Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

The God of Israel and Christian Theology

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

The God of Israel and Christian Theology

Article excerpt

The God of Israel and Christian Theology. By R. Kendall Soulen. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996. xii + 195 pp. $19.00 (paper).

Can Christians truly remain Christian without being triumphalist toward Jews? Since the Nazi Holocaust, this question has become very difficult for Christians. As a response, many have rejected the church's traditional "supersessionist" stance-the view that Christianity, as the new "spiritual" Israel, has superseded the old "carnal" Israel in God's design. Soulen concurs with this rejection, but urges that Christians do it not simply "out of a desire to avoid offense or in a spirit of `theological reparations"' but out of a "reasoned conviction that in doing so they are being more truthful and more faithful to the God whom they worship and confess" (p. 4). His argument obviously contributes to theological conversation between Jews and Christians. But its systematic implications are profound. It brings to light how the doctrine of supersessionism has infected Christian theology with a historical (as opposed to an ontological) gnosticism. By proposing a framework for rethinking the unity of the biblical narrative, Soulen not only rethinks the unity of the Christian Scriptures, but offers Christians a fresh way of understanding how God is actively engaged in the public and corporate dimensions of human history.

Soulen's chief contribution is his proposal of an alternative framework for interpreting how the two parts of the Christian Bible are related-the "Scriptures" (what Christians call the Old Testament) and the "Apostolic Witness" (the New Testament). Such a framework is important because it rethinks how Christians understand God's involvement in the world as "Consummator" and "Redeemer." Soulen's starting point is a serous engagement with the Jewish theological claim (via the work of Michael Wyschogrod) that God has irrevocably elected Israel to be the people of God. Thus, he rejects a supersessionist stance because it renders the heart of the Hebrew Scriptures, God's eternal covenant with Israel, virtually irrelevant for Christian understandings of God's work in creation and history. In addition to reinforcing a triumphalistic attitude toward Jews, such a view tends to interpret the gospel in primarily metaphysical and individualistic ways. Soulen traces the roots of this "standard" supersessionist view of the Bible's unity back to Justin Martyr and Irenaeus of Lyon. In the modern period, its tendency to interpret God's activity in individualistic terms was intensified by Immanuel Kant's and Friedrich Schleiermacher's presumption that God's promises to the Jews were theologically indifferent for Christians. …

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