Thursday, August 28, 2014

50 years ago: A Jewish scholar accuses the United Church of Canada of being out of date

Just as the United Church of Canada was boasting about putting Christianity "squarely in the context of the twentieth century" with its modernistic Sunday School curriculum, it was being criticized by a Jewish scholar for not being current enough. As reported by Allen Spraggett of the Toronto Daily Star, July 4, 1964, p. 50 (bold and capitals in original):

Dr. Thomson out of date--rabbi

A LEADING RABBI says that a United Church textbook is behind the times in its description of Judaism as it was in the time of Christ.

Rabbi Stuart Rosenberg, of Beth Tzedec congregation, was asked by the editor of the United Church Observer to comment on a book, God and His Purpose, written by former United Church moderator Dr. J.S. Thomson and intended as a study guide for laymen. Recently, a philosophy professor, Dr. Marcus Long, charged that Dr. Thomson's book contained "unintentional anti-Semitism."

"I have read Dr. Thomson's volume and have found it most engaging," Dr. Rosenberg writes in the Observer, "obviously the product of a pen that is wide and ranging, and of a theological mind that has been generously fed by modern psychological and sociological insights. Dr. Thomson may not be labelled 'anti-Semitic...'

"But after reading his book, I am afraid that I could not trust him to produce an authentic, accurate description of Judaism. My criticism here is surely not of his spirit but of his scholarship. His slips show. He writes of Judaism in the time of Jesus as one wrote 50 years ago, when it was popular to believe that every negative description of Judaism was a point scored in favor of Christianity. (See his book, pp. 190-191)"

(The passage Dr. Rosenberg referred to reads:

"Time and time again, we read that the religious leaders of the people hated Jesus for his words and even more for what he did. They decided that they must get rid of him and that it must be done by the awful and desperate way of death. They planned and plotted until he was caught at last in the trap they had set for him. But why should they want to accompllsh such a dastardly deed? They loved their own world and their place of power and position within it...And they hated the messenger who brought the good news of God...")

Dr. Rosenberg continues: "Dr. Thomson seems to be out of touch with some of the rules for religious dialogue which many of his fellow Protestants have long ago endorsed:

"'Each partner must strive for a clear understanding of the faith of the other. This implies--

(a) his willingness to interpret the faith of the other in its best light rather than its worst; and

(b) a continual willingness to revise his understanding of the faith of the other.'

"I do not say that Dr. Thomson slanders Judaism. I think rather that he has not tried hard enough to understand it, and as a result there is a tendency to be too glib, and to distort essential meanings.

"This is a very great pity. A modern textbook which purports to teach about Christianity in today's world should take into account the spirit of ecumenical theology...

"I wish that Dr. Thomson had incorporated the insights of some of his distinguished Protestant colleagues: historians, like George Foote Moore, James Parkes; theologians, like Paul Tillich, Reinhold Niebuhr; Bible scholas such as Bultmann. If he had, he would not have been satisfied to 'score points' against the Pharisees without really attempting to understand them.

"The newer mood in Christian-Jewish relations needs to be restated at every turn. Dr. Thomson, I believe, missed an opportunity to say things that desperately need to be said.

"May I say it for him in the words of Jewish philosopher Martin Buber: 'No man outside of Israel knows the mystery of Israel. And no man outside of Christianity knows the mystery of Christianity. But in their ignorance they can acknowledge each other in the mystery...The gates of God stand open to all. The Christian need not go through Judaism, the Jew need not go through Christianity in order to come to God.'"
This looks like one of those "What they say...and what they really mean" situations. When Dr. Rosenberg criticizes Dr. Thomson for violating the "rules of religious dialogue," the most important rule seems to be: Thou shalt not say anything negative about Jews, even if it's true. I hate to agree with a United Church of Canada leader, but if he was right, he was right. What does the Bible say about the attitude and behaviour of the Jewish religious leaders toward the Lord Jesus Christ?

Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes?
Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.
And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.
And when the chief priests and Pharisees had heard his parables, they perceived that he spake of them.
But when they sought to lay hands on him, they feared the multitude, because they took him for a prophet.
Matthew 21:42-46 (citing Psalms 118:22-23)

Then assembled together the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders of the people, unto the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas,
And consulted that they might take Jesus by subtlety, and kill him...
...Now the chief priests, and elders, and all the council, sought false witness against Jesus, to put him to death;
Matthew 26:3-4, 59

Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.
“What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs.
If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.”
Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all!
You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”
He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation,
and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one.
So from that day on they plotted to take his life.
John 11:47-53 (NIV)

Those who hold the views of Dr. Rosenberg can't prove that the above passages are inaccurate or don't belong in the Bible--they just don't like what those passages say. It therefore comes as no surprise to this blogger to see that the Protestant "scholars" recommended by Dr. Rosenberg were those who were the most liberal in their theology and couldn't accurately be described as Christian.

In a similar vein, it's now fashionable in Christian circles to play down or virtually deny Jewish culpability in the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ. In rebuttal, I offer the following comments by three Jewish leaders of the early Christian church who were either on the scene or in the area at the time:

Peter: But Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and said unto them, Ye men of Judaea, and all ye that dwell at Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and hearken to my words:
Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made the same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.
Acts 2:14, 36

Stephen: Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye.
Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers:
Acts 7:51-52

Paul: For ye, brethren, became followers of the churches of God which in Judaea are in Christ Jesus: for ye also have suffered like things of your own countrymen, even as they have of the Jews:
Who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men:
Forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins alway: for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.
I Thessalonians 2:14-16

As for Martin Buber's comment that "the Jew need not go through Christianity in order to come to God": If by "Christianity" he means a religious system such as the Roman Catholic Church or any other church, he was correct. If by "Christianity" Mr. Buber meant the Lord Jesus Christ, he was dead wrong:

Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. John 14:6

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