Monday, 07 December 2015

Advent without supercessionism

By Rev. Bob Faser

OK, I know I've just put a technical theological term in the title. But, anyway, for those who aren't scared off by the technical term, here goes.

Supercessionism is the term used by theologians to describe a common attitude held by some Christians towards Judaism.  

Supercessionism is the idea that Christianity has superceded Judaism. It is the notion that Judaism exists in the past tense, not in the present tense. It is the idea that the purpose of Judaism was to prepare the world for the emergence of Christianity.

I reject supercessionism. In fact, the Uniting Church in Australia has officially rejected supercessionism. I believe Judaism provides its adherents with a viable relationship with the Sacred in the same way that Christianity and other faiths do. No less than Christianity, Judaism is a living faith for today.

For those who reject supercessionism Advent has theological difficulties.

Many of the readings from scripture that we hear during Advent are passages from the Hebrew Scriptures. Christian churches have developed a way of interpreting these passages without reference to the older Jewish meaning. For many Christians, such passages of scripture, written centuries before the time of Jesus, are regarded as predictions about Jesus. Many don't realise that their Jewish neighbours read the same passages of scripture without interpreting the passages in terms of Jesus.

Many of the hymns of Advent also convey a sense that the role of Jewish faith and life during the centuries before the time of Jesus was merely a preparation for Jesus.

The question for many congregations is, how can we avoid supercessionism at any time, including Advent?

For those who are ministers, priests, or pastors, this is a time to make sure that you share with your congregation the information you learned when you were studying theology. Assume that the members of your congregation are smart enough to deal with this. Tell them that the prophets of ancient Israel were more concerned with encouraging their people to practice justice than predicting a future Messiah. While the Christian church re-interpreted some of the prophets' visions of peace and justice in terms of the life and ministry of Jesus, these visions remain relevant, albeit with a different interpretation, to people whose view of God doesn't include the life and ministry of Jesus.  

As Christians, we see God's hope in terms of Jesus. We also need to recognise God's hope operating within other religious communities.

If you're a lay member of a congregation, encourage your minister, priest or pastor to go deeper with this, either from the pulpit or in adult teaching opportunities.

In any event, there are a few good recent books you may find helpful.

  • The First Christmas by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan (HarperOne, 2007) is an attempt by two serious biblical scholars to write a popular book about the origins of the Christian celebration of Christmas. In speaking of the Jewish context for the emergence of Christianity, they recognise the integrity of Judaism as a faith in its own right.
  • Amy-Jill Levine's The Misunderstood Jew (HarperOne, 2006) is a book about Jesus by a practicing Jew, who is also a noted biblical scholar. She writes with keen sympathy and profound respect for both faiths, with the desire that the relationship between both faiths develops with honesty.
  • For those who preach, whether occasionally or on a regular basis, Ronald Allen and Clark Williamson's Preaching the Gospels Without Blaming the Jews (Westminster John Knox, 2004) offers a resource for each week of the three-year lectionary (including the weeks of Advent each year). It comments on the scripture lessons for each week of the lectionary with particular reference to the need for Christians to avoid caricatures and stereotypes of Jewish faith and practice.

Advent is a time of great joy and hope for Christians. This joy and hope can be all the greater when we celebrate this season without supercessionism, which diminishes the life of fellow people of God.

This is an edited article from Rev. Bob Faser's blog


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