Brief Thought: Soulen and the SCN

Those interested in hearing more about Amy-Jill Levine’s The Misunderstood Jew, please be patient. I will get more on here about it. I have so much other reading I have to do for my final exam and for some freelance writing assignments, I’m a little behind. If you keep checking, you will see a lot more and at a faster rate about Levine’s book.

Today, I’m going back to R. Kendall Soulen’s God of Israel and Christian Theology, a book I recommend to anyone interested in theology and the Jewish people. As you may find out in future posts, I vehemently disagree with his proposals for a new way of understanding the Bible and the the Jewish people, but I love his diagnosis of the problem and find him simply brilliant.

A brief quote followed by a paraphrase and my thoughts:
Part one [of the book] examined the logic and limitations of the church’s standard canonical narrative [SCN, see below for definition]. The standard model provides narrative construal of the Christian Bible that gives powerful expression to the church’s central confession: the God of Hebrew Scriptures acted in Jesus of Nazareth for all the world. Nevertheless, we have seen that the church’s model does this in a manner that is profoundly supersessionist [see below for definition] in both doctrinal and structural ways. Doctrinally, the model depicts carnal Israel’s role in the economy of redemption as essentially transient by virtue of the spiritualizing and universalizing impetus of God’s salvific will. Structurally, the model renders God’s identity as the God of Israel largely indecisive for shaping theological conclusions about how God works as Consummator [perfecter of Creation] and Redeemer [savior of Creation] engage creation in universal and enduring ways.

First, two quick definitions, then a paraphrase, and then a few thoughts.

Standard Canonical Narrative: A canonical narrative is an explanation of how the story of the Bible hangs together. What unites the Bible from Genesis to Revelation? The SCN is: 1. Creation, 2. Fall, 3. Redemption in Christ, and 4. Consummation or Perfecting the World for Eternity. The problem with the SCN is that Israel is left out and only Genesis 1-3 and the New Testament need even be in the Bible!

Supersessionism: The idea that the church supercedes Israel or replaces Israel. Israel no longer has a place in God’s economy. Israel served its purpose and is now on the shelf. The church is happening. Israel is a has-been.

My paraphrase of Soulen’s excellent quote:
The SCN of the church does justice to Jesus but fails to account for the majority of the Bible. If Israel is relegated to the back shelf, then it is hard to take God seriously. It would rather seem as though the history of Israel was a trivial game leading to the true goal: saving everyone through Jesus. If God’s purposes for Israel are not complete then we need a new canonical narrative that explains how Israel is central to God’s plan to perfect and redeem this world.

Some will fault my paraphrase, but regardless, here are a few thoughts:
1. 80% of the Bible is the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). Shouldn’t it play a much larger role in our theology?
2. Paul said scripture was God-breathed and to him scripture was the Hebrew Bible (all the scripture there was at the time).
3. The Hebrew Bible makes Israel the center of God’s plan for the nations.
4. It is a myth that Gentiles are passed over in the Hebrew Bible. From Deuteronomy 32 to the prophets, Gentiles are very much part of God’s plan.
5. The prophets promise Israel a glorious and unrealized future. It cheapens the Bible to say a magic word and turn those promises into a picture of the church instead of Israel.
6. If God plays those kind of games we should all be afraid because he might decide he likes somebody else better than Christians someday. After all, the church has a checkered history and has so many issues of shallowness, sin, corruption, and error in our present day that it is laughable to say the church is doing better than historic Israel.
7. So don’t cling to your theology as an immovable rock, but let the scriptures be a fresh wind always blowing through the mental sands and reshaping them into God’s beautiful truth.


About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
This entry was posted in Bible, Christian, Messianic Jewish, R. Kendall Soulen, Replacement Theology, Supersessionism, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Brief Thought: Soulen and the SCN

  1. Brian says:

    As a Gentile, I just wanted to say that I love your narrative. I not only find it refreshing, but also challenging.

    I am curious…why was the Gentile inclusion more dramatic – as far as numbers of people coming to faith and obedience in the NT compared with the OT (which I assume would be through conversion to Jaudaism)? One could “see” the surprise on Peter’s face as he told the story of Cornelius’ conversion to the Jerusalem Council.


  2. Brian says:

    sorry…”Judaism” My fingers can’t keep up

  3. Brian:

    You asked why the Gentile inclusion message of the apostles resulted in a much greater surge in numbers than the proselytizing of the synagogues before Yeshua. Good question.

    Before Yeshua, the Judaism of the day made a place for Gentiles, but only as second-class citizens. I want to be clear that it was not the Torah that relegated Gentiles to lower status, but the Judaism of the day.

    When the apostles preached full inclusion and said that God did not demand Gentiles become Jews, this was very popular with the Gentiles in the synagogues (God-fearers).

    Then the next step was the movement’s outreach to other Gentiles, the pagans. The message of Yeshua was very attractive to them also, because most Romans did not believe in an afterlife. Add to that the fact that religions from the east were ‘cool’ and you can see how the early Christian message spread quickly. I’m sure the Holy Spirit had something to do with it also!!


  4. Brian says:

    Well reasoned…thank you for your insight.


  5. Connie Smith says:

    I am a christian and have been studing the old teastment and specifcally the nation of Israel as a model of how church is to be lived out. I see the history of Isreal as important to every christian understanding of God and how he relates to His creation. I am going to be so bold as to put forth the possiblity that Israel, the family, the nation, was the first church. I am not a scholar just a Grandmother that Loves the God of Abraham.
    Blessings Connie

  6. Connie:

    Thanks for your comment. I understand what you mean. Israel has a lot in common with the body of Messiah in the New Testament. Israel is a people called to love God and serve him. Israel received special promises. There is a lot to compare.

    Ultimately the comparison breaks down though. Israel was chosen as a people primarily by birth (though conversion was possible). Lack of faith did not exclude one from Israel. In our time Israel continues as God’s people alongside the Body of Messiah. Some people saw Israel as the first church replaced by the new church. You probably didn’t mean this, but that is why I would not so much say Israel was the first church. I would say Israel is God’s people through whom he is working to redeem (which is where the Body of Messiah came from) and to perfect the world (which will start in Jerusalem).

    Thanks again and may God bless.


  7. Connie Smith says:

    Thanks Derek,
    I will give this some thought. It might make a difference if I knew how you define what church is.

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