Saturday 8 July 2006

Church and synagogue

“The fact that the dialogue between Church and Synagogue is no longer felt to be a burning necessity is related to [the] secondary position of the Old Testament in theology. If the Old Testament is not really important for the question of the understanding of the biblical message, then there is also no compelling necessity to enter into a true dialogue with Judaism, which claims and listens to the Old Testament as its scripture.... [S]uch indifference would become unthinkable if the Old Testament were to be understood as a part of the authentic revelation of God to his people.”

—Walther Zimmerli, The Law and the Prophets: A Study of the Meaning of the Old Testament (Oxford: Blackwell, 1965), p. 3.


Anonymous said...

Thus the baleful influence of Schleiermacher's two-religions theory on twentieth century Protestant theology.

Barth was emphatic in countering it. There is one community with a twofold form: the people of God, the people of Israel, is the church of Jews and Gentiles. "It is the bow of the one covenant that
stretches over the whole."
"The Gentile Christian community of every age and land," Barth writes, "is a guest in the house of Israel." Christians are, in Krister Stendahl's phrase, but "honorary Jews".

Readers should know that recovering the relationship between Christians and Jews is now a central plank in the work of George Lindbeck, as he tries to develop "an Israel-like view of the Church", an "Israel-ology" as a crucial element in a new ecclesiology. In fact, this is but a natural development of Lindbeck's commitment to ecumenism, for ecumenical ecclesiology will inevitably be thin without Israel at its heart.

But back to the original post - while I am against the fashionable tendency to refer to the Old Testament as the "Hebrew Scriptures" - as if, for the church, they were not as intrinsic and essential to the canon as the New Testament (I hate the abuse of the term "political correctness", but there is the whiff of it here) - and while I presume that this side of the eschaton the church and Israel will read their corpus of scripture differently (the church inevitably Christologically and typologically), nevertheless, Christian scholars should certainly be attentive to and in dialogue with rabbinic scholars in the field of biblical studies. We have much to learn from each other.

Anonymous said...

I've been reading this site for a little while now and really appreciating the dialogue going on (though admittedly not participating…at this point I’m pretty satisfied to take it all in). After churning many of these thoughts over in my head--because of recent readings by Barth and Torrance--though, I had a couple questions. While not wanting to hijack the conversation off into completely unrelated areas, as someone who has just begun my engagement with theology following an upbringing in American Evangelicalism (and not wanting to entirely jettison those roots either) I am somewhat wary of this type of language. From my limited exposure to Barth (and Torrance) I know he would not espouse this, but it seems that within Evangelicalism there has been far too much of the wrong type of emphasis on Israel's place in reality, to the point of decrying as holy any and all actions undertaken by her, regardless of the morality involved.

Any thoughts for one concerned that justice be accorded to both my Israeli brothers and sisters AND my Palestinian brothers and sisters on how to progress ahead with this important connection between the "two forms" of the community of God without simply sanctioning the abuse of Palestinians (I am aware it goes the other way too, but seeing as the emphasis among Evangelicals--my main frame of reference--is usually put the other way around, this is my primary concern)?


Anonymous said...

Well spoken, Daniel. When Barth and Lindebeck - and the entire New Testament - speak of "Israel", they mean a people, not a land. And the refrain rings out, "Remember, Israel, you too were once oppressed; so practice justice and love mercy!"

::aaron g:: said...

I recently polled readers on my blog asking, "What is the ratio of OT to NT books in your library?" Not surprisingly most respondents reported collections with a heavy NT bias (this is true for me too, I admit). This is unfortunate because we can only understand the story of Jesus and the Church in light of, and as and extension of, Israel’s story.

Kim, I’ve never taken the term “Hebrew Scriptures” to suggest that they were less than the NT. I actually take it as elevating them as more than “old”. However on that thought...I’ve heard some use the term “Christian Testament” of the NT which I think is deplorable since it implies that the Christian bit is just the Matthew-Revelation bit.

Ben Myers said...

Great to hear from you, Daniel, and thanks for raising this important point. You're right: there's definitely a great difference between Jewish theology and Israeli politics. And I think the church can engage fruitfully with the former without appearing to condone the latter for even a moment.

Weekend Fisher said...

Here are the things that I'm most skeptical about in current "church and synagogue" relations:

1. That the Jewish-perspective books I've read on the subject are adamant in portraying Christians as (at best) earnest but entirely and ludicrously mistaken in both their use of Hebrew-language Scriptures and their insistence on Jesus being the Messiah;

2. That the Jewish perspective books are about half an inch from claiming that insistence on Jesus as the Messiah is inherently anti-Semitic;

3. That the Christian-perspective books have sometimes bought #1 and #2 to the extent of disowning some of the Christological interpretations of the older Scriptures made by the early Jewish Christians.

4. That the Christians are held accountable for anti-Semitism (fair enough in principle, if it's fairly applied only to actual instances of anti-Semitism and not applied to hush or shame us into being quiet about Christ) -- but the mention of a long, strong, and strident vein of mainstream Jewish anti-Christianity is not even allowed on the table. Any mention of "prejudice" starts with a default assumption that Christians are persecutors and Jews have no prejudices against He Who Must Not Be Named (Jesus) ... erm, well, it's a bit of a double-standard for starting a conversation. Possibly that's where we have to start in this first century after Hitler, but that's not an acceptable place to stay. Bat Ye'or has mentioned that this line of conversation has often been used in her community as a stick with which to beat Christians.

I'm very much for dialogue with the Jewish community if it's the type that (say) St. Paul engaged in with his fellow Jews. Paul, the Jew among Jews educated by Gamaliel himself, set an example that I think we might consider: there was a time for dialogue, and there was a time to move on. I'm not saying which of these applies to anybody's particular conversation at the moment. I'm just saying that if the price of my involvement in a conversation is buying into the "Jesus was a failed Messiah and his followers are ignorant" line, or even the "mentioning Jesus, much less insisting on his being the one true Messiah, is anti-Semitic" line -- if those are the price tag of any given conversation, then the price tag is too high. Conversations can be a good thing ... or a bad thing ... depends on how we handle them, and the conditions under which we'll engage in them.

Take care & God bless

David W. Congdon said...


I think, for the sake of the gospel, that it would be better to allow the name of Christianity to be slandered in order for us to form relations of trust and honesty with our Jewish brothers and sisters. Did Jesus die so that we could trump him as a sign of victory and power in the world? No. Jesus, I believe, would willingly allow himself to be portrayed as a failure, if in that act we might preserve and further our communion with the Jewish people.

Anonymous said...

Hmm. Great to see this subject here, as it's one close to my heart. At the moment I practice it more on the interpersonal than on the academic level (I have academic commitments to other topics at the moment) but the tension is definitely there. I live in a predominantly Jewish neighbourhood and have close Orthodox Jewish friends with whom I can talk about faith and religious practice to a large extent; I also visit (and occasionally comment) on a board for baalei teshuva (Jews who have recently embraced Orthodoxy). On the board, people are always nice to me directly, but there is a lot of suspicion and derision of Christians, especially anybody in the missionary or messianic movements (ie Jews for Jesus): I have heard Christians/Messianic Jews derided as ignorant and uneducated; the worst excesses on the fringes of Christianity held up as evidence of the invalidity of the faith as a whole; and Jesus is usually referred to by the derisive nickname "Yoshka". On the other hand, my friends are usually very respectful. I will admit I do tend to lard our conversations with more references to the OT/Hebrew Scriptures (because that is what they will identify with) - but I have also discussed Romans 9-11, Acts 2, and a few of the parables of Jesus, as well as some of the obvious Jewishness of Jesus and the disciples (i.e. Jesus' circumcision, presentation in the temple, the correspondence between Passover and Holy Week, Shavuos & Pentecost). I've also found that with Orthodox Jews there is also possibility of discussion on the subject of eschatology - their understanding of what will happen when the Messiah appears is not unlike ours of the Second Coming. In one lovely conversation with my Jewish friend, she explained the words of the Ani Ma'amin to me (I believe that the Messiah will come, even though he tarry), to which I responded that I believed exactly the same thing, only I believe I already know what His name is! "Well, we know he will be descended from King David," she admitted - to which I answered "Check!" :) Since we have accepted that whichever of us is right will be proved so in the eschaton (she thinks all righteous Gentiles will be folded into the house of Israel; I that the Jews will recognize Jesus as their Messiah), we are quite comfortable encouraging each other in our respective walks with God and our hopes for the age to come.

There is some progress in dialogue between Christian and Jewish scholars. I strongly recommend Christianity in Jewish Terms, edited by Tikva Frymer-Kensky, David Novak, Peter Ochs et al; Talking with Christians by David Novak and John Howard Yoder's The Jewish-Christian Schism Revisited.

Still, there still seems to be a lack of dialogue between Christian and *Orthodox* Jewish scholars - and that's something I'd like to see more of, if it would at all be possible.

Anonymous said...

Hi WF,

I have never understood this dichotomy you seem to assume between "dialogue" and evangelism.

To my mind, any evangelism that is not inherently dialogical is nothing but an ideological power-play, a hurling of grenades with a pious name. Conversely, dialogue is not pre-evangelism, it is evangelism itself, the way faith encounters the other with the gospel, speaking from conviction (of course) but also listening attentively and generously to my interlocutor - and assuming that either or both of us may have to revise the convictions with which we entered the conversation, not only because they are inherently imperfect and therefore provisional, but - more importantly - because the Spirit blows where the Spirit wills. The story in Acts of the conversion of Cornelius is the paradigm here - though (as Lesslie Newbigin rightly pointed out) the story should be called, more accurately, the conversion of Peter.

As for a "mission to the Jews", I have nothing against it in principle, but in practice it seems inevitably to be undergirded by a theologically repugnant supersessionism, as if Jews have to become Christians in order to be saved (which is but the mirror-image of the Galatian heresy). Also, post-Holocaust, for the foreseeable future, it seems to me that the Church should continue to assume the kneeling posture of the confessional before the Synagogue, not the standing posture of the pulpit.

Robert Jenson, I think, speaks with wisdom and subtlety to the issue. "The dialectics," he writes, "cannot be brought to rest in any simple proposition. It is anyway certain that no child of Abraham will be excluded because she or he is not baptized - having said that, it must also quickly be said that the church must regard the baptism of those Jews whom the Father grants her as a vital element of her own life. Which is to say: the church has no message to Jews about exclusion."

Weekend Fisher said...

Hi all

Seems I touched a nerve.

Evangelism is definitely a conversation; however, a conversation is not necessarily evangelism. A dichotomy can't be drawn in the first case but it sure can in the second. I would not suggest any evangelism which took no account of where the lost are when they are found. But there is a Christ-free "religious conversation" where we are at risk of short-changing Christ, where we are (from generous spirits) at risk of hinting that people aren't really lost and don't really need a savior, that denying Christ and following Christ are on an equal plane. I would not want to quell anyone's generous spirit. I would want to direct the focus away from the sinners (all on an equal plane) to Christ, with the reminder that without him we are all genuinely lost, and that Christ genuinely does make a difference.

DWC, what you said sounded just a few inches short of saying that 'Christus Victor' is nothing but crass triumphalism. We need to regain a sense of Christ's humble victory being both genuinely humble and genuinely a victory. As for portraying Jesus as a failure in these days after the resurrection, if that's the totality of the message then that's dangerously close to denying Christ. He was willing to join us in our failure -- and that must be part of our message. But he did not remain a failure. If we never work around to mentioning that, we have betrayed the good news of Christ. Selling Christ as a failure alone is also dangerously close to telling them that Christ offers them no hope. In which case, there's no evangelism to be done. The reason for our hope is Christ's resurrection from the dead. I don't think Christ would have us deny his Messiahship to build fellowship with people who deny his Messiahship. So there has to be a limit to how much we portray Christ as a "failure" if we are faithful to proclaiming what he has done for us.

Take care & God bless

Ben Myers said...

Kim described certain forms of evangelism as: "nothing but an ideological power-play, a hurling of grenades with a pious name". Thanks -- that's a marvellous and memorable way of putting it!

David W. Congdon said...

"Selling Christ as a failure alone is also dangerously close to telling them that Christ offers them no hope."

The difference between you and me, WF, is that I refuse to "sell Christ." Our Lord and Savior is not one to be manipulated, controlled, bought and sold by us, regardless of our standing before him. I grew up thinking that I was commanded by God to sell and defend the gospel. It took me many years to realize that every time I attempted such an act, the gospel was lost and Christ was not glorified.

My earlier comment was meant to deflate any idea that just because Jesus was indeed victorious in the act of atonement, that this means we must then parade him around as someone who defeats other people's arguments, ideas, perspectives, beliefs, etc. Any time we approach another person with the attitude that says, "My God is better than your god," we must realize that God has turned his back to us and says, "I do not know you."

Allow Jesus to be portrayed as a "failure" means to allow other people to express what they feel needs to be expressed about Christianity and Christ, rather than returning fire for fire. The Sermon on the Mount must be lived out in our arguments. Do we turn the other cheek rather than slap the other in the face? Do we give our interlocutor our coat rather than try to take hers away? Peace-making must rule in our lives, and that must mean refusing the sinful temptation to think that God's eschatological victory over sin and death gives us a carte blanche to do battle with others over matters far more inconsequential.

The long and short of it is that argumentative evangelism (eristics) and apologetics are antithetical to the gospel, not its necessary corollaries.'

Kim, as always, your comments are fantastic, and the quote from Jenson is spot-on: "the church has no message to Jews about exclusion."

Weekend Fisher said...

ROFL, David, no, I don't "sell" Christ. And we're actually in agreement about a conversation that embodies Christ in its presentation. I'm just unwilling to yield the point of Christ as the reason for hope. Which does mean holding out Christ's uniqueness, and being aware of the need for Christ in both Christian and non-Christian. Kim's comments about the sparring match are great. I can just see "evangelism according to the 3 stooges" tapes playing in my mind, and I've seen it done that way. But the alternative is not, as I'm sure you're aware, sweeping Christ and the real need for him under the rug. Christ is a light, not a baseball bat.

I somehow suspect I'm not really the only one who has seen Christ treated with embarrassment by Christians in favor of appearing "inclusive", while actually neglecting to include the person in the news of the hope we share: Christ. Paul's example in Athens is again instructive.

Take care & God bless

Anonymous said...

not to move the subject off the evangelism vs. dialogue point, but has anyone read moltmann's attempt at developing christology in dialogue with judaism in chapt 1 of der weg?

here is a somewhat lengthy summary of his position that i wrote for class last semester. if you get a chance you should give the chapter a read (even if you don't find his eschatological perspective helpful)

Moltmann describes his ‘contributions to theology’ as a messianic theology. Accordingly, Moltmann begins his christology with an examination of the “historical presuppositions” (1) of the messianic hope from which Jesus emerges. The Old Testament promises and the Jewish hope for a messiah are foundational to an “authentic interpretation of Jesus” (1). Yet a christology that interprets Jesus with attention to his Jewishness and the sweeping backdrop of Israel’s history must attend to the ongoing Jewish ‘no’ to the Christian claim that Jesus is the messiah.
Drawing on the work of Martin Buber and Schalom Ben-Chorin, Moltmann interprets the Jewish ‘no’ to Jesus as consistent with the Jewish expectation for salvation in history. The Jewish hope in redemption does not seek salvation outside of the world in a spiritual realm, but rather awaits God’s coming victory over evil and the transformation of the entire world. Israel is incapable of accepting that the messiah has come when the world remains so visibly unredeemed (28). Israel did not reject Jesus, or reject God; they simply refused to believe that God’s redemption had been achieved. The Christian reinterpretation of redemption as occurring in the heart or salvation or the soul after death is untenable for a Jew.
Moltmann sympathetically accepts the Jewish “inability to accept” (28) Jesus and the spiritual interpretation of redemption that Christians have offered. However, Moltmann claims that Christianity’s bastardization of the Jewish hope does not “fit Jesus himself” (30). In the author’s reading, Jesus’ eschatological vision was domesticated and internalized through the imperium and development of Christendom. The Christian empire, then, becomes the ruler of history and the body, while faith is relegated to the interior and spiritual (31). The Christian concern for the world’s redemption is lost. Within this historical situation where the ‘already’ overwhelms the ‘not yet’, Christology easily becomes anti-Semitic.

Alternatively, Moltmann interprets the Christian ‘yes’ to Jesus’ as “anticipatory and provisional” (33). Consistent with his eschatological interpretation of the resurrection in Theology of Hope, Moltmann points to the already/not yet character of Christianity. Christians claim that in Jesus the messiah has entered history as the suffering servant who justifies the godless and reconciles enemies (32). However, the inbreaking of redemption does not obscure the ongoing evil and sin that distorts the world. Jesus Christ’s work is therefore “not in itself finished and complete” (32). Christians recognize that God remains hidden and salvation is still to be waited and hoped for. The messiah has come, but Christ is still on the way to becoming the messiah. The Christian ‘yes’ must listen to the Jewish ‘no’, for in the Jewish ‘no’ Christianity hears creation’s groaning for the “coming glory of God’ (32).

Moltmann employs this dialectic of Jewish no and Christian yes to further develop the important relationship between Christianity and Judaism. He claims that both the yes and no are necessary for Israel’s God to become the God of the Gentiles. It is the Jewish ‘no’ that throws the Jewish Christians outward in mission to the Greeks, thereby bringing YHWH’s promises to the world. The mission to the Gentiles is a “the messianic preparation of the nations,” (37) and this mission is empowered and proceeds from the actual presence of the messiah. The future and coming messiah has entered into the present, making redemption both present and promised.

Anonymous said...

Joshua, thank you for the precis of Moltmann's Der Weg (which is one of his works I haven't read) - it describes precisely what I have found in my conversations about eschatology with my Jewish friends (as I mentioned above) - we are all still looking for the final redemption to draw near. Thanks also to Kim for the Jenson quote.

DWC and WF, your points are (both) well taken - but I think that one cannot separate the suffering servant and Christus Victor - because it is precisely through being the suffering servant that Christ is victorious - you can't speak of one without the other. (I admit to being heavily influenced by John Howard Yoder on this point - but I think he makes this quite clear, in Politics of Jesus among other works.)

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