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The End of Sacrifice

Capital Punishment Writings of John Howard Yoder
The End of Sacrifice

Edited by: John Nugent   By author: John Howard Yoder
Product Code: 9464
ISBN: 9780836194647
Pages: 288
Binding Information: Paperback / softback
Size: 8.00 x 5.00 inches

Publication Date: 9/1/2011

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John Howard Yoder (1927-1997), who was a professor at Notre Dame University and Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, was one of the 20th century's leading theologians. Scholars continue to study his writings on pacifism and other subjects.

The End of Sacrifice brings together four decades of Yoder's published and unpublished writings on capital punishment. He engaged in sophisticated biblical, sociological, and historical analysis in order to demonstrate that from ancient society until today capital punishment is an inherently cultic sacrificial rite. Since the death of Jesus brought a decisive end to all sacrifices for sin, Yoder argues, Christians should proclaim the abolition of the death penalty. Its advocates should no longer claim biblical validation.

In doing so, Yoder also makes a persuasive case for proactive Christian witness to the state. He calls the church to proclaim the end of sacrifice to public officials who are responsible for carrying out capital punishment.

"John Howard Yoder was unique in how he brings together both the biblical and sociological roots of the practice of capital punishment. Many Christian works focus on the former, whereas other works focus exclusively on the latter." —John C. Nugent

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Foreword by Mark Thiessen Nation
Editor's Preface and Acknowledgments
Introduction: The End of Sacrifice

  1. Capital Punishment and the Bible
  2. The Christian and Capital Punishment
  3. Capital Punishment and Our Witness to Government
  4. Against the Death Penalty: A Debate with Wayne House
  5. You Have It Coming: Good Punishment
Appendix: The Wrath of God and the Love of God
Scripture Index
Author and Topic Index

"The death penalty is dying. The End of Sacrifice gives us the most powerful Christian reasons why."
—Glen Stassen, professor of Christian ethics, Fuller Theological Seminary

"This book is about far more than capital punishment. It is a rich exploration of the way practices of violence are grounded in a logic of sacrifice that has been overcome in the cross and resurrection of Christ."
—Chris Huebner, associate professor of theology and philosophy, Canadian Mennonite University

"The End of Sacrifice is classic Yoder: biblically formed, sociologically informed, politically engaged, and theologically provocative. It illustrates how profoundly we have ignored some of the most obvious implications of a claim that a crucified Messiah now reigns as Lord."
—Lee Camp, professor of theology and ethics, Lipscomb University

"This is a welcome resource to help Christians grapple with the morality of capital punishment. John Nugent helps readers see how Yoder's contributions to the debate about capital punishment are integral to is theology of reconciliation."
—Michael Cartwright, dean of ecumenical and interfaith programs, University of Indianapolis

"Yoder leads us into crucial issues of how to read the Old and New Testaments together in the light of Christ, how to think about punishment and forgiveness, and so many other timely concerns for the church in our day."
—Michael Budde, professor of political science and Catholic studies, DePaul University

Death Penalty Should be Abolished

By John C. Nugent

John Howard Yoder engaged the topic of capital punishment throughout his prolific literary career. He began publishing on it in 1959 and continued exploring and articulating his position until his death in 1997.

Surprisingly, over the course of these four decades we see no significant change in his position. Instead, we see Yoder deepening his position and broadening its scope. Central to this position is his conviction that both biblically and culturally, from ancient society until today, capital punishment is an inherently cultic or ritual practice. It is a sacrifice, the performance of a sacred rite, whether performed by religious specialists or public servants.

This understanding is critical to Yoder's core thesis: since the death of Jesus brought a decisive end to sacrifices for sin, Christians should no longer claim biblical validation. In Yoder's words,

It is the clear testimony of the New Testament, especially of the epistle to the Hebrews, that the ceremonial requirements of the Old Covenant find their end—both in the sense of fulfillment and in the sense of termination—in the high-priestly sacrifice of Christ. "Once for all" is the good news. Not only is the sacrifice of bulls and goats, turtledoves and wheatcakes at an end; the fact that Christ died for our sins, once for all, the righteous one for the godless (Heb. 9:26-28; 1 Pet. 3:18), puts an end to the entire expiatory system, whether it is enforced by priests in Jerusalem or by executioners anywhere else.

The title of this collection, The End of Sacrifice, is derived from the double entendre that Yoder identifies in this quote. Jesus is the "end" of sacrifice in both a teleological and a chronological sense. Teleologically, Jesus' death fulfills the ultimate purpose (telos, or end) that the death penalty first served: to atone for the "cosmic, ritual, religious evil" of taking the life of a fellow human who was created in God's image (Gen. 9:6). Chronologically, Jesus' death strictly forbids and therefore terminates all future bloodletting in order to atone for sin (Heb. 9:26-28).

Yoder does not presume to be original in asserting the implications of Christ's death for the practice of capital punishment. He credits Karl Barth for expressing similar sentiments. Nonetheless, Yoder brings a level of interdisciplinary awareness, hermeneutical sophistication, and critical analysis to this topic that provokes fresh insight and casts due suspicion on long-held positions.

Yoder also brings a firm commitment to his Mennonite heritage. This does not mean that he was simply justifying the stance of his own tradition; it means that he made his case with a keen eye toward challenging problematic tendencies within his tradition. Toward this end, he rejected the false choice between articulating a faith-based position and speaking relevantly into the realm of world governance.

He refused to espouse an official position for Christians and then leave it to unbelieving public authorities to establish their own position without having the opportunity to receive guidance from the church. On the contrary, he insisted that it is the church's responsibility to proclaim Christ's lordship and its implications to everyone since everyone lives under Christ's jurisdiction, regardless of whether they submit to his lordship.

For Yoder, the end of sacrifice is not only true for believers and binding on the believing community; it is true for the cosmos and binding on al rulers and authorities, powers, and principalities.

Jon C. Nugent is the editor of The End of Sacrifice: The Capital Punishment Writings of John Howard Yoder, from which this article was excerpted.

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