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Jesus Emphasized Issues that Churches Avoid

John Howard Yoder vigorously believes that the teaching of Jesus was very practical and very this-worldly.

The Teaching of Jesus Emphasized Issues that Churches Usually AvoidIn the Gospel records of Jesus’ teaching – the

  • spiritual,
  • metaphysical,
  • theological,
  • religious
  • practical

meaning of his actions and his words –

had direct and major implications for how humans should live their day-to-day lives in real societies in this real world.

And those issues always are connected to who has clout in any given situation, and how they use that.  And that usually (almost always?) has to do with economic issues.

I suggest that what have traditionally been thought of as “dogmatic questions” are more foreign to the import of the original texts in many cases than is the problem of power.

This reminds me of Amartya Sen, Harvard economist, arguing that there is really no effective difference between economics and ethics.

Economics is ethics.

And Gospel teaching is much more ethical than metaphysical or doctrinal. His teaching is ethics, with an emphasis on power / economics as ethics [with a bit of implied or explicit metaphysics].

Arguing about dogma, “Dogmatic questions,” which Jesus habitually avoided, could include things like,

  • • How sure are we that he was born of a virgin? How could that happen – physically, and spiritually?
  • • What are the proper definitions of the Son, the Father, and the Holy Spirit? What exactly is their relationship? Is there really a Trinity?
  • • How was, is, or should the church or churches be organized and managed?
  • • Who should be baptized, how, when, and by whom?
  • • What exactly is the extent of freedom of the will – if there is any such thing?
  • • How should weekly worship be managed? By whom? Should we be meeting on Saturdays?
  • • Who can be ordained? To what purposes? By whom?
  • • Just exactly how “infallible” are the Scriptures? Which Scriptures?
  • • What is the process you must go through – or the criteria you must meet – to join a church or to remain in good standing therein?
  • • Will the second coming occur in the next ten years?


BUT, says Yoder, we do know what the Lord thought and taught about some very practical and persistent issues.

We have the record of Jesus’ dealing explicitly with whether he should be king or whether we should love our enemies, and with what we should do with wealth;

Of course many of us who are active in church have at least tentative answers to some of those “dogmatic” questions. But we need to recognize that we are deriving those answers from some other source, not from Gospel teachings directly.

As to things churches really like to bring up, either against “unbelievers” or against each other, here’s one example from Yoder, and it’s not “very practical and persistent.”

only very indirectly can we get from his teachings any help on the metaphysics of incarnation.

Very interesting. And it becomes a question of emphasis. What kinds of things, then – I wonder – should we be focusing our attention and our efforts on?

Or, as Jesus himself put it, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not do what I say?”


The quotes are from John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus: Vicit Agnus Noster, Eerdmans, 1972, 1994. Chapter 8 “Christ and Power” footnote 1.

For my short, nine-“chapter” article discussing the moral concerns Christ emhpasized, click here.


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