Thursday, October 14, 2010

Christian Judaism

This post comes from the convergence of several thoughts I have been having lately, especially as my Christian Scriptures class transitions from the Old Testament to the New. 

Reading J.R. Daniel Kirk's blog, Storied Theology, over the past several days have also spurred some of these thoughts.

My thoughts are that much of what claims to be the Christian gospel today, especially in evangelical circles, is really a truncated version of the story that is represented in the Bible. 

The common gospel usually begins with our current situation, one of sin and separation from God.  This hearkens back to the narrative of the "fall" in Genesis 3. Notice, the story does not begin with creation and the original purpose of God in creating the world "good."

Next, the gospel moves to the "solution," namely, Christ's death on the cross which offers forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God.  Notice how we have jumped from Genesis 3 all the way to Paul, skipping all of the rest of the Old Testament and most of the gospels, except for the passion narratives. 

Then the gospel moves to calling for "acceptance" of Jesus and an "acceptance" of his forgiveness as a way to reconciliation with God.

Finally, the Gospel ends with a promise of Heaven after death, or after the apocalyptic ending of the world. 

What is missing in this story is the entire context of the earliest Christianity.  Early Christianity, as represented by Jesus and his first followers, was a continuation of the story of Israel found in the Old Testament.  Christianity was not a "new religion," but was a sect within Judaism, Christian Judaism if you like, just like other first century Jewish sects: Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Zealots.  Christians held that Jesus was the fulfillment of the story of Israel.  He was the fulfillment of the Old Testament covenants.  He fulfilled the covenant of Abraham by being a light to the Gentiles.  He fulfilled the Mosaic covenant by coming "not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it." He fulfilled the Davidic covenant by taking his place at the right hand of God.  He fulfilled the New Covenant of Jeremiah by writing God's law on his people's hearts.  The "gospel" in the gospels was not merely faith in Christ, but a preaching of the Kingdom of God, the fulfillment of all of God's promises to Israel.

After the Jewish War and the destruction of the Temple, only two sects of Judaism remained and thrived: Christian Judaism and Rabbinic Judaism (the heirs of the Pharisees).  These two sects grew apart and only one retained the name Judaism.  Christianity quickly became a predominately Gentile religion, yet for some time retained its Jewish roots. 

I think that Christianity is long overdue to remember its Jewish roots and to once again place Christian faith back within story to which it belongs, and that is a story that began in the Old Testament, continued in the New Testament, and has developed over the last two thousand years.  Let not the gospel be truncated, the gospel is not merely faith in Jesus to forgive one's sins and bring reconciliation with God.  It is that, but it is ever so much more.

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