Faith Transformed: Christian Encounters with Jews and Judaism

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Faith Transformed: Christian Encounters with Jews and Judaism, edited by John C. Merkle. Collegeville, Minn.: The Liturgical Press, 2003. 216 pp. $23.95.

This book is a gem. Twelve Christian scholars give their autobiographical reflections on how their encounters with Jews and Judaism, primarily through Jewish-Christian dialogue, have transformed their faith and life-work as Christians. The editor, John Merkle, deserves high praise for conceiving and bringing to fruition such a fine collection. Contributors are Walter Harrelson, Alice Eckardt, Eva Fleischner, Franklin Sherman, Norman Beck, Clark Williamson, John Pawlikowski, Eugene Fisher, Michael McGarry, Mary Boys, and John Merkle.

The first thing that struck me about these essays is that all of them are both personally reflective-the authors' first encounters with Jews and Judaism, their early impressions, how they became aware of deeper issues, and their reflection on what they have learned-and thoughtful contributions that enrich, correct, and transform the way Christianity has been understood and practiced.

Response to the "teachings of contempt" against Jews and Judaism occupies a central place in most of the essays. Several authors cite Fr. Edward Flannery's oft-quoted statement-"The pages Jews have memorized have been torn from our histories of the Christian era"-to talk about how unfamiliar they were, initially, with this part of Christian history. Its "discovery" has prompted deep soul-searching, repentance, and extensive theological rethinking in Christian circles.

The essays by Clark Williamson and John Pawlikowski are especially effective in responding to the history and teachings of anti-Judaism. Pawlikowski is convinced that reconciliation with Jews will never be full and complete until the lost pages that Flannery refers to are restored to Christian textbooks. Christians need to know that history and to repent "as the first and necessary step in any process of reconciliation between Christians and Jews" (p. 116). While Pawlikowski alludes to the torn-out pages, Williamson devotes several pages to retelling what one finds in those pages and then shows how the realizations about anti-Judaism have transformed his understanding and practice of the Christian faith. Among other important points, Williamson avers that "we need to find more adequate ways to tell the Christian story" (p. 104). The typical way of telling the story of Christian redemption-Adam's sin is passed on to all; Christs redeeming work is available to those who believe in him-relegates the redemptive work of God with Israel to irrelevance and encourages a triumphalist articulation of the Christian message. As an alternative, Williamson recommends a theology of blessing in which Jews and Christians can draw insights about redemption from both religious traditions.

In various ways the contributors acknowledge their (and Christianity's) profound indebtedness to Judaism. The spiritual vitality reflected in the Hebrew Scriptures, the power of the prophetic message, the authentic yearnings for God in the Psalms, the transformations in Post-Biblical Judaism, and the importance of land and people receive the attention of several writers. All of these points provide ways to correct notions of Christian superiority and to rethink relationships untainted by the false assumptions that underlie the teachings of anti-Judaism. …