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New generation of scholars refreshing John Howard Yoder theology
Mennonite Church Canada/MennoMedia joint release
Harrisonburg, Va., and Waterloo, Ont.—John Howard Yoder was acclaimed as one of the greatest theologians of the 20th century. Now a new generation of scholars is ensuring his influence extends well into the 21st century.
“Yoder constantly surprises us by breathing fresh air into an amazingly diverse array of topics,” says John Nugent, professor of Old Testament at Great Lakes Christian College in Lansing, Michigan. “Where old conversation seems to be polarized between two familiar, perennially contested choices, he often points us to a third option that does not neglect the strengths of the other two.”
Nugent is one of three editors, all in their thirties, of Challenge to the Church, a new series of Yoder’s writings from Herald Press. The first volume, Radical Christian Discipleship, will be released Nov. 22. It’s one of two Yoder books from Herald Press this fall. Things Hold Together: John Howard Yoder’s Trinitarian Theology of Culture by Branson L. Parler, came out Oct. 3. Parler is also a Challenge to the Church editor and professor of theological studies at Kuyper College, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Things Hold Together and Radical Christian Discipleship are the ninth and tenth books by or about Yoder from Herald Press in the past decade. That people are still earnestly interested in Yoder’s teachings, nearly a quarter century after his death, demonstrates that his theology is as relevant as ever.
“Evangelicals and post-evangelicals have recognized that wider society no longer supports Christian faith the way it formerly did,” said Nugent, who also edited The End of Sacrifice: Capital Punishment Writings of John Howard Yoder, published last year by Herald Press. “We feel like we need to respond to this change somehow. This has caused us to revisit the relationship between church and world.”
Yoder, while a Mennonite is pertinent to a wide range of Christian expressions, says Andy Alexis-Baker, the third Challenge to the Church editor and the only Mennonite of the three. “He speaks scriptural language very well, which draws in evangelicals; he speaks radical critique well, which draws in left-leaning people,” Alexis-Baker says.
The new series seeks to broaden Yoder’s appeal by presenting his theology in a less scholastic way. “What is great about this book, and the ones to come after, is that we see Yoder also challenging people on other areas of what should be the peace witness: economics, career choices, truth-telling, and much more,” Alexis-Baker says.
Both Nugent and Alexis-Baker were introduced to Yoder through Stanley Hauerwas, professor of theological ethics at Duke Divinity School, who has been heavily influenced by Yoder and is a one of his greatest proponents. Nugent studied under Hauerwas at Duke and wrote his master’s thesis on Yoder. Alexis-Baker, now a doctoral student in systematic theology at Marquette University, learned of Yoder by reading Hauerwas as an undergraduate at Wheaton College. He subsequently joined the Mennonite Church.
“[Yoder] has a kind of straight-forwardness to his work that [students] find attractive in a world of ambivalence,” Hauerwas says. “That doesn’t mean they’re looking for simple solutions—John Yoder won’t give you simple solutions—but he’ll tell you straight forward what he thinks.”
He is gratified by the current level of interest in Yoder. “I think it promises well for the future,” Hauerwas says.
MennoMedia is a joint ministry of Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Church USA.
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