Rosner, Jennifer M. Healing the Schism: Karl Barth, Franz Rosenzweig, and the New Jewish-Christian Encounter (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Academic, 2021), 288 pp. $ 34.99 (paperback).

In this second edition of Healing the Schism: Karl Barth, Franz Rosenzweig, and the New Jewish-Christian Encounter, Jennifer Rosner brings a new perspective to healing the ancient tensions inherent in Jewish-Christian dialogue. She begins by highlighting the main causes of this ancient schism. Then, from the work of Scott Bader-Saye she identifies four key events, “[which] set the frame for … a new chapter in Jewish-Christian relations …” (246): the collapse of Christendom, the Holocaust, the creation of the modern state of Israel and rise of the Messianic Jewish movement. Rosner believes that these events have contributed to a “widespread reassessment of the relationship between Christianity and Judaism” (2).

Rosner’s study explores “these developments from a theological and doctrinal perspective, focusing specifically upon the Christological and ecclesiological revisions that have accompanied and provoked this widespread assessment” (3). To do this, she journeys with key twentieth and twenty-first century Jewish and Christian theologians who have “significantly contributed to the theological re-envisioning of the relationship between Judaism and Christianity” (3). She asks each of them a key doctrinal question posed by Catholic theologian Bruce Marshall: “To what extent does their thought 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?” (9).

Karl Barth’s doctrine of election and its relationship to the command of God is the focus of Rosner’s first chapter. For Barth, Jesus Christ is “both the elect man and the electing God” (45) where Israel represents “the elect man (who turns away from the electing God)” and the church represents “the electing God (who turns towards the elect man)” (48). Despite Israel’s resistance to their election and the church’s calling on the grounds of its election, both Israel and the church are elect in Christ (49). Whereas for Barth the church is “the perfect form of the one community of God” reflecting God’s mercy to humanity, Israel witnesses to the judgment from which God has rescued humanity (49).

Rosner rightly recognizes that because Barth grounds the election of Israel within the election of Christ, “Israel is not ultimately at liberty to determine its own destiny” (73). Furthermore, Barth’s consistently negative portrayal of Israel and the “Synagogue” informs his understanding of Jesus’ Jewishness (72). Rosner explains: “Barth offers a theologically powerful understanding of Israel’s existence in Christ, but he lacks an adequate conception of Christ’s existence in Israel. Here Barth’s de-historicized Christology yields an anemic portrayal of Jesus’ Jewishness” (75). In tandem with Stephen Hayes, she believes that Barth’s understanding of Jewishness is primarily grounded in being a negative model of humanity which, while chosen and called by God, does not respond to God (83). This understanding has led Barth to “unwaveringly condemn rabbinic Judaism” (84) because for him there is no sense in which “Jesus himself conformed to Jewish practice, nor any indication that he taught his Jewish followers to do likewise” (77). Ultimately, “while Barth safeguards the Jewishness of Jesus as an essential feature of his Christology, he fails to reckon with the practical implications of this claim” (78).

Rosner concludes that Barth’s doctrine of election and Christocentric ecclesiology strongly uphold the first part of Marshall’s framework. However, with regard to the Jewishness of Jesus, Barth does not leave room for a positive assessment of Judaism “that is not explicitly centered on Christ” (94). Thus, Barth fails to satisfy the second part of Marshall’s question.

Chapter two turns to Franz Rosenzweig, attempting to discover how his work might complement that of Barth. Rosner focuses on Rosenzweig’s seminal work The Star of Redemption, particularly part 3 where Rosenzweig “fleshes out the relationship between Judaism and Christianity’’ and their “parallel yet distinctive trajectories towards redemption” (98). Redemption for Rosensweig is “the process by which man, awakened to revelation, loves his neighbor and thereby the world” (98). For Rosensweig, Judaism ushers in redemption. As Rosner summarizes, “Like the burning core of a star, their [the Jewish people’s] existence must continue to burn without reference to the outside… The Jewish people’s vocation is characterized by a prescribed inwardness, and it is within this inwardness that it lives out the commission of love of neighbor” (100). Christianity on the other hand is represented by the rays that emanate from the core of the star and “exist only by virtue of the burning core” (100). Rosner helpfully notes that for Rosenzweig, Christianity, unlike Judaism ushers in redemption by being dependent upon its “outward promulgation” and is by necessity “missionary” (106). She points out that Rosenzweig understands Christianity and Judaism “as counterweights for one another, each preventing the other from falling into the dangers that perpetually tempt it” (110). The dangers inherent in each faith arise in Rosner’s words, “from their separate but corollary tasks and foundations” (112). She explains that for Rosenzweig, because Christianity has pagan roots, there will always be a danger of deifying that which is not God, be it people or the world. Judaism’s biggest danger on the other hand is in becoming too insular and forsaking “the rest of the world” (112).

Ultimately God “who is truth, is only fully made known in the eschaton when the deep division of Judaism and Christianity is finally and ultimately reconciled” (110). Hence Judaism and Christianity “verify truth in their own way” with the Jew “being born into his vocation” while the Christian is “awakened” into his (110). For Rosenzweig, redemption has universal scope albeit through the different and “mutually exclusive” vocations of Jews and Christians (129).

Rosner argues that in Rosenzweig’s thought “the twin vocations of Judaism and Christianity, the dual loci of redemption’s proleptic presence … reinforce the juxtaposition between Christ and the Jewish people” (129). This coupled with the fact that for Rosenzweig, Jesus “never completely dons a Jewish identity” leaves the first part of Marshall’s framework unfulfilled (143). However, Rosner notes that Rosenzweig construes Torah observance as a means by which Jewish people “live into redemption” (143). In other words, “Torah observance is the actualization of the Jewish people’s election” (143). As such, Rosenzweig’s work upholds the second part of Marshall’s framework (143).

In Chapter 3 Rosner examines “a small constellation of post-Holocaust Jewish and Christian theologians who both build upon and extend the trajectories charted by Barth and Rosenzweig” (145). They include Thomas Torrance, Will Herberg, Michael Wyschogrod, Ignaz Maybaum, R. Kendall Soulen, Scott Bader-Saye, Robert Jenson, George Lindbeck, and David Novak, among others. In reviewing their work, Rosner notes that their theologies come across similar dangers to that of the theologies of Barth and Rosenzweig (perhaps due to their respective proximities to Barth and/or Rosenzweig’s thought). One danger is the “summing up [of] Israel’s vocation in Christ to such an extent that the Jewish people do not retain any positive vocation of their own” (191). This is to “essentially collapse Israel into Christ” (191). The opposite extreme is also problematic – that of preserving Israel’s ongoing positive vocation at the expense of diminishing Christ “such that he becomes merely an exemplary model of Israel’s faithful obedience” (192). Yet still, “a more pronounced version of this danger can be seen in the dual-covenant model, whereby Christ’s significance never even makes contact with the people of Israel” (192).

At the end of this chapter Rosner surmises that while the work of the post-Holocaust theologians partially bridges the gap between Barth and Rosenzweig, there is, as of yet, no “clear picture of how Israel’s unique mission can be preserved while simultaneously upholding the connection forged through Christ between Israel and the church” (195). A constructive theology that satisfies both parts of Marshall’s question, seems at this juncture, “elusive” (196).

For Rosner, the Messianic Jewish community has the potential to play a pivotal role in this endeavor, and it is at this point, in the fourth and final chapter of her book, that she introduces the theology of Mark Kinzer. For Kinzer “Israel’s enduring covenantal vocation and Yeshua’s pivotal role in the divine plan are central presuppositions of Messianic Jewish theology” where Messianic Judaism is seen as a branch of Judaism and not Christianity (Rosner quoting Kinzer, 199). Kinzer contends that Jesus is “the essential link between Judaism and Christianity… as the thoroughly Jewish Messiah of Israel” and “Lord of all creation” (202). This implies that the church and the Jewish people are mutually dependent upon one another: “While the church is tasked with holding the Jewish Messiah before the eyes of the Jewish people, the Jewish people are tasked with reminding the church just what that Messiah’s Jewish identity entails” (212).

Rosner notes that for Kinzer, Christ fulfils Israel’s destiny to carry out its two-fold mission of “ushering creation into consummation” and in “defeating the forces of chaos” that threaten it (213). But in doing so she recognizes that Kinzer portrays the Jewish people as unwitting yet indelible participants in “the redemptive work of their unrecognized Messiah” (225). Because of the permanency of Israel’s role in God’s redemptive plan for the world, Rosner explains that Kinzer proposes a twofold ecclesiology that comprises three distinct yet interrelated ecclesial groups: the people of Israel as one group, the body of Christ as a second group with a third bridging group comprised of Messianic Jews which in Rosner’s words acts as an “an overlapping subsection of both Israel and the church” (225-226).

In this model the Messianic Jewish community acts as an “ecclesiological bridge” between Christianity and Judaism and not as a missionary endeavor to the wider Jewish community. Rosner describes the model as serving “as a witness to Israel of the abiding presence of its Messiah in its midst, and as a witness to the larger Christian church of God’s unfailing love for and election of the Jewish people” (231). She notes that this is the central tenet or “capstone” of Kinzer’s theological system: a “bilateral ecclesiology” where Jews and Gentiles coexist as the ekklesia (232). This model is “an extension of the people of Israel by virtue of Christ and the ongoing presence of the remnant (that is, the Messianic Jewish community)” (238).

While the bulk of Kinzer’s theology has yet to be written, Rosner recognizes that there are concerns about his project, chiefly around his understanding of Christology, soteriology and salvation. Marshall wonders if “bilateral ecclesiology” could collapse into syncretism. Therefore, Rosner rightfully believes that Kinzer’s theology requires more development and clarification on these as well as other issues. But she is equally convinced that Kinzer’s thought provides “a workable answer to Marshall’s question” in that it is uniquely capable of honoring the core convictions of both Judaism and Christianity by affirming “the universal applicability of Christ’s mission and call to discipleship without undermining or eclipsing Israel’s unique covenantal vocation” (238).

However, Rosner concludes her book by admitting that Kinzer’s vision gives rise to an unavoidable challenge: “If the kinds of communities that Kinzer is advocating prove somehow unsustainable, this will be a direct reflection upon the theological paradigm undergirding both those communities. However, if such communities continue to grow and thrive, perhaps this will be an additional sign that Messianic Judaism does indeed have a unique and significant contribution to make” (251-252).

While Kinzer recognizes that his thought “raises as many questions as it answers” (244), one also wonders if Marshall’s question could ever be fully answered. It has to be recognized that Christianity and Judaism hold to separate and competing truth claims. On the one hand, Christianity holds that the Messiah has already come. On the other, Judaism holds that the Messiah has yet to come. It is in this space that Jewish-Christian relations exist where Kinzer’s recognition of the limitations of his position has the potential to be a useful guide for the thought of others.

However, notwithstanding the enormity of the task at hand (most notably regarding the theological work that needs to be accomplished), Rosner’s work, as a critically constructive commentary on the new Jewish-Christian encounter, stands as foundational to any future discussion about the role that Messianic Judaism might play in Jewish-Christian dialogue. She writes with integrity and clarity, providing insight into some of the deepest challenges that Christianity and Judaism face as we continue to journey together into the twenty-first century. As someone involved in Jewish-Christian dialogue at a local level, I for one appreciate her contribution. But I also recognize that Messianic Judaism is very much a minority position betwixt those of world-wide Judaism and Christianity. I agree with Rosner’s conclusion and wait to see if Messianic Judaism will be a bridge between these two world faiths for the majority of participants of either faith.

Glenn A. Chestnutt, Lead Minister, The Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul, Montreal