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Jewish vs. Christian Faiths

by on January 16, 2017

I wonder how much the difference between Jewish and Christian faiths–doctrine and practices–has to do with the fact that Christianity emerged quickly in a defensive environment. On the one hand, they were asserting a theology within a Judaism that rejected their innovations. On the other hand, they were proclaiming a new religious faith into a pagan and philosophical culture. In both cases, Christian thinkers found themselves on the defensive almost immediately, and would have had to proceed in the formulation of doctrine and practice within those contexts.

Judaism, on the other hand, while it certainly had periods of development and evolution that occurred in similarly pluralistic contexts, evolved over a much longer time and thus had the luxury to be influenced, to become winsome in its testimony, and fluid in its theological identity. Put another way, perhaps it does not suffer from the twin anxieties of “having to be right” and having to “convert” others, because it learned to trust God, exercise patience, and respect religious diversity even as it discerned and practiced religious faithfulness.

If so, perhaps this explains why Judaism survives as a diverse, tolerant, and unified witness in the world, whereas Christianity is suspicious of it’s own diversity, judgmental, and contradictory in it’s testimony. Whereas a Jew might say of another Jew, “That’s not how I practice Judaism,” two Christians are more likely to excommunicate one another over their differences.

I believe it is in the DNA of Christianity to bear witness to a confessional religious identity without alienating those with whom we disagree, and thus I am hopeful we can reclaim it. I am thinking, of course, of Jesus Christ, himself a Jew, who practiced Judaism not according to the various sectarian traditions of his day, but who rather affirmed what could be affirmed within them, yet loved all according to his understanding of the Kingdom of God. Those of us who profess him as Lord ought better to practice the conviction and grace of the one we claim to follow–one who called others to faithfulness but who also let them chose to walk another path. He trusted God with his own life but also with theirs–he refused to condemn them.

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