Did I tell you that we have a new favourite theologian? I probably did, with my usual evangelic zeal. This man, now home with Christ, was a Mennonite theologian who had studied under Karl Barth in Basel. He was probably one of the sharpest thinkers of the twentieth century, a real no-nonsense, no-excuses Anabaptist. If you have not encountered Politics of Jesus (1972, Wm B. Eerdmans Co.), it’s time.
I want to quote briefly from the book, but it is difficult to find the right sound bite. Yoder is not a sound bite kind of writer. His arguments are well-reasoned and complex. I just can’t believe that in seven years of theological education, no one told me about Yoder (or Anabaptism, except in the negative way.)
On the Haustafeln (house tables or rules of order) in the New Testament epistles:
“After having stated the call to subordination as addressed first to those who are subordinate already (my note: slaves and women) the Haustafeln then go on to turn the relationship around and repeat the demand, calling the dominant partner in the relationship to a kind of subordination in his turn. Parents are asked not to irritate their children, husbands are called upon to love (agapan) their wives. Philemon is invited to receive Onesimus ‘no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, as a beloved brother, both in the flesh and in the Lord,’ as he would receive Paul himself. That the call to subordination is reciprocal is once again a revolutionary trait…” (Politics of Jesus.)
We practice this radical subordination because Christ became subordinate to the redemption of humanity. Christ gave us the example and imperative of defencelessness, a choice to practice subordination and meekness. Yoder and his students made this clear: Pauline ethics are not just a Christianized reiteration of Stoicism or Judaism, but unique and new. Wives and slaves are in obedience to husbands and masters not because they have a lesser role, but because the husbands and masters are now in obedience to them, as well, in the unity of Christ. The covered head of a woman and the iron cuff of a slave are no longer signs of subjugation, but signs of the headship of Christ under which both the husband and the master are now subjects.
The “politics of Jesus” aren’t a matter of who God may favour, or of sovereignty on earth, or of controlling money, but the politics of defenceless, nonresistance, and the politics of peace.