Occasionally I may put some of my own ideas on this blog, but I read so many great ideas in other people’s books, why not use them?
I’m reading R. Kendall Soulen’s The God of Israel and Christian Theology right now. This does not constitute a complete endorsement, but he wowed me with an idea. As the leader of a Messianic Jewish congregation and yet someone who is quite often in churches and friends with countless pastors, I always look for ways to express what is unique about Messianic Judaism. I also hope to get pastors and Christians in general thinking in some different ways about Israel’s place in the Bible.
Soulen has a great way of seeing this issue. He talks about the standard Christian canonical narrative. What is a canonical narrative? It is a story or way of looking at how the Bible fits together, Old and New Testament.
What is the standard Christian canonical narrative? In short form it is:
That is, God created and humankind immediately caused the fall making the world imperfect and subject to evil. Along comes Jesus to redeem humankind and he will return to consummate (bring to an end) all things and at that time redeem the whole world.
Sounds so standard that questioning it is ludicrous, right? But notice anything about this canonical narrative? That’s right. It completely omits Israel. Israel is sort of an unnecessary middle step in the process. If Israel fits in at all, it is basically, “In order to bring the redeemer, God chose one people, brought Messiah and the scriptures through them, and now their role is complete and over with.”
Okay, for now I am simply stating the problem. In a later post, I will suggest better ways to see how the Bible hangs together. For now, though, note that what Soulen is saying is this: Israel is irrelevant to most Christian theology even though Israel is second only to God in its place in the Bible. Problematic isn’t it?
Let me close with some quotes Soulen provides from Melito of Sardis, a second century bishop. Before you read the quote, consider that Melito said this in the region where John the Apostle, a Jew himself, was a revered teacher until the beginning of the second century. That blows my mind, that in far less than 100 years, in a city to which one of the original Jewish apostles had come, a bishop would spout these words:
The people of Israel were precious before the church arose,
and the law was marvelous until the gospel was elucidated.
But when the church arose and the gospel took precedence
the model was made void, conceding it’s power to the reality . . .
the people was made void when the church arose.
. . . Therefore, O Israel, you did not quake in the presence of the Lord [when Jesus came],
so you quaked at the assault of foes [in 70 C.E. when the temple was destroyed] . . .
you did not lament over the Lord,
so you lamented over your firstborn;
you did not tear your clothes when the Lord was hung,
so you tore them over those who were slain . . .
you did not accept the Lord,
you were not pitied by him.
(Melito of Sardis, On Pascha, trans. S.G. Hall (Oxford:Clarendon Press, 1979), 21, 55, 57.)