May 21, 2024 Editor

Reconciliation–WN Contribution to:

The Mennonite Encyclopedia (Volume V); and general commentary

illustration above: The rescue by (Anabaptist) Dirk Willems. Engraving by Jan Luiken in Martyrs Mirror, v. 2, p. 387 of Dutch edition. Scan provided by Mennonite Library and Archives

WN: Reconciliation is a key term in the New Testament. The article excerpted below was written in 1989 at the invitation of The Mennonite Encyclopedia (Volume V) editors. That publication was subsequently digitized and is known online as GAMEO.

Interestingly (at least to me), one of the co-editors of that project, Dennis D. Martin (since deceased), married a “Team Member” from my stint doing evangelism in West Berlin, 1972 – 1974. That experience was life-changing for me–over time (hopefully still ongoing!) Elsewhere on this website, you may click on information about the novel, Chrysalis Crucible, that is a fictional telescoping of that journey away from “evangelism without the Gospel” towards (I think) a much more wholesome and authentic faith: something dear I might add, to the Anabaptist Tradition.

In 1989 I was just beginning an almost 10-year stint with Mennonite Central Committee Canada (MCCC) as Director of Victim Offender Ministries (VOM). It was a great experience of learning and growth in Restorative Justice! You may see a reflection on this that I was commissioned to give here: Restorative Justice Stories – MCCC 50th Anniversary, December 14, 2013 02-26-2014. I explain in the post:

This paper was presented in Winnipeg exactly 50 years after 40 men(!) gathered to establish Mennoninte Central Committee Canada: 43 years after its US counterpart had been founded. It was a privilege to have been part of the “story-telling” on that occasion. (If the notice is kept on the website, see: MCCC 50th Anniversary. It appears to have disappeared. . . But there is this in Canadian Mennonite: MCC in Canada yesterday, today and tomorrow.) We read in it:

On a cold, windy December day in Winnipeg in 1963, 40 men made the decision to form Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Canada. Exactly 50 years later, a group of people braved another bitterly cold day in Winnipeg to reflect on those 50 years and contemplate MCC’s future.)

On Dec. 13 and 14, 2013, the Mennonite Historical Society of Canada and the Chair in Mennonite Studies at the University of Winnipeg collaborated to present the 50th Anniversary History Conference of MCC in Canada. The launch of Esther Epp-Tiessen’s book Mennonite Central Committee in Canada: A History kicked off the conference.

Years earlier (January 1975) while a student at Regent College (University of British Columbia Vancouver) I had discovered the centrality of peace in the New Testament through Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder’s book: The Politics of Jesus.

Would that Yoder had himself followed the way of Jesus in relation to numerous women he sexually assaulted! A great reflection on this is here by scholar Andy Alexis-Baker who was sexually abused in another context, and who also co-edited four of Yoder’s books. One take-away from this tragedy is the seeming total disconnect one can have between one’s (theological) ideals and one’s actions. It is the human condition, but reprehensible when such disconnect is lived out. Yoder did immense sexual harm to at least 100 women. I do not recommend Yoder’s book because of that total disconnect. But as you will discover if you read the reflection, Mennonite scholar/pastor Isaac Villegas discerns in Yoder’s theological writings a pervasively sinister reality, where he

developed and refined a process for church discipline as moral discernment that facilitated his sexualized violence, allowing thereby his ecclesiology to become an accomplice to his abuse. Yoder’s latent deployment of patriarchal power will be made explicit throughout my argument.

In 1999, growing out of the Restorative Justice work, Chaplain Hugh Kirkegaard and I presented a paper at a COV&R Conference held at Emory University in Atlanta Georgia, on the application of scapegoating theory1 to sex offenders, an area of work in criminal justice I’ve been involved with for decades, and served for its first six years on the Circles of Support and Accountability (CoSA Canada) Board that works with released sex offenders. The title of our workshop/paper was: “The Sex Offender as Scapegoat.” You may find the paper with explanatory notes on my website by clicking on the title. You may also find it cited/reproduced/translated on multiple websites here (and elsewhere). There are also articles about sex offenders on my website here.

I recently did a long look at the Anabaptist Tradition and its kind of mythical perseverance as propounded ideal 21st-century Church Tradition, in this post, where Yoder’s sexual abuse features prominently:

Next year is the 500th anniversary of the Anabaptist tradition. Please see on this: Anabaptism’s 500th birthday: MWC announces 2025 gathering in Switzerland to celebrate the past, look to the future. One of the projects is Planning an Anabaptist Bible: Marking 500 years of Anabaptism, a project that seeks 500 study groups to interpret all of Scripture in the light of Jesus. I confess to being less than excited about the idea. A theologian friend, Jonathan Wilson,2 says, rightly I think, that such Study Bibles already presuppose theological conclusions. There is something about so prizing a Tradition that smacks of idolatry; and displays a variation of exclusivist fundamentalism. And of course that is not “unique” to the Anabaptist Tradition.

For all that, Esther and I are gratefully part of a Mennonite Church in British Columbia: Langley Mennonite Fellowship.

I might add that Brad Jersak’s books, beginning with A More Christlike God: A More Beautiful Gospel, followed by A More Christlike Word: Reading Scripture the Emmaus Way, then A More Christlike Way: A More Beautiful Faith,–see all here–capture this “all-of-scripture” essence, though he writes from the Orthodox Tradition. The Anabaptist Tradition and Jersak point to Christ (rightly, I think) as the hermeneutical key in reading Scripture.

Along similar lines, evangelical pastor (of a nondenominational church) and author, Brian Zahnd, writes in what I dub “preacher style“:

Along with icons, atonement theology, hell as the river of God’s fiery love, and Vladika [Lazar]’s understanding of divine co-suffering love, the other aspect of Orthodox theology that has deeply influenced me is the uniquely Orthodox emphasis on the Transfiguration—or the Uncreated Light of Tabor. Indeed, the Transfiguration is one of the more mysterious stories in the Gospels. Western theology has tended to treat the Transfiguration with scant significance, but the East has seen it as a treasure-trove of theological significance—and here I think the Orthodox instinct is entirely correct. It’s from meditating on the Transfiguration that I arrived at this theological axiom: Jesus is what God has to say.

The centrality of Christian ethics is found in Christ himself. . . War-affirming Biblicists who desire to justify drone strikes and carpet bombing can cite Elijah, but Jesus says something else.

I’m a Christian, not a Biblicist. The Bible is subordinate to Christ. . . I don’t read the Law and the Prophets by the light of Moses and Elijah; I read the Law and the Prophets in the light of Christ. So if Moses instructs capital punishment and Elijah models violent retribution, I remember Mount Tabor and the voice from heaven that said, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him” (Mark 9:7). The final testimony of Moses and Elijah is to recede into the background so that Jesus stands alone as the full and true Word of God. Jesus is what God has to say!

The Bible is the written word of God that bears witness to the living Word of God. God did not become a book, but God did become a human being. The Incarnation is not the creation of the canon of Scripture but the virgin birth of Jesus Christ. . . But nothing about the risen Christ is obsolete. Christ alone is the perfection of God.

Christ does not read the Bible, the New Testament, or the Gospel. He is the norm of the Bible, the criterion of the New Testament, the incarnation of the Gospel. That is how we Christians decide between a violent and nonviolent God in the Bible, New Testament, or Gospel. The person, not the book, and the life, not the text, are decisive and constitutive for us. 3 John Dominic Crossan’s simple suggestion is that we allow Jesus to judge all things, including the contradictory passages in the Bible regarding violence. For believers, this approach should not be seen as controversial but deeply Christian. This is not a low view of Scripture but a high view of Christ. Jesus alone is the Alpha and Omega, the full and true Word of God. Jesus is Lord and the final arbiter of all things, even the Bible. Jesus is what God has to say. (Clarion Call of Love: Essays in Gratitude to Archbishop Lazar Puhalo, Contributors: Lazar Puhalo, , Kevin Miller, Wayne Northey,  Andrew Klager, Brian Zahnd: “Jesus Is What God Has to Say: A Tabor Meditation in Appreciation of Vladika Lazar Puhalo.”

On the other hand, I do cite Villegas and Mennonite feminists in the above piece, who claim it was precisely The Anabaptist Tradition of deeply embedded patriarchy that created the fertile ground for the horror of John Howard Yoder’s abuse of women (numbers up to 100). This is all laid out in detail with links, in my post: “Prison, Sexual Assault, and Editing John Howard Yoder: One Man’s Story” by Andy Alexis-Baker. (More on this below.)

I refer to Yoder as the “theological Harvey Weinstein,” an accurate designation. I summarize much citing of Yoder’s horrific sexual abuse against multiple women, thus:

In short: John Howard Yoder, as far as anyone knows, went to his grave unrepentant. Should one not therefore wonder if he has anything to say to the Church? (Except as cautionary tale.) It is now argued at least that Yoder’s peace theology is tainted by his sexualized ethics in the very warp and woof of his writings.

I continue:

Further, I repeat that I question any republications of his works; any inclusion in library holdings; placements in anthologies such as An Eerdmans Reader in Contemporary Political Theology, etc. After all, we do not read today contemporary Nazi era German theologians who supported Hitler. Their names are known, but rightly not their works–rightly again relegated to the dustbin of history, flushed down the toilet where they were first excreted?

I at least long since have ceased reading or referencing Yoder. And since last year I’ve lost all interest in Jean Vanier’s writings for identical reasons. Sadly enough . . . (Use of such for academic research could be one exception of possible others.)

Theological (self-)censorship? I guess there may be a case for it after all! When have any of us last benefitted from a theological case for pedophilia?/a theological work by an unrepentant pedophile? The very thought carries its own inherent condemnation.

Yoder’s sexual ethics and activities are clearly to be rejected out of hand! Therefore, his theological works that enabled him in lifelong self-referential sexualized violence tautologies, as demonstrated in Villegas’ essay, must likewise surely be rejected out of hand?

There is much more in that post. I add now: Weinstein will spend the rest of his life in prison. His worldwide notoriety initiated the #MeToo movement in 2017. Yoder’s death in 1997 at the age of 70 meant he was 20 years shy of that kind of personal accountability. My opinion: His writings, unless from prior to his long history of sexual assault (and impossible to know when begun), deserve a similar fate to Weinstein’s: in this case they deserve relegation to oblivion, except for use in academic research. Too harsh? Just talk to any of his victims. . .

I do nonetheless enthusiastically recommend another Mennonite theologian’s magisterial study on peace in the New Testament: Covenant of Peace: The Missing Peace in New Testament Theology and Ethics, Willard M. Swartley, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006. My book review is here. A great review by New Testament scholar Richard Hays may be found here (though The Christian Century charges one to read it) or here, where I had downloaded it before that journal began charging. One learns from Swartley’s work that peace is the central organizing theme of the New Testament. That study will I’m sure stand the test of time!

I now add that Richard Hays writes:

Willard Swartley’s powerful, comprehensive study of the theme of peace in the New Testament is his magnum opus. Swartley describes the book as a study of a single neglected theme in scripture and offers it as “a companion volume to texts in New Testament theology and ethics.” But this volume is something much more. Not just an overgrown dictionary article on eirene in the New Testament, it is nothing less than a comprehensive theology of the New Testament presenting peace as the heart of the gospel message and the ground of the New Testament’s unity.

Covenant of Peace is the work of a seasoned teacher who has digested huge amounts of technical material and presents it with exemplary clarity. At the same time, it is a work of theological passion, calling the church to a renewed commitment to peacemaking as the foundation of its identity—a necessity if it is faithfully to follow Jesus and respond to the message of scripture.

A distinguished Mennonite New Testament scholar and professor emeritus at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana, Swartley makes a strong case that previous studies of New Testament theology and ethics have neglected or underestimated the pervasiveness of the theme of peace—including this reviewer’s own work, The Moral Vision of the New Testament, which takes nonviolence as a central motif in the New Testament. Swartley’s point is an important one: avoidance of violence is not the same thing as proactive peacemaking. It is the latter imperative that Swartley finds throughout the pages of scripture.

I was not raised Mennonite, currently attend a Mennonite church (though my wife and I are by choice not members), and pay homage to that tradition’s putting me through two conversions over against my fundamentalist Christian upbringing:

  • The amazing discovery that the very warp and woof of the Judeo-Christian Story is its challenge to – one can say call to subversion of – the socio-political order of any era and place. This discovery was also made partially and tragically by conservative fundamentalists/evangelicals in North America in the 1980’s. But their direction largely taken is in direct contradiction to my second “conversion.”
  • The determination/commitment that the way of doing politics and living in society in any era and place is the nonviolent way of the Cross. A paper I wrote (“Christianity and the Subversion of Just About Everything”) in the same period as my “Reconciliation” article is here. My website is dedicated to this theme, which my Home page explains more fully, especially understanding the Gospel as Counter-Narrative to Empire.

I am also no longer in the Anabaptist/Mennonite theological fold, as it were. Not because of a rejection of peace theology – on the contrary! But due to a revision of my understanding of 16th-century European history, especially the towering role of the central peace theologian/humanist/political philosopher of that time, Desiderius Erasmus, and related to him, the English Reformers (John Colet, Thomas More, Juan Luis Vives). My friend Ron Dart published a book (Erasmus: Wild Bird) in December 2017 on this, to which I contributed a Foreword.4 It briefly alludes to some of my journey. Ron Dart’s book is a great primer on Erasmus in relation to many other persons and entities in his time and since.

Now for an excerpt from my paper (on GAMEO website):


Reconciliation is a classic New Testament concept. Though Jesus only used the term once, and Paul used it rarely, it is qualitatively the heart of the message and theology of the New Testament. It is not without antecedents in the Old Testament and Judaism, but in its full development is distinctively Christian.

Its central meaning is the overcoming of an enmity. This enmity is towards humanity from God’s side (i.e., his wrath), and towards God on the part of humanity (sin, rebellion, indifference, disobedience, etc.). Both parties therefore need reconciliation, but in the God-human relationship, God is the initiator.

Paul is the only New Testament writer to use the actual terminology of reconciliation, specifically in Romans 5:10-12; Romans 11:15; 1 Corinthians 7:11; 2 Corinthians 5:18-20; Ephesians 2:16; and Colossians 1:20-23. Related concepts are forgiveness, justification, fellowship, sanctification, atonement, peace, freedom, “sonship” (i.e., filial relationship). These terms are employed by a variety of authors.

Reconciliation with God (theological) through Christ becomes in Jesus and Paul the essential paradigm for all other relationships: to oneself (psychological); to one’s neighbor (sociological); to the entire creation (ecological, cosmological). Reconciliation is the operative antidote to all consequences of the Fall, which may be described always as breakdown of relationship — or enmity and conflict.

“As the concept of shalom-peace is a harmonic of tesdeka-justice, peace is a harmonic of reconciliation” (Allard, 110). Christ’s sacrifice on the cross epitomizes the understanding that God’s justice vis à vis human conflict has reconciliation as its goal. Punishment and retribution as ends in themselves in response to human conflict (for example, crime) have no legitimate place in Christian vocabulary, action, or call to the state. Alternatively: “law is in the service of reconciliation and peace,” a statement that is the conclusion and title of a major exegetical study of the New Testament on law (Meurer, Das Recht im Dienst der Versöhnung und des Friedens). “Remove the concept of peacemaking from proclaiming the Gospel and the very meaning of Gospel changes…. Reconciliation among humans is the identifying mark of God’s new creation!” (Kraybill, 8, 12). That God’s forgiveness is God’s law is the breathtaking teaching of the New Testament. As in the Old Testament, law is quintessentially mercy. Old and New Testament texts point to this conclusion (see Lind, Transformation of justice: from Moses to Jesus; Meurer).

Vengeance too is definitively at God’s initiative (Romans 12:19) — and is never the Christian’s prerogative personally. Neither is the Christian to call for or desire vengeance by the state. But even from God’s perspective, if he “. . . has willed the dire consequences that ensue on sin, it does not necessarily follow that he has willed them retributively, punitively. It may be that he has willed them as the only way of doing justice to the freedom and responsibility of the human personality, as he has created it” (Moule, 23). Vengeance is self-consciously omitted from Jesus’ agenda — even when he quotes Scripture with such themes in it (Jeremias).

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  1. Please see on this site much about René Girard and scapegoating.[]
  2. He is a Baptist theologian whom I met in 1976 as a fellow student at Regent College, and also takes up many themes dear to the Anabaptist Tradition. Clicking on his name will show that.[]
  3. John Dominic Crossan, God and Empire: Jesus Against Rome, Then and Now (New York: HarperCollins, 2007), 94–95, italics in the original.[]
  4. You may read that here: Foreword.[]
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Wayne Northey was Director of Man-to-Man/Woman-to-Woman – Restorative Christian Ministries (M2/W2) in British Columbia, Canada from 1998 to 2014, when he retired. He has been active in the criminal justice arena and a keen promoter of Restorative Justice since 1974. He has published widely on peacemaking and justice themes. You will find more about that on this website: a work in progress.

Always appreciate constructive feedback! Thanks.