Anti-Judaism in Process Christologies?

by Clark M. Williamson

Clark M. Williamson is Professor of Theology at Christian Theological Seminary. He is editor of Encounter.

The following article appeared in Process Studies, pp.73-92, Vol. 10, Numbers 3-4, Fall-Winter, 1980. Process Studies is published quarterly by the Center for Process Studies, 1325 N. College Ave., Claremont, CA 91711. Used by permission. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.


The author reviews the history of anti-Judaism concluding with a number of process thinkers. He concludes, “Among process theologians God is not happily thought of as the ‘cosmic moralist,’ and the ‘divine lawgiver and judge’ often fails to find a warm welcome in our midst.”

Anti-Judaism has long played an important, and sometimes formative, role in the shaping of the Christian witness. It has also been a significant factor in Christian theological reflection upon that witness. Literature which analyzes its impact on the canonical writings of the early church and on the history of theology abounds (see CAS, JCP, JP, MJCT, MTJL, EYB, YPMP, AJ, NDNTS, HASRC, TC, JCSC, JCA, CCS, HAS, FF, PPJ, JECM, AJu). This witness and theology also played a significant part in the social, legal, cultural, and economic incorporation of the negative image of Jews and Judaism into the fabric of Christian culture from the time of the first anti-Jewish legislation at the Council of Elvira (306) until the time of the French Revolution (in the West) (see many of the above, especially FF). In Eastern Europe anti-Jewish pogroms continued until the fall of czarist Russia. The social significance of Christian anti-Judaism in the United States has been well established by contemporary social scientists (see CBAS and WS).

The purpose of this paper is to raise the question of whether anti-Judaism also is present in the christological reflection of the process theologians. Before asking this question, we shall have to attend to the matter of defining anti-Judaism. With the definition in hand we shall then look at a number of process theologians, from only one of whom shall we find it completely missing. Then we shall formulate an hypothesis with relation to the role played by this anti-Judaism in contemporary society.


There are two forms of anti-Judaism in Christian theology. One is the classical form, and the other, more recent, is the modern historical-critical form. A. Lukyn Williams, in his classical study Adversus Judaeos (AJu) carefully analyzed the works of almost one hundred early and medieval theologians in which he found anti-Judaism to be a strong theme. To the best of my knowledge, it was George Foot Moore who first exposed its presence in modern, historical-critical biblical study (JFC and 4).

For a clear view of classical anti-Judaism we shall rely upon an exhaustive analysis of Tertullian’s theology (TAJ). Anti-Judaism plays a significant role in twenty-seven of Tertullian’s thirty-two extant works. Several of the major doctrines of his theology can be said to have been shaped by it. God, for Tertullian, is one, but not as exclusively one as Jews believe, being also three; father, but unacknowledged by Jews; merciful, forgiving even Jews; just, punishing especially Jews; wise, even in dealing with sinful Jews; consistent, despite the Jews; humble enough to accept death from Jews; patient, despite impatient Jews; revealed, but Jews fail to understand; lord of history, and proves it against Jews; limitless, except that God cannot now ask anything Jewish.

With regard to the Law (what Jews call Torah, way, path, instruction), Tertullian’s most frequent assertion is that the "old" law or covenant has been transformed or renewed. This transformation is for the better, and the point has its variations: less is expected of Christians, or more is expected, but always better is expected. The theme of transformation for the better makes constant reference to the un-renewed, old Jewish Law as unthinkable for Christians. Also, the "spiritual meaning" of the old law is by way of trying to salvage something of value from what is deemed old, Jewish, and therefore valueless.

Tertullian’s conception of the Church and the heavily anti-Jewish ideas and emphases which characterize much of it needs to be noticed. As was the case with law and covenant, the church is that with which God has replaced Israel and that whose newness and superiority is expressed in and through Christ. Tertullian’s church seems to be the "payoff" symbol, the point at which the "cash value" of the anti-Judaism of the other symbols is redeemed. With his conception of his church, his people, we are faced with his understanding of himself and his community. The church is here fundamentally a community, a new people which in God’s design has replaced the old. It is further a gentile people, universal, and therefore superior to the old, ethnocentric Jews. The emphasis throughout is on differentiation from and superiority to Judaism.

Tertullian’s work is not simply academic theology. It is preaching, pastoral care, and community organizing for the Christian community at Carthage. More than an attitude, his anti-Judaism is a kind of model:

both a model of and a model for. It is a model of Judaism: of a system, of a people rejected by Cod, unfaithful to God, rejecting Christ, opposed to Christianity, and caught up in a trail of crimes which culminates in deicide. It is a mode I of sterility, disobedience, and the past. On the contrary, Christianity, on the same model, becomes a people of newness, of fidelity, of spirituality, of moral vigor, and of universality.

But Tertullian’s anti-Judaism is also a model for: a model for how Christians are to read the Bible (exegesis), for how they are to pray and worship spiritually (as opposed to carnally), and for how they are to act morally -- all in clear opposition to Jewish ways of reading the Bible, of praying, and of acting.

The hinge on which Tertullian’s anti-Judaism turns, however, is his view of Christ. Jesus is the focal point of Tertullian’s anti-Judaism and a means for giving it striking expression. There are several patterns of discourse on this theme in Tertullian, and in each either the image or the function of Tertullian’s Christ has a fundamental anti-Jewish resonance. There is first a kind of christological scheme, in which Jesus is a divine or more-than-human object of faith. What is typically Jewish in this series of assertions is the rejection of the more-than-human. Then there is an emphasis on Jesus’ life and death, most often described as spent or having happened in conflict with the Jews. Third, Tertullian writes of the teaching of Jesus as a teaching against Jews and Judaism. Tertullian uses Jews and Judaism as a foil against which his conception of who Jesus is and what he says and does is expressed. The conflict between Judaism and Tertullian’s Christ is strong, bitter, and profound. Christ is the "dividing line" between Christianity and Judaism, but he is also clearly on "our" side of the line. He is the sign of the displacement of the other side of the line and the means by which our side is enabled to transform for the better what was on the old side of the line. In classical anti-Judaism, Christ is used to establish the superiority of Christianity to Judaism.

Anti-Judaism in modern, historical-critical scholarship has been well documented by such scholars as Moore, E. P. Sanders (PPJ 33-59), and Charlotte Klein (AJCT). Many scholars and theologians persist, on allegedly historical-critical grounds, in the effort to understand Jesus over-and-against the Judaism (s) of his time. Essentially their work revolves around four areas of concern: the so-called "late Judaism," law and legalistic piety, the Pharisees, and Jewish responsibility for the crucifixion.

"Late Judaism," the Judaism from the period of the Babylonian exile to the revolt of bar Kokhba, is characterized as inauthentic Judaism, a Judaism that turned its back on genuine faith in the Lord, the God of Israel, and the message of the prophets. Henceforth, Judaism is on the wrong track and has abandoned its true faith. This Judaism is said by Georg Fohrer to have failed in its "divine task by constantly falling away from the way of life imposed on [it] . . . and wanting to use God merely as metaphysical security for their own life" (cited in AJCT). Late Judaism is an absurd result of a decadent, "blind" rabbinic scholarship that is exaggeratedly preoccupied with the letter of the law. As such it is preparatory for and inferior to Christianity. Jesus rejects this "old" Judaism and, with his words and work, no longer forms a part of the history of Israel. In him the history of Israel has come, rather, to its end. What belongs to the history of Israel is the process of his rejection and condemnation by the Jerusalem religious community. Late Judaism was in a state of decadence, of orthodoxy and legalism. Its faith was externalized and rigid; God had become a distant God and the prophetic message was forgotten. Jesus is understood as the decisive rejection of this old, dead Judaism.

Law and legalistic piety, characteristic of "late" Judaism, are condemned. That Torah is hardly rendered with adequacy as "law" is not acknowledged. Legalistic piety, says Joachim Jeremias, is the "cancer" of Judaism (NTT 227). It is "the piety that separates us from God." Consequently, legalistic exegesis of the "Old’ Testament is "blind." Only the Church can read the scriptures. Legalistic Jews were "deaf to the gospel" (Jeremias).

The Pharisees continue to be represented in theology and biblical scholarship as the enemies of Jesus’ teaching. When Jon Sobrino discusses Jesus’ approach to prayer, he does so under the rubric of "Jesus Criticism of Contemporary Prayer" (CC 146). He starts with the Lukan version of the parable of the Pharisee and the publican, in which, he says, "Jesus condemns the prayer of the Pharisees [note the plural] because it is the self-assertion of an egotistical ‘I’ and hence vitiated at its very core" (CC 147). The Pharisee’s "pole of reference" is not to God but to himself. Also, the Pharisee is "even less oriented toward other human beings. He holds them in contempt . . . and he thanks God that he is not like them" (CC 147). The prayer of the Pharisees is a mechanical ceremony in self-deception. Although Sobrino is willing to grant the fact of Jesus’ participation in the prayer life of Judaism, this "does not show what is most typical of Jesus own prayer (CC 152). The way we know this, of course, is by applying the criterion of dissimilarity" to the figure of the historical Jesus. Throughout his discussion of Jesus’ views of prayer, Sobrino basically follows Jeremias’ New Testament Theology.

Jewish guilt in the death of Jesus is widely affirmed in historical-critical scholarship. Karl Rahner, in his "Meditations on St. Ignatius’ Exercises," states: "The crucified Lord is betrayed and abandoned by his friends, rejected by his people, repudiated by the Church of the Old Testament" (cited in AJCT). Jeremias, in Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus, claims: "It was an act of unparalleled risk which Jesus performed when, from the full power of his consciousness of sovereignty, he openly and fearlessly called these men [the Pharisees] to repentance, and this act brought him to the cross" (cited in AJCT).

Relying on Rahner and Jeremias, Sobrino describes an historical Jesus in total discontinuity with his Jewish context. Jesus’ opposition to the religious oppression imposed on the people by the Pharisees spells his doom. His liberalism and nonconformism really did bring him to the cross" (CC 75n4). Though Jesus was not a prophet, he "was a prophet among other things, and he was crucified for that reason (CC 202). His seventh thesis on the death of Jesus states: "Jesus is condemned to death for blasphemy" (CC 204). Mark’s history is explained by the comment that "it was his [Jesus’] particular conception of God that underlay his ongoing conflict with the Jewish religious authorities" (CC 205). Opposed to the "blind leaders of the blind," Jesus "was a liberal on religious matters and that led him to the cross" (CC 206). "Here, I think, we come to the crux of the matter. In the last analysis Jesus is hostile to the religious leaders of his day and is eventually condemned because of his conception of God" (CC 206). The radical difference between the viewpoints of Jesus and the Pharisees explains Jesus’ tragic end (CC 208).

Before concluding this sketch of modern, historical-critical anti-Judaism, I wish to cite or make some comments on each of these four points. (1) First-century Judaism "kept grace and works in the right perspective," says E. P. Sanders, "did not trivialize the commandments of God and was not especially marked by hypocrisy" (PPJ 247). Judaism not only held the gift and demand of God in a sound relation to each other, but provided that the God who elected Israel would also redeem Israel. Markus Barth, who knows something about grace, stresses the passages in first-century Jewish writings "that magnify grace alone" (1:85). The rabbinic midrash on Exodus 15:13 was: "You have been gracious to us, for we had no good works to show" (cited in AJCT 40).

(2) The standard view of law and legalistic piety can no longer honestly be held. It presents Judaism with a no-win situation. If Jews keep the Torah, this only proves that they are self-righteous. If they do not, they are disobedient. This view has been seriously challenged, and I think fatally so, by several scholars (see HR, 3, and 6). The recognition is growing that none of Jesus’ teachings falls outside the range of the Judaisms of his time.

(3) Increasingly, scholars are aware of the close similarity between the teachings of Jesus and those teachings found in the Mishnah and Talmud and attributed to the Pharisees. This is so much the case, says J. Coert Rylaarsdam, that "insofar as they still hazard making specific statements about the historical Jesus, responsible scholars today tend to associate him with the Pharisees" (7:8).

(4) The suggestion that Jews or Jewish religious authorities or "the Jews" were responsible for the death of Jesus stems, ultimately, from viewing Jesus as in radical discontinuity with his whole context. This view is supported by the application of the "criterion of dissimilarity" to the sayings of Jesus in order to establish which ones are the more distinctive and supposedly, therefore, authentic. Not only is the price to be paid for the use of the criterion of dissimilarity extraordinarily high (Norman Perrin admits that "by definition it will exclude all teaching in which Jesus may have been at one with Judaism") (RTJ 43), it also presumes a view of the sociohistorical process directly contradicted by Whitehead’s metaphysics. Presumably Jesus was largely constituted by his past actual world. Accordingly, a so-called "process hermeneutic" of the historical Jesus, i.e., an attempt at a critical-historical reconstruction of the figure of the historical Jesus informed by the categories of process thought, would be guided by the attempt to find the "representative Jesus" rather than the "unique Jesus."

Each form of anti-Judaism, classical or modern, serves to establish a theological point: that Christianity has superseded Judaism. I take "supersede" here in the simple sense of its dictionary definition:

1. to replace in power, authority, effectiveness, acceptance, use, etc., as by another person or thing. 2. to set aside or cause to be set aside as void, useless, or obsolete. . . . 3. to succeed to the position, function, office, etc., of; supplant. Synonyms: replace, void, overrule, annul, revoke, rescind. (RH1 1428)

The standard definition strictly reflects the origin of the word in Latin: sedere, to sit + super, on or upon. One thing sits on or upon the place of another, displacing it. In Christian anti-Judaism the theme of transformation for the better is prominent. Through Christ, who provides the base for the something better, Christianity supersedes Judaism by transforming it into something superior to it.


Our question, then, is: Is anti-Judaism present in the Christological reflection of the process theologians? We shall find our answer by means of a quick survey.

In the light of considerations adduced above, it would seem that process thinkers would not fall prey to the view of Jesus found in the Adversus Judaeos tradition. This view, according to which Jesus is an absolutely novel historical event owing nothing to his past actual world, stresses that in his "kingly character" Jesus is "complete in Himself." "He lives out of Himself and takes nothing from His environment but only gives" (SHJ 77). Jesus is so completely novel, at least in any or all theologically important ways, that he becomes the chief human (?) exception to the principle of relativity. This, however, is not the case. Only rarely, and then weakly, are process theologians guided by their own categories in interpreting the figure of Jesus.

Peter Hamilton, for instance, while preferring to avoid the word "unique" in reference to the historical Jesus, nonetheless says that

if it is to be used I wish to affirm the uniqueness of the whole event Jesus Christ, the whole Judaeo-Christian "salvation-history," as the supreme revelation and enactment of God’s redeeming love: a unique event with a unique effect. . . . Within this whole unique event the life, death and resurrection of Jesus occupy a uniquely central, indeed pivotal, position. In his historical context Jesus is thus doubly "unique." (PPCT 373)

As a result, Hamilton makes extensive use of the "criterion of dissimilarity" to "pick out aspects of the gospel accounts of Jesus’ conduct and teaching which are in sharp contrast to the current practice and teaching of his day" (PPCT 365). Such a disparity between Jesus and his entire context leads Hamilton to "agree with Fuchs and others that it was Jesus conduct, thus closely reinforced by his proclamation, that led the Jewish leaders to destroy him" (PPCT 366). He constructs his view of the historical Jesus on the confident assumption, which he shares with form criticism, that greatest reliability can be attributed to those elements in Jesus’ teaching that contrast with the outlook of Judaism. He can thus cite approvingly R. H. Fuller’s statement that the death of Jesus is interpreted as Israel’s No to the proclamation of Jesus and the resurrection as God’s Yes, his validation of Jesus’ message (PPCT 374). The implication would seem to be that God’s Yes is God’s No to Israel, the negation of Israel’s negation.

Whereas in the essay of Hamilton that is under discussion, Jesus appears clearly as the "dividing line" between Christianity and Judaism, Hamilton earlier struck a somewhat different chord. Here he stresses that

Jesus emerges at the start of his ministry not as someone remote from his fellows who propounds utterly new teaching and largely ignores what has gone before him, but on the contrary as one who stands in line with the great Jewish prophets, who enriches, deepens, and purges the teaching of the Jewish church [sic!], and in so doing builds upon it, not apart from it. (LGMW 193)

Underscoring the fact that "the element of absolute novelty in Jesus’ teaching is smaller than is often supposed," Hamilton affirms that Jesus’ distinctiveness lies in how he selected from his tradition certain themes and gave them a completely new emphasis" (LGMW 194). While this approach is less harsh, it still enables Hamilton to get what he needs out of the figure of Jesus: enough absolute novelty and completely new emphases to criticize, fulfill, and transcend Judaism. Jesus is, in either approach, the means whereby Christianity’s supersession of Judaism is effected. (Hamilton’s view of the historical Jesus remains a matter of uncertainty in these writings.)

Norman Pittenger’s forthright interrelation of Jesus by means of the categories of process thought leads him to state that "Jesus was a Jew in his own time and place" (CR 35). His teachings and ideas were all "set in the context of the Judaism of his age" (CR 35). "He thought like a Jew, he understood as a Jew understood; and surely deep in his psychology were those factors, inherited and social, which determined the limits in which his thinking and understanding were carried on" (CR 36).

Jesus is obviously no intrusion from outside into the history of the Jewish people; the slightest acquaintance with the story of his life coupled with an awareness of Jewish history demonstrates beyond a shadow of doubt that he was of the Jews in the most profound sense. (CR 72)

Pittenger also discriminates among the various kinds of response to Jesus: rejection "by the authorities of Church and State," "puzzlement on the part of local religious leaders," "the acceptance of the common people who heard him gladly," and "the utter loyalty and devotion found in the circle of his disciples" (CR 76f).

There is a clear universalism, also, in Pittenger’s christology. Jesus is the chief exemplification of, not the chief exception to, what it means to be a human being. Also, in Jesus we see how God acts upon or relates universally to all people. Jesus is the classical instance of a human being. His uniqueness is one of inclusion, not exclusion, and his importance is analogous to that of other important moments in history.

Yet there remains, in my judgment, an ambiguity in Pittenger as to whether this importance is confessional-historical or empirical-historical. The old language, shaped by the adversus Judaeos tradition, finds its way into his reflections. In spite of his admirable rejection of an exclusivistic christology, it was the "older Israel" into which Jesus was born and of which he was a part, and it is the "Church of the new dispensation" which is brought into being by faith in him (CR 95). Although Jesus was a genuine Jew of the first century, he is important not only for casting "enormous light upon that which preceded... and so prepared for" him, but also for "opening up for the future new and remarkable possibilities both of understanding and of action" (PT 211). Finally, Pittenger leaves room for doubt as to whether he affirms a gentle kind of supersessionism according to which the historical Jesus selects and omits from his heritage and fulfills it by understanding it more profoundly, thus allowing into history the release of a new affection which transcends his heritage.

Among process theologians God is not happily thought of as the "cosmic moralist," and the "divine lawgiver and judge" often fails to find a warm welcome in our midst. The reasons for this stance are plentiful and the emphasis is understandable. Yet our bias against the cosmic moralist" blinds us to the fact that in Judaism law or, preferably, Torah, is a theologoumenon for God. When we use the words "law" and "legalism," which latter we often take as a synonym for the former, in any way which is incompatible with the 119th Psalm ("Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path" -- verse 105), we misunderstand Judaism and inevitably set Jesus falsely in opposition to Judaism.

Grace becomes, in Bernard E. Meland’s words, "a transformative working in human nature and in human events, rising above the automatic mechanisms of evil as well as the rigidities of law" (FC 42). Myth, claims Meland, "transcends the law, in the sense that it holds before the culture the total range of higher sensibilities, while law means to keep it committed to an essential minimum of sensibility" (FC 50). Consequently, "Christ stands to the moral culture of the Jews as love transcends the law" (FC 86). The moral consciousness of the Jews, refined through a long process of devotion to the Law, "became as a seed bed for a more sensitive and appreciative consciousness in response to the working of God" (FC 86). The relation of love to law is not dialectical, but of such a nature that that which transcends the law still needs that which it transcends: "Faith stands to reason as love transcends the law. But faith can be made to betray all truth in unreason Just as love can be made sordid and sentimental without the restraint of observing law" (FC 122).

Accordingly, Meland’s view of Jesus (or, at least, of the teachings attributed to Jesus) is of one whose teachings call into judgment "the legal good [which] was externally conceived, leaving the inner problem of motive or intention uncalculated" (FC 162). Commenting on the good that is discerned in Christ, he says: "For the structures of moral and rational good, the virtues of law and the logic of cause and effect, though not wholly canceled, are subsumed and transcended, and thereupon transmuted by the spontaneity, the freedom, and grace of forgiving love" (FC 220).

In discussing the topic of "the new creation," Meland clearly sets forth a view in which a new "structure of consciousness" is initiated into history by the person of Jesus (RE 259). In the Christ event, "human structures, already impregnated with the seeds of Redemption through antecedent events, became articulate and responsive with a sensitivity and receptiveness that literally thrust upon the social community a new level of consciousness, a new center of consciousness and concern" (RE 258). This new emergence "took place within the conflict of two social orders in which the tenuous but creative forces of the new Israel, working through the Christ, engaged in deadly battle with the vested interests of a receding Jewish order" (HF 259). Correspondingly, Jesus played the central role in a "revolution within the culture of Israel" (HF 260).

If I do not read him incorrectly, Meland comes close to identifying Judaism, or at least Pharisaism, with the principle of inauthentic existence, i.e., sin.

Now it must be recognized that, indispensable as the concerns for the moral and reasonable life are in themselves, their bent of interest when exclusively pursued, tends to magnify the will to security at the expense of the life of the spirit. This is no easy problem, and we should not deal lightly with it. But there were ample grounds for Jesus’ impatience with the Pharisees; and they are the same grounds that make it imperative that we do not allow Christian faith to lapse into an ethical legalism or a rigid moralism. (RF 264)

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that, for Meland, Jesus Christ is the vehicle for the emergence into history of a new sensitivity that supersedes that found in Judaism. This supersession includes the church, since the definition of the Christ event includes the transformed lives of those who respond to Christ. We cannot get behind the witness of the earliest church to the historical Jesus (HF 260).

When we turn to Daniel Day Williams’ analysis of those "archetypal forms which love takes in history [and] which can be distinguished and analysed" (SFL 4), we find a thinker who is sensitive to the questions raised by Christian claims of superiority to Judaism. He says of his chapter on "Love in the New Testament" that it "is not written with the view that Christianity answers every question raised in Judaism, or to prove that the Christian way of understanding God’s redemptive work is superior to that of Judaism. The two faiths belong together while each has its distinctive outlook and its characteristic problems" (SFL 34).

In his description of love in the Hebrew faith he comments that

it is not uncommon to find those who stand outside the Hebrew faith characterizing the God of the Old Testament as one whose nature is essentially that of the righteous law-giver who demands conformity to his law. The possibility of mercy is therefore a problem for God. Judgment is fundamental, mercy only a new and disturbing possibility. But this surely is a wrongheaded view of the Hebrew faith. God’s love and mercy, his care and compassion, are the very foundation of his covenant with Israel. (SFL 22)

Accordingly, he correctly points out that the language of intimacy in love as applied to God, the love between father and son, between husband and wife, are basic in Hebraic speech about the love of God for Israel (SFL 19f). Not only are God’s steadfastness and tenderness emphasized, but Williams points out that "the theological sense of the meaning of married love ran ahead of the social practice" (SFL 23). Also, this love was not narrowly restricted to Israel (see Leviticus 19:17-18).

Nonetheless, there seems to be a form of supersessionism in Williams’ analysis of the history of the forms of love. The Hebrew scripture bequeath to us "two major perplexities about the love of God" (SFL 25). One has to do with what the doctrine of election implies for the idea of God as the loving father of all human beings, and the other with the meaning of God’s suffering in redemption. Commenting on Amos 3:2a ("You only have I known of all the nations of the earth), Williams asks: "Where, then does it [the Old Testament] leave us with God’s relation to everyman? Does God love some and not others?" (SFL 25). An "ultimate tension" is created in the Hebrew faith by this question, says Williams.

However, Williams fails to note that when such a word is spoken to Israel it is always in the context of Israel’s obligations, not that of its privileges. What the text says is:

Hear this word that the Lord has spoken against you, 0 people of Israel, against the whole family which I brought up out of the land of Egypt:

"You only have I known

of all the families of the earth;

therefore I will punish you

for all your iniquities.

(Amos 3:1-2; emphasis mine)

Although Williams goes on to qualify significantly the claim that Israel’s understanding of God’s love is ethnocentric, he cites with approval H. Richard Niebuhr’s statement "that the history of Israel is marked by an almost continuous struggle between social henotheism and radical monotheism" (SFL 26). Although universalistic passages are found in the Hebrew Bible and reflected in the Talmud, this issue remains a perplexity for ancient Israel, to be taken up and seen in a new perspective in the New Testament (SFL 34). So it is also with the question of "whether and how the suffering of God becomes the decisive action through which he meets the need, not only of Israel, but of the whole creation" (SFL 33). This remains a "final obscurity, unresolved by the Old Testament (SFL 33). With these perplexities and this obscurity, the New Testament begins.

Although the New Testament has answers for these difficulties, its own answers do not completely resolve the issues, which are then taken up in the subsequent history of the forms of love in the Christian tradition (SFL 39). In spite of his acute sensitivity to Christian claims of superiority, then, Williams does affirm that the rise of Christian faith answers questions left to us by Judaism and which Judaism itself does not answer. Partly this is confirmed by the procedure or the outline of his book. The question is not raised whether Judaism itself, in the more recent two thousand years of its history, might have carried further its own reflections upon the forms of love. All the carrying further is done in the Christian tradition or in certain secular stances derivative from it. Judaism as a living faith is not considered.

David Griffin’s christological reflections are devoted to the task of finding a way to affirm, meaningfully, that Jesus was a "special act of God," in order to be able to say that to respond in faith to Jesus or to accept Jesus as genuinely revelatory is appropriate. He is primarily concerned to argue, not with Judaism, but with views of revelation which he sees as subjectivist and therefore arbitrary.

Nevertheless, in order to establish Jesus as "God’s supreme act of self-expression, he has recourse to the tradition of setting Jesus apart from the Judaisms of his time. The following quotation is an example. "The Christian vision of reality, as based on Jesus’ vision of reality, is also different from those views which see God as having acted in the past but as being absent in the present, or at least as not doing anything new. Such a view was prevalent in the orthodox Judaism of Jesus’ time (PC 200f.). Griffin does not clarify for us which Judaism of Jesus’ time he regards as orthodox. But it is to be doubted that the Judaisms of Jesus’ time utterly rejected the notion of the Shekhinah, the presence of God.

As we have seen above in Pittenger. Griffin affirms that Jesus’ vision of reality was not "totally new" (PC 217). It presumed the general vision of reality which had developed in Israel, and its "newness consisted in the way the various elements were weighted" (PC 217). The love of God now takes priority over God’s justice, and what God demands is what we experience as most fulfilling. "These shifts altered the whole tenor of the Hebrew vision of reality" (PC 217; emphasis mine). The nature of Jesus’ prehension of and response to God’s initial aims for him, together with the congruence of those initial aims with God’s general aims for the universe allows us to say that Jesus was "God’s supreme act of self-expression" (PC 221). Such a light as was never before seen on sea or land has now found dative exemplification.

The saving effects of the self-revelation of God in Jesus Christ allow Griffin to attribute an element of truth to the two views that (1) God can now provide for us possibilities which God could not previously provide and that (2) God’s attitude is different toward Christians and non-Christians (PC 236-44).

Before revelation, God could only present those aims which were the best real possibilities for the man who had an inadequate, even idolatrous, view of the sacred. But after the Christian revelation, after the man begins to see God, the world, and himself in terms of the Christian vision of reality, he is open to receiving different aims. After the revelation in Christ man is capable of receiving aims which more directly express God’s character and purpose, the divine Logos. (PC 241f)

Now God can begin to be in human beings as Logos, and not only as Holy Spirit (PC 242). This seems capable, without misrepresentation, of being taken as supersessionist; we will not comment on the Trinitarian doctrine involved. More and better is or can be offered to Christians than God could have offered to Jews.

Lewis S. Ford employs an emergent-evolutionary model to support his argument "that the body of Christ with the risen Lord as its head constitutes the next evolutionary emergence beyond man" (LG 45). Here, everything seems to have been superseded. Ford seems to share Whitehead’s lack of affinity with the Old Testament. Whitehead had commented that the "worship of glory arising from rower" found in Psalm 24 was based on "a barbaric conception of God (cited in LG 15). Ford sympathizes, noting that the Old Testament’s "dominant experience of divine power seems to emphasize coercive elements, with the symbols for power drawn heavily from the military and political spheres" (LG 15).

Into this situation steps Jesus, whose "proclamation of the kingdom of God introduces a radically new way of experiencing God’s sovereignty as the power of the future. As the power of the future, God’s activity is not only purely persuasive but does not need coercive measures to achieve its purposes" (LG 31). Each characterization can be challenged. Some of us would find love dominant over coercive power in the Hebrew Bible’s statements about God and Jesus’ preaching of the coming Kingdom not wholly free of coercive power on God’s part. The Kingdom of God will come "with power" (Mark 9:1). Ford also relies upon the claim that Jesus acted out of an intimacy with his heavenly Father that startled contemporary Jewish piety" (LG 82).

All this makes possible, when combined with the resurrection of Christ, the emergence of a "transformed human community" which is "the next stage in the emergent evolution of the world, and the incarnation of the divine Word" (LG 74). This occurs in a process in which there is "an unfolding spiral development whereby later phases recapitulate earlier ones on a higher level’ (LG 76). What was earlier was lower. And now the church, through its new life in the Spirit, "sets us free from the necessity of the law.’ (LG 77). (Were not the Gentiles to whom Paul wrote now freed to keep all the Torah by loving their neighbors as themselves?) The church, the body of Christ, transcends man as such and also Judaism as one of "man’s" ways of being human. That this "higher’ emergent is better than its lower Jewish predecessor seems an inevitable conclusion from Ford’s presentation.

When John Cobb opens his discussion in The Structure of Christian Existence, he states that to "claim that Christianity embodies a distinctive structure of existence does not involve the claim that this structure of existence is better or worse than other structures" (SCE 16). It becomes clear, however, that in saying this he has primarily in mind the structure of Buddhist existence and that the structure of existence to which Christianity gives voice is better than the structure of prophetic existence.

Prophetic existence achieves its decisive breakthrough in the great prophets, particularly in Jeremiah (SCE 95). While Cobb eschews, admirably, what he regards as the unjustified and pejorative understanding of Pharisaism, he contends that "Jesus’ message is presented over against Pharisaic Judaism rather than directly in relation to the prophets themselves. In part, it should be understood as a renewal of the distinctively prophetic element within the Pharisaic synthesis" (SCE 109). Nonetheless, Christian existence transcends both Pharisaism and the prophets (SCE 109).

Whereas for postexilic Judaism and Pharisaism, "God was silent and remote," the "central and decisive fact in the appearance of Jesus was the renewal of the sense of the present immediacy of God" (SCE 110f). Consequently, Jesus overcomes the confines of the "old law" through his "renewal of the prophetic consciousness of God in the context of fully responsible personhood" (SCE 113). Hence the unequivocal separation between ethical principles and ancient taboos was made. (That Jesus declared all foods clean -- Mark 7:19 -- is not so clear, particularly when one considers that the Jerusalem church apparently never understood this to be the case and that Peter only got the point much later. It is at least possible that Mark’s gospel attributes to Jesus’ authority the practices of a later Gentile church.) Jesus radicalized Pharisaic understandings of the law in other respects also, and thus "crossed a threshold and … transformed the meaning of the materials that he took with him across the threshold" (SCE 114). Hence, spiritual existence "is a further development of personal existence" (SCE 119). In it, "a new level of transcendence appeared" (SCE 123).

Cobb wants then to argue in support of the Christian claim for the finality of Jesus Christ by making the case "that in spiritual existence personal existence was fulfilled and transformed" (SCE 140). Clearly he judges "that the essential reality which the church always recognized as its norm offered to the Jew a possibility unrealized in his mode of axial existence" (SCE 141). Cobb is keenly sensitive to the many unconscionable offenses which Christians and the church have presented to and committed against Jews and Judaism (SCE 141f). Nonetheless, he continues to hope not for a "mass conversion of Jews to Christian churches, but rather an inner transformation of Judaism itself’ (SCE 142). However, to date this hoped-for transformation of Judaism "has been seriously inhibited by the rejection of Jesus" (SCE 142).

In his christology proper, Cobb claims that "today Christians can no longer view the other great Ways of mankind in . . . [a] negative or condescending fashion" (CPA 18). In spite of his concern that Christianity develop a genuine inner openness to pluralism, however, he continues to argue the same point he debated previously, that the Christian structure of existence transcends prophetic existence and, by implication, Judaism (CPA 88f). And he relies on that kind of biblical scholarship which caricatures Judaism to make Jesus look good. "In Judaism," he quotes Bultmann, "God overlooks the sins of the religious, and this is God’s grace; God condemns the completely sinful and godless, and therefore the religious man feels himself fundamentally good" (CPA 104). (The maker of such a comment is simply unfamiliar with the Pharisaic self-criticism found in the Talmud.) Jesus creatively transforms the Judaism of his day (CPA 107).

Yet the fundamental concern of Cobb in Christ in a Pluralistic Age is to articulate the hope that "Christianity may be saved through its interior acceptance of pluralism and its creative transformation through openness to other traditions" (CPA 181). This openness is no mere tolerance but a readiness for the creative transformation of one’s own tradition (CPA 204).

Here there clearly seems to be a structural flaw in Cobb’s argument. Judaism itself is a living faith, one of the other great Ways of being human. It is one among the many constituting that pluralism toward which a genuine openness is advocated. But it would not seem possible that we can be genuinely open to that which our structure of existence has transcended and whose greatest hope for its own creative transformation is found in that which we confess as normative. This, I think, is not possible.

Cobb’s theology makes us face squarely the central issue. Precisely because of the intimate, if negative, relation of Christianity to Judaism and the history of legal, economic, cultural, and political anti-Judaism which we witness in Christendom, not to mention fifteen hundred years of pogroms culminating in the Endlösung, it is necessary that Christianity develop a genuine openness to Judaism in order to uncover and expose the wrong turns we took in the development of our own Way. Such an openness cannot be developed, however, as long as we regard Judaism as the continuation, however pure, of a Way which has been transcended and transformed by the Way which we attempt to follow, however ambiguously.

Schubert Ogden’s christological reflections provide the one clear exception to the general pattern here described. The point of the decisive re-presentation of the divine Word in Jesus Christ "is not that the Christ is manifest only in Jesus and nowhere else, but that the word addressed to men everywhere, in all the events of their lives, is none other than the word spoken in Jesus and in the preaching and sacraments of the church" (CWM 156). A direct implication of this position is that "we will have to reject all the traditional attempts to distinguish sharply between "Old Testament and New Testament," "law and gospel," . . . "Prophecy and fulfillment" (CWM 156). What is re-presented to us in Jesus in the shape of a single human life is "man’s original possibility of existence coram deo" (CWM 160). In this theocentric orientation we are reminded that Paul called Abraham "the father of us all" and invoked Christians to "share the faith of Abraham," "not because Abraham believed in Jesus, but because he ‘believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness’" (CWM 154f).

The God whom we know through Jesus is the only God whom there is to know, the one found anywhere and everywhere. Hence it is not only possible but necessary that we affirm "that authentic existence can be realized apart from faith in Jesus Christ or in the Christian proclamation" (CWM 144). Ogden sees the decisive flaw in most Protestant christologies in their failure to grasp the thoroughgoing consequences of the principles sola gratia -- sola fide. It has seldom been observed that we are saved by grace alone "in complete freedom from any saving ‘work’ of the kind traditionally portrayed in the doctrines of the person and work of Jesus Christ" (CWM 145). When we misstate the conviction that God’s "saving action has been decisively disclosed in the event Jesus of Nazareth" in such a way that this event "becomes a condition apart from which God is not free to be a gracious God, the heretical doctrine of works-righteousness achieves its final and most dangerous triumph" (CWM 145). The alternative is to make crystal clear not only that " ‘we are Christ’s,’ but that ‘Christ is God’s’" and to affirm the theocentric basis of Christian faith (CWM 143).

In his essay "What Does It Mean To Affirm ‘Jesus Christ is Lord’?" Ogden says of Paul that whenever he talks of God "he unquestionably means the covenant God of Israel, whose significance for man is the promise and demand of pure unbounded love. And when he says that, or us as Christians, there is no God but ‘God the Father,’ it is precisely this God to whom he refers" (RG 202). He obviously agrees with Paul when he says of Paul that

the underlying intention of all his christological formulations is to affirm that the history of Jesus of Nazareth is the decisive representation to all mankind of the same promise and demand re-presented by the Old Testament revelation (cf. Rom. 3:21) -- and, beyond that, also attested by the whole of creation and man’s conscience as well. (RG 202).

In Ogden’s christological reflections one does not find the self-justifying theology of supersession.


That supersessionist theology plays a significant social role in our society is indubitable. A recent example, which would make any process theologian choke, is to the point. Dr. Bailey Smith, recently elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention, said at a gathering in Dallas in August, "It is interesting at great political rallies how you have a Protestant to pray, a Catholic to pray, and then you have a Jew to pray. With all due respect to those dear people, my friends, God Almighty does not hear the prayer of a Jew" (5). Later, Dr. Smith denied that his remarks were antisemitic. "I am pro-Jew. I believe they are God’s special people, but without Jesus Christ they are lost. No prayer gets through that is not prayed through Jesus Christ" (5). Smith went on to suggest that the real argument Jews have is not with him but with the New Testament. In an interview with Harry Cook, the religion writer for the Detroit Free Press, Smith articulated the theology of supersession as warrant for his views:

the prayers of the Jews were heard by God, that is, up until God sent Jesus. Before Him the Jews had the complete revelation and lived by it. But things are different after Jesus, and the reason I said God doesn’t hear Jewish prayers is because my Bible says that Jesus is the only way a man can get to God. I can’t help what it says in the New Testament. (2:1)

Again, this is just an example. The supremely relative God of process theism hears all prayers. The example helps to point up the fact that vulgar anti-Judaism is socially important.

Charles Y. Glock and Rodney Stark, in their careful study Christian Beliefs and Anti-Semitism (CBAS), tried with considerable success to show that there is a causal link between certain Christian beliefs about Jews of the biblical period and negative attitudes toward contemporary Jews, attitudes that would condone or ignore antisemitic actions. The links connecting the chain between beliefs and attitudes are: the amount of orthodoxy, particularism, and participation in the life of the church. They note measurable differences among denominations. Yet, on average, 33 per cent of the Protestants interviewed said it was true that "the Jews can never be forgiven for what they did to Jesus until they accept Him as the True Saviour" (CBAS 62-64). For about half of all Christians interviewed, the authors concluded that Judaism was not a legitimate faith (CBAS 78f). And while 42 per cent of the Protestants questioned affirmed the civil rights of Jews, another 42 per cent did not (CBAS 150). This study of the attitudes of 3,000 carefully selected lay people is not very heartening.

When the same social scientists, with the help of some colleagues, turned their attention to the clergy, of whom they interviewed 1,580, largely younger and so-called "new breed," they found that the patterns of their responses were "so tediously similar that they suggest it is precisely in church and Sunday School that the [laity’s] learning takes place" (WS 50). They suggest that hostility toward Jews today cannot be blamed entirely on lay people, on the "sheep," when the sheep are following the lead of their shepherds. They found that only slightly more than a third of the clergy harbored no antisemitic prejudice.

These social scientists have not yet, to my knowledge, turned their attention to the role (s) played by theologians in helping to form the attitudes of clergy and laity. Here, then, we are forced to hypothesize. The situation seems to be something like the following: students come to seminaries or divinity schools bringing with them some anti-Judaic theological baggage which they have acquired as part of their formation in the churches. I do not mean that they have strong anti-Judaic feelings, but simply that their ingrained ways of thinking and speaking about Jesus, in particular, are most likely to be structured by an inherited anti-Judaism of which they are not even conscious. Judaism, Pharisaism, law, works-righteousness as opposed to grace, etc., are all "bad," and Jesus delivers us from them.

The central hypothesis is this: students are affected by the process of acquiring a theological education. How are they affected with regard to anti-Judaism? Answer: If and to the extent that they are persuaded by a christology or christologies that seek to establish the empirical uniqueness of the historical Jesus by setting him over and against Judaism, their inherited anti-Judaism will be reinforced. While the rough-edges may be taken off it, and while they may learn a somewhat more sympathetic attitude toward Judaism, their inherited anti-Judaism will nonetheless be given sanction and warrant; they will learn that what is normative for their faith supersedes what was previously available in Judaism. And so the anti-Judaism of the church is passed on from generation to generation, in spite of all its attendant horrors, even after the attempted Endlösung of Hitler.

This is precisely the opposite of what ought to happen. The argument for Christian supersession of Judaism is an ideology of the Christian will-to-power left over from the days of persecution at the hands of the Roman Empire. (This does not imply that the process theologians who repeat, to a greater or lesser degree, supersessionist arguments are ideologues. Their response to criticism, e.g., is always fair and open-minded, traits not found in ideologues. It implies, rather, that they repeat what has become ingrained, almost second-nature, as a pattern of thought and language. Process theologians break with the classical doctrine of God. Should we not also break the grip which the adversus Judaeos tradition has upon us?)

However understandable supersessionism may be as a response to the pressures brought to bear on the church from the late first through the early fourth century, it should be dropped. It has been responsible, directly or indirectly, for too many unconscionable assaults upon Jews. History’s slaughter-bench is drenched with the blood of those slain because they "obstinately" refused in their "blindness" to see that the Christian alternative was better. This is reason enough to drop it. Further, it is an ideology of self-justification. However much we may protest that that which supersedes Judaism also stands in judgment of us, it remains the case that it is we who confess this superior development, we who remember it, we who keep its witness alive, we to whom its higher possibilities are granted, and we who reap its benefits. In the final analysis, then, it is a theology of self-justification. As such it is inappropriate to the gospel’s promise of the love of God for each and all and to the gospel’s demand for justice to each and all. It also puts constraints upon the freedom of God, in God’s own way and at God’s good pleasure, to love as fully and as fruitfully as God pleases, whomever God pleases, with no by-your-leave from us.



AJ -- Edward H. Flannery. The Anguish of the Jews. New York: Macmillan, 1965.

AJCT -- Charlotte Klein. Anti-Judaism in Christian Theology. Trans. Edward Quinn. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1978.

AJu -- A. L. Williams. Adversus Judaeos. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1935.

CAS -- Nicholas Berdyaev. Christianity and Anti-Semitism. New York: Philosophical Library, 1954.

CBAS -- Charles Y. Glock and Rodney Stark. Christian Beliefs and Anti-Semitism. New York: Harper & Row, 1966.

CC -- Jon Sobrino. Christology at the Crossroads. Trans. John Drury. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1978.

CCS -- James Parkes. The Conflict of the Church and the Synagogue. New York: Meridian Books, 1961.

CPA -- John B. Cobb, Jr. Christ in a Pluralistic Age. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1975.

CR -- Norman Pittenger. Christology Reconsidered. London: SCM Press, 1970.

CWM -- Schubert M. Ogden. Christ Without Myth. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1961.

EYB -- A. Roy Eckardt. Elder and Younger Brothers. New York: Schocken Books, 1967.

FC -- Bernard F. Meland. Faith and Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 1953.

FF -- Rosemary Ruether. Faith and Fratricide. New York: Seabury, 1974.

HAS -- Leon Poliakov. The History of Anti-Semitism. New York: Schocken Books, 1974.

HASRC -- Jules Isaac. Has Anti-Semitism Roots in Christianity? New York: National Council of Christians and Jews, 1961.

HR -- Ellis Rivkin. A Hidden Revolution. Nashville: Abingdon, 1978.

JCA -- Wayne A. Meeks and Robert L. Wilken. Jews and Christians in Antioch. Missoula, Montana: Scholars Press, 1978.

JCP -- Ben Zion Bokser. Judaism and the Christian Predicament. New York: Knopf, 1967.

JCSC -- J. Bruce Long, ed. Judaism and the Christian Seminary Curriculum. Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1966.

JECM -- Robert L. Wilken. Judaism and the Early Christian Mind. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1971.

JFC -- George Foot Moore. Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian Era, the Age of the Tannaim. 3 volumes. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1927-30.

JP -- John Bowker. Jesus and the Pharisees. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973.

LG -- Lewis S. Ford. The Lure of God. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1978.

LGMW -- Peter Hamilton. The Living God and the Modern World Philadelphia: The United Church Press, 1967.

MJCT -- Arthur A. Cohen. The Myth of the Judeo-Christian Tradition. New York: Schocken Books, 1957.

MTJL -- Michael J. Cook. Mark’s Treatment of the Jewish Leaders Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1978.

NDNTS -- Patrick Henry. New Directions in New Testament Study Philadelphia: Westminster, 1979.

NTT -- Joachim Jeremias. New Testament Theology: The Proclamation of Jesus. Trans. John Bowden. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1971.

PC -- David Griffin. A Process Christology. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1973.

PPCT -- Peter Hamilton. "Some Proposals for a Modern Christology," in Delwin Brown, Ralph E. James, Jr., and Gene Reeves, eds., Process Philosophy and Christian Thought. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1971.

PPJ -- E. P. Sanders. Paul and Palestinian Judaism. London: SCM Press, 1977.

PT -- Norman Pittenger. "Bernard E. Meland, Process Thought and the Significance of Christ," in Ewert H. Cousins, ed., Process Theology. New York: Newman Press, 1971.

RF -- Bernard E. Meland. The Realities of Faith. New York: Oxford University Press, 1962.

RC -- Schubert M. Ogden. The Reality of God. New York: Harper & Row, 1963.

RHD -- The Random House Dictionary of the English Language. New York: Random House, 1969.

RTJ -- Norman Perrin. Rediscovering the Teaching of Jesus. New York: Harper & Row, 1976.

SCE -- John B. Cobb, Jr. The Structure of Christian Existence. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1967.

SFL -- Daniel Day Williams. The Spirit and the Forms of Love. New York: Harper & Row, 1968.

SHJ -- Martin Kähler. Der sogenannte historische Jesus und der geschichtliche biblische Christus. Ed. E. Wolf. Second enlarged edition. München: Chr. Kaiser Verlag, 1956.

TAJ -- David Patrick Efroymson. Tertullian’s Anti-Judaism and its Role in His Theology. Ph.D. Dissertation, Temple University, 1976.

TC -- Jules Isaac. The Teaching of Contempt. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1964.

WS -- Rodney Stark, Bruce D. Foster, Charles Y. Glock, and Harold E. Quinley. Wayward Shepherds. New York: Harper & Row, 1971.

YPMP -- A. Roy Eckardt. Your People, My People. New York: Quadrangle, 1974.

1. Markus Barth. "Was Paul an Anti-Semite?" Journal of Ecumenical Studies 5/1.

2. Detroit Free Press. Sunday, September 20, 1980.

3. David Flusser. A New Sensitivity in Judaism and the Christian Message," Encounter Today 4/4, 123-31, and 5/1, 3-12.

4. George Foot Moore. "Christian Writers on Judaism," Harvard Theological Review 14/3 (July, 1921), 197-254.

5. The New York Times. Thursday, September 18, 1980.

6. John Pawlikowski. "Martin Luther and Judaism," Journal of the American Academy of Religion 43, 681-93.

7. J. Coert Rylaarsdam, "Biblical (Ancient) Israel and the Jewish People (Today)." Unpublished paper.