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October 1972 · Vol. 1 No. 4 · pp. 134–35 

Book Review

Nevertheless: A Meditation on the Varieties and Shortcomings of Religious Pacifism

John Howard Yoder. Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1971. 144 pages.

Reviewed by Paul Toews

John Howard Yoder has for some time functioned as the leading Mennonite pacifist thinker and spokesman. His previous writings have been widely read within the larger peace movements. His two new works, The Original Revolution: Essays on Christian Pacifism and Nevertheless: A Meditation on the Varieties and Shortcomings of Religious Pacifism (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1971), should also gain a wide readership.

Nevertheless is an attempt to distinguish between the many varieties and nuances of pacifism. The term “pacifism” has been so muddied by its popular and vague usage that some guide to discriminate between the many kinds is needed. Yoder detects seventeen different strands of pacifist thinking. He is careful to distinguish the various positions with a close and tolerant analysis. The attempt is descriptive. No judgments about the varieties are made, but the conclusion that all are preferable to a militarist position is clear. The result is an excellent map of the manifold understandings that pass under the rubric of religious pacifism. This little volume certainly makes discussions of pacifism clearer, and hence the dialogue about pacifism more fruitful.

Yoder’s own position is identified in Nevertheless as the “Pacifism of the Messianic Community.” That position is clarified in the seven essays that comprise The Original Revolution. These essays were written over a fifteen year period. They vary in readability and method of argumentation. They are framed within a biblical or ecumenical perspective. But again, the conclusion is forceful. Starting from the scriptures and proceeding with persuasiveness and logic, he makes the case for pacifism as an integral part of the Christian gospel. To view it as some political notion or ethical principal on the periphery is to miss the meaning of the faith. It is not an issue that the eighteen year-old confronts at draft registration, it is a matter of Christian faithfulness. It is not merely a matter of private judgment, it requires the corporate response of the church.

Each essay is an entity in itself. No short review can suggest the scope of all of them. However, the lead essay bearing the title of the collection sets the tone. The original revolution is the new pattern by which men live together in righteousness. Jesus rejected the four established {135} methods for living in a social order: acceptance of the established order; change through righteous revolutionary violence; withdrawal; and a kind of de facto separation by proper religion. The original revolution that Jesus proclaimed was the creation of a distinct community with its own values and patterns. Pacifism is the intentional community realizing this new style of life. It is God’s people steadfastly keeping His commandments. The revolution is that this faith creates a new quality of life, a new kind of relationship, a new way of peace and a new society.

Yoder’s analysis of the meaning of this revolution provides considerable light on questions that have traditionally troubled pacifists. His perspective on the entire question of Christ and culture, the relationship between the Testaments on the issue of violence, and the viability of pacifism as a personal ethic and/or a public policy is solid and helpful. The significance of his understandings makes this work a must for all who are seriously interested in Christian pacifism.

Paul Toews
MB Biblical Seminary, Fresno, California

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