Friday, August 08, 2008

Travis Kroeker on Yoder and Augustine: Common Bread Part 2

As I read between Yoder and Cavanaugh I keep thinking that Yoder is not theological enough and that there is a crucial ontological difference between their two projects. Having read Travis Kroeker's article, "Is a Messianic Ethic Possible: Recent Work By and About John Howard Yoder" (Journal of Religious Ethics, 33: 141-174) I realized that in fact ontology itself is a key difference between the two figures.

Yoder intentionally tries to reinstate a Hebraic-historic approach which he pits against a philosophical-Hellenistic mode which is associated with Constantinianism (the whole articulation of the Gospel in terms of ontology then falls into this camp). What this leads to for Yoder are 'sacraments' that translate fluidly into 'secular' practices (i.e. the breaking of bread is the distribution of economic goods) which he calls 'mediating axioms.' It was at this precise point that I was a little at uneasy with Yoder. In Kroeker's article he compares Yoder to Augustine. Augustine is discarded by Yoder for his Hellenistic influences but Kroeker argues that Augustine is nothing if not an exegete. He then goes on to site an article by Gerald Schlabach who sees Yoder as "an interlocutor in the Augustinian tradition, providing a pacifist ecclesial social ethic in answer to Augustine's definitive question: How are we to seek the peace of the earthly city without eroding loyalty to the heavenly one?" It is here that Kroeker offers an important clarification between Augustine and Yoder. He writes,

While Yoder's elaboration of an ecclesial social ethic specifies more clearly the normative material implications of Augustine's own messianic realism in a creative politics for the pilgrim city that 'uses' well the peace of the earthly city, Augustine's more robust theology of creation prevents Yoder's useful 'mediating axioms' from developing into liberal pragmatic compromises of the voluntarist sort. That is, in Augustine's view, 'mediating axioms' that truly reflect the divine ordering of love and therefore contribute to the ordinata concordia of peaceable earthly communities, must have some kind of 'metaphysical' status beyond the value projections of human wills. Otherwise they would not be 'useful.'
[emphasis mine]

Kroeker remains convinced that Augustine is someone to read Yoder in order to develop his thought. At what point does one betray someone's thought in service of another. To what extent does it matter when we offer the common bread of communion? Was Yoder simply wrong in this area? I will probably be offering a few more excerpts from Kroeker's paper.

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