THE POLITICS OF JESUS

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THE POLITICS OF JESUS pdf




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THE POLITICS OF JESUS - page 1
THE POLITICS OF JESUS Jesus had radical social ethics and so should his followers a simplified summary of John H. Yoder's classic book by Nathan Hobby with James Patton
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THE POLITICS OF JESUS - page 2
The Politics of Jesus 2 2nd edition - January 2005 www.geocities.com/savageparade/poj CONTENTS INTRODUCTION...................................................................................................................................................... 3 CHAPTER 1: THE POSSIBILITY OF A MESSIANIC ETHIC .................................................................................. 5 CHAPTER 2: THE KINGDOM COMING - THE POLITICAL ASPECTS OF JESUS’ LIFE ................................... 8 CHAPTER 3: THE IMPLICATIONS OF THE JUBILEE ........................................................................................ 13 CHAPTER 4 - GOD WILL FIGHT FOR US - PACIFISM AND THE OLD TESTAMENT ...................................... 16 CHAPTER 5 - NON VIOLENT RESISTANCE IS POSSIBLE! .............................................................................. 19 CHAPTER 6 - TRIAL BALANCE - YODER’S CASE SO FAR AND AN OUTLINE OF WHERE IT WILL GO ..... 21 CHAPTER 7: THE DISCIPLE OF CHRIST AND THE WAY OF JESUS - NT LETTERS/ SOCIAL ETHICS ....... 26 CHAPTER 8: CHRIST AND POWER - CHRIST’S VICTORY OVER THE POWERS .......................................... 29 CHAPTER 9 - REVOLUTIONARY SUBORDINATION ......................................................................................... 35 CHAPTER 10: LET EVERY SOUL BE SUBJECT - ROMANS 13 AND THE AUTHORITY OF THE STATE...... 39 CHAPTER 11: JUSTIFICATION BY GRACE THROUGH FAITH - A SOCIAL EVENT ...................................... 45 CHAPTER 12: THE WAR OF THE LAMB - THE BOOK OF REVELATION ........................................................ 49 APPENDIX OF OTHER RESOURCES: WHERE TO FROM HERE
THE POLITICS OF JESUS - page 3
The Politics of Jesus 3 INTRODUCTION The ‘politics of Jesus’ is an offensive or dangerous phrase for most evangelicals. This is part of the reason for its importance as a title both of Yoder’s book, and this summary of it. Yoder presents us (paradoxically) with a pacifist Jesus who did not come to bring ‘peace’ (in the sense of unity in compromise) but a ‘sword‘ (of truth and justice). The Politics of Jesus is an incendiary, revolutionary book which brought me face to face with Jesus Christ and left me wanting more people to have the same experience. It is an uncategorisable classic that, in some senses, covers all of theology in laying out the social ethics of Jesus, their pre-emption in the Old Testament and their lived reality in the early church. While Yoder’s book was mainly addressed to liberals and moderates in the context of academic theology, this summary is written with the disenchanted or progressive lay evangelical in mind, who has a decent general knowledge and has been around churches for a while, but hasn’t necessarily done any specialised study or read any theology books before. This, of course, has meant a change in emphasis and detail for some of what Yoder wrote. It also means that at times Yoder’s discussion is irrelevant or incomprehensible to the lay evangelical. I have generally kept Yoder’s original headings and structure. I have omitted a couple of his most complicated and least important arguments. The revision restores the last few paragraphs of Chapter 3, which were accidentally omitted in the first edition. It also corrects numerous small errors, while undoubtedly leaving others, and clarifies some of the arguments. The appendix of other resources has been updated, as has of course this introduction. James Patton (chapter 11) and I prepared this book in mid-2003 as a weekly course to give an entry level understanding of what Yoder was talking about. It was the time of the Iraq War, and this was very much on our minds. As I prepare the revisions for the second editions, all of the references to this seem just as relevant. We wrote week by week, on the run. With the help of Brad and Marina Schilling, Ian and Ann Duckham, my brother Joshua and the attendance of many others, we served a simple meal each week in the Christian Centre for Social Action, read the weekly summary, and then had a discussion. It was a modest course with often modest attendance, and yet in these humble meetings we Perth Anabaptists felt greatly encouraged and moved. After these meetings, James, Joshua and I joined the house church the Schillings and Duckhams had begun - named the Perth Anabaptist Fellowship. Teresa and Jarrod, who had been coming along to the Yoder studies, also started attending and suddenly the church was booming! We’ve since been joined by most of the Peace Tree community Joshua and Jarrod have helped establish in Lockridge. Our Sunday meetings rotate between five houses across the metro area.
THE POLITICS OF JESUS - page 4
The Politics of Jesus 4 I have since written a more basic series of six studies that form an introduction to Anabaptist Christianity for people with no previous understanding of church or education. It’s called The Body of Christ and can be found at www.geocities.com/savageparade/body . The Politics of Jesus study book has generated quite a lot of thinking since the appearence of the first edition. My friends Sarah Wadley and Simon Barns did several of the studies in their cell group attached to Mount Pleasant Uniting. Nicole James read it online and started coming along to Perth Anabaptist Fellowship. A review also appeared in the national Anabaptist newsletter, On The Road. You might like to run a similar course to the one we did. The sharing of a common meal is very important to the kind of ideas expressed here. Or else you might like to study this as part of your Bible Study group. It will lead you over the whole New Testament and stimulate the thinking and acting of everyone who loves Jesus. Or, of course, you can also study this by yourself as an accessible introduction to a book which is hard going even for theology students. Feel free to photocopy and distribute as you see fit. Should you wish to contact me or anyone in the Anabaptist movement, contact details are provided in the appendix. I welcome feedback. Yoder died soon after his 70th birthday in 1997. He was an American Mennonite and a former student of the most influential theologian of the twentieth century, Karl Barth. From speaking to those who knew him, the Duckhams and the Hursts among them, he was a brilliant, unsociable genius with genuine prophetic insight. His work continues to be very influential today. A brief guide to his work and that of related thinkers is found in the appendix. In an attempt to make this work as accessible as possible, key terms which might not be understood have an asterisk (*) next to them the first time they appear in each chapter and are defined in the glossary at the end of the work. I have erred on the side of caution in choosing what to define, so there may be some terms which are very obvious to you. - Nathan Hobby, January 2005 E-mail: nathanhobby@gmail.com Web: http://perthanabaptists.wordpress.com
THE POLITICS OF JESUS - page 5
The Politics of Jesus 5 chapter 1 The possibility of a messianic ethic 1. The problem In this book, Yoder confronts the linked problems that, firstly the church fails to understand Jesus as the radical figure he was, and secondly, a huge chasm exists between who Jesus was and what the church often does. Yoder wants to recover the social ethics that stem from following Jesus. New Testament scholars are realising that Jesus was a radical man who defied a lot of what his society stood for and who had a vision of what our common life and actions should look like. However, because the most visible people acting out any of this radicalness today are hippies, anti- globalisation protestors and socialists who get equal inspiration from Jesus, Gandhi and Che Guevra, the church has tended to dismiss the idea that following Jesus entails a counter-cultural lifestyle. Instead, because for centuries ‘Christians’ have been in the majority, being a Christian involves being a conforming member of the state. 2. Jesus was a simple, rural man talking to 'fishermen and peasants, lepers and outcasts.' His personal ethics can only be applied in such a simplistic society. His ethics can't be used for a complex, developed society like our own in the same way that village economics can't apply to big business. 3. Jesus and his followers were a minority without power. Thus they didn't have to be responsible. But since Christianity took the 'reins of power' at the time of the first Christian emperor, Constantine, Christians have to face up to their responsibilities of governing and get 'realistic'. 4. Jesus dealt with spiritual and not social matters. As Paul helps clarify in Romans and his other letters, the gospel does not have social implications. Instead, it’s a case of inner conversion and atonement rather than obedience. The extreme commands he gives in his teaching are just to remind us how impossible it is to be saved on our own part. They are an evangelism tool designed to get people to repent and ask Jesus into their hearts. 5. Jesus did not come to provide an example, but to die on the cross and be raised again in order that our sins might be paid for. The gospel is not about works but about faith. 2. Mainstream Christian ethics: Jesus is not the norm What excuses does the church usually offer for not imitating Christ and following in his footsteps? Generally, Jesus is made irrelevant for social ethics in one of five different ways: 1. 'Interim' Ethic - Jesus thought the world was about to end and so he wasn't bothered with being practical. His ethical teachings don't pay attention to the fact that stable society has to survive. This list of excuses for irrelevance apply most often to what is called the 'established' or 'state' church - that is, the Church of England and the Church of Scotland; the Lutheran church, and, to some extent, the Roman Catholic church. Today in Australia, the Anglican and Uniting churches best represent the established church tradition,
THE POLITICS OF JESUS - page 6
The Politics of Jesus 6 especially where the preachers and parishioners have what is known as a 'liberal bent'. However, number four and five are also particularly relevant to the dominant force in Australian religion - evangelicalism and its relatives, pentecostalism and fundamentalism. Within these traditions, the point is not usually that Jesus' ethics are irrelevant, but that they are 'inner' requirements not meant to be taken too literally. Thus Jesus words on the rich have a final meaning of a call to 'inner detachment' toward wealth. We should love our personal enemies and our nation's enemies in a 'personal way' but alas this will sometimes involves invading and/or killing them. As in numbers four and five, the gospels are frequently understood in the terms that we are taught to understand Romans and Paul's other letters - personal sin, repentance and salvation. Yoder will go on in this chapter to challenge (briefly) this understanding of Paul as well as the idea that the letters in the New Testament should 'trump' (rule our understanding of) the gospels. were mistaken about Jesus. They thought he was a threat to the social order, but in fact he was proclaiming that people should change their inward spirit. Fortunately, for people who believe this, Paul came along and corrected the misunderstanding of the Romans and the Jews. Paul helped people realise that Jesus did not have a radical social agenda. Instead, he was actually encouraging positive respect for the institutions of society, even to the silencing of women and the keeping of slaves. Thus Paul, apparently, made the church realise that Jesus was not going to change the external acts of people too much. This whole way of thinking has a number of problems, including: 1. If Jesus' disciples and enemies misunderstood him so greatly and the obvious meaning of what he was saying needed to be corrected by an ethic of social survival and order, is there such a thing as a Christian ethic at all? 2. In what sense was Jesus fully human (incarnated) if what he did is not what we are supposed to try to do? Having realised these problems, the next step we are going to take is to read the Gospel story with a new question: 'Are there social ethics in here?' Or to put it in another way, 'Did Jesus want his followers to have a unique style of life and if so, what was it?' Thus The Politics of Jesus has two tasks: 1. To sketch an understanding of Jesus and his ministry which shows his social ethics. 2. To put the case for believing that Jesus is the guide by which we should lead our common life now. To make it simpler and shorter, Yoder concentrates mainly on the gospel of Luke. Any other gospel could have been used, but it is often 3. What other norm is there? All these approaches assume that we will have to get our ethics from somewhere other than Jesus. Theology (‘what we believe’) will relate a little bit to ethics (‘what we do’) but not too much. But what other sources or norms for ethics are there? The most common source is the theology of the natural. This means deciding ethics on the basis of what is 'realistic', 'responsible' and 'relevant', 'effective' and 'efficient'. We can discern what is right by following our common sense in looking at the world around us. Having swallowed these excuses, we read them into the New Testament. The Romans and Jews
THE POLITICS OF JESUS - page 7
The Politics of Jesus 7 said of Luke that he had a concern to show the political and social harmlessness of Jesus. Thus, if we can show social ethics in Luke, we will have passed the hardest test. Yoder will be trying to recapture the story, looking more at events than at teachings. He won't be saying anything original; this understanding of Luke comes from the work of others. He'll just be one of the first to apply it to current social ethics. Discussion 1. Is WWJD a good slogan? 2. In practice, does it mean the same thing as what Yoder seems to be talking about? 3. What approaches toward Jesus’ radical words and deeds have you come across?
THE POLITICS OF JESUS - page 8
The Politics of Jesus 8 chapter 2: THE KINGDOM COMING No. If this was the case, Luke would have begun his story by warning us how wrong Mary, Zechariah and John were in their expectations. But he offers no such correction - he just tells us that the hope of those expecting the saviour was the political and social rescue of the Israelites. The political aspects of Jesus's life - reading Luke with new eyes 1. Mary the revolutionary? (Luke 1:46ff, 68ff; cf 3:7) Mary's prayer at the beginning of Luke, 'The Magnificat', has become so familiar that we have lost its shock value. It's revolutionary, in the mode of the Maccabeans* (and later, the Zealots*) who opposed the Romans with force – 'He has shown strength with his arm He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts He has put down the mighty from their thrones, And exalted those of low degree; He has filled the hungry with good things, And the rich he has sent away empty.' 2. The political importance of the temptations in the desert (Lk 3:21-4:14) 'You are my Son', spoken by a voice from heaven, is not simply an observation about Jesus' nature or origin. It is the summons to a task. Jesus is summoned to be the messianic son and servant, the bearer of God’s goodwill and the fulfilment of his promises; the King of the Jews. The mission is made clearer with the testing which follows. The Tempter (Satan) tempts Jesus with different ways of fulfilling his mission - different ways of being king. Unfortunately we are used to looking on this passage as a purely personal and fleshly temptation. But it was much more than this. The first temptation to turn the boulders into bread is the economic option - to use his power to establish a kingdom based on the buying of loyalty, on economic reward. In the second temptation, Jesus is offered rule over the whole world if only he will bow to the Tempter. Is this an invitation to join a satanic cult? Would Jesus have taken such a suggestion remotely seriously? The meaning is much clearer and more concrete when we see Jesus being tempted by the idolatrous* nature of power madness and nationalism*. The way of Satan is not so much death metal music and pentagons as co-ercive*, evil use of power to the ends of nationalism. What Mary is saying is that the one whose birth is being announced is an agent of radical social change - he is coming to break the bondage of his people. We've been too used to reading these with the assumption that all this is to be taken 'spiritually'. But is this what Luke wanted us to understand? In the same chapter, Zechariah then talks about the birth of John as meaning 'that we shall be saved from our enemies...' Soon after John is preaching 'Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees...' So, okay, maybe John the Baptist was hoping for a revolution, for a change to the social order - but he was wrong, wasn't he? Jesus soon came and set the record straight?
THE POLITICS OF JESUS - page 9
The Politics of Jesus 9 The third temptation to jump off the temple roof is surely not about an acrobatic marvel to prove Jesus' wonder-worker status. Instead, it quite possibly refers to the penalty for blasphemy in Jewish law - being thrown down from a tower in the temple wall, followed by stoning. Thus Jesus was tempted to take on the penalty for his claim to divine authority - execution - but then to miraculously escape the consequences. It is a recurring temptation, put again by Peter and by Jesus' neighbour on the cross. Yet as we know, Jesus chose to suffer the punishment fully and was killed. multitudes, the sick and the tax-collectors. The religious establishment soon objects, firstly to Jesus claiming the authority to forgive (5:21) and then to the bad company he keeps (5:30). Quickly the opposition mounts to the point of angry scheming (6:11). It is at this time that Jesus, after a night long vigil, names twelve key messengers, the ‘firstfruits’* of the restored Israel. To organised opposition he responds with the founding of a new social reality! New teachings are no threat while the leader stands alone; however, a movement extending his personality in both time and space is a real threat to the system. It challenges the system as no mere words can. In the sermon on the plain, Jesus sets out a new covenant* using the standard ancient structure of blessings and woes. Gentiles (non-Jews) from Tyre and Sidon are among the crowd. Interestingly, at this point Jesus uses only personal and economic issues as specimens of the New Way. An essential part of primitive Christianity was refusing to reclaim property and forgiving people's defaulted loans. Many later Christian traditions have focussed mainly on the sexual and private spheres. 3. Jesus’ platform speech (Lk 4:14ff) In Luke, Jesus starts his public ministry by reading from Isaiah 61 - a passage that expresses hope for the Messiah in explicitly social terms: 'He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor, He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives; And recovering of sight to the blind; To set at liberty the oppressed, And proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord' To the Jews at the Nazareth synagogue, 'the acceptable year of the Lord' meant the jubilee year of Leviticus 25 - the time when all the debts and inequities accumulated through the years are crossed off and God's people will begin again at the same point. Jesus has come to bring to Palestine the equalising impact of the sabbath year! Jesus' fulfilment of this prophecy is through his visible restructuring of the social relations among the people of God. A new order was in town, one where the rich would give to the poor, the captives would be freed and the hearers would gain a new mentality. 5. The bread in the desert (Lk 9:1-22; John 6) Luke's account of the sending of the twelve (9:1- 10), the feeding of the crowd (9:11-17) and the first confession of Peter, is not as clear as the account in John 6. The crowd of thousands were not the hard core of tested disciples but the first wave of more casual seekers coming to see if the kingdom announced by the twelve is real. As the tempter said it would, the feeding of the crowd moves it to acclaim Jesus as the New Moses, the Welfare King they had been waiting for. 4. Jesus reaffirms his platform speech (Lk 6:12ff) Jesus moves to Capernaum (4:31) and Luke reports a rising tide of effectiveness among the
THE POLITICS OF JESUS - page 10
The Politics of Jesus 10 He withdraws from them because he knows his ministry wasn't to be like this: it was to be a ministry of suffering, and the disciples would need to suffer with him. Peter says that the Christ should not suffer and Jesus rebukes him sternly. In John, many disciples withdraw because it’s 'a hard saying' (John 6:60, 66). It is now that Jesus 'sets his face to go to Jerusalem' – to be crucified. Thus the bread in the desert is one of the hinges of Jesus' ministry. It is the climax of the time of popularity in Galilee. After this point, Jesus focusses more on the disciples and the approach to Jerusalem. 'Going to Jerusalem' (9:51) is like a subtitle for the second third of Luke's book. The first explicit mention of the cross reveals that it is an alternative to both violent rebellion (the Zealots) and to passive withdrawal from society (the Essenes*). of a 'spiritual only' kingdom. Instead, he tells them off for misunderstanding the way this new social order will operate - 'The kings of this earth lord it over their subjects; but it won't be like this among you... for I am among you as one who serves.' Jesus’ kingdom isn’t unusual because it’s invisible. Instead, it’s unusual because its leader is a servant. Just think about how different to our ‘kings’ is King Jesus, who washed his followers’ feet not as a public stunt, but in private, as a permanent way of operating. The alternative to how the kings of the earth rule is not 'spirituality' but ‘servanthood’. 7. The clearing of the temple (Lk 19:36-46) After the long journey since 9:51, Jesus finally makes it into Jerusalem in chapter 19. He comes as a king riding a donkey - an undeniably political figure who is also undeniably different to how other kings have always been. After the triumphant entry, Jesus weeps at the gates of the city, because he knows it is going to refuse to recognise him; indeed, it is going to execute him. Next, Jesus takes over the temple, driving out the animals and starting a daily teaching presence. The Jewish authorities want to kill him for his non-violent takeover of the temple. If the clearing of the temple had been illegal, there would have been clear legal grounds for action against him. If he had assaulted the money-changers, he could have been arrested on the spot. However, there are no grounds for actions against him and ultimately the authorities have to incite lies to convict him. Thus, the fact that he did nothing illegal suggests that he did not use violence. 6. The cost of following Jesus (Lk 12:49-13:9; 14:25-36) Just as multitudes begin accompanying Jesus he speaks a severe word of warning that 'If anyone does not hate father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.' The point of this warning is not how literally we should take 'hate'. No - the point is that in a society of very stable family ties, Jesus is calling into being a community of voluntary commitment, willing to take the hostility of the rest of society. (Notably, while modern churches try to make membership attractive to the great number, Jesus makes it hard.) Jesus keeps on warning people - to be a disciple is to share in the style of life that culminates in the cross. The warning is repeated later when the disciples clamour over who will be made greater in the coming kingdom (Luke 22:25). He doesn’t tell them off for expecting a new social order instead
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