About Me


Powered by Blogger.
Tuesday, August 21, 2012

J. Lawrence Burkholder and John Howard Yoder

In all almost all ways I have found the move to College Mennonite Church well-timed, with one exception. I grieve that I did not come to CMC before former Goshen College president, J. Lawrence Burkholder died in June of 2010. I did have the privilege of hearing Burkholder when I as a student at the Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (back in the old days it was "Associated" not Anabaptist), and as a new Mennonite I found in him a refreshing voice as he told stories of the messiness of his service in China after World War II. Life is messy, leadership is messy, and the choice before us as Christians isn't always black and white, or perhaps it is fair to say it rarely is.

CMCer John Hershberger recalled Burkholder this week in an excellent adult Sunday School presentation in the Seekers class (if you ask nicely, John might be willing to do this in other classes), in which he contrasted Burkholder's thought on social engagement and the church with that of John Howard Yoder. John's presentation sent my mind on a long journey that included time in the Philippines, Washington, D.C., as well as my childhood and youth growing up as a pastor's kid. It is the latter that interests me most here.

As a pastor's kid I had a front row seat on the inner workings of the church, and it wasn't pretty. I learned that the church was full of sinners and hypocrites, treating each other and leaders badly, dripping with self righteousness. But yet I also learned that the church was made up of saints, who often turned out to be the same people as sinners. And at some point I came to love the church for all its messiness, as God's church, and imperfect vessel through which the gospel might be proclaimed.

Burkholder's vision of life made room for the church as it is and will be, rather than just for the church as it ought to be. Church life is messy, and we do the best we can with what we have.

Because this blog seems to be all about links to books, here are a couple, one for Burkholder and one for Yoder.


Anonymous said...

(Response to Phil Waite’s blog, “J. Lawrence Burkholder and John Howard Yoder”


QUESTION: Should one compromise about violence?
Jesus didn’t.
So Yoder didn’t, because Jesus didn’t.
Burkholder did, ahead of time, on paper: life is messy, and at times you deal with it realistically, choosing – ahead of time, on paper (Burkholder’s dissertation, and his volume, “The Limits of Perfection: A Conversation with J. Lawrence Burkholder”) – the lesser evil, even if some people get hurt.
Burkholder began with the messiness of the now, and asks, How can we be responsible to society in solving the exigencies of the now (war, injustice, etc.)?

We see, here, that Yoder begins with Jesus and constantly loops back to Jesus. He relates all points of faith and ethics, “specific to Jesus.” There is accommodation, but without compromise. Yoder keeps Jesus central: always.
Burkholder, in his dissertation, doesn’t as directly “loop back to Jesus.” One needs to adapt to conditions as they are, and even contemplate compromise – beginning with the vagaries and realities of existence, and accepting compromise, consciously. Influenced by Niebuhr, he begins with “realism,” then, as a second step, refers to Jesus for answers as to what to do. He takes into consideration what Jesus has to say, but he does not begin with Jesus in the same manner as does Yoder.
Yoder admitted to the need to make decisions within the messiness of life, that at times a better decision might have been made, more true to the way of Jesus. But Yoder begins with Jesus, and on paper, stays with Jesus. How does this works out, existentially? For Yoder, staying with Jesus affects how one responds to “between a rock and a hard place.” And where wrongs occur, one asks for forgiveness – of God and of fellow humans. You don’t plan ahead of time to compromise.
For Burkholder, at least in his dissertation, you do not begin with Jesus, but build in compromise to the paper formula that deals with human existence.
Burkholder also is less (Swiss) Anabaptist than Yoder, placing less emphasis on close community than Yoder does, who sees community as the locus of strength for fulfilling discipleship.

-- Leonard Gross


Anonymous said...

(Response to Phil Waite’s blog, “J. Lawrence Burkholder and John Howard Yoder”


But Burkholder changed his mind. He attended a conference in 2002, “From Schleitheim to NYC,” which affected him to the quick. The conference centered in the Seven Articles of the Schleitheim Agreement, our first confession of faith, which deals with:
1) the nature of baptism and discipleship (“walking in the resurrection”);
2) the nature of the gathered church;
3) Lord’s Supper (the deeper meaning of communion);
4) separation from the evils of the world;
5) pastors (the need for effective leadership);
6) nonviolence (“the sword”); and
7) the oath (especially the oath of allegiance to the government of general society).

Student Celeste Kennel-Shank (now, Mennonite World Review columnist), and others, spoke: how these Seven Articles are not Mennonite distinctives, but essential elements of New Testament Christianity. An example of the tenor of all this may be found in Article VI, that we are to live in accord with the mind and Spirit of Christ:
“In sum: as Christ our Head is minded, so also must be minded the members of the body of Christ through Him, so that there be no division in the body, through which it would be destroyed. Since then Christ is as is written of Him, so must His members also be the same, so that His body may remain whole and unified for its own advancement and upbuilding.”

At the end of the conference, Burkholder stood up and, as a final response to the group, said:
‘In thinking about our first confession of faith, and the need to enter the mind of Christ as explicated in all seven articles, I realize, when it is all said and done, “I’M A SCHLEITHEIMER!” ’

In a very real sense, Burkholder turned Yoderian, affirming as he did all seven articles as to what the church is all about: the gathered church, founded upon Jesus, empowered by his Spirit, intending to live out his gospel of peace, working for reconciliation within all levels of human existence – accommodating to, but not compromising with, the earthly powers that be.
In the end, it seems that Burkholder came to agree with Yoder, who also was a Schleitheimer.

-- Leonard Gross