A word from the East on Yoder and Jenson

Brad East has posted some helpful notes on the similiarities and differences between the theology of Yoder and Jenson. It’s worth reading the whole thing, but here’s a taster on the question of the nature of the church:

‘Yoder sees the church as a minority people in exilic sojourn among the nations, a servant community sent on behalf of others and therefore unwilling to exercise coercion for any reason, but just so socially responsible insofar as cruciform servanthood is the grain of the cosmos and the only truly transformative power in human community. In other words, the life of the church is defined by Spirit-enabled apocalyptic discipleship to the concrete sociopolitical life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, crucified and risen.

Jenson sees the church … differently. Somewhere he says that the entire mission of the church is “the saying of the gospel.” Elsewhere he claims that the community of the church over time is literally the body of the risen Christ on the earth. He also states that, when Constantine asked the bishops to help run the empire, they had nothing else to say but “yes.” He believes with Augustine that the only truly just society is one that worships the true God, and that just war is possible in a legitimately Christian society. Finally, he is able to articulate and is energized by the vision and history of a (high) Christian culture, and speaks to American governance in the hopes that a Christian politics – namely, the right ordering of heterosexual marriage and the consequent protection of the unborn – might both win the day and lead to the formation of a more coherent society.

Moreover, of course, the church catholic for Yoder is the free church: dogma, creed, papal bull, ecumenical council – none of it is binding or revelatory for God’s people. And for Jenson, dogma is either always and everywhere true and binding for the church, or the church is not the same community as that of Peter and Paul. And to be sure, in a church divided, God may act for unity tomorrow – in the restoration of communion with Rome. Not so much for Yoder’.


  1. Thanks Jason, and Brad. Interesting excerpt.

    I’m with Jenson – ‘the saying of the gospel’, the word of the cross, is the love of Christ in action, and as such, will always be fruitful, and bring judgment where there is unbelief. There is hope, only in Christ Jesus. Yoder always seems to me, to be on about a pseudo-Christian political social action – tinged with a sort of discipleship thing that looks more like ‘let us thank God we are not like those gentile, war-mongering sinners’. I’m glad his theology, was not advising the parliament as WW2 broke out.

    I think apostolic dogma is one thing. And non-apostolic dogma is quite another all together.


  2. On position, I would have to go with Jenson. But Yoder has good points also. But seeing the “emergent” church in America, at present there is not much hope for an American moral and ethical renewal, not one that stands upon the message of the Gospel and the Biblical “kerygma”. It is “lost” from the culture!


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