For The Someday Book

Book Review: Has God Only One Blessing?

Posted on: December 25, 2011

Has God Only One Blessing? Judaism as a Source of Christian Self-Understanding by Mary C. Boys, A Stimulus Book by Paulist Press, 2000, 393 pp.

This is another book I am reading in preparation for my pilgrimage to the Holy Land with the Macedonian Ministries program.

Has God Only One Blessing? begins with the metaphor of Jacob and Esau. In the original story, their father Isaac blesses Jacob instead of Esau, in spite of birth order, and then there is no blessing left for Esau. Mary C. Boys uses this story as a metaphor for much that has gone awry in Christian self-understanding about our relationship with Judaism. The book makes a case that is simultaneously biblical, historical and practical in its critique of Christian concepts of supersessionism. The book carefully argues against the idea that Christianity fulfilled or transcended Judaism to become God’s favorite faith, that Judaism is part of an “old” covenant that has been superceded.

Boys begins with a series of short parables that show how harmful these ideas are to contemporary Jewish-Christian relations. These parables serve to make the reader uncomfortable with the idea of supersessionism in the context of real relationships with partners in the Jewish faith. The parables win the argument that supersessionist theology is arrogant, inappropriate and not an accurate reflection of most Christians desired relationship to Jews and Judaism.

Boys then proceeds to outline a new understanding of the relationship between Judaism and Christianity. She begins where the idea began: with the origins of Christianity. Boys outlines a detailed picture of life in first-century Palestine, and contextualizes the Gospel arguments against Pharisees, temple authorities and “the Jews” as an internal struggle within various Jewish renewal movements. After tracing this history of separation, the theology clung to Christianity and became part of the culture of the early church. What began as a means of self-definition apart from a historic, well-established tradition turned into a dogmatic prejudice and justification for violence as Christianity grew into an empire. The history of anti-Semitism that allowed for the Shoah had its roots in centuries of violence against Jews, and in this ugly theology.

Deconstruction is insufficient. It is not enough to elucidate the anti-Jewish and supersessionist theology that still clings to Christianity. We must also offer a new narrative to replace it. Boys does just that—beginning with a brief retelling of Christian origins, and continuing on throughout the various chapters. She shows the reader all the ways in which supersessionist ideas haunt the scriptures, theology, liturgy, and then offers alternative understandings for use in teaching, preaching, worship and theology.

I especially appreciated Boys’ attention to “Re-Educating Ecclesia” (the title of the final chapter), understanding that scholarship and dialogue must move into the words and practices of the church in order to overcome the dangers of supersessionism. It is not enough to enter into interfaith conversation and partnership with Judaism. We as Christians must recognize and repent for the harmful effects of our theological misunderstandings, and change our thinking and our acting.

The harmful history of supersessionist theology is not new to me, but I have never read such a concise, directed, theological and practical assessment of it. Boys’ book lays out, in brief, both the harmful history and the way forward. Clearly, the God who created all the universe has more than one blessing to give, more than one path to worship the Spirit, more than one faith to recognize.

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About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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