Currently serving as a faculty member at the Messianic Jewish Theological Institute in San Diego, California, Dr. Jennifer M. Rosner’s 2015 book Healing the Schism charts an ever-growing movement of post-Holocaust Jewish and Christian thinkers who critically redefine the nature of the relationship between Jews and Christians in light of new historical realities. Two new realities stand out as particularly significant for Rosner: first, the “widespread positive engagement between Jews and Christians in the post-Holocaust era” (30). Key figures involved in this dialogue include Jewish theologians like Will Herberg, Michael Wyschogrod, and David Novak on the one hand, and Christian theologians like Thomas Torrance, George Lindbeck, Robert Jenson, and Kendall Soulen on the other. Rosner points out that this engagement is unique in that it refuses to give into the dangers of an approach to “interfaith dialogue” that seeks common theological agreement but obscures the difference and exclusivity involved in the truth claims of a community. This new Jewish-Christian encounter is also unique, however, in that it encourages a meeting between traditions which “interface” with each other in order to expose the “overlap” of elements in both traditions (37). The second new reality significant for Rosner is the growth of a theologically robust Messianic Judaism in the last fifty years. The work of Mark Kinzer is considered exemplary here. In relation to the new Jewish-Christian encounter, Messianic Judaism differs in that it rejects “a mutually exclusive construal of these two religious traditions,” (3) in such a way that concerns Jewish interlocutors like David Novak of the dangers of syncretism (43).
Another key feature of the new encounter between Jews and Christians, Rosner points out, is the widespread rejection, on the Christian side, of the supersessionist teaching that the church has replaced Israel as the elect people of God. Post-Holocaust Christian theologians who reject supersessionism, however, and Messianic Jews whose very embodied practice testifies against such a teaching, face a major task nicely captured by the basic criteria (borrowed from Catholic theologian Bruce Marshall) that Rosner uses to engage her authors: can each author “affirm (or contribute to the affirmation of) both the universal, ecclesially mediated saving mission of Christ and the irrevocable election of the Jewish people, which necessarily includes the ongoing practice of Judaism?” (11) Before asking this question of Post-Holocaust Christian theologians and Messianic Jews (chs. 3-4), Rosner begins by posing this question to two theological giants, namely Karl Barth and Franz Rosenzweig. Barth and Rosenzweig point toward new and fruitful theological models for articulating the relationship between Christ, the Church, and Israel (Barth) and between Judaism and Christianity (Rosenzweig). These models pave the way for the possibility of the new Jewish-Christian encounter. For Rosner, the question then becomes, when placed under Marshall’s criteria, how do Barth and Rosenzweig’s theologies fare?
Barth “paves the way for a radically new assessment of the relationship between Israel and the church” (111) in two ways, for Rosner. First, Barth’s revolutionary exposition in Church Dogmatics II/2 (CD hereafter) of Christ as both the subject and the object of divine election includes the election of the community of Israel and the Church in such a way that avoids crude supersessionist notions of the church as ‘elect’ and Israel as ‘rejected.’ Israel and the Church are the one elect community of witnesses that mediate Christ’s salvific work, even though there is differentiation within that one community. This point of “differentiation,” however, is where Rosner finds problems with Barth’s account in light of Marshall’s question. For Barth, while Israel and the Church are both elect, Israel serves the representative role of the “passing form” of the community while the Church represents the “coming form” (CD, II/2, §34.1). Inasmuch as Israel mediates Christ’s universal salvific work as his community, that mediation corresponds to the way that Israel represents the sinful, disobedient, and obstinate humanity for whom Christ dies. Rosner also notes how this construal has further implications for how one reads Barth’s strong statement on the importance of recognizing Jesus’ incarnation not only in any flesh, but in Jewish flesh. While Barth emphasizes the importance of Jesus’ Jewishness, his understanding of the way Israel mediates Christ’s work conflates “Jewishness” with sinfulness and “fleshliness.” This means that Barth fails to give “full expression” to the narratives of God’s covenant with Israel (89). Correlatively, such failure to give “full expression” to Israel’s narratives carries over into Barth’s uninformed account of rabbinic Judaism as perpetuating a kind of “casuistical reasoning” that is not obedient to the command of God (77).
This account of the potential pitfalls of Barth’s account of Israel have been well documented in Barth studies (cf. Marquardt, Van Buren, Sonderegger, Lindsay, et al). Novel to Rosner’s own account is the section “Barth’s Doctrine of Judaism (Torah),” where she argues that instead of assuming “rabbinic Judaism disregards the voice of God and replaces it with purely human ethical reasoning,” (103) Barth might have seen instead how “the heart of Jewish ethics…[involves] the task of discerning how the command of God informs a particular situation” (108). If Barth had done so, he might have seen that his own view of ethics and the command of God “coheres” with that of Rabbinic Judaism (104). Rosner’s obvious and primary issue with Barth is that while Barth can affirm the universal, ecclesially mediated saving mission of Christ and the irrevocable election of the Jewish people, the form of this affirmation precludes any possibility that such an election includes a positive account of the ongoing practice of Judaism.
Chapter two provides a helpful overview of Franz Rosenzweig’s The Star of Redemption in order to pose Marshall’s question yet again. According to Rosner, Rosenzweig’s Star represents the differences between Judaism and Christianity in order to present their relationship as “cooperative rather than competitive” (168). Judaism (the star), characterized by the holidays and liturgy celebrated by Jews year after year, is marked by an “inwardness” through which Jews witness to eternity “by being what they are” and by continuing “its life through the begetting of new generations” (119). Christianity (the rays), is oriented “outward” and can only be continued through its “missionary” task (126). Each community is susceptible to “dangers” based on these respective and unique identities, but each one helps “counterbalance” the other to avoid these dangers. Christianity, with its outward and missionary focus, is in danger of spiritualizing God and so forgetting the historical concreteness of revelation, deifying man and thus “bridging the gap that separates man from God,” and deifying the world and so failing to trust in God’s control of history (132). The Jewish people, with their inward focus, are in danger of excluding the “world and its peoples” from the domain of God’s love, forgetting the comprehensive scope of redemption, and assuming wrongly that the law is the “universal human track to the world to come” (133). Ultimately, both Judaism and Christianity participate in a redemptive vocation, which aims towards a “telos” that will only be realized in the eschaton (132).
As might already be clear, the latter half of Marshall’s criteria—that any account of the election of the Jewish people necessarily include the ongoing practice of Judaism—is fulfilled by Rosenzweig’s construal of the relationship between Judaism and Christianity. In The Star, Judaism’s status as the elect people is inseparable from its vocation to be obedient to Torah, indeed obedience to the law is what “activates and confirms their redemptive vocation” (165). The second part of Marshall’s criteria regarding the universal, ecclesially mediated saving mission of Christ is, however, unfulfilled by Rosenzweig, even as he contributes to the possibility of such an affirmation. Rosner highlights a number of remarkable passages in The Star that gesture towards parallels between the Jewish people and the vocation of the Jewish Jesus. However, Rosner notes that in every one of those instances, Rosenzweig stops short of connecting the two, maintaining the parallelism in a mutually exclusive way, avoiding any “overlap” (153).
With Barth and Rosenzweig’s contributions in mind, Rosner turns to a wide range of figures in the new Jewish-Christian encounter (examples include, but are not limited to, T.F. Torrance, Will Herberg, Michael Wyschogrod, Irving Greenberg, and Kendall Soulen) whose reflections on Christology and ecclesiology develop fresh possibilities for thinking about Jesus’s Jewishness and the relationship between Israel and the Church. As each author’s work is reviewed, similar issues arise that are identified in Barth and Rosenzweig. Authors who establish a close link between Israel and Jesus lift up the significance of Israel for Christianity but ultimately “[sum] up Israel’s vocation in Christ to such an extent that the Jewish people do not retain any positive vocation of their own” (227). Conversely, non-supersessionist theological proposals and forms of dual-covenant theology try to correct the above problem but ultimately, they make Jesus merely an exemplary Israelite or finally irrelevant to Jewish people in the process (231).
The preceding chapters set the table for Rosner’s analysis of Messianic Jewish theologian Mark S. Kinzer. Kinzer is significant, for Rosner, because he brings the wisdom of many figures in the new Jewish-Christian encounter together in an attempt to provide a high Christology that “coinheres with his robust doctrine of Israel’s election and unique vocation” (237). Every Christological loci, from the incarnation to the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Christ are read through Israel’s story as a story of God “ushering creation into consummation and defeating the forces of chaos that threaten creation” (255). Jesus’ incarnation fulfills Israel’s vocation to “sanctify the world” through overcoming sources of impurity (257). His death fulfills Israel’s “sacrificial commission” and overcomes the “evil powers” (260). Finally, his resurrection “inaugurates a future that Israel has not yet experienced” but has been promised from the outset (267). But what of Israel’s rejection of Jesus? Drawing on others who have asked as much (Marquardt, Van Buren), Kinzer argues that this rejection was “an act of faithfulness to God”, because Israel did not reject covenant faithfulness but rather a “distorted gospel” (269). None of the above interpretations are totally original. What is novel is the ecclesiology that Kinzer suggests follows on such observations. Rosner notes that for Kinzer there are “three ecclesial groups within the one people of God.” These groups are: (i.) the people of Israel and (ii.) the body of Christ who are “linked together” by (iii.) Messianic Jews who overlap “both Israel and the church” (270). While Kinzer speaks of “three ecclesial groups,” he still calls his ecclesiology “bilateral” in that it suggests that “the one ekklesia must consist of two corporate subcommunities,” namely, a corporate Gentile subcommunity and a corporate Jewish subcommunity that “serves as a link between the wider ekklesia and wider Israel.” (278)
From this basic summary, one can see where Rosner is heading: Messianic Jewish theology can avoid the problems of declaring Jewish election, and so Jewish practice, as abrogated in light of Christ, because their own vocation is precisely to live as faithful Jews within the ekklesia as mediators of Christ’s universal saving work. In this way, Rosner presents Kinzer’s proposal as the most qualified to meet Marshall’s criteria, although she does note that critical issues remain. In fact, Rosner details Marshall’s own concerns with Kinzer, which highlight the concerns of David Novak. What is to prevent the “bridge” of Messianic Judaism from becoming a freeway in which the identities of “Jew” and “Christian” cease to maintain the definiteness that has heretofore characterized them? Additionally, from a Christian perspective, how can one make sense of a “bilateral ecclesiology” when taking account of Christ’s cross as that which unifies Jew and Gentile, and does not keep them apart as different subcommunities (288)? With respect to this last point, Rosner quotes Marshall’s crucial concern that such an ecclesiology would seem to be possible only with a skewed Christology in which Christ has “two bodies” (289-290).
In the final chapter, Rosner suggests areas where additional work is needed in critically re-thinking Christian theology in light of Israel, suggesting that “no doctrine of Christian theology can be understood without reference to Judaism and the Jewish people” (295, emphasis in original). To be sure, Rosner’s Healing the Schism is helpful for providing a thorough introduction to the theological and doctrinal changes that have occurred on this topic during the twentieth century and that continue into the present. While this alone is reason enough to read the book, it would have been helpful if the author ended with more of a constructive proposal of her own, perhaps addressing some of the concerns that Marshall has with Kinzer’s bilateral ecclesiology or suggesting an alternative to the options presented.
Zacharie Klassen, Ph.D. Candidate, McMaster University
The views expressed here are strictly those of the author; they do not necessarily represent the views of the Center for Barth Studies or Princeton Theological Seminary.