I got a wonderful opportunity this weekend to guest blog on Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed blog (see my post here and the Jesus Creed blog here). Jesus Creed is one of the most widely read Christian blogs and Scot McKnight is a theologian whose thoughts are worth following (try reading his books The Blue Parakeet and A Community Called Atonement if you’d like to experience some of his work).
My post was about Richard Harvey’s Mapping Messianic Jewish Theology, which I am reviewing here chapter by chapter. The reason it thrilled me to review Harvey’s book on Jesus Creed is that I want to see more Christians interact with the idea of the Jewish response to Yeshua.
One thing always to be kept in mind in Jewish-Christian relations is that people saturated with church theology and culture often will take a less than glorious view of the present and future role of Israel in God’s ongoing work of completing and redeeming his creation.
Another thing to keep in mind is patience and a charitable attitude. It is not as if Christians, including those who are very bright and well-read, have an animus against Jewish people, per se. Rather, the defeat and obsolescence of Judaism at the hands of a triumphant and superseding Christianity is embedded into the core ideas of most Christian theologies. To root out supersessionism requires questioning core ideas and commitments, rethinking and reconfiguring the very canonical narrative that supports most Christian theology.
Supersessionism comes from the word supersede (also spelled supercessionism in some places). To supersede means to replace, take the place of, take over from, succeed; supplant, displace, oust, overthrow, remove, unseat. Supersessionism is more popularly known as replacement theology. It is the idea, which comes in many forms, that the Church has replaced the Jewish people as the people of God.
One of the things my blog post on Jesus Creed revealed is that even among the exceptionally bright and informed of the Christian community, supersessionism remains an unexamined assumption of life and theology. And I am not condemning any of the commenters from Jesus Creed, all of whom (except perhaps one) commented with the measured humility that is fitting for all of us who dwell in the shadow of the Almighty.
I would also say in defense of the Jesus Creed community that these people are caring for widows and orphans and the issue of the Jewish people has not risen to the forefront for many. I will also say that a few commenters already did get it and not all Christians by any means retain supersessionist assumptions.
I will be blogging about supersessionism along with other topics (such as continuing my review of Harvey’s Mapping Messianic Jewish Theology.
For one thing, I will introduce readers to the definitive book on the subject, The God of Israel and Christian Theology by R. Kendall Soulen. If I could require all budding theologians to spend a week in the woods with only a Bible and Soulen’s book, I am ashamed to say I would usurp dictatorial powers to make it so.
I will post this week, for example, about three kinds of supersessionism. One commenter on Jesus Creed mentioned that supersessionism should be defined only as “the OT promises to the Jews have devolved upon the Church, and the Church should continue to expect that God will treat the Church the same way as the Jews before Jesus, with the same privileges, etc.” If supersessionism only means this sort of thinking, then, it was argued, other views such as the idea that Judaism was fulfilled in Jesus and no more expresses God’s will, would be free of the taint of supersessionism.
I will examine Soulen’s three categories of supersessionism and suggest practical examples of these working out in church theologies and popular statements about the Bible, the work of Messiah, and the future.
I will also examine what Christian theology freed from the mess of supersessionism looks like.
Meanwhile, if anyone would like to discuss the issue, here is a conversation starter:
If you are involved in Messianic Judaism, how widespread do you feel supersessionism is and how damaging is its influence? Specific examples are helpful. Language respectful of churches and denominations is preferred as we in Messianic Judaism are no better in God’s sight even if in one area of theology we might have grasped an essential truth. So, if you can gently and humbly answer this question and discuss it, we will all profit.
If you are a Christian and not so involved in Messianic Judaism, what things cause you to question the prevailing tide of opinion that Christianity has superseded Judaism and Christians have superseded Jews as God’s people?
If you are a Jew and not involved in either Christianity or Messianic Judaism, how has the Christian attitude toward Jewish people affected you? Does the word triumphalism register with you? Are you optimistic about improvement in Jewish-Christian relations in the future?