Late renowned theologian opposed ‘cultic sacrificial rite’
By Steve Shenk
HARRISONBURG, Va., and WATERLOO, Ont.—John Howard Yoder, the late Mennonite theologian, authored 25 books, inspiring many others to write books and research papers about Yoder and his ideas.
Yoder, who died in 1997 at the age of 70, was best-known—especially beyond Mennonite circles—for his 1972 book The Politics of Jesus. A standard work in many colleges and seminaries, the book makes a strong case for the Anabaptist view of Jesus’ radical critique of society.
Now there is a book by and about Yoder. A scholar of Yoder’s ideas has researched all the written materials left by Yoder on the subject of capital punishment. The scholar’s name is John Nugent, and his new book, published by Herald Press in September, is titled The End of Sacrifice: The Capital Punishment Writings of John Howard Yoder.
Yoder, who taught at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary and Notre Dame University, both in Indiana, strongly opposed the death penalty.
The new book brings together four decades of Yoder’s published and unpublished writings on capital punishment. “He engaged in sophisticated biblical, sociological and historical analysis in order to demonstrate that from ancient society until today, capital punishment is an inherently cultic sacrificial rite,” said Nugent.
Since the death of Jesus brought a decisive end to all sacrifices of sin, Yoder argued, Christians should proclaim the abolition of the death penalty. Its advocates should no longer claim biblical validation.
In doing so, Yoder also made a persuasive case for proactive Christian witness to the state. He called the church to proclaim the end of sacrifice to public officials who are responsible for carrying out capital punishment.
“John Howard Yoder was unique in how he brings together both the biblical and sociological roots of the practice of capital punishment,” said Nugent. “Many Christian works focus on the former, whereas other works focus exclusively on the latter.”
Nugent is professor of Old Testament at his alma mater, Great Lakes Christian College in Lansing, Mich. He first became interested in Yoder when he took a course on Yoder’s ideas taught by Stanley Hauerwas, a leading Yoder scholar, at Duke Divinity School in Durham, N.C.
Later, at Calvin Theological Seminary, Nugent wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on “Old Testament Contributions to Ecclesiology: Engaging and Extending the Insights of John Howard Yoder.” The paper is being published this fall by Cascade Books as The Politics of Yahweh.
“Yoder showed me that the lordship of Christ applies to all aspects of life,” said Nugent, “and that his lordship requires a reassessment and often a reworking of all areas of thought and practice.”
The End of Sacrifice is available from Herald Press by calling 800-245-7894 (U.S.) or 800-631-6535 (Canada). The price is $16.99 in the U.S. and $19.99 in Canada.
Herald Press is the book imprint of MennoMedia, a ministry of Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada.
For more information, contact Steve Shenk, director of marketing and sales, at email@example.com or 540 908-2592.
The End of Sacrifice