22 Legal Stud. F. 473 (1998)
The Jurisprudence of John Howard Yoder

handle is hein.journals/lstf22 and id is 483 raw text is: THE JURISPRUDENCE
OF
JOHN HOWARD YODER
THOMAS SHAFFER*
John Howard Yoder, prophet and theologian, died in his office at
Notre Dame on December 30, 1997, the day after his seventieth
birthday. Peter Steinfels's obituary in the New York Times of January
7, 1998, described my friend and colleague Yoder as a Mennonite
theologian whose writings on Christianity and politics had a major
impact on contemporary Christian thinking about the church and social
ethics. Steinfels did not describe Yoder's thought as jurisprudence;
neither, for that matter, did Yoder. But there was (and is), throughout
Yoder's scholarship, an implicit theology of law, a jurisprudence. A
jurisprudence that is particularly noticeable in his last book, For the
Nations (Eerdmans, 1997).
Yoder was, Steinfels wrote, first and foremost a pacifist. He quoted
Yoder's sometime colleague at Notre Dame, the Methodist theologian
Stanley Hauerwas: After World War II and the criticism of pacifism by
Reinhold Niebuhr, Christian nonviolence had lost credibility. Yoder
turned that around.
Beyond that, or within it, Steinfels wrote, Yoder was (as Hauerwas
is) a theologian who taught that the work of Jesus was not a new set of
ideals or principles for reforming or even revolutionizing society, but the
establishment of a new community, a people that embodied forgiveness,
sharing, and self-sacrificing love in its rituals and discipline. In that
sense, the visible church for him was not the bearer of Christ's message;
it was itself to be the message.
Mr. Yoder understood the church as a creative minority that would
always live in a way that contrasted with the surrounding society. He
criticized all tendencies for the church to assume a blanket
responsibility for the ethics of the secular world. As the collected
sermons, lectures, and essays in For the Nations demonstrate (and
continuing to quote from the obituary by Peter Steinfels), Yoder
rejected [the] charge that he was calling for the church to withdraw into
isolation, and he devoted much of his writing to demonstrating how
neither his pacifism nor his sectarianism prevented the church from
providing a crucial witness to the secular world or from combating a host
of injustices.
* Robert and Marion Short Professor of Law Emeritus, Notre Dame Law School.

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