunication from the family may allow genuine conversation between Christians and Jews about this highly significant difference for the first time in 15 to 18 centuries, depending on one's view of the timing of the parting of the ways.

Yoder raised the option that "it did not have to be." Boyarin recognizes the logic and the attractiveness of that position, but resists it. Accepting that view would mean a certain surrender of his tradition. Is there not value in diversity in and of itself and the maintaining of diverse traditions, Boyarin asks. Stated differently, how can Christians continue to be other without implying that Jews have abandoned God or that the promises to Abraham have been superseded for Jews?

In one of our Bluffton conversations, I asked Boyarin what genuine dialogue would mean. His answer was something like, "Consider what you would lose by joining the other side." Considering that eventuality also makes me sensitive to what Boyarin would give up to move my way.

For me, it would mean losing or abandoning a radical Christian heritage from the sixteenth-century that I cherish as a buttress against American civil religion and the idolatrous national Christianity of this nation. This combination of civil religion and national Christianity has been intrinsic to the American ethos in some form since the nation's infancy. The recent rise of the religious right and their co-laborers in the administration of George W. Bush are merely a new form of religious impulses that have always been part of the United States national ethos. My religious life blood, it sometimes seems, needs this radical reformation tradition to keep transfusing it with new energy to confront this national ethos. But I can envision other sources of appeal against this national religious ethos, and I could envision myself being grafted into (as much as that is possible) another ethnicity and religious practice.

However, I am a Christian who identifies with Jesus along the lines depicted by Yoder. In Jesus God is breaking into the world, but in a way that is immersed in and carries forward traditions that are a continuation of the history of Israel as the people of God. What I would lose is this additional affirmation of a nonviolent ethics of God's people, an absence of violence in the reign of God that I discover already in reading the accounts of creation in Genesis 1 and 2. This absence of violence becomes apparent when these theological narratives are read against the Enuma Elish, in which the creation of heavens and earth and people on them are the products of random violence of the gods and of blood vengeance. The rejection of violence in the rule of the God of Israel (30) is visible in Yoder's description of the imperative of Jeremiah which is reflected in Jesus the Jewish pacifist. I hold to this affirmation of the rejection of violence as vouchsafed by Jesus the Jewish pacifist. What for me is one important underpinning of the peace tradition of the radical reformation would be lost without Jesus the Jewish pacifist.

Even as Boyarin resonates with Yoder's reading of "pacifist" exile Judaism, which resonates with Boyarin's anti-zionist stance, Boyarin is also committed to preserving a Judaism that includes zionists and that does not define any Jewish position as outside the pale of Judaism. Those of us in the radical reformation tradition of John Howard Yoder have a similar and parallel problem--how to proclaim an anti-constantinian critique from a radical reformation perspective while affirming anyone as Christian who claims the name of Jesus, including those who promote Christian America, and the Christian president of the United States, who famously proclaimed Jesus as his "favorite political philosopher." (31) My response is one I learned long ago from John Howard Yoder. I accept at his or her word anyone who claims the name Christian. However, since we are claiming a common name, it presents the opportunity for a pointed and critical question. "Since you claim the name of Jesus, who rejected violence, how can you wage war or support war in the name of Jesus?" And I learned from Yoder how to sustain that conversation for a long time.

Even as I maintain that persistent question as a Christian, my intent is that referring to Jesus does not invalidate Daniel Boyarin's participation in the same story that begins with Abraham. Since the belief that the age of the Messiah had begun in the first century was a new stream within Judaism, a certain sense of going beyond the stream in which Daniel Boyarin stands seems inevitable. But whatever language we might ultimately use for it, this "going beyond" may not be one of replacement nor a declaration that denies God's promise in the other stream. It is a going beyond that calls for and calls forth continuing conversation and cooperation. In Yoder's sense, it is an undoing of the schism that did not have to be. For Boyarin it is preserving traditions. And it may well be that the most fruitful conversation can occur when identities are respectfully maintained. And the fruitful and freeing dimension of the conversation is that disagreement and maintaining of identity can proceed without mutual exclusion from the people of God as we discuss together what it means to live as the people of one God.


1. John Howard Yoder, The Jewish-Christian Schism Revisited (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdman's Publishing Company, 2003), 105.

2. Daniel Boyarin, Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004).

3. Quote from the title of the first chapter of Yoder, Jewish-Christian Schism Revisited.

4. John Howard Yoder, Jewish-Christian Schism, 54.

5. Boyarin, Border Lines, 114.

6. Boyarin, Border Lines, 192-96. See also Daniel Boyarin, "A Tale of Two Synods: Nicaea, Yavneh, and Rabbinic Ecclesiology," Exemplaria 12, no. 1 (2000): 21-62, and Virginia Burrus, 'Begotten, Not Made': Conceiving Manhood in Late Antiquity (Standford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2000), Ch. 1.

7. Boyarin, Border Lines, Ch. 8.

8. This is the position pursued, for example, by Craig A. Carter, The Politics of the Cross: The Theology and Social Ethics of John Howard Yoder (Grand Rapids, Mi.: Brazos Press, 2001), Ch. 4. See also Alain Epp Weaver, "Missionary Christology: John Howard Yoder and the Creeds," Mennonite Quarterly Review 74, no. 3 (July 2000): 425-30.

9. For a more nuanced view than can be presented here, developed with a different agenda than the Jewish-Christian schism, see Weaver, "Missionary Christology". See also Earl Zimmerman, Practicing the Politics of Jesus: The Origin and Significance of John Howard Yoder's Social Ethics, The C. Henry Smith Series (Telford, Pa.: Cascadia Publishing House; co-published with Herald Press, 2007), Ch. 6. Although it subverts the sophistication of Yoder's methodology, I am tempted to say that emphasis in Christology for both Yoder's and his interpreters shifts when the audience is the Jewish-Christian schism rather than ecumenical Christianity.

10. John Howard Yoder, The Original Revolution: Essays on Christian Pacifism (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1972), 136; John H. Yoder, The Royal Priesthood: Essays Ecclesiological and Ecumenical, ed and introd by Michael G. Cartwright, foreword Richard J. Mouw (Grand Rapids, Mi.: Eerdmans, 1994), 185. Emphases Yoder's.

11. At this second occurrence of the term "solution," the original, unedited version reads "a solution." John H. Yoder, Preface to Theology: Christology and Theological Method (Elkhart, Ind.: Goshen Biblical Seminary; distributed by Co-op Bookstore, 1981), 140.

12. John Howard Yoder, Preface to Theology: Christology and Theological Method (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2002), 204.

13. Yoder, Preface to Theology (2002), 204-5.

14. Yoder, Preface to Theology (2002), 222-23.

15. Zimmerman, Practicing the Politics of Jesus, Ch. 5.

16. Yoder, Preface to Theology (2002), 222-23.

17. John H. Yoder, "The Hermeneutics of the Anabaptists," Mennonite Quarterly Review 41, no. 4 (October 1967): 293.

18. John Howard Yoder, "The Authority of Tradition," in The Priestly Kingdom: Social Ethics as Gospel (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame, 1984), 69.

19. John H. Yoder, "That Household we Are," unpublished paper (1980), 9 The christological content of this paper was eventually published as John Howard Yoder, "'But We Do See Jesus': The Particularity of Incarnation and the Universality of Truth," Priestly Kingdom, 46-62.

20. Yoder, Jewish-Christian Schism, 106.

21. Yoder, Priestly Kingdom, 46-62.

22. Yoder, Preface to Theology (2002), 204.

23. John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus: Vicit Agnus Noster, 2d ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 1993), 102.

24. Yoder, Jewish-Christian Schism, 43-44.

25. John Howard Yoder, "The Burden and the Discipline of Evangelical Revisionism," in Nonviolent America: History Through the Eyes of Peace, ed. Louise Hawkley and James C. Juhnke, Cornelius H. Wedel Historical Series, no. 5 (North Newton, Ks: Bethel College, 1993).

26. James C. Juhnke, "Manifesto for a Pacifist Interpretation of American History," in in Hawkley and Juhnke, Nonviolent America, 8.

27. Yoder, Jewish-Christian Schism, 44.

28. John Howard Yoder, "On Christian Unity: The Way from Below," Pro Ecclesia 9, no. 2 (Spring 2001): 165-83.

29. Boyarin, Border Lines, 124-25.

30. A host of problems present themselves when speaking of the rejection of violence by the God of Israel in the writings of what for Christians is the Old Testament. Here I can only acknowledge the seriousness of those problems. Responding to them will be developed in future writing.

31. The denominational version of this tension is the need to affirm as members of the Mennonite peace church those who refuse to critique the nation's war policy because of their view of "two kingdom theology," or who support the current president (George W. Bush) "because he is such a good Christian." For my response to "two-kingdom theology," see J. Denny Weaver, "Living in the Reign of God in the 'Real World': Getting beyond Two-Kingdom Theology," in Exiles in the Empire: Believers Church Perspectives on Politics, ed. Nathan Yoder and Carol A. Scheppard (Kitchener, Ont.: Pandora Press, 2006), pp. 169-189.
COPYRIGHT 2007 Association for Religion and Intellectual Life
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2007, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Weaver, J. Denny
Publication:Cross Currents
Date:Jan 1, 2007
Previous Article:Judaism as a free church: footnotes to John Howard Yoder's The Jewish-Christian Schism Revisited.
Next Article:Further footnotes on Judaism, Yoder and Boyarin.

Related Articles
"If this be from Heaven...": Jesus and the New Testament Authors in their Relationship to Judaism. .
The Gospel of Matthew.
In Lieu of Heaven.
The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary.
The Prodigal: A Poem.
Who do you say that I am? If you're looking for a good read on Jesus--other than the gospels of course--a trip to the bookstore might be in order.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2021 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |