Ted Grimsrud

Ted Grimsrud/Craig Carter dialogue

A Dialogue on Craig Carter’s The Politics of the Cross

From the John Howard Yoder listserve, ca. 2001

Ted Grimsud

I think The Politics of the Cross: The Theology and Social Ethics of John Howard Yoder (Brazos Press, 2001) is quite a good book.  Craig Carter reads Yoder sympathetically and appreciatively.  As a big Yoder fan, I would unhesitatingly recommend this book to someone who wants better to understand Yoder.  Maybe most importantly, Craig’s book furthers the cause of the gospel of peace.  For that I am grateful.

However, I have to admit that some of what got my blood pumping the most in the book were points where I would want to challenge Craig’s argument.  I will discuss a few of those points here.

(1) It was courageous of Craig, as an “outsider” to write chapter one, “Yoder and the Recovery of the Anabaptist Vision,” where he tries to situate Yoder in the context of twentieth-century Mennonite thought.  This is a very important and necessary task, though.  Yoder’s Mennonite context must be taken seriously if his thought is to be understood—and not enough attention is paid to this context by most Yoder interpreters.

I agree that this topic should be the first chapter, but, even though he has worked hard at understanding Mennonite theology, Craig’s treatment is problematic for at least two reasons that I see.  I could nit-pick his threefold typology on page 48 (“Mennonite revisionists,” “peace witness advocates,” and “classically orthodox Mennonites”)—and, in fact, I do not think it’s particularly helpful.

However, more importantly, I would say (a) Craig does not ultimately take Yoder’s Mennonite context seriously enough.  I think his attempt to link Yoder with Barth is wrong-headed (more about that below), as his focus on “classical, creedal Christology” (more about this below as well).  One consequence of these two linkages is to minimize the fact that Yoder was from start to finish a Mennonite theologian.

And, I would say (b) Craig ignores Yoder’s most important Mennonite links.  Much more than Barth, to understand Yoder one should read his Mennonite teacher Guy Hershberger (especially War, Peace, and Nonresistance and The Way of the Cross in Human Relations).  I think Yoder’s two most important Mennonite students are J. Denny Weaver and Duane Friesen.  Craig ignores Friesen and barely mentions Weaver—but these are the thinkers (much more than Stanley Hauerwas) who have applied Yoder’s thinking the best.  Craig also fails to consider an almost exact contemporary of Yoder’s, Mennonite theologian C. Norman Kraus, whose extensive writings very much parallel Yoder’s.  Especially in relation to issues of christology and Yoder’s relation to classical christology, Kraus’s work provides some crucial sense of perspective.  Another important contemporary of Yoder’s who helps illustrate my point here, also ignored by Craig, is Dave Schroeder of Canadian Mennonite Bible College.

Attention to these Mennonite thinkers, none of whom was particularly influenced by Barth at all, would have made clear that in virtually every aspect of Yoder’s thought, he was not reflecting a perspective originating in Barth’s theology, but a perspective coming directly out of the Mennonite tradition.  I point this out not due to my “Mennonite pride” (which is, popular mythology notwithstanding, not an oxymoron!), but because I think the full radicalness of Yoder’s program will not be appreciated if his roots are not given full credence.

Yoder challenges mainstream theology and ethics not as a kind of mutant individual who brought unique insights to bear on key issues, but as a particularly articulate and prominent member of a community of thought, of which thinkers such as Hershberger, Kraus, Weaver, Friesen, and Schroeder are also important members.  I am sorry that Craig distorts this reality.

(2) In his introductory comments in his posting to this listserve, Craig helped me better to understand what is behind his attempt to position Yoder as a Barthian.  Craig himself has drunk deeply from the Waters of Barth and then he turned to Yoder and was struck with the common themes.  Plus, he learned that Yoder studied at Basel and seemed to have some personal connections with Barth.  I am not unsympathetic with Craig’s claims about Barth’s importance to the world, though I remain to be convinced.  Even as evinced with Craig’s discussion of Barth in this book, though, I find Barth’s ethical thrust simply to be too abstract and vague to be that important for peace theology.

I was struck throughout chapter two (“Yoder and the Theology of Karl Barth”), point by every single point, that all Craig was accomplishing was to show that Yoder and Barth had some parallel perspectives.  The Yoder corpus is impressive in how little direct evidence there is of Barth’s influence as a shaper of Yoder’s thought.  Craig milks the few times Yoder refers to Barth, but even those occasions are evidence more of Yoder using Barth to help illustrate a point Yoder has arrived at from non-Barthian sources.

For an audience that has Barth on a pedestal, it may increase people’s openness to Yoder’s work to argue for a close connection.  For other audiences, this connection would provide a further basis for dismissing Yoder.  As I will argue below, to label Yoder’s work as “Christocentric” in a Barthian sense would be a pretty effective way of deflecting the true radicality of Yoder’s theology.

I will cite one sentence from Craig’s book that I think helps make my point. He writes that like Yoder, “Barth also interprets the whole Bible from its center, which is for him Jesus Christ, that is the salvific work of God in Jesus Christ as broadly conceived by classical orthodoxy” (page 65).  Assuming this is an accurate portrayal of Barth’s position, this actually emphasizes his difference with Yoder.  One of Yoder’s main concerns was to challenge the doctrinal focus on Christ as Savior, seeing as central instead Jesus as Model.  What matters for Yoder is the way of life Jesus followed, not orthodoxy’s “saving work of Christ.”  That is why Yoder’s theological ethics are so extraordinarily concrete and specific, in contrast with the vagueness and abstractness of Barth.  An interesting contrast can be seen in comparing Barth’s published sermons (e.g., Liberty to the Captives) with Yoder’s published “Bible lectures” (He Came Preaching Peace).  I love Barth’s sermons, but if you’ve read one you’ve pretty much got his message down—and it is pretty ethically vague.

Craig writes on page 79 that “Yoder’s identification of doctrine and ethics as two sides of the same coin is simply the implementation of Barth’s method.”  This statement amazed me.  Denny Weaver’s Keeping Salvation Ethical has shown how deeply embedded this identification was even in late-19th Mennonite theology.  I think most interpreters would say that the central theological distinctive of the 16th-century Anabaptist movement was its linking of theology and ethics.  I would need to be convinced that Barth did indeed link these two as closely as Craig claims, but even if he did all that would explain is why Yoder might have been drawn to Barth.  To imply that Yoder got this linking from Barth is a case of the problem of not taking Yoder’s Mennonite roots seriously enough.

(3) Craig’s argument that “Yoder’s radical social ethic is derived from a classically orthodox Christianity” (blurb on the book cover) is the element of his book that I would most want to challenge.  Craig writes on page 93, “Yoder’s approach to social ethics is rooted in the classical, orthodox Christology that the ecumenical creeds affirm as the meaning of the Scriptures.”  I believe that this statement is exactly backwards from what it should be.

To the extent that Yoder finds it useful rhetorically to express support for the creeds, he does so only insofar as they are subordinated to scripture.  Yoder does not present the creeds as the interpretive key to Scripture.  The interpretive key to scripture, for Jesus, is the way of life Jesus embodied.  The creeds are useful for Yoder primarily in that he tries to use them rhetorically to argue for the normativeness of Jesus’ way of life.  I learned from Yoder in his class, “Christology and Theological Method” (Spring 1981 – this may have been the last time he taught this class at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary), to be suspicious of the creeds (though not to reject them or think of them as wrong) insofar as they tend to express a perspective on faith that increasingly distances the way of Jesus in their making abstract doctrine more and more central.

The issue for Yoder, as I understand it, is not, as Craig presents it, the centrality of “incarnation” as a doctrine about Christ the Savior, but rather the way of life that led to the conclusion that in this man God was present.  That is, the focus for Yoder is on Jesus’ way, not on doctrines about Jesus.

I believe that Craig misses the way Yoder uses his affirmations of orthodox Christology.  Mention of the creeds is rhetorical move by Yoder to make his point that Jesus’ way is True, the most authentic expression of God among human beings.  But the priority is on this way of life, not on the creeds as “ontologically true.”  In this sense, I actually think Mennonite theologian Jim Reimer reads Yoder more accurately (see pages 115ff. in Craig’s book) in seeing Yoder as not really meaning that the “gospel is ontologically true”—though, unlike Reimer, I happen to believe that Yoder was right in this view.

Near the end of chapter 4 (page 133), Craig admits that for Yoder “the authority of the creeds can never supersede the authority of the biblical texts themselves….However, to subordinate the authority of the creeds to that of Scripture is not necessarily to think the creeds are wrong.”  I think this is about right—but seems to me to be much different than earlier claims Craig has made: “protecting, declaring, and unpacking the claims classical Christology is what Yoder is about” (page 17); “Yoder…shows how…Christological orthodoxy…contains the key to the survival and flourishing of the church’s witness to Jesus Christ” (page 23); “peace [is] at the heart of the biblical gospel as it is enshrined in the creeds” (page 49); “Yoder’s approach to social ethics is rooted in the classical, orthodox Christology that the ecumenical creeds affirm as the meaning of the Scriptures” (page 93).

I think here is where Craig’s attempt to see Yoder as a Barthian/Mennonite rather simply as a Mennonite has led him to distort Yoder’s theology.  It is too bad Craig was not more attentive to thinkers such as Denny Weaver and Norman Kraus who, drinking from the same Mennonite waters as Yoder, have done significant work in trying to articulate a christology that places the priority on the way of Jesus as presented in the Gospels over the doctrinal, salvation-oriented christology of the creeds.  I actually also think that Gordon Kaufman could be helpful here as well—not as an influence on Yoder but as an independent expression of a Mennonite-rooted christology.

(4) Finally, I found chapters six through eight to be terrific, especially chapter six (“The Heresy of Constantianism”).  I think, though, the effectiveness of these three chapters actually supports my criticisms above. In these chapters were have pretty much “straight Yoder” without Craig trying to fit Yoder’s thought into the boxes of Barthianism and classical orthodoxy.

Craig Carter

I would like to respond to Ted’s points one at a time.

1.  Yoder as a Mennonite Theologian:  When Ted says that he wishes I had emphasized that Yoder was a member of a community of thought, rather than an isolated individual, I thought I was doing that by writing Chapter 1.  Yoder’s rootedness in an historical community which has lived out the ideal of peace is one of his strongest assets, a point I make in Chapter 1.  I agree that Yoder is a Mennonite theologian and I also like much of what Weaver is doing in his work on Christology and Atonement.  However, my concern in my book was to say to the rest of the Church that Yoder (precisely in his Mennoniteness, mind you) is a Christian theologian (as opposed to being a heretical or sectarian or unbiblical one) with a message which the whole church needs to hear.

I realize that I am sticking my neck out—as a non-Mennonite—in saying this, but I observe that Mennonite theologians are as diverse as Reformed or Lutheran theologians on many basic Christian issues.  Let me draw a parallel with my own denomination—the Baptist tradition.  There are liberal Baptists who believe Jesus was a great religious teacher, a human being but not divine, and there are orthodox Baptists who happily confess that Jesus is fully human and fully divine.  Now, I often feel closer to orthodox members of the Roman Catholic tradition (such as Father Egan at St. Michael’s, who taught me Patristics and was delighted to have students in his class who believed in the deity of Christ even if they were Baptists!), than I do to other Baptists who have bought into Enlightenment thinking and lost the New Testament teaching on the Incarnation.  So, saying that Yoder was a Mennonite, full stop, is not sufficient to establish that his radical call to follow Jesus in the way of peace is incumbent on all who confess Jesus to be Lord.  The further point also needs to be made that Yoder’s call is biblical and orthodox.

My concern is to say to my Baptist and evangelical colleagues (and to all orthodox Christians) that, if they really want to be biblical, then they should listen to what Yoder is saying.  Moreover, I claim Yoder’s own explicit warrant for using his thought in this way.  After all, in the Preface to The Priestly Kingdom, it was Yoder (not me) who said: “These pages do not describe a Mennonite vision.  They describe a biblically rooted call to faith, addressed to Mennonites or Zwinglians, to Lutherans or Catholics, to unbelievers or other believers” (page 8).  On the same page, he says that his “vision of discipleship in this book should be understood as ‘founded in Scripture and catholic tradition.’”

I would like to know precisely in what way I have not “appreciated the full radicalness of Yoder’s program” because I sincerely intend to do precisely that in my own theology.  I believe that the whole church is called to disavow Constantinianism, be separate from the world and follow Jesus in the way of peace, reconciliation and forgiveness. I believe that martyrdom is a common outcome of Christian faithfullness.  I also believe that witness is more important than being in charge of the world and that following Jesus means living a certain way, not merely believing certain things.  But I do not believe these things are merely for Mennonites and that makes me more radical, I think, than many Mennonites.

2. Yoder and Barth:  I am puzzled by what seems to be a nervousness about identifying Yoder too closely with Barth as if contamination might result.

As to the judgment that Barth’s ethics are too vague and abstract, let me say that (surprise!) I agree in large measure.  Yoder’s value is in putting flesh on the Barthian bones.  But the Barthian bones are very important in holding the flesh in place.  I would point to the work of John Webster, my thesis supervisor, and others, such as George Hunsinger and Bruce Marshall, who are providing much better interpretations of Barth’s theology than the English-speaking world had prior to say, the 1980s.

One of the emerging insights is the trajectory that Barth was on in Vol. IV of Church Dogmatics.  Barth’s narrative Christology in Vol. IV enabled him to read the Gospels in such a way as to allow the human figure of Jesus to emerge in all his humanness as a model for the believer.  Barth’s ethics of reconciliation, which were unfinished, are very suggestive along the lines of taking the human Jesus as definitive for what it means to be human and therefore as one to be followed, not just worshipped.

The stereotypes of Barth as the stern preacher of a highly abstract Word of God, which never seems to connect with earthly reality are very tiresome.  But the point is not that Barth was slipping in his commitment to Nicene orthodoxy; rather, the point is that the authority of Jesus as Lord (the one the disciple needs to follow) is based squarely upon his divinity.  The divinity lends authority to the life, which then becomes the model for authentic human living.

3.  Yoder and the Creeds:  I think we need clearly to distinguish between two statements:

A. The Bible is a higher authority than the creeds, which are true only because and to the extent that they express the teaching of the New Testament.  Nicea is important because it expresses truth.

B.  The Creeds should be used as a rhetorical device to gain the attention of mainstream Christians even though we do not accept what they say about Jesus.   Nicea is important because it is famous.

Yoder is saying “A” and not “B” and so am I.  If anyone is saying “B” then I think they are underestimating Yoder’s orthodoxy and calling his intellectual integrity into question.  The issue for me is not “Are the Creeds the ultimate authority?” but rather, “Was Nicea right to affirm the homoousios of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, or was Arianism closer to the truth?”

You see, I do not think that Arianism (or Deism or Unitarianism or Liberal Protestantism) is the kind of theology which, ultimately, can sustain a community’s faithful following of Jesus.  I think that kind of theology always leads to a watering down of the radicality of Jesus’ teaching.  For Christians, it is the doctrine of the resurrection which enables martyrdom in the longterm.

4. The Life of Jesus versus Doctrines About Jesus:  I cannot understand why anyone would ever want to play one off against the other.  If the Gospel is not ontologically true, then Jesus may not be the revelation of God and someone may come along in the future and live a more authentically human life than Jesus did.  I get the impression that most non-Christian Westerners today (and not a few Christians) think that the life of stasis, reached through therapy, is a higher form of human existence than the kind of radical, establishment-challenging, extreme life that we read about in the Sermon on the Mount.

Let me put it this way: if you want to call others to follow Jesus you are very soon going to need a doctrine about Jesus because the “Why Jesus?” question will come up.  And I want to say that it is more than a matter of being born Mennonite or making a personal lifestyle choice or being temperamentally inclined more toward Jesus than Constantine.  Rather, it is the case that Jesus is one with God and thus he reveals the ultimate truth about the cosmos.  That is ultimately why we should follow him, whether we were born Mennonite or not, whether we are especially peaceful by nature or not and whether we would like to rule the world or not.

Ted Grimsrud

Responding to Craig’s points:

(1) Yoder as a Mennonite theologian. I wrote that I thought Craig did indeed take Yoder as a Mennonite seriously and that I appreciate that.  But still, I think he doesn’t do full justice to this point.  I would tend to think that the way to “say to the rest of the Church that Yoder (precisely in his Mennoniteness, mind you) is a Christian theologian (as opposed to being a heretical or sectarian or unbiblical one) with a message which the whole church needs to hear” is not (artificially, I believe) to make Yoder a Barthian so much as plumb more deeply the Mennonite depths of his thought.  After Craig’s chapter one, he does next to nothing with Mennonite theology.  However, I want to be clear that I do not think this criticism is huge.  If Craig’s strategy results in more people giving Yoder a more sympathetic reading I will be delighted.

Craig makes a good point about diversity among Mennonite theologians.  As I am thinking about it, I realize that when I say Craig should emphasize Yoder’s “Mennoniteness” more, I am not being specific enough.  And I don’t know what shorthand is best for making my point.  In the examples of Mennonite theologians I suggested you should have been more attentive to (Hershberger, Kraus, Weaver, and Friesen), I am speaking of a certain kind of Mennonite theologian.  What I am trying to say is that Yoder shares a great deal with these four theologians and that to understand what is distinctive about his theology, one would be better served by examining the thought of those four people than Barth.

Craig wrote: “My concern is to say to my Baptist and evangelical colleagues (and to all orthodox Christians) that, if they really want to be biblical, then they should listen to what Yoder is saying.  Moreover, I claim Yoder’s own explicit warrant for using his thought in this way.”

Perhaps what Craig says here provides an insight into his strategy.  He is focused on a certain audience (Baptists, evangelicals, “orthodox Christians”) who are surely going to be more interested in Yoder if they see him as “orthodox” in the way Craig presents him in his book.  Strategically, this may prove to be fruitful.  Personally, I think this may tend to distort Yoder’s views a bit.

Craig asks:” I would like to know precisely in what way I have not ‘appreciated the full radicalness of Yoder’s program’ because I sincerely intend to do precisely that in my own theology.”

Well, I need to be careful here.  I mentioned several times, how I appreciate Craig’s commitments as expressed in the book.  So I don’t in any way intend to be attacking Craig’s theology.  In many ways, especially chapters 6-8, I believe Craig does a fine job of “appreciating the radicalness of Yoder’s program” (my point four).

However, what I find most “radical” in Yoder’s program is his focusing on the Gospel story of Jesus’ way as the core to all Christian theology and ethics.  I think Craig seems basically to agree with this point, but I believe that by reading Yoder in terms of Barth and “classical Christology,” Craig may weaken that point.  I guess part of what I mean is that I think Yoder’s theology relativizes “classical orthodoxy” and modern-day evangelical theology more than Craig seems to.  And, as good as Barth is (see below), I don’t think he sees the Gospel story of Jesus’ way as nearly as central as Yoder does—or else, among other things, he would not be nearly so abstract and vague in his theological ethics.

2. Yoder and Barth: Craig writes: “I am puzzled by what seems to be a nervousness about identifying Yoder too closely with Barth as if contamination might result.”

I don’t think I was clear enough.  I don’t think I feel in any way that “contamination” would result from seeing Yoder as too close to Barth.  I just don’t think it’s accurate to see Barth as a central source for Yoder’s thought.

I like Barth.  My wife and I read at least three books of his sermons out loud to teach other over the course of several years and often have referred to him as “father Karl.”  I continue to feel choked up when I read Yoder’s dedication in Karl Barth and the Problem of War.  I am totally impressed with Barth’s response to German nationalism during World War I, his opposition to Hitler, and his suspicion of the Cold War.  And I don’t doubt that these exemplary social/ethical commitments followed from his theology and provide significant common ground between Barth and Yoder.

However, to recognize, for example, that Barth helped shape Yoder’s epistemology does not really challenge my argument, I don’t think.  I was just noticing this summer in reading through several hundred pages of Yoder how he was influenced quite a bit by Gandhi.  As near as I can tell, all of Yoder’s references to Gandhi were positive.  But I don’t think that makes him a Gandhian.

3. Yoder and the Creeds. Craig wrote: “I think we need clearly to distinguish between two statements: A. The Bible is a higher authority than the creeds, which are true only because and to the extent that they express the teaching of the NT.  Nicea is important because it expresses truth. B.  The Creeds should be used as a rhetorical device to gain the attention of mainstream Christians even though we do not accept what they say about Jesus.  Nicea is important because it is famous.”

I most certainly am not claiming “B” either, as should be clear from what I wrote.  My point is that Yoder does essentially accept “A” and because of that refers to the creeds as part of his rhetorical strategy of highlighting the truthfulness of the Gospel story of Jesus.

I would like to add statement “C”:  C.  The Creeds have an authority comparable to the Bible’s and provide the best angle for interpreting what the Bible tells us about Jesus Christ.

I guess I see Craig as moving back and forth between “A” and “C” in the book. The parts I quoted in my post seem to me to reflect this vacillation.  On page 133 Craig (accurately, I believe) portray Yoder in terms of “A.”  But earlier several times Craig seems to be reflecting more “C.”  In the book, Craig writes: “protecting, declaring, and unpacking the claims classical Christology is what Yoder is about” (page 17); “Yoder…shows how…Christological orthodoxy…contains the key to the survival and flourishing of the church’s witness to Jesus Christ” (page 23); “peace [is] at the heart of the biblical gospel as it is enshrined in the creeds” (page 49); “Yoder’s approach to social ethics is rooted in the classical, orthodox Christology that the ecumenical creeds affirm as the meaning of the Scriptures” (page 93).

In his response above, he adds: “You see, I do not think that Arianism (or Deism or Unitarianism or Liberal Protestantism) is the kind of theology which, ultimately, can sustain a community’s faithful following of Jesus.  I think that kind of theology always leads to a watering down of the radicality of Jesus’ teaching.  For Christians, it is the doctrine of the resurrection which enables martyrdom in the longterm.”

Not meaning to argue for the merits of Unitarianism or Liberal Protestantism, I still read this statement as more a reflection of Craig’s own theological assumptions than historically based.  One would need to define what one means by “faithful following of Jesus” and then look at actual communities.

Reading Yoder came at a crucial moment in my life.  He helped me to see that if I truly believed that the Gospel story of Jesus was central for my faith, I needed to be willing to follow that insight wherever it might lead me.  I continue to hold what are probably “orthodox” beliefs (resurrection, divinity of Jesus, authority of scripture), but I have gradually grown more and more critical of the western Christian tradition—learning how, for example, evangelical theology has gone hand-in-hand with violence (e.g., the apparent fact that self-described evangelical Christians are far more likely to support capital punishment than the general population).  This critical awareness has led me to conclude (I think, with Yoder) that what matters most is commitment to the way of Jesus, not to “classical orthodoxy” or a certain “doctrine of the resurrection.”  That is why Yoder could write that in many ways the history is Judaism shows much better than the history of “orthodox Christianity” what a community of Jesus’ followers should be like.

4. The Life of Jesus versus Doctrines About Jesus.  Craig wrote: “I cannot understand why anyone would ever want to play one off against the other.  If the Gospel is not ontologically true, then Jesus may not be the revelation of God and someone may come along in the future and live a more authentically human life than Jesus did.

Apparently Yoder did someplace use the term “ontologically true,” so maybe I need to back off on my point a bit.  I am, in part, trying to say that Yoder would prefer discussing truth in other ways than calling it “ontological truth”—emphasizing truth in life more than philosophical truth.

I don’t know if we can avoid “playing one off against the other” (i.e., either your starting point is the gospel story of the way of Jesus or doctrines about Jesus), at least given the way doctrinal theology has worked for Christians over the past 2000 years.  But I think we need to be precise in figuring out what we are playing against what.  I doubt whether Craig and I would disagree very much on this point if we talked about it long enough and came to understand each other.

My perspective is that Craig is not critical enough about the western tradition.  It seems to me that Craig has an excellent understanding of Yoder’s theology/ethics, and that he is wanting to choose for Yoder’s approach over against Christendom’s.  But I think that if one is going to do that, one probably needs to be more thorough-going in one’s critique of “classical orthodoxy.”

Craig wrote: “Let me put it this way: if you want to call others to follow Jesus you are very soon going to need a doctrine about Jesus because the “Why Jesus?” question will come up.  And I want to say that it is more than a matter of being born Mennonite or making a personal lifestyle choice or being temperamentally inclined more toward Jesus than Constantine.  Rather, it is the case that Jesus is one with God and thus he reveals the ultimate truth about the cosmos.  That is ultimately why we should follow him, whether we were born Mennonite or not, whether we are especially peaceful by nature or not and whether we would like to rule the world or not.”

I really don’t think it works quite this way (and I would emphasize that I also was not “born Mennonite” and that, if truth be told, I have a very ambiguous relationship right now with the Mennonite Church and have doubts about how exemplary our church is for embodying the way of Jesus).

I understand Yoder’s basic argument to be that for many authentic disciples of Jesus (including the first ones), the starting point has been the way of life Jesus led and this way of life has led to seeing Jesus as identified with God.  Jesus as revelation of God, then, is the conclusion, not the starting point.  A fully balanced and “full-orbed” (to use evangelical lingo) christology will more likely result from people identifying with the way of life and then coming to conclude the doctrine than from people starting with the doctrine and then being persuaded to identify with the way of life.

Craig Carter

1. Yoder and Mennonites:  I will definitely make an effort to become much more familiar with these four theologians in particular, some of whom I have read more extensively than others.

2.  Yoder and Barth:  I think that this is the heart of what is at stake in our discussion.  What it seems to come down to is that I read Barth differently than Ted does.  If I became convinced that you were right in this statement, which I quote below, then I would have to choose between Yoder and Barth and there is no question l would have to side with Yoder over Barth.

Ted:  “And, as good as Barth is, I don’t think he sees the Gospel story of Jesus’ way as nearly as central as Yoder does—or else, among other things, he would not be nearly so abstract and vague in his theological ethics.”

But I don’t think Ted is right in his assessment of Barth.  If one reads the whole of the Church Dogmatics and takes into account the development of Barth’s thought toward what Yoder called a “Free Church Vision,” one discovers that Barth was in the process of re-thinking Christian dogma in light of the Gospel narrative of Jesus Christ and that his whole life work was, in fact, focused on doing precisely that.

Some Points in Support of This Assertion:

a) Barth’s narrative Christology in Vol. IV forms the interpretive core around which the doctrines of reconciliation, sin, justification, the Holy Spirit and the church are expounded.  This is a radically different way of doing theology in the Reformed tradition (and I think a model for those wishing to do believers’ church theology).

b) Barth’s rejection of natural theology meant that his goal was to understand every Christian doctrine Christocentrically.  His refusal to attempt to correlate Christian doctrine systematically with any philosophy or social scientific theory means that he is working with a method which can allow the radicalness of Jesus to work its way into the marrow of his thought.  No one else in the Roman Catholic or Protestant tradition has done this before (with apologies to Calvin, who did this to a very great extent, but whose followers reverted to scholastic method and natural theology).

c) We see radical results of this method emerging in various parts of the Church Dogmatics (e.g., the rethinking of the doctrine of election), but we see it beginning to result in believer’s church distinctives especially in Barth’s ecclesiology in Vol IV.

Three examples:

1. Barth defines the mission of the church as witness and rejects a sacramental system of salvation which can be manipulated by human beings.  Jesus Christ is the only true sacrament.

2. Barth rejects infant baptism and accepts believers’ baptism.

3. Barth embraces practical pacifism for the church and Yoder demonstrates convincingly that Barth’s own theology more logically leads to theoretical pacifism as well.

d) Barth never wrote his Doctrine of Redemption (Vol. 5 of Church Dogmatics).  If he had, I believe that the logical development of his thought would have continued and would have resulted in his embracing pacifism, the believers’ church and a clearer discipleship ethic.

e) As it is, how can anyone read Paragraph 66 on sanctification (Church Dogmatics IV/2) and not see a clear parallel with The Politics of Jesus?  In section 1 “Justification and Sanctification” Barth corrects the tendency in Roman Catholicism and Liberal Protestantism to obscure sanctification by over emphasizing justification to the exclusion of sanctification: “Sanctification is not justification.  If we do not take care not to confuse and confound, soteriology may suffer, allowing justification (as in the case of much of Roman Catholicism in its following of Augustine, but also of many varieties of Neo-Protestantism) to merge into the process of his sanctification initiated by the act of the forgiveness of sins, or by allowing faith in Jesus Christ as the Judge judged in our place (this in my view is the most serious objection to the theology of Rudolf Bultmann) to merge into the obedience in which the Christian in his discipleship has to die to the world and to himself” (page 504).

In section 2 “The Holy One and the Holy Ones” Barth develops his understanding of sanctification as participating in the sanctity of Jesus (page 518).

In section 3, “The Call to Discipleship,” Barth agrees with Bonhoffer that following Jesus actually means doing what Jesus did and commanded (pages 540-41).  He emphasizes that the call to discipleship involves breaking with the world and denying self (page 543).

In section 4, “The Awakening to Conversion,” Barth says that the Bible is “one long account of the great acts of God which have their center in Jesus Christ” (page 558).  He also says that conversion cannot be understood “in terms of a relationship between him and God, to the exclusion of any relationship with his brother” (page 563).

In section 5, “The Praise of Works,” Barth argues that it is obligatory that Christians do good works (page 585).

The paragraph comes to a climax with the final section 6 “The Dignity of the Cross.”  Here Barth says: “The cross is the most concrete form of the fellowship between Christ and the Christian.  As the bearing of the cross was and is for Jesus Christ His coronation as the one Son of Man, the royal man, so for the Christian the cross which he has to suffer is his investiture with the distinction glory and dignity proper to him as a Christian” (page 599).   Later Barth says: “In the New Testament the cross means primarily persecution” (page 609).  For Yoder, the essence of Christian discipleship is to follow Jesus primarily in taking up our cross, i.e. in accepting the rejection of the world resulting in our peaceableness.  Barth thus teaches basically the same thing in Paragraph 66.

I do not think it is fair to claim that Barth’s ethics is so vague and abstract that it is disconnected to Jesus.  Maybe most people see it that way, but I think it is time to re-read Barth from an Anabaptist perspective.

3. Yoder and the Creeds:  I agree with most of what Ted says in this section, but I want to clarify what I was saying about the Creeds.  If statements in my book led Ted to think that I was saying that the creeds themselves have an authority equal to or greater than that of the Bible, then I expressed myself poorly.  I never meant to say that.

But notice that in Ted’s quotes from the book I do not say that Yoder unpacks the meaning of the creeds, but rather, that he unpacks the meaning of the orthodox Christology contained in the creeds.  I also say that Yoder expounds the biblical gospel which is enshrined in the creeds.  I was trying to be careful at that point.  The Creeds are not important because the Emperor approved them and they are thus a higher authority than Jesus or the Bible.  Rather, the Creeds are important because in terms of Christology and Trinity, they got the Biblical message right.

If Ted thinks I misrepresent Yoder because I portray him as believing that the Creeds are equal in authority to Scripture, then I agree that he does not and I did not mean to say that.  But if anyone thinks that Yoder was not committed to a Nicene account of the Trinity and a Chalcedonian account of Christology, then I disagree.  If I appeared to say the former when I meant the latter, then I am pleased to have the chance to clarify the situation.

As to Ted’s comments about Evangelical Christianity and Judaism, I resonate with what he says very strongly.

4. The Life of Jesus vs. Doctrines About Jesus:  I agree with much of what Ted says here too, but I still would want to stress that doctrine and living go together.  The only reason it does not seem to be so is that Christendom has produced so much bad theology for so long.

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