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Frederica Mathewes-Green


Commentary

John Howard Yoder, 1927-1997

John Howard Yoder, influential and widely respected Christian theologian, ended his earthly life December 30, 1997, just after celebrating his seventieth birthday at home with his gathered family. For the past 20 years an ecumenical member of Notre Dame's theology department (his own denomination was Mennonite), Yoder was a frequent lecturer in widely varied Christian settings in this country and around the world. He was well known and often mentioned by religion scholars of every stripe but generally regarded as a contrarian thinker rather than a member of any accepted establishment. This reputation fit well with his lifelong intention, which was to call majority Christian and Jewish thinkers to re-evaluate their stance in light of his own radically catholic (small c) standpoint. Central to this call was his advocacy of nonviolence both as Jesus' demand upon the heirs of the biblical legacy and as a policy to be judiciously recommended to others. For him Jesus' nonviolent pattern of life was as relevant to today's world as once it had been to ancient Palestine.

John Howard Yoder was born into a midwestern Mennonite family (in Smithville, Ohio, Dec. 29, 1927), who operated a chain of greenhouses, an origin that gave pattern to his life. Trained at home in Anabaptist pacifism, he nonetheless attended public schools and had hoped to enter Robert Maynard Hutchins's accelerated University of Chicago program for gifted students. Instead, at his parents' urging, he enrolled in denominational Goshen College, where he completed the four-year B.A. in two years, majoring in Bible, meanwhile editing the school paper, singing in the choir, and debating on the speech team. Remaining at Goshen an extra year, he received a master of theology degree from the college and then returned to Wooster, Ohio, to work for the family as a plant-growth researcher.

World War II with its total demands on all Americans had shaken Mennonites into a greater world awareness ...

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