The final part of the book consists of a conclusion that highlights the larger themes and theological implications of Yoder’s reading of the Old Testament and an epilogue in which Nugent reflects on what Yoder’s work might mean for churches today. This final part could be read by itself as an account of how Yoder’s political theology extends from Jesus not only forward to the present, but also backward to the beginning of creation. These two chapters will be particularly helpful for churches in reflecting on the nature of God’s mission in the world and our participation in that mission as communities of God’s people. As is the case with many academic theological books – Willie Jennings’s The Christian Imagination pops immediately to mind – the concluding parts of the book make a poignant case for the ethical relevance of the larger work in the life of the church, and drives readers back into the preceding chapters for a richer taste of why this work is so important.
The final chapter of the book, is an epilogue that offers us Nugent’s most distinctive contributions on what Yoder’s reading of the Old Testament might mean for churches today. Nugent’s lens here is the notion of God’s people as a kingdom of priests and he fleshes it out using four biblical images of cities, that together give a distinctive shape to our life together in local church communities: “Cities of Exile,” “Cities of Refuge,” “Cities of Sacrifice” and “Cities on a Hill.” Nugent’s choice of imagery here comes with a striking timeliness, given the recent upsurge in interest in urban theology (consider Christianity Today’s “This is Our City” project, headed by Andy Crouch). This epilogue begs for further development, possibly another book, exploring the ethical dimensions of Yoder’s reading of the biblical story for giving shape to local church communities, and given the current reflection on urban theology, what this account might mean for churches as cities-within-cities, and as the New Jerusalem sort of city that is God’s salvation for all humanity and all creation.
The Politics of Yahweh is one of the most important theological books released this year; it of course comes a part of a wave of related and equally significant works including Christian Smith’s The Bible Made Impossible (reviewed above in this issue), Norman Wirzba’s Food and Faith and Scot McKnight’s The King Jesus Gospel (Links go to our reviews). All four of these works draw in one way or another on the legacy of John Howard Yoder and the sort of neo-Anabaptism that his work has inspired. Smith’s work is more closely related to Yoder’s epistemology, hermeneutics and keen insight into the spirit of our times, and lacks the ecclesiological depth of the other three works. All four of these books are ones that beg to be read and discussed in our church communities, and of the four, Nugent’s work is closest to the roots of Yoder’s theology, and may be the most useful one of these books in helping us to understand the scriptural narrative as a singular whole and also to discern our place in it as God’s people today.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com
Reading for the Common Good
From ERB Editor Christopher Smith
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