There’s a fascinating book review (I haven’t read the book itself) published online June 22 at Christianity Today whose topic tracks a question I’ve asked in writing for years. As I put it in a column years ago at the Mobile Register, “why aren’t Christians more Jewish?”
What I mean (and have written several times) is that even a fair amount of theological study hasn’t given me an answer to why Christians don’t still celebrate a lot of Jewish customs and holidays. Why don’t we still memorialize Yom Kippur or the Passover seder? Why don’t we light the candles of Hanukkah? Jesus and his disciples did, so why don’t we? Christianity was built on the foundation of Judaism, so why do we ignore so much of that foundation?
Obviously, our Pauline theology explains why we aren’t subject to every jot and tittle of every law in Leviticus, but we still are of a faith that cannot be understood without an understanding of our Jewish roots – and there is no good reason why major Jewish observances shouldn’t also be Christian ones.
All of which can serve as a predicate for Nathan Finn’s Christianity Today review of Gerald McDermott’s Israel Matters: Why Christians Must Think Differently about the People and the Land. Explains Finn:
McDermott is part of a group of scholars who identify with the “New Christian Zionism” movement. Their goal is to convince contemporary believers that Israel is not the backstory of the church, but a key part of the future of the faith. In Israel Matters, McDermott makes a nuanced case for the centrality of Israel in redemptive history—past, present, and future.
And (as Finn describes McDermott’s argument):
Jesus and his earliest followers never set aside Israel so they could establish a primarily Gentile religion. Jesus was a faithful Jew, as were most of his earliest disciples, including all of the apostles. Gentile believers have been grafted into Israel by faith, and while the Mosaic covenant has been fulfilled through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Abrahamic covenant (God’s promise to make a great nation of Abraham’s descendants and bless them with land) continues to endure.
Simply put, God is not finished with the Jews, and the future of Gentile Christianity is closely tied to the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel.
In short, Christians should look at the central tenets of Christianity and the central tenets of Judaism not as an either/or choice but as a both/and consummation. And we should open ourselves to “a fresh appreciation of the Jewishness of Jesus and his earliest followers.”
(Thank goodness, by the way, that most Christian denominations in the past 50 years have firmly rejected the once-prevalent understanding that Jews in general were responsible for the Crucifixion, rather than the historical and theological truth that the fault belonged only to a small group of Temple leaders and their most avid courtiers.)
Pope John Paul II was one of those firmly in the camp of “dual covenant theology” – another name for the beliefs also pushed by McDermott in the book being reviewed – and argued in a 1980 speech in Berlin that God’s covenant with the Jewish people had never been revoked. And in 1986 John Paul II said this: “With Judaism, therefore, we have a relationship which we do not have with any other religion. You are our dearly beloved brothers, and in a certain way, it could be said that you are our elder brothers.”
To be clear, this does not mean that the Polish pope or any of the Protestant leaders who have re-stressed Christianity’s Jewishness are arguing that Jesus isn’t the true path to salvation; what they aver is that we cannot separate Jesus from His Jewishness and that we cannot lessen the importance of the Old Covenant to our own faith.
There are many Jewish customs that not only do not contradict or undermine our New Covenant, but actually enrich it. Just because Christians are not required to eat only kosher food doesn’t mean we are not free to do so, or to join Jewish friends at a warm and festive seder meal.
Jews, of course, need not be Christians. But there is a sense, and a truth, in which all Christians must be Jews.
Quin Hillyer is a veteran conservative columnist with a degree in theology. His faith-themed satirical novel, Mad Jones: Heretic, is due for publication this summer by Liberty Island Media.