Opening the Covenant: A Jewish Theology of Christianity

By Robinson, Richard A. | Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, December 2008 | Go to article overview

Opening the Covenant: A Jewish Theology of Christianity


Robinson, Richard A., Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society


Opening the Covenant: A Jewish Theology of Christianity. By Michael S. Kogan. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008, xiv + 284 pp., $29.95.

In an age of dialogue and pluralism, Michael Kogan wants to take things one step forward, as he sees it. With a survey of selected Jewish views of Christianity from medieval times to the present as his background, along with Christian views of Judaism, Kogan proposes that the time has come for each faith to fully recognize the other as a legitimate revelation from God. Specifically, Kogan wishes for Jews to view Christianity as the revelation of the God of Israel to Gentiles, thereby incorporating Christians into Israel itself. Similarly, he wants Christians to affirm the full validity of Judaism as a revealed faith and particularly to give up theological exclusivism even as Jews must abandon humanistic exclusivism (pp. xii-xiii). It is time for both sides to make a move.

Though at first sight this may sound like an updated version of Franz Rosenzweig (well known as the originator of the dual-covenant theology so prominent in Jewish Christian dialogue of recent years), it goes further than Rosenzweig did. It is a bold project that, once the details are understood, will sit well neither with many Jews for what it grants Christianity nor with Christians who believe in the validity of truth claims.

Let me say that this is a book of tremendous value, in general for giving one Jewish scholar's understanding of Christianity and the dialogue movement, and specifically for clearly summarizing and evaluating a dozen Jewish and Christian theologians who have had something to say on the subject, along with several important official statements from the Jewish-Christian dialogue. The downside for those coming from a conservative or evangelical viewpoint, or for that matter for many coming from a modernist mindset, is that Kogan can only maintain his theological construction at the price of denying that religious truth claims intersect in a meaningful way with historical truth claims, and by simultaneously insisting that even if Christian claims were true, they would have no relevance for Jewish people, because Christian revelation is for Gentiles only. In the last chapter, in fact, Kogan advocates for an expansive pluralism that finds divine revelation in all religions. Kogan does not offer reasons for believing that his construction is true; rather, he presupposes both the election of Israel that requires no further revelation and the validity of a pluralistic approach to religion, then builds his edifice in order to practically further Jewish-Christian relations. It is his pluralism that allows him to attribute value and "truth" to Christianity; it is his commitment to Israel's election-sans-Christianity that causes him to rule out anyone holding to exclusive claims from being valid dialogue participants. As I will comment later, Kogan appears to confuse claims to truth with attitude problems, and also claims to any (exclusive) truth as claims to all truth.

Michael Kogan is Professor of Religious Studies at Montclair State University, where he also serves as Chairman of the Department of Philosophy and Religion. By way of notice, his mentor, Gabriel Vahanian of Syracuse University, was a pioneer of the "death of God" theology.

Already in the introduction, Kogan avers that "interreligious dialogue requires that those engaged in it give up long-standing convictions of their own exclusive possession of truth" (p. xii). This is not, however, a call merely for Christians to make a move. He also asks, "are Jews ready and willing to affirm that God, the God of Israel and of all humanity, was involved in the life of Jesus, in the founding of the Christian faith, in its growth and spread across much of the world, and in its central place in the hearts of hundreds of millions of their fellow beings?" (p. xiii). Christianity needs to give up its theological exclusivism, while Judaism's move is to abandon what he calls its "humanistic" exclusivism.

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