Yesterday I featured a rather harsh review of a book by British evangelicals in support of Israel. I was harsh because I had hoped they would go further in recognizing the calling of Jewish followers of Jesus to live out Jewish life in Messiah.
This discussion is all about The Jews, Modern Israel, and the New Supercessionism edited by Calvin Smith and available here for purchase and more information. I do suggest you add this book to your library. It represents a perspective we in Messianic Judaism need to hear and dialogue with. It represents a position many Christians could learn from.
Today, Calvin Smith responds. His response has taught me something: in our own little worlds we discuss issues in isolation and then when we dialogue and come together, we find that there are some areas where we are completely missing the perspective of the other side. For example, Smith will say below, “Surely Derek recognizes the epistle to the Hebrews (likely written to a Jewish Christian audience looking back nostalgically at the levitical cultus) demonstrates how Christ is superior in every way to the old sacrificial system (thus rendering Torah observation in toto impossible).” He does not understand where I am coming from at all and thinks I will agree with him about this point. This example illustrates the very reason we need to be in dialogue.
I would like to thank Calvin Smith for taking the time to respond and I do hope our dialogue will continue.
GUEST BLOG: CALVIN SMITH RESPONDS
A Brief Response to Derek Leman’s Review of
The Jews, Modern Israel and the New Supercessionism
by Calvin L. Smith
I’m grateful to Derek for the chance to respond to his review and email. I simply wanted to reply to several issues he raises and as such will keep my comments brief.
He states: “It is sad to find in a book self-styled as a refutation of supersessionism the following statement, ‘Clearly, Jesus supercedes the old covenant’. Why is this “clearly” so? Why not see Messiah’s coming in continuity with the “old” covenant?” Surely Derek recognizes the epistle to the Hebrews (likely written to a Jewish Christian audience looking back nostalgically at the levitical cultus) demonstrates how Christ is superior in every way to the old sacrificial system (thus rendering Torah observation in toto impossible). So I was curious to learn how my statement somehow contradicts the book’s claim to challenge supercessionism, if, that is, one defines supercessionism in its classically understood sense. Perhaps Derek was uneasy with the verb I used. But I suspect his motives run deeper, perhaps believing a suggestion the Torah is somehow “lesser” provides ammunition for structural supercessionism. But the Scriptures do indeed speak of an old and new covenant (both of which, incidentally, God makes with Israel, Jer 31:31-34, a point often lost on supercessionists), while the passing away of the former’s imperfect sacrificial aspect in no way dilutes God’s perpetual covenant with His people. In short, the problem is not affirming Christ’s sacrifice supercedes the levitical system, but rather that a segment of the Gentile church has downplayed a Jewish Messiah as described in a Jewish collection of writings (the New Testament) sent by the God of Israel to bring about redemption for a world through the Jewish nation.
This leads to my second point: the concern about my missional language and the view that “conversion” somehow lends itself to a supercessionist mindset (presumably because any call for Jews to “change” implies a lesser, inherently flawed existing relationship with God). Yet the whole tone of the New Testament is thoroughly missional. Whether the Great Commission, the Apostles’ kerygma (leading, notably to the salvation of 3000 Jews at Pentecost), Peter’s mission to the Jews, or Paul’s preaching in the synagogue, the New Testament demands a decision, a change of heart, a new direction (I am struggling to find an alternative to the word “conversion” here), in short a personal and conscious transformation by both Jew and Gentile brought about through an encounter with Jesus. Thus a missional mindset or language simply cannot be avoided. Meanwhile, for the Jew this decision to follow Jesus arguably represents a greater sacrifice than for others because it inevitably means ditching those aspects of Jewish identity so inextricably intertwined with rabbinic Judaism that run contrary to the Scriptures.
Finally, you rightly state (though perhaps a little pejoratively?) this is not an academic book. Indeed, its stated aim is to reach as wide a literate lay readership as possible while eschewing a simplistic popular approach. Academic debates are usually confined to the proverbial ivory tower, but I think the current supercessionist debate has probably run its course within the Christian academy. The race is now on for the hearts and minds of the wider body of Christ. Even as we communicate, Stephen Sizer, who has captured support across much of the UK church leadership (though much of the grassroots are somewhat troubled by some of his statements and actions), is in the US promoting his supercessionist views. In short, the book is written to a wider church undecided on the role of Israel within God’s eternal plan, rather than seeking to tackle the issues of Jewish identity and Torah observance currently being fought out within parts of Messianic Judaism. I respectfully suggest your preoccupation with this debate has led you to lose site of the book’s wider ecclesiastical aim.
Concerning your comments about Tony Pearce’s piece, I will pass on your comments to him. In the meantime, thank you again for allowing me to respond here and also for offering to put a link from your site to the book’s site, which was gracious of you.