Monday 25 May 2009

Lauren F. Winner on Jewish-Christian Dialogue

Lauren F. Winner, ‘Terms of Engagement: Where Things Stand in Jewish-Christian Dialogue’, Books & Culture (May/June 2009).

Lauren Winner offers some reflections on the following three books:

Gustav Niebuhr, Beyond Tolerance: Searching for Interfaith Understanding in America (New York: Viking, 2008).

David Novak, Talking with Christians: Musings of a Jewish Theologian (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005).

Randi Rashkover and C.C. Pecknold (eds.), Liturgy, Time and the Politics of Redemption (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006).

The books are the most recent of a substantial wave of interest over the last fifteen years or so among theologians (not to mention biblical scholars) on the relationship between Judaism and Christianity, with a number of theologians being committed to dialogue to explore what an anti-supersessionist Christian theology might look like, and to see what Christianity and Judaism can learn from one another on how to speak about the God of Israel. This turn in theology is associated with Tikvah Frymer-Kensky, David Novak, Peter Ochs, Scott Bader-Saye, and Kendall Soulen, among others.

Winner notes that on Gustav Niebuhr’s account, interfaith encounters remain largely social – getting together to know one another better, and pursuing some common civic goal. One of the central questions, according to Niebhur, is ‘what does it mean to be different together?’ – thus raising explicit, though risky, theological conversation.

David Novak’s work gathers some fruits of his thirty-year engagement with Christians, with his central vision that when Jews talk about Christians and Christians talk about Jews, we do so by avoiding saying things that the other religion and its adherents and practitioners wouldn’t recognise. Though this appears somewhat obvious, Winner avers that it would have deep implications for how we speak about Judaism in the academy and the church, even down to avoiding talking about ‘the Jewish faith’ (which is tacitly Christianising)… Jewish people, sure… Jewish practice, great. But not Jewish faith. Novak’s guidelines, however, have tended to bracket points of disagreement that are specific to Judaism and Christianity, focusing on commonalities rather than discussing salvation, the identity of Christ, etc.

The collection of essays edited by Randi Rashkover and C.C. Pecknold ‘suggests that risky, theological engaged Jewish-Christian conversations may be possible when they emerge from our shared (though also different) practices’.

Winner concludes that Christians need to participate in these conversations ‘not out of some generalized pluralistic sense that diversity always enriches conversation (which may or may not be true), but out of a theologically particular sense that without Jewish conversation partners, Christians’ theological speech – that is, Christians’ claims about the God of Israel – risks hubris and possibly serious error’. Putting it more positively, ‘we need Jewish conversation partners to help us understand what we mean when we say that the Christological event is informed by the God who elected Israel’.

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