Christianity’s constitutive anti-Judaism

One of the most troubling things about reading Clark Williamson’s A Guest in the House of Israel is realizing that anti-Judaism isn’t just some anomalous bug of Christianity that can easily be tossed out. It’s more or less a constitutive feature of the patristic-medieval-Reformation-modern Christian consensus. As Christianity gradually emerged as a separate religion, the church defined itself, in myriad ways, as the anti-Judaism. Jews were, according to this line of thinking, “carnal,” legalistic, hypocritical, particularistic, ethnocentric, unfaithful, etc., while the church was “spiritual,” grace-full, upright, universal, faithful, etc. This stuff is all over Tertullian, Irenaeus, Athanasius, Augustine, the medievals, Luther, Calvin (although, according to Williamson, Calvin actually comes off better than nearly anyone else in the tradition on this score), the anabaptists, liberal theologians, neo-orthodox theologians, liberation theologians–pretty much everybody. It infects the church’s view of covenant, its doctrine of the authority and interpretation of scripture, its Christology, its doctrine of God, its view of the sacraments, and its approach to mission. This is why Williamson thinks that a more radical re-thinking of the church’s theology is necessary in a post-Holocaust (or post-Shoah) context than most Christians have been willing to countenance.

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5 thoughts on “Christianity’s constitutive anti-Judaism

  1. Yeah, this is an interesting point, Lee. You find this by default pretty often; it does seem to be built in to the Christian faith in some ways.

    I’ve been reading a blog lately that focusses heavily on what they call “Law vs. Gospel” theology. They often seem stuck, to me, in the irrelevancy of 16th-Century issues; the Catholic Church is no longer selling indulgences, after all! I think they are missing the facts on the ground in the effort to validate their own theology. And the facts are that “the Law” in Judaism is not legalistic; it’s “observance.” It’s liturgical, in a way, even – a way to act out love for God. (I’m never sure how people who put a high value on Scripture can ignore the implications of Psalm 119: “Lord, how I love Thy Law!”)

    I do think it’s possible to avoid the default “Christianity supercedes(/invalidates) Judaism” thinking, but I agree that it often seems to be a feature and not a bug. I agree, too, that it needs to be dealt with.

  2. This is a very relevant comment right now, as we who preach are looking at a text for this Sunday – Luke 13:10-17 – that can lend itself to law-bashing (Jesus heals a woman on the sabbath in the synagogue; synagogue leader gets “indignant”). I fear that there will be much criticism of the law and sabbath observances, and by extension (unintentional, I’m sure, criticism of) Judaism and Jews.

  3. I’m a little unclear as to what “anti-Judaism” is supposed to be; it sounds here like it’s standing in for anti-Semitism, but anti-Semitism has a very specific object, whereas anti-Judaism doesn’t sound like it does, and certainly cannot if we are to find it “all over” the tradition. If there’s actually a specific object, I’m not sure what it would be, or how one could find it all over the tradition. If, on the other hand, it expands so vaguely that any criticism of Judaism, or any claim that Judaism is incomplete without Christ, counts, then it’s not surprising that it seems a feature: it is one, since it’s found throughout the New Testament. If it is instead supposed to be some middle ground between the two it’s not possible to say from the label alone what that middle ground is supposed to be.

  4. Jews who pursue God by faith, will come to faith in Christ. Unfortunately, Israel has tried to be righteous by religious practices.

    What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone,
    (Rom 9:30-32 ESV)

    Christians should not look upon the Jews with contempt, for they still have a special place in God’s heart. The verses belows seems to indicate that they will come to Christ before the resurrection.

    For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?
    (Rom 11:15 ESV)

    Lest you be wise in your own sight, I want you to understand this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”; “and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.”
    (Rom 11:25-27 ESV)

    We should look upon Jews with love, pray for them, look forward to their salvation.

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