Faithfulness, temptation and the Deuteronomic juncture

Is Constantinianism the most basic problem for Christian social ethics?

Marpeck Lecture, Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, 5 March 1998

For a fuller development of this lecture, see “Deuteronomic or Constantinian: What is the Most Basic Problem for Christian Social Ethics?” in The Wisdom of the Cross: Essays in Honor of John Howard Yoder, eds Stanley Hauerwas, et al. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 449-71.
  • The Limits of Anti-Constantinianism
  • The Primacy of the Deuteronomic Juncture
  • The Agenda of Christian Social Ethics
  • Conclusion: The Task of Normative Ecclesiology
  • Notes


Deuteronomy 8:

For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, …a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing…. You shall eat your fill and bless the LORD your God for the good land that he has given you. Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God…. When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks are multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, …to humble you and in the end to do you good. Do not say to yourself, “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.”

If one knows John Howard Yoder mainly as a leading spokesman for Christian pacifism, and reads only those writings which directly engage issues of war, peace, and church-state relations, one might conclude prematurely that for Yoder and for anyone who follows his lead, Constantinianism must be the single most basic problem for Christian social ethics. Though most helpful, such a reading entails a serious oversight if not a misunderstanding, with implications for both the pastoral agenda and the prophetic witness of the Church. For to define Constantinianism as the core problematic for Christian social ethics is to concentrate our ethical reflection on the effort to avoid evil and unfaithfulness — rather than the challenge of embracing the good in a faithful manner.

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