The Heterodox Yoder
Reviewed by Branson Parler.
*** This review has been condensed from the new ebook
The Forest and the Trees:
Engaging Paul Martens’ The Heterodox Yoder
By Branson Parler
FREE download of this free ebook from the ERB
(PDF, should be suitable for most e-readers).
For those interested in the thought and legacy of John Howard Yoder, Paul Martens continues to be an engaging and provocative voice. In The Heterodox Yoder, Martens clarifies and crystallizes his overall reading of Yoder, which he began exploring in his earlier work. Martens continues to raise important questions surrounding Yoder’s thought and, in doing so, forces us back to Yoder’s text. I will briefly survey his argument before offering a lengthy critique that engages specific points in detail.
Martens uses the term “heterodox” to describe both Yoder and his own approach to Yoder. Regarding his own approach, Martens notes that there is an “orthodox” or accepted idea about which Yoder texts are most important, with Politics of Jesus leading the way. Rather than go this route, Martens focuses on texts that are supposedly underemphasized or seen as secondary. It should be noted that Martens’ point here would have been more relevant fifteen or twenty years ago. If anything, Politics is utilized less and less because its main points are taken for granted by so many. Yoder’s other texts are where the really interesting work has been going on for at least a decade. In this sense, Martens’ approach to Yoder’s corpus may not be as “heterodox” or atypical as he thinks. Second, Martens narrates the development of Yoder’s thought development in an atypical way. He recognizes that he is working against the stream, but he develops his alternative narrative that labels Yoder a heterodox thinker. What pushes him outside the bounds of orthodoxy? According to Martens, Yoder fails to affirm “the particularity or uniqueness of Jesus Christ as a historical person and as a revelation of God” (2). Far from being the champion of Christian particularity, Yoder is best understood as a neo-Kantian thinker who reduced theology to ethics. Furthermore, these ethics are not particularly Christian at all. At best, they represent ethical monotheism; at worst, a form of secular sociology (4). Martens does not therefore dismiss Yoder, but points to him as a cautionary tale, takes what is helpful from his thought, and recognizes that there is great harm in Yoder’s central impulse: to reduce theology to nothing more than a general and universalizable ethic that ultimately does not need Jesus.
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