Thursday, August 23, 2007

Chapter 11 - Redemption

Other chapter reviews in this series: 1-4 5 6 7 8 9, 10a and 10b.

Chapter 11 is normally a reference to the laws of bankruptcy. But not in this book. The three essays are Menachem Kellner, How ought a Jew View Christian Beliefs about Redemption? and Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer, Redemption: What I have Learned from Christians, and Clark Williamson, A Christian View of Redemption. The first two essays present differing views of Romans. The pattern is not broken that the third essay responds only to the first.

What are these differing views?

Kellner: Because of his revolutionary un-Jewish view of human nature as necessarily falling short of the glory of God, Paul was led to ask the wrong question. The question that Jews must ask is: What must we do in order to make the world messiah-worthy?

Fuchs-Kreimer: By Paul, I am reminded to maintain a healthy skepticism about all human projects. As I understand it, Paul's criticism of the law was neither a critique specifically of Judaism, ... nor only a meditation on the role of the Gentiles... [citing Stendahl, Sanders, and Williamson] ... Rather, it was most likely a critique of all human projects and presumptions...

I guess it is good to have both extremes. I regret that the Christians ever thought as Kellner describes - but it was something like what I was taught and it does fail to save though it may succeed in managing an individual for a while.

Kellner begins with an exploration of Habakkuk 2:4 and looks at two Jewish alternatives. Rav Simlai sees this faith in terms of loyalty to the commandments. Maimonides sees the faith in terms of correct intellectual apprehensions.

I loved how Simlai reduces the 613 commandments - first to 11 (citing Psalm 15), - then to 3 (citing Micah), then 2 (Isaiah), then 1 (Amos: Seek me and live.) "But R. Nahman ben Isaac demurred, saying [Might it not be taken as meaning.] Seek me by observing the whole Torah and live? But it is Habakkuk who came and based them all on one..."

With this example, Kellner upholds the faith which "finds expression in the fulfillment of as many of the 613 commandments as one can fulfill" whereas in his opinion, Paul denies the need for Torah.

I find the Talmudic example much more in keeping with Paul's thought than with Kellner's interpretation of either. But the challenge remains. And perhaps this sheds light on some of the polemics of Paul that should be seen as positive towards Jewish tradition: e.g. that if a Gentile is circumcised, he is obligated to keep all the Torah (Galatians 5:3). Also the issue of completing in the flesh what was begun in the spirit (Galatians 3:3). There is a problem though. Suppose completing in the flesh was seen as achieving the whole Torah, then those who did not so complete would be called incomplete, and the result is a two-tiered religious structure: the priestly caste of Israel and the accepted but second class citizens who are uncircumcised Gentiles. The tension has not gone away. Nor did the Church avoid it in spite of the marvel of completion by which the work of Jesus is represented in the New Testament.

Kellner's misreading of Romans reminded me so much of my struggle to read it over the last 40 years. Paul has opened to me the love of his life. The full scope of the gift of God's work for us is not a recipe only for escaping hell or "achieving life in the world to come", but it is a recipe for entering into the covenant dialogue of joy in the present that is in every age so dear to the Jews also.

What was then astonishing is that Maimonides - really! the one who chose such a great title for his opus - the guide to the perplexed. Did this one really affirm correct propositional beliefs as a means to the ultimate end?

Well, you have to start somewhere, I suppose. My proposition is this: try him, you'll like him (and I didn't mean Maimonides though you might like him too - eventually).

So Paul is put down as other worldly. But I know this is not a universal opinion of Jews, for one has it (Maccoby) and another does not (Nanos) and in this book, the two essays are chalk and cheese.

Fuchs-Kreimer has a good section on the rule of St Benedict and the work of making community. In this section, she shows how close Benedict is to the love of Torah that motivates: "What can be sweeter to us, dear brethren, than this voice of the Lord inviting us? Behold, in his loving kindness, the Lord shows us the way of life." She has a short section on Moltmann which I enjoyed, not having read any Moltmann myself. I learned to trust her reporting even in a short essay but we do not yet share an understanding of Paul and his message about the redemption that is in Christ.

Williamson's short essay answers Kellner directly: "Kellner's views reflect the results of a tragic history of conflict, separation, and lack of conversation between Jews and Christians, a history for which the Church bears by far the greater burden of accountability. Seldom have either Jews or Christians been able to understand each other except as examples of bad religion." He then goes on to show that in Romans Paul asserts exactly what Kellner concludes he cannot. Polite but blunt.

His three point rebuttal -
1. that faith as belief about God finds no justification in the Scriptures,
2. that redemption, a past event, works in the present as a transforming power, as well as giving hope for the future,
3. that redemption always refers to the two sides of freedom: freed from bondage, free for the task of setting others free from the bondages that enslave them

I found Williamson's essay accurate and encouraging. I felt that we need not invoke 'chapter 11' for the Church with spokespeople like this.

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