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Spring 2003 · Vol. 32 No. 1 · pp. 131–32 

Book Review

Preface to Theology: Christology and Theological Method

John Howard Yoder. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos, 2002. 431 pages.

Reviewed by Mark D. Baker and David Gray

This book is based on transcripts of lectures which John Howard Yoder gave during a course at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminaries in 1968. In 1981 he revised the transcripts, and copies of that document were sold at the AMBS bookstore. Photocopies were made and read in places far beyond Elkhart, Indiana. Through the initiative of Stanley Hauerwas and Alex Sider, and Rodney Clapp of Brazos Press, the lectures are now available to a much wider audience. Hauerwas and Sider have added a helpful introduction. Their editing has improved the text—it does not read like transcribed lectures. The book does, however, maintain the character of lectures. At times sections end in a way that opens up a topic for discussion, and it contains reading lists and reflection questions for students. These questions offer the ambitious reader the opportunity to engage the topic more thoroughly, and they also give us a sense of how Yoder did the research for this work. Although in places the book is dated, most of it is still quite relevant.

In the first section Yoder uses the methodology of biblical theology to display how the early church engaged in a theological process rather than simply transmitting a collection of set data. The second section explores the christological debates of the post-apostolic period. The final section describes and analyzes systematic treatment of christological themes with special attention given to the relation of christology and eschatology, atonement, and revelation. In this final section Yoder gives clear, concise explanations of different approaches to the themes that could serve as a valuable reference source. We can easily imagine pointing a student or parishioner to a particular section if they, for example, had questions about different eschatological options or views of the atonement.

For those interested in Yoder and his work, this book will be of interest for the way it displays his theological methodology. And three aspects of his methodology stand out. First, throughout the book, whether discussing Paul, Origen, Anselm, or modern liberals and fundamentalists, Yoder illuminates how the theologians’ context influenced their theology. Secondly, Yoder does not argue for a package of correct theology that Anabaptists and others must return to. Rather, in the ongoing theological process we should constantly return to Jesus. For Yoder, theology becomes legitimate only after it has been “looped back” to Jesus and evaluated in that light. Thirdly, most theology is {132} concerned with proper beliefs. Yoder states that we must go beyond believing to seeing discipleship as vital for theology. For Yoder, ethics is not the next step once good theology is attained, rather discipleship and theology are inseparable—one cannot exist without the other.

The book’s title aptly describes the work. It uses christological themes to display and reflect on theological method and to prepare the reader for a more discerning and critical study of systematic theology. Both individuals and groups will find it valuable for that purpose.

Mark D. Baker
Asst. Prof. of Mission and Theology
Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, Fresno, California
David Gray
Fresno, California

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