Yoder’s call to missionary arrogance

Yoder is rewarding because he never says quite what I expect, or how I would expect it to be said. But is he right when he calls the church to missionary arrogance? My trajectory has been away from anything which smacks of that. Here is what he writes, back in 1963, collected in the new book of popular writings, Radical Christian Discipleship:

I do not intend to challenge the need for growth in modesty and cultural perspective, but I do intend to challenge the tendency to make a hobby out of a corrective. Today’s more urgent need is no longer perspective and modesty. What today’s world and church need most is a recovery of the missionary arrogance of the New Testament church. To arrogate (the verb from which we get the unpopular adjective arrogant) means to make claims for oneself or for one cause. If the claims we make are for ourselves, then it is understandable why we need to overcome our arrogance. But if the cause for which we are making claims is the cause of the one true God, then anything short of absolute demands is unfaithfulness. (p. 45)

I’ve met too many arrogant Christians arrogant about different things. Yet in the time since he wrote, surely he would only insist more strongly that the urgent need is ‘no longer perspective and modesty’? But which things to be arrogant about? Or maybe not ‘arrogant’ at all, in its normal usage – he is reclaiming the word, as he does so often. Instead, ‘make claims’ for the ’cause’: proclaim the kingdom without apologising.

(He was speaking to a Mennonite audience at Goshen. Would he have given the same address to an audience of conservative evangelicals? Maybe not, although I’m certain he would have given it to an audience of liberals for whom it would have been a hard saying.)

I need to digest this some more.

6 thoughts on “Yoder’s call to missionary arrogance

  1. This is something I’m wondering with the new book – ‘Yoder for everyone’ is its intent – but Yoder was always for specific audiences…?
    “This next ones for you liberals or Mennonites… evangelicals, please keep your ears shut.”

  2. I remember a Christian once saying “You can afford to be arrogant when you’re right.” Repulsive attitude! But Paul says “Whoever wants to boast must boast of what the Lord has done” (1 Cor 1:31). Humility with conviction perhaps? I need to work on this too.

  3. Hi Nathan,

    I’m not sure why Yoder would have given this talk to Liberals, rather than some Liberals. If missionary “arrogance” is faithfulness to Jesus’ kingdom vision of shalom then is it not true that subsets of both Evangelicals and Liberals have abandoned this vision as Yoder sees it? Both groups have been influenced by their Constantinian heritage rather than the pre-Constantinian heritage of the early church.

    John Arthur

  4. HI Nathan
    I notice in the “categories” column to the right, that the category “mission and evangelism” has only 1 entry, this being it. The “church (ecclesiology)” category has 44. Of course we are all free to select whatever category that interests us to express our thoughts on. But, does it have something to say about the way we learn and focus? I wonder if others with a different focus (perhaps the reverse) would notice that weighting? It has me thinking, anyway…
    btw, JA above quotes the “pre-Constantinian heritage of the early church.” I hear this a lot but am perplexed at the analysis of pre-Constantinian heritage. Haven’t people read the later New Testament? Things got messy quite quickly. I’m quite uncomfortable at this analysis. It seems more aimed at identifying “us” with the pre-Constantinians – and thereby not with the Constantinians (perhaps read here – those who are currently running the Church). While we may want to recover certain aspects of pre-Constantinium Christianity, do we want to share with them in the suffering they endured???.

  5. Hey MB (greetings!), for many of the years of this blog, its focus was on ecclesiology, as that was what I was focused on. I’m not so much any more; probably more on deconversion, atheism and worldview in the last year. A balanced theology will, of course, move from ecclesiology to mission.
    In terms of Constantinianism, it’s not a claim that the pre-Constantine church was ideal, but that the alliance with the state distorted the church’s understanding of itself. Of course, we don’t want to suffer all too often, and you’re right in identifying that as part of the destiny of a non-constantinian church.

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