Tuesday, July 5, 2011

WWJD? Pt. 2 - Should we do it?

My advice: read the first five chapters for a neat reading of the gospels.  For a systematic ethical rendering of Jesus or of a complete modern theological ethic, look elsewhere.
Disappointed, I must say that the remainder of The Politics of Jesus did very little in the way of offering distinct ethical advice.  The majority of the 2nd half of the book explains that Paul and Jesus did not, in fact, disagree in their view of ethics and that the early church did not see Jesus as a spiritual guide whose teachings were irrelevant to making political and economic decisions.  While essential in the flow of his argument, Yoder lost me with these points; he gets into detailed and even contrived counter-arguments against the supposed status quo Christian ethic that lack flow and are less than clear on his own position.  This brings us two-thirds of the way to applying a social exegesis of Jesus to a modern social ethic.  Yoder will not even say that we should follow Jesus' ethic as he described it, but rather discredits all the arguments to the contrary and leaves it up to the reader.  It is certain that he had a particular version of the Mennonite pacifist stance in mind and was only somewhat concerned with veiling that.  He is quite clear that Christians should not join in war, but allows room for policing and judicial authority.  There is an interesting bit on the willing subjection to government with full knowledge that one is actually free not to do so (the whole 'freedom through chosen submission' argument).  His reasoning is sometimes confusing and even seemingly contradictory.  He sometimes supported acting as an agent of change for social or economic ends, sometimes not, and the reasons for each situation are anything but systematic.
Overall, a good book with many interesting readings of the NT.  The relatively clear thesis, however, is not executed in an organized or even consistent fashion.  He proposed to build a bridge from exegesis to ethics, and it is my estimation that he did not do it clearly.  A fair amount of synthesis of his various chapters may translate into clearer principles but I half-expected him to do that for the reader.  The flavor of the book changed multiple times and it really reads like a handful of related essays edited together with a lengthy new introduction.