Ask anyone in nonviolent circles who has made a greater impact on nonviolence in the church, and, often times, the first name you will hear is John Howard Yoder. A profilic author, staunch pacifist, and influential theologian, Yoder remains an inspiration for anyone who thinks the church has gone wayward in its understanding of nonviolence. His writings are bold, and challenge all of us to a true nonviolent lifestyle.
Yoder studied at Goshen College, earning his bachelor’s degree there under the influence of Harold Bender, another famous Mennonite theologian. He conducted his graduate work at the University of Basel in Switzerland, where he studied under men like Karl Barth. The night before submitting his dissertation entitled Anabaptism and Reformation in Switzerland, he went to Barth’s office to submit ANOTHER paper he had written in the meantime: Karl Barth and the Problem of War. The entire paper was a polemic against Barth’s position on war.
Forgive my crudeness, but this dude has sack. Not many take on Barth like this. This was boldness.
Anyway, after directing relief efforts with the Mennonite church in WWII, and working in his father’s greenhouse for awhile, he began his teaching career at Goshen Biblical Seminary. For there, he taught theology at the University of Notre Dame, becoming a fellow for The Institute For International Peace Studies. In the late 80’s and early 90’s, allegations of sexual misconduct were filed against Yoder, who submitted to Mennonite Conference disciplinary action, though never fully admitted to the accusations, hinting at conspiracy against him. After submitting, the church encouraged him to continue in his gifts of writing and teaching. He died in 1997.
Yoder is perhaps most famous for his work The Politics of Jesus, written in 1972. A polemic against Reinhold Niebuhr’s philosophy, which was predominant at the time, Yoder demonstrated through the Gospel of Luke and portions of Paul’s writings that radical pacifism was the truest way to follow Christ.
His other writings are largely based in ethics, ranging from Constantinianism (the term he used to describe the present relationship between church and state), rejection of a universal morality, and many other rather controversial stances. His works would go on to influence some of his own students, such as Stanley Hauerwas, to continue in his traditions (Hauerwas was actually named by Time Magazine “Best Theologian of 2000”). In all, the nonviolent community of Christians owes very much to Yoder and his works.
My personal recommendation: The Politics of Jesus (obviously), but also What Would You Do? I’ve mentioned this book about 100 times on here, but that’s because it’s that awesome. It closely examines the famous “What if?” questions most pacifists receive when hearing objections to their views. Good stuff.