Remembering the Covenant: Judaism in an Anglican Theology of Interfaith Relations

By Ipgrave, Michael | Anglican Theological Review, Winter 2014 | Go to article overview

Remembering the Covenant: Judaism in an Anglican Theology of Interfaith Relations


Ipgrave, Michael, Anglican Theological Review


In the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, as other contributions to this volume make clear, there has been a significant movement of theological reflection among Anglicans on the questions raised by Christian encounter with other faith communities. Within this wide arena of interfaith relations, it is natural to ask whether Anglican theology treats Christian-Jewish relations as a special case.

1. Distinctiveness and Christian-Jewish Relations

There is one obviously affirmative answer to that question, in that every relationship between Christians and people of another given faith will be special, uniquely shaped by the particular themes which arise in encounter with that faith. Theological reflection will in each case address those particular themes. However, in the case of Christian-Jewish relations, there may be more than this at stake; the question is really about "special specialness": is there for Anglicans some qualitative difference between Christian-Jewish relations and other interfaith relations? If there is, in what does that distinctiveness consist?

Note that I have framed the question here in terms of a special theological quality in Christian-Jewish relations, rather than a special theological quality in Judaism as such. In this respect, I am following the language of the document Generous Love presented to the 2008 Lambeth Conference.1 Generous Love described itself as "an Anglican theology of inter faith relations," not as "an Anglican theology of other faiths." The point might at first appear pedantic, but it is potentially significant: a view of Christian-Jewish relations as qualitatively distinctive from other interfaith relations might indeed rest on a view of Judaism as qualitatively distinctive from other faiths, but it might also refrain from making such an evaluation; it does not seem that there is an immediately necessary implication from one to the other.

Within the wider world of Christian theology, it is apparent that at least two different kinds of "distinctiveness" for ChristianJewish relations are offered for consideration. One of these reads from the Bible a teaching that the Jewish people have been given a wholly exceptional status before God, and deduces from that principle that Christian-Jewish relations are also wholly exceptional as compared to other interfaith relations. Christians and Jews each have a distinctive place within the dispensations of Gods plan for the world, and it is the asymmetry of those dispensations which mandate how Christian-Jewish relations should be conducted in practice. This view of a distinctive relationship does in fact rest on a view of the religion of the Jewish people as qualitatively distinctive, literally sui generis. Thus, whereas all other non-Christian religions are human constructs, more or less false in their assumptions and misguided in their aims, the religion of Israel is-or was-built on true revelation from God, as testified by the Bible. As the ambiguity of tenses suggests, among Christians who share this approach there are then different opinions over the relationship between contemporary Judaism and this originally authentic religion of Israel, and those differences in turn lead to different views of Christian-Jewish relations. For some Christians, the Israel of today is in essence the same Israel that was once and is still chosen by God; the Jewish people, and by implication Judaism itself as their religion, continue to have a uniquely favored position in the divine purpose. For others, all this has changed since the coming of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The contemporary Jewish people no longer hold a particular place in God's favor, and such distinctiveness as Judaism has is a function rather of its uniquely abrogated status than of its continuing validity. Thus, the same overall premise of "exceptional distinctiveness" can lead to radically different views of Christian-Jewish relations, and of Judaism itself: to use common slogans which require further interrogation, it can support both "supersessionism" and "dispensationalism. …

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