Featured Reviews, VOLUME 5

Paul Martens Responds to Branson Parler’s Review of THE HETERODOX YODER

Page 4: Paul Martens Responds…

3. The Sacraments. This final and most thoroughly addressed element in Parler’s argument develops several of his previous arguments concerning my reading of Yoder’s sacraments.[19] He begins by frankly stating that my position is simply wrong, again, because I misread certain statements and ignore other key elements. Quoting from The Heterodox Yoder, he describes my position as follows:

Yoder “elides so many of the differences between the church and world” by “describing the social practices of the church as completely accessible and understandable in the world without passing through the Exodus or Pentecost.” (19)

In this case, Parler’s quoting of my own text is correct in terms of the broadest conclusion possible. Yet, after quoting from pages 145-46 of The Heterodox Yoder (19),[20] Parler launches into his own free-floating narration of Yoder’s sacraments that does not directly cite my argument for the remaining twenty pages of The Forest and the Trees, that is, half of his text. Of course, it is clear that Parler thinks I am wrong. Yet, it is difficult to know either if he understands how I got to the above conclusion or where, exactly, The Heterodox Yoder takes a wrong turn. In order to attempt the virtually impossible task of responding to an adamant yet implied critique, I will begin with Parler’s linking of the grain of the universe to the sacraments.[21]

By appealing to the particularity of the grain of the universe that “absorbs all other claims to universality” (21), Parler intends to demonstrate that the particularity of Christianity—namely, that Jesus is logos and Lord—can include analogous claims or practices of those in the wider world without giving up its specifically Christian identity. To develop this argument, Parler outlines what he takes to be the four facets of Yoder’s sacraments: (a) the sacraments as practiced in the church and the social processes undertaken outside the church are not simple equivalents; (b) the Christian sacraments are foundational and irreplaceable paradigms for any other social order that hopes to go with the grain of the universe; (c) as the church pioneers culture, the wider world has “spin-offs” and “reflections” of the Christian community’s practices; and (d) the first calling of the Christian is to participate in the life of the church and the best way the church contributes to the world is through its particular “Jesus-centered gospel message and life together” (24-25). Throughout these facets, Parler has made an effort to maintain an emphasis on the particular “Christian-ness” of the sacraments that remains distinct and discrete in the church. From this framework, he asserts that “two people or two communities can do the same action for different reasons, and Yoder wants to be sure that Christians are acting from a specifically Christian perspective” (18).

Although Parler does not provide a definition of what Yoder actually means by the term sacrament, he provides us with a passionate account of what sacraments do. Given what I have said in The Heterodox Yoder and above about how the grain of the universe serves Yoder, it should be clear that I do not think Parler’s position articulates how Yoder’s thought, at the end of the day, actually plays out. But, in order to elaborate further why I do not think Parler’s argument can support his own conclusions on this matter, I ask for just a little more patience as I examine two problematic components of Parler’s argument: (a) his affirmation of Christian particularity rooted in appeals to Yoder’s descriptions of Judaism and (b) his attempt to root the sacraments in Scripture.

First, if one is making an argument for Christian particularity, it seems only natural that one would utilize a defense that was particularly Christian. Yet, in ways that are very confusing, especially if he understands what I argue concerning Yoder’s reconstruction of Jewish Christianity in the fourth chapter of The Heterodox Yoder, Parler cites statements Yoder makes about Judaism to support his description of Christian particularity at least four times:

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One Comment

  1. Just a quick note to the editors: The block quote beginning with “When six years ago I . . .” doesn’t actually end until  “Our Lamb has conquered; him let us follow!” Without the indent on the second paragraph of the quote (including the bullet points), it is a bit confusing. [Feel free to delete this comment once change is made, by the way.]