On this episode of the podcast, we are speaking with the Dr. Jennifer Rosner about her book Finding Messiah: A Journey into the Jewishness of the Gospel. Dr. Rosner is a Jewish believer in Jesus Christ, and in this episode, she tells us her story, as well as the story of how these two deeply intertwined religious traditions have been torn apart, and what it might mean to weave them back together. Among the topics we discuss:
- – Dr. Rosner’s story about finding Jesus and rediscovering her Jewish roots
- – The sad history of Jewish and Christian relations
- – How we can remember the Jewishness of the New Testament
- – Some of the ways that well-meaning Christians perpetuate negative stereotypes about Judaism
- – How Judaism can help us resist dualism through rediscovering the embodied character of faith and worship
- – Some of the more encouraging developments in Jewish-Christian scholarship
For more about Dr. Rosner: https://www.jenrosner.com/
Get the book: https://www.ivpress.com/finding-messiah
Resources mentioned in this podcast:
Mark S. Kinzer, Jerusalem Crucified Jerusalem Risen
Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines
NT Wright, Surprised by Hope
Transcript (click to expand)
Note: This transcript is autogenerated and may contain grammatical errors.
(00:07) Justin Ariel Bailey: Welcome to the newest episode of the In All Things podcast, where we host conversations with diverse voices about living creatively in God’s created world. I’m your host Justin Ariel Bailey, and I teach at Dordt University, which is home to the Andreas Center, the sponsor of this podcast. On this episode of the podcast, we are speaking with Dr. Jennifer Rosner about her book Finding Messiah: A Journey into the Jewishness of the Gospel. Dr. Rosner is a Jewish believer in Jesus, and in this episode, she tells us her story, as well as the story of how these two deeply intertwined religious traditions have been torn apart and what it might mean to weave them back together. It’s a conversation about what non-Jewish Christians can learn from Judaism, especially what we can learn from our Jewish brothers and sisters. Thanks, as always, for tuning in.
(01:01) Justin Ariel Bailey: Christianity and Judaism have been intimately intertwined from the beginning. Jesus and the apostles were all Jewish. The majority of the earliest believers were Jewish, the Hebrew scriptures make up two-thirds of the Christian Bible, and much of the New Testament writings are oriented around issues of fellowship between Jews and Gentiles in the church. But you wouldn’t know this close companionship from looking at the current state of things. As our guest Dr. Jennifer Rosner points out, the two religions have spent 16 centuries defining themselves in opposition to one another. Of course, there are real differences between the two religious traditions, most notably belief in Jesus as Israel’s Messiah. And yet, from the beginning, there have been and continue to be Jewish believers in Jesus, and we are not wise to neglect their testimony. One of the things that Dr. Rosner points out is that we often tell the biblical story in a way that leaves out the first two-thirds of the narrative. Creation, fall, Jesus, heaven. She writes, “Despite clearly being the subject of our Old Testament, Israel gets either left out of the story entirely or construed as an extended example of human sinfulness and ineffectuality. For many contemporary believers, the Jewish people have simply been replaced by the Church. This is called supersessionism, and in its more insidious varieties, it leads to antisemitism. Without a vital connection to Israel’s story, other groups tend to step in as God’s chosen people. White Europeans, for example, Germany or Britain or America replaces Israel as the object of God’s particular favor. Reconnecting to our Jewish roots might offer an antidote to this.” Dr. Rosner writes that while many Christians read the Bible with a sin/salvation paradigm, Judaism works with a creation/consummation paradigm. That distinction stuck out to me as a student of Dutch Calvinism, which has tended to emphasize continuity and fulfillment over against replacement; grace restores and renews the truly human in all of its embodied cultural specificity. This point was made by a previous podcast guest, Dr. William Dyrness. Here’s a clip.
(03:24) William Dyrness: The basic fundamental framework of theology is creation, new creation that changes everything when you put things in that category rather than creation, fall, and then redemption. And of course, redemption is there, but it’s taken up into new creation. And of course, in Dutch it’s even clearer because redemption is the term is herschepping. Schepping, herschepping. So that creation, recreation is the fundamental framework.
(04:00) Justin Ariel Bailey: If we work with a framework of covenantal continuity, of fulfillment rather than replacement, it might make us reconsider the way we tell the story and the relationship of Judaism and Christianity. To help us think about this, we had a conversation with Dr. Rosner. Dr. Rosner is a scholar of Christianity and Judaism, holding academic posts at four different schools. And for this interview, I was joined by my colleague, Dr. Luralyn Helming, professor of Psychology at Dordt. And a fun element of this interview is that Luralyn and Jennifer went to college together. And some of that comes out in the conversation to which we now turn.
(04:42) Justin Ariel Bailey: I’m joined now by two guests. The first is my guest co-host, Dr. Luralyn Helming, who is a professor of psychology here at Dordt. Luralyn, thanks for hosting with me.
(04:51) Luralyn Helming: Hi, thank you.
(04:52) Justin Ariel Bailey: And our feature guest is Dr. Jennifer Rosner. And we’re talking with Dr. Rosner about her book Finding Messiah: A Journey into the Jewishness of the Gospel. Jennifer, thanks for joining us on the In All Things podcast.
(05:05) Jennifer Rosner: Thanks so much for having me.
(05:07) Justin Ariel Bailey: So, one of the wonderful things that I enjoyed about reading your book is that it is sort of a multi-genre piece. It is part personal narrative, part accessible introduction to the relationship of Christianity and Judaism. And I can say I enjoyed the dramatic tension that you build up throughout the story, which for our listeners includes a bit of a love story. And I wonder, though, if you could give us, our listeners, the four-to-five-minute version of the story, how you were raised, how you came to faith in Jesus, how you’ve lived amidst some of the tensions that attend the relationship between Judaism and Christianity.
(05:45) Jennifer Rosner: Yeah, thank you. It’s a great place to start, and it is one of the unique features of the book. And it was one of the things that made writing this book really fun and sort of special for me in a way that other writing projects have not been, was sort of sharing my story alongside theological, historical, biblical reflections. So, I was raised in a Jewish home in a little teeny town in Northern California. I was raised without a lot of kind of outside Jewish community, but a fairly strong sense of Jewish identity in our home. You know, we had Passover Seders every year and we lit Hanukkah candles. So, we had a kind of cultural Jewish identity, and that was mostly passed on through my mother, who was very determined to bring Judaism into our home. And my father, who is also Jewish, had a bit, and still to this day, has a bit more ambivalent relationship with Judaism. The Judaism of his youth was kind of like LA. Secular Judaism, and he was kind of turned off to that. But he had a very strong kind of coming to faith, not in Jesus, but in God, experience late in his teenage years. And so, he was committed to raising my brother and I with a strong—I sort of look back and call it like a non-contextual, monotheistic–faith. It wasn’t, for him, connected to Judaism in any sort of meaningful way, and he had had these different sort of spiritual influences in his life. So, I had this sort of, like, Jewish cultural identity, non-contextual, monotheistic faith, and that was, like, my upbringing, and they didn’t totally connect with each other. But I remember having, like, a very elementary theology of, like, God who sort of wanted us to live in a certain way and maybe was, like, a little bit disappointed in us when we didn’t. Very rudimentary, but also this Jewish identity. And then I went off to college with Luralyn at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, which is a large public state school in California. And it just so happened that God was on the move when we were both there. To give an example of that, the Campus Crusade chapter, which is now called Cru, went from like 30 people to 500 people in attendance each week in a five-year period. And that’s the time that I was there, and that Luralyn was there as well. So, there was just something, I mean, it wasn’t a Christian school, but all of my friends were Christians, which was a totally new experience for me. And so, I remember in my freshman dorm, I would be, like, the only person in the dorms on a Sunday morning because all of the rest of the people were at church. And out of just connecting with friends and not wanting to be the only kid in the dorms on a Sunday morning, I started going to church with some friends. I started attending Campus Crusade. And really, it was the first time ever in my life that I heard the Gospel. And it’s interesting because I did have Christian friends growing up and in high school, but I never knew like, I never knew who the person of Jesus was until I went to college. And that became a really big part of my undergraduate years, was wrestling with the claims of this man called Jesus and starting to investigate the New Testament and starting to sort of fellowship with other Christians, which raised a bit of a problem for me because I then didn’t know what to do with my Jewish identity. I had no models of what it meant to follow Jesus as a Jew. And so, my last year in college is actually when I became a follower of Jesus through a pretty powerful set of experiences that was kind of a culmination of a few years of looking into the claims of Christianity and taking religion courses for my electives and things like that. And when I came to know Jesus, as I said, I just had no idea what to do about my Jewish identity. All of my Christian friends were gentiles, non-Jews, and some of them would make a big deal out of my Jewish identity, like, “Oh my gosh, you’re the chosen people, the 144,000.” And that was like, kind of off putting for me because I just kind of wanted to be like everybody else. And my Jewish friends in college were very secular, not interested in talking about religion or theology. And so, I sort of came to this turning point in my life, and I had been planning to go to law school. And my last year in college, everything changed, and I scrapped my plans to go to law school. And I was just so taken by Biblical studies and theology that I went to divinity school instead. So, I did my M.Div. at Yale Divinity School and I had, at that point, just sort of gone into the Christian world. I bounced around in different denominations. I became a believer in Jesus and a Vineyard church. Once I got to Yale, which is where I did my M.Div., I went to a CRC church for a while.
(10:14) Justin Ariel Bailey: That’s good.
(10:16) Jennifer Rosner: Yeah, I know. So, I can hang with you guys, right? I went to an Evangelical Free church for a while. And I ended up in an Anglican church, an Episcopal Church for the majority of my M.Div. time, which was just a really rich time in my life. But again, the Jewish piece had really been kind of put on a back burner. Like, I did not know what to do with these two central parts of my identity. And it wasn’t until the very tail end of my time at Yale, through another interesting set of circumstances, that the Jewish piece began to sort of clamor for attention once again. And I realized that in sort of becoming a Christian and leaving behind my Jewish identity, I had left behind a really core part of who I am and who God made me to be. And so, I then came back to California, and I did my PhD at Fuller Theological Seminary. And that just became an opportunity for me to dive headlong into these questions of, like, Judaism, Christianity, historical, what happens to these traditions? What’s going on with them today? How do I make sense of this in light of my own personal faith journey? And so, I had a remarkable set of people sort of alongside me in this journey of my doctoral program, which really became kind of a structured format to work through these identity questions. And after that, I took a trip to Israel with a friend, and I ended up getting set up with my husband, and he had been raised in the Messianic Jewish movement, and I was sort of increasingly sort of taking steps toward Messianic Judaism. And so, really, the part of the question about wrestling with the tensions is, like, to this day, what I do every day, all day long, in both a personal context and a professional context. This is at the core of my writing and teaching and speaking. And I think there’s some really difficult tensions. And I feel like we’re living in this remarkable time in history where there is this wide scale kind of rethinking the relationship between Judaism and Christianity as a result of a number of factors that maybe we’ll talk about. And so, it’s a very exciting time, and yet there’s also something very lonely about it because it’s a path that history erased to be a Jewish follower of Jesus. And there’s something very exciting about, again, the developments we see in the 20th and 21st century. But also, there’s a lot of misunderstanding, there’s a lot of rejection from both sides. And so, it can be a very lonely place, but I think it’s also, as I mentioned, a very exciting place to be.
(12:44) Justin Ariel Bailey: Yeah, I want to ask about that history in a second, but it sort of made me think when you were telling that story, as I was reading the love story, when I was reading about you, as you were set up with your now husband, I was like, “Are they going to get together?” And I sort of found myself reading ahead just to make sure this had a happy ending, you know what I mean? Because at some point, it seemed like it wasn’t going to have a happy ending. And that’s a bit of a spoiler for our listeners, but you could find it out on her bio. So, to get back to some of the historical things that you mentioned, it does seem strange because on the surface, you’d think that Christianity and Judaism would be close companions. Jesus and the apostles are all Jewish. Majority of the earliest believers are Jewish. The Hebrew Scriptures are two thirds of the Christian Bible. Much of the New Testament writings are oriented around issues of fellowship between Jews and Gentiles. But you have this wonderful phrase where you said that these two religions spent roughly 16 centuries defining themselves in opposition to one another. So, I wonder if you could tell a bit of the story of that history and what are some of the key points of how that happened.
(13:47) Jennifer Rosner: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, to your first point, you’re not the only one who I feel like there’s a section of readers of Finding Messiah who, once Yonah comes into the story, they just flip past all the theology to get to, like my editor was, like, really intentional. You can’t have any because there were some spoilers early on in the book, like, I think I had in the introduction my husband, Yonah, he was like, “No, you can’t have that in the introduction.” So anyway, I think for the second half of the book, people don’t read the theology, but anyway, maybe they did. But yeah, it’s a great question because as you said, I mean, the New Testament is, as we all now realize, it’s a Jewish document. It’s about the Jewish community in the second Temple period. Jesus is the long-foretold Messiah of Israel. Jesus’s disciples are Jewish. It’s this Jewish narrative. And so, what happens? Right? It’s a great question, and I think we have to look a little bit at the history and, as you said, sort of mark these key moments where things really begin to change. And so, I think, you know, you have this series of Jewish revolts against the Roman Empire, beginning with the, you know, the first Jewish revolt, which results in the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. There’s the Kitos War in 115, and there’s the Bar Kokhba revolt in the 150s so what happens is that it becomes increasingly becomes a liability for Gentile Christians to be associated with Judaism and the Jewish people under the auspices of the Roman Empire. And so, you get political tensions that really begin to drive a wedge between the Christian community and the Jewish community. And of course, by that point, by the time we get to late 1st, 2nd century, the vast majority of followers of Jesus, the Church, as we could call it, were Gentiles. I mean, Paul’s mission to the Gentiles was very, very successful, right? So, you have this balance, this shift in the numbers within the Jesus following community. I would say in the Gospels, it’s majority Jews, and there isn’t even really so much, the Gentiles aren’t even such a part of the story yet like Jesus does. I was sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and already by the Book of Acts, we’re starting to see that again, Paul’s mission is very successful. You have lots and lots of Gentile followers of Jesus at this point, and you start having these tensions of, like, how do Jews and Gentiles follow Messiah together and worship together side by side in these sort of differentiated ways? Acts 15 is a really fascinating passage in that regard. Like, do Gentiles have to become Jewish and circumcise their sons and observe Sabbath to follow Jesus? I mean, these are all like, very active, lively questions in the New Testament that I think it’s so easy for us to miss in our reading now. So, you have a majority Gentile church. You have these Jewish wars against the Roman Empire, Jewish revolts against Roman Empire, which make which sort of, as I said, drive a wedge between the two communities such that it becomes a liability for Gentile Christians to continue to associate with the Jewish people. And you also start seeing this, like, theological efforts to define each community over against the other. So, we can look at the writings of the church fathers, people like Justin Martyr and Ignatius of Antioch, who are all of a sudden planting the seed of what becomes Christian supersessionism that somehow, you know, Jesus and the covenant with the Gentiles through Jesus, like, comes to replace God’s covenant with the Jewish people. That sort of paved the way. And Judaism, you know, was sort of the passing shadow or the passing form. And now you have this new thing, which is, of course, this very live, strong thread in the legacy of Christian theology ever since, such that by the time we get to the Council of Nicaea in the fourth century, Constantine is this emperor who, in whatever sense, becomes a Christian convenes the Council of Nicaea. And we all think, I think for good reason, like, very positively, the Nicaean Creed. Like I can recite the Nicaean Creed wholeheartedly. But what doesn’t often get talked about is the way in which what the Council of Nicaea also did, was it kind of concretized and solidified this growing division between Judaism and Christianity. So, Constantine has horrible things to say about the Jewish people. And later. I mean, this is going on for a long time. The Second Council of Nica in 787 is still kind of hammering on these themes of, like Jewish followers of Jesus have to renounce any connection to Judaism in order to follow Jesus. So, we see that there’s these incremental steps and these key moments marching forward from the times of the New Testament whereby you have this theological hostility, you have this political hostility between the two communities such that it’s easy. In our day to just assume that, yeah, Judaism and Christianity are two totally separate things, which is one of the things that I’m always working to call into question. And the last point I’ll make is that you also have a similar effort in the Jewish end. Right? So, you have Judaism beginning. Rabbinic Judaism or Proto-Rabbinic Judaism? What happens after the destruction of the temple? You have the Jewish community increasingly defining themselves in contradiction to Christianity and wholesale rejecting that Jesus was a messiah. So, you have this kind of both communities begin to see the other as a sort of theological foil. And again, that legacy endures. And I think it’s one of the remarkable things in our day, is the way in which this trope of Judaism versus Christianity is being called into question in really significant ways.
(19:09) Luralyn Helming: So that brings my question. I had a question as you talk about that like you have the, you talk in your book about, translation of the Bible, intentionally translating things in a way that separates it. And your example is Jesus’ cloak is really his tzitzit? Did I say that correctly?
(19:28) Jennifer Rosner: Tzitzit.
(19:30) Luralyn Helming: Tzitzit. And then the Pharisees. It’s translated as their tassels or fringes. And so, after reading that, we were reading the Gospel of Mark with our kids. And so, every time it comes up, me and my husband, like, stop and look at each other and like, “That’s it, it’s there.” So that was making me wonder, are there other things that we as Christians could use as cues to help us recognize? Because that made me pause every time I saw it and go, “Oh, there it is again.” Is there something else I could be seeing as a non Biblical Hebrew scholar here? What other places are there where? Because as I read the New Testament, I would see, oh, yeah, remember, these are Jewish people you’re talking about.
(20:11) Jennifer Rosner: Yeah, it’s such a good question. And as I was thinking about this question, because I saw the questions ahead of time, it’s so interesting to me how and this relates to the previous question. We were just talking about the previous topic, how far we’ve come, such that it’s the default stance to sort of interpret the New Testament as, like, maybe not having that much to do with Judaism. Like, it’s just remarkable. It’s such a testimony to the history we were just talking about. And so, I think we could talk about so many things in response to this question. First of all, the Temple, right? If we read the New Testament, the Temple is really central in these different narratives of what is going on in the New Testament. I feel like as Christians, it’s easy to miss that, like, the Temple was the center of Judaism and Jewish worship. I mean, the Temple, like, we read about the Temple in our Old Testaments. And so just to see the way in which the Temple itself functions in the life and ministry of Jesus, the life and ministry of Paul, just the centrality of the Temple. And of course, that could sort of lead us in different directions of like, what about the Temple and the Temple gets destroyed and all these things. But just to sort of pause for a moment about the centrality of the Temple, I think is one thing and maybe even to broaden that out a little bit, the centrality of Jerusalem in the New Testament narrative, in the Gospels, in Paul’s missionary journey. So, for example, in the Book of Acts, and I will say Mark Kinzer has written a lot about this—Mark Kinzer is probably the world’s leading messianic Jewish theologian. He’s a close friend and mentor of mine. He wrote a book called Jerusalem Crucified, Jerusalem Risen, where he is basically just sort of unpacking the centrality of Jerusalem, which has always been like sort of the capital city of Israel, the capital city of the Jewish people in the Gospels. And even, as I said, in the missionary journeys of Paul. So, in the Book of Acts, you have Paul going on all these journeys and then he’s constantly coming back to Jerusalem. There’s a centrality of Jerusalem. And I think it’s so easy to miss these things as we read our New Testaments, given the context in which we’re reading. But I think to sort of ruminate upon, gosh, Jerusalem is really central. Like, is there some ongoing significance to the city of Jerusalem and the sort of temple that once stood at the center of it, and we’ll stand again someday at the center? So, I think those are two examples, and I think two more that come to mind. Even this word “church,” right, that we read throughout our New Testament, “church,” like, we read it all the time, we probably don’t think twice about it. We have these certain concepts in our mind of what the church is. The Greek word ecclesia was this gathering of Jews and Gentiles who followed Jesus. And yet so often in our day, again, because of this history whereby Judaism and Christianity come to define themselves in contradistinction and mutual exclusion to one another, almost always, like, church is not the synagogue. Church is these Gentile Christians, and the synagogue is where Jews are. And so even to think about the language of the church and what that connotations that has for contemporary Christians, which is almost always, like, exactly not what Judaism is. And yet in the first century, and I think, again, you see this in in passages like, as I mentioned before, Acts 15, where the early community of Jesus followers is trying to figure out how do we live together as Jews and Gentiles following this Messiah of Israel. I always want my students to read Acts 15 really slowly because there’s so much there and there’s so many implications to what’s going on at the Council of Jerusalem that we can just kind of breeze by. And the final—the final—example I’ll give, because I think there’s so many, and I think it’s just like, sort of, as you’ve mentioned, Luralyn, having, like, eyes to see. Like, once you’re sort of aware of these things, they kind of jump off the page at you. So, for example, the last example I’ll give is the Jewish holidays or the Jewish festivals. And the Gospel of John, like the Gospel of John is really kind of focused around these different Jewish festivals, which are just so easy to miss, and it doesn’t always penetrate us, that wow. Jesus and his disciples are, like, celebrating Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles, and they’re, like, traveling to Jerusalem for, like, Passover, which is what Jews have been doing, like, for centuries. Right. So, these kind of cues in the New Testament that really situate and ground the entire narrative in this very Jewish soil, the soil of God’s covenant with the people of Israel that we just skim over. Like, I really think that once we have eyes to see, they’re all over the place. And I remember I’ve never been able to find it since, which is unfortunate. But I remember once teaching out of the Gospel of John, and it was one of these, like, sort of dynamic equivalency translations. And it was in one of the passages in John where it specifically said, like, it was the time of the Passover Seder. And this translation said it was getting late in the spring. And I was like, no, it doesn’t matter that the tulips were blooming. What matters is that it was Passover that’s the anchor for this story and whatever translation it was that I have not been able to find since. So maybe they changed it, which would be good. Just doesn’t see that as significant. And I think that’s telling, right, that we sort of lose or forget about the significance of these textual markers. So those are just a few examples.
(25:24) Justin Ariel Bailey: Luralyn mentioned the Pharisees already. And your book points out a lot of the small ways that well intentioned Christians unwittingly perpetuate negative stereotypes, for example, and the way we talk about the Pharisees or the Law. And I’ll just confess to being guilty of the Pharisees. One even in my most recent book, I went and found it after reading your book. I was like, “Oh, no.” And I was quoting a New Testament scholar. But I still felt bad about it and just thought maybe you could give us some direction of some simple ways that we get this wrong, talking about the Pharisees or talking about the Law. And how can Gentile believers grow into better ways of talking about Judaism—loving well our Jewish neighbors as well as fellow Jewish believers in Jesus?
(26:05) Jennifer Rosner: Yeah, such a rich question. I feel like, again, there’s so many different directions we could go with that. But I think just to sort of name what you’ve already mentioned, which is that the Law, which is sort of this bad translation of Torah, which is the Hebrew word ring teaching, which is like this incredibly rich concept. If you read the Psalms, for example, like, the Torah is a light unto my path. It’s like sweeter than honey. I think we need to understand what Law actually is. And it’s like this gift of God to the Jewish people, these parameters for living a holy and righteous life. And yet, because of beginning with what we mentioned before, the theology of the Church fathers, you have this equation between Torah and legalism and works righteousness, and these really, like, negative categories that just kind of develop a life of their own in Christian theology over the centuries, such that that’s like everything. We don’t want to be right. The Pharisees are always the bad guys. And Jesus, or if not Jesus and Paul came to set us free from this, like, heavy yoke of the Law. And so, you get this law versus grace dichotomy and works versus faith dichotomy. And all of these concepts have become sort of anchors in Christian theology over the centuries. And I think we need to sort of question all of that Judaism. And I think there’s a lot of really helpful scholarship in our day, like Judaism was never about works. Righteousness Judaism was always about the Jewish people being the people that God rescues from slavery in Egypt. And then after the Exodus comes Sinai, comes God saying now, as my rescued, redeemed, chosen people, this is how I’m calling you to live, to be a light to the nations, to sort of disclose God in the world. So, Torah becomes this way of life for the Jewish people that makes God known in the world. And yet it takes on layer after layer of negative meaning throughout the history of Christian thought, where Judaism becomes again this foil to Christianity. Judaism is everything that’s wrong, right? The Pharisees got everything wrong. The Pharisees were too bound to these dusty old traditions that Jesus was trying to set us free from. And so, I think, again, we live in this remarkable era where New Testament scholarship is kind of backtracking, like, wait a second, Jesus was a Torah observant Jew. Paul was a Torah observant Jew. There’s this whole camp of, like, Paul within Judaism scholarship. What does it mean to read Paul as someone who never left Judaism and who lived as this Torah observant Jew for his entire life? And how does that change our understanding of the Gospel, which is one of the things I’m trying to get at in the book. And so, what does it look like to try to read more and deeper continuity between God’s existing covenant with the people of Israel that sort of sets the context of the coming of Jesus? And what happens since then? We have this sort of disjunct, right? Like you have all that history of, like, God’s gone with Israel, and then Jesus just comes to sort of do this new thing, and then we have to sort of figure out how the two fit together and maybe they don’t fit together, which is what Marcion would say. And so just sort of rethinking—and this is what I’m trying to get at in Finding Messiah is sort of rethinking these fundamental categories of Christian theology that have been so entrenched in Judaism as a foil to Christianity. And they end up not only leaving us with very anti-Jewish readings, but as I also talk about Finding Messiah, it’s not a very far walk from anti-Judaism, as we see in the church fathers, to antisemitism, as we see much later, for example, in the thought of Martin Luther, this, like, revered figure in Christian theology and Christian history. Again, for good reason. But I think we have to sort of pay attention to the shadow side of this narrative of Christian history. We have to pay attention to the shadow side of the Council of Nicaea. We have to pay attention to the shadow side of Martin Luther, who was this kind of raging antisemite who, like Hitler, will then draw directly from in the Holocaust. And so, I think it’s very jarring, and I don’t think it’s talked about so much in Christian circles that Christianity ends up having this very troubling, terrible history of anti-Judaism that morphs into antisemitism. And in our day and age, like, antisemitism is on the rise, and I think there’s an opportunity there for Christians to stand with the Jewish people. I teach classes on antisemitism, and there’s something called cocktail party antisemitism, right, where somebody just sort of makes a comment. And we could say this about any sort of, like, racist comments or judging another people group, but I think antisemitism in particular, where some comment about Jews and money gets made at a cocktail party and we all, like, sort of laugh it away. And what would it look like to kind of stop and say something? Because, again, I think antisemitism is not always under the guise of Christian theology, but it has been historically. And I think that’s a legacy that Christians oftentimes don’t even know about and maybe need to sort of sit with and be a little bit troubled by and think about what it means to, again, stand up against any kind of injustice, but also to see the Jewish people today as the covenant people of God. Like, wow, that’s a really interesting category that I don’t think we wrestle with enough in sort of Christian conversations.
(31:32) Luralyn Helming: Well, it’s very interesting. My next question is, I think, in a completely different direction.
(31:37) Jennifer Rosner: It’s okay.
(31:38) Luralyn Helming: So, my attention was grabbed in chapter three particularly. And then throughout your book, you describe the process of laying tefillin and just the embodied nature of worship in Jewish culture. And it connected with me because I study cognitive psychology, and the embodied worship fit in my head with the idea of embodied cognition and that we use our bodies to communicate and that includes gestures, which I now find myself using. And then spatial framework model and situated cognition, where the orientation of our body helps us think about spatial relationships and just helps us think in general. And definitely you mentioned a little bit that in white Christian churches, we pretty much don’t use our bodies in worship. And so, can you talk more about the way the embodied nature of worship influences your experience and what might be appropriate things that white Christians can be doing to be more embodied in their worship while respecting the cultural nature of the acts of embodied worship that we know about?
(32:53) Jennifer Rosner: Yeah, such a thoughtful question. I love it. And I think the place that I would have to start with that question is just the legacy of, like, Platonic dualism in Christian thought. You have this really interesting context in the New Testament, where the New Testament is this very Jewish Hebrew document, but it’s also heavily influenced by Greek thought and in some cases, the influence of Platonic dualism, where you have this framework whereby there’s this higher spiritual plane and then this sort of lower fallen physical material realm. And so, Plato would say, like the whole goal of the spiritual life is to transcend, to rise above, to sort of as much as we can kind of leave behind these bodies that we’re kind of trapped in and stuck with. And so, you get this version of Christian faith. And again, I think this is very hand in hand with the sort of parting of the ways between Judaism and Christianity, because Judaism has never really, with very few historical exceptions, sort of succumbed to the influence of dualism. Like Judaism has always been a very embodied religion about what we do and don’t do with our bodies, what we do and don’t do with our resources. I mean, it’s really nitty gritty. If you talk to a rabbi, a lot of the work of a rabbi is just these really bodily technicalities. It can be very foreign to a Christian mentality, where I think, again, because of the legacy of Platonic dualism and the way that that works its way into Christian thought, we can end up just living our faith in our heads. Right. And you can sort of see this domino effect in Christian theology of how this plays out. So then dying—going to heaven when we die—becomes the goal. Like these bodies, we finally get to leave them behind, which is very platonic, and I would argue not very biblical. So, I think there’s a whole lot that has sort of contributed to this moment whereby we find our bodies to be in many sort of Christian spaces. Like a hindrance to the spiritual life. Right. The body is the problem. The goal again, this is Plato is to transcend our bodies and to live this kind of spiritual existence. You even think about the history of monastic movements and asceticism and Christianity? I think there’s really interesting things going on there in terms of our relationship with the body. I mean, just as an example. Celibacy has never been a thing in Judaism. Like rabbis are married. It’s weird if you’re an unmarried rabbi. And yet in Christianity, you have this very revere tradition of celibacy, particularly in the Catholic Church. So, I think there’s a lot going on here. And so, I think Judaism can be an interesting reminder to Christians about how we think about our bodies in relation to our faith. And one of the places for me that this touches down kind of most concretely, I think, in Christian faith and practice is the spiritual disciplines. So very early on in my life as a follower of Jesus, I read in the context of this Vineyard church that I became a believer in Dallas Willard’s book, The Spirit of the Disciplines. And to this day, that has been one of the most influential books in my spiritual journey. Because it’s all about what we do and don’t do with our bodies, what we do and don’t do with our time. What we do and don’t do with our resources. So, I feel like in some ways, the spiritual disciplines are this very direct parallel to Torah for Jews, right? Spiritual disciplines for Christians are very much like Torah for Jews and that it’s a way of orienting our entire lives and every aspect of what we do around our faith. And you get into, again, these very bodily things like fasting and worshiping and different embodied ways to live out what we believe. And what I think is interesting is that part of the problem here is that the way in which we were talking about earlier that Judaism gets saddled with works righteousness. I think Christians are, like, really wary of works righteousness, right? Like, we’re not earning our salvation. And yet I think that we are called to live in a certain way that the central narrative of Christianity, in my mind, is the exact same as the central narrative of Judaism. God rescues and redeems a particular people and then calls them to live in a particular way. And so, I think that, like, discipleship can sometimes drop out of the Christian message. Like, it’s all about believing Jesus. Okay, great. Now what? We just wait to go to heaven when we die? Like no, I think there’s more to the story. And I think these liturgical traditions, traditions like Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, even Anglicanism have much more of this, right? There’s much more of, like, your five senses being engaged in worship and incense and, you know, tradition and ritual and liturgy, which is very embodied. And yet I think that especially evangelical Christianity has sort of had this allergic reaction as this sort of ritualism and legalism. And yet now I think there’s this really interesting trends where you have these sort of exvangelicals who—a lot of them—are moving towards Eastern Orthodoxy or moving towards these much more embodied liturgical traditions. And I think there’s something to be learned there. I think that we sort of intuitively know that our bodies can’t just always be the problem. And yet, for many people, the Christianity that we’re raised with, that’s the only story we’ve ever heard. And so, this kind of going to heaven when you die end goal doesn’t tell us what we should be doing now. And so, I think Judaism is this much more earthy-rooted physical, bodily tradition. And so, I think, again, that’s sort of a more philosophical answer without a ton of practicalities. But I think that in any ways that we can be consciously engaging our bodies in worship. I mean, what if we tried kneeling when we pray? What if we tried just things? What if we tried taking seriously, like, this sacralized use of food, which, again, you see, like Lent in the Catholic tradition, for example, Judaism is very food-based. Like, for every holiday, there’s, like, foods that you eat. And it becomes a way, even if it seems a bit trivial, to sort of ground our faith in our lived experience, in our bodies, in our five senses. And so I think at the very least, it’s a question thinking a lot more about how can Christians move toward embodied faith and move away from this kind of dualistic framework that I think many people sort of embody without embody, ha ha, no pun intended, without even realizing it, but it’s just sort of in the air that we breathe as Christians who are legacy to this long history of complex Christian tradition.
(39:39) Luralyn Helming: It’s funny that you bring up Spirit of the Disciplines because it brought to mind a memory of when you read it in college and you waxing poetic at Firestone’s Grill about how excited you were about that book, that it was very influential at the time. Because I remember you telling me all about it and thinking I should read that. And I never got around to it, but maybe it should go back on the “To Be Read” list.
(40:05) Jennifer Rosner: It’s never too late. I assign at least a chapter of that book, probably in every class I ever teach on whatever the class is about. I find a way to work in the Spirit of the Disciplines because I just think it’s so remarkable in basically giving us a theology of body and like, how our bodies are not this problem to the spiritual life, but rather like a primary resource in the spiritual life. I mean, Dallas Willard really got a lot of things right.
(40:33) Luralyn Helming: I also had a question as I was reading that is connected to this, because you talk about the two different perspectives, the Jewish perspective on mind/body dualism and the Christian perspective on mind/body dualism. And so, I was wondering if you could talk about from a Jewish perspective, how might someone from Messianic Jewish perspective or the Jews of the time interpret the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man in the New Testament. Or if you would like to approach a passage like 1 Samuel 28, where Saul has Samuel raised from the dead and the Witch of Endor. And like, what do those mean in a Jewish context with this different mind/body dualism?
(41:18) Jennifer Rosner: Yeah, I mean, it’s a great question, and I do think there’s some great scholarship in our day. I think of this book Surprised by Hope, by NT Wright, where the subtitle is Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, where he’s really sort of hammering away at the way in which this dualism has just seeped really deeply into Christian theology. And he sort of tackles the sacred ground of Christian hymns and these kind of artifacts of Christian life and theology and history that kind of lead us astray in terms of what ultimately becomes of our bodies. Because I think this gets at the question of dualism and what happens when we die if really we’re all Platonists and the goal is to be free of these bodies and go float around in heaven when we die, then why did Jesus have to raise from the dead? What does the resurrection matter? Why is the empty tomb like the cornerstone of Christian faith? And why is Jesus like the first fruits of the general resurrection? None of that makes sense if the goal is to be rid of our bodies. So, I think there’s a lot of, again, kind of inconsistencies when we actually sort of dig down exegetically into dualism and this theology of body that is so thin in so much of contemporary Christianity. So, I think we have to sort of begin to chip away at that. And then you obviously have these problem passages, right? Like, as you said, the Lazarus and the Rich Man in Luke 16, which I feel like it’s so interesting even just like, looking at my Bible or probably anybody’s Bible, it’s like every other parable that leads up to Lazarus and the Rich Man is labeled as a parable, right? These are parables. Jesus taught in parables. And yet when you get to Lazarus and the Rich Man, it just says Lazarus and Rich Man. It doesn’t say the parable. I mean, these are like the whatever added much later, like headings. But it’s a parable. I mean, it’s very clearly in a series of parables leading up to Lazarus and the Rich Man. It’s the same language as the other parables, which are, you know, helpfully labeled in my Bible as parables. And yet we sort of feel the need and, and, I would say maybe there’s some kind of dualistic impulse in our sort of exegetical kneejerk reactions to take that one very literally, right? Like, no, this is actually about what happens when we die. And I think if we read it in context, it’s a parable. I mean, it’s a parable alongside this whole other host of parallels and parables. And I think what’s really interesting about it, if we’re talking about sort of Lazarus and the Rich Man in Luke 16 is where it ends up, which is making a statement about resurrection. And so, Jesus ends up saying that if they didn’t believe Moses and the prophets, why would they be convinced if someone rises from the dead? Like, I actually think that Lazarus and Rich Man is all about pointing forward to Jesus’s bodily resurrection. Those are my thoughts on Luke 16, I think. The Witch of Endor. Again, it’s one of these really interesting, bizarre, strange biblical texts that we sort of have in our canon and don’t really know what to do with. And I don’t think as much as I want to push back against dualism and the body only ever being the problem and the hindrance, which we need to get past finally when we die, the Bible is not a systematic theology textbook. As I said. I think Rich Man and Lazarus is a parable, but it’s often taken as, like this crystal-clear glimpse into the afterlife. Right. Like, none of the other parables are do we really gouge out our eye when it causes us to sin? Like, no. There’s like, hyperbolic language and there’s, like, illustrations and there’s metaphors. And yet I think there’s also a lot of uncertainty. We don’t exactly know the connection between bodies and souls. I think as I increasingly sit with some of these concepts, I don’t think we have detachable souls. Like, I think that’s actually what is so key about the bodily resurrection of Jesus and the promise of a general resurrection. The story is moving towards new creation, not like floaty, cloudy, heaven, spirit world. And so, I don’t know. I don’t have a great interpretation of The Witch of Endor. I think NT Wright sort of talks about this intermediate state that happens between when you die and between the general election. And he’s actually been criticized, like, no, dude, just like, get rid of dualism wholesale. Why do you sell out? And I think it’s maybe because of passages like that that are sort of tricky and we don’t always know what to make of. And again, I think there is a spiritual world, there are spiritual entities. I’m just not sure that I want to build my theological fundamentals on The Witch of Endor. But it’s an interesting passage and it really is. We sort of naturally are drawn there when we’re talking about things like body, bodies and souls. Right.
(46:26) Justin Ariel Bailey: One of the most encouraging and challenging things about your book is the way that you show us that there isn’t simply one kind of messianic Judaism. So, I’m thinking of we went to Moody Bible Institute in the late 90s, early aughts, and it’s the first time ever met Messianic Jews, Chosen People Ministries, Jews for Jesus, those sorts of organizations. And you introduce us to a whole breadth of understandings of what it means to live a Jewish life with faith in Jesus. You also introduced us to a variety of scholarly conversations that have developed. And I know we’re hoping that people will go out and get the book and read about these things, but I wonder if you could share maybe one or two important developments that you’ve seen. We talk about the way these have been ripped apart and then you’re working to build bridges and sort of help weave them back together. So, I wonder if you could just share a couple of things that are encouraging when it comes to the reweaving of these two religious traditions.
(47:18) Jennifer Rosner: Yeah, it’s a good place to sort of end here. As I mentioned before, I think we live in a really remarkable time where some of these key categories are being rethought both from the Jewish side and from the Christian side. And so, the subtitle of Finding Messiah, my book, is A Journey into the Jewishness of the Gospel. I think actually we are required to rethink the gospel that we preach. And I’m really trying to get at that in the book, because I think so often again, the Gospel becomes something that sort of liberates us from the legalism and this heavy yoke of the Law that came before. And so, I think there’s, if you want to talk about, important developments, Jesus as a first century Jewish rabbi, that’s a big one. We were talking early about tzitzit and tefillin and Jewish holidays just really rethinking the context of our New Testaments and the way in which that informs how we understand the Gospel. So Paul, not as the prototypical Christian who turns his back on Judaism, for all of these reasons that Christian theology has so extensively enumerated. But Paul, as a faithful Jew who sees something happening in the ministry of Jesus. Israel’s messiah, whereby the nations, who were always like the enemies of Israel throughout our Old Testament I mean, that’s such a strong theme throughout the Old Testament is like Israel versus the nations. The nations are like fighting over the land with Israel. They’re dragging them into idolatry. And so, what we have in Jesus is this remarkable reversal which we see prophesied throughout the Old Testament, which is that Israel finally becomes through Jesus a light to all nations. And so, you have Jesus making a way for Gentile, Gentiles non-Jews to be in covenant relationship with the God of Israel. And that’s the remarkable thing, is that now in Jesus, Jews and Gentiles worship the God of Israel side by side and together. So, it’s all about, as Paul writes about in Romans, grafting in. It’s about Gentiles being grafted into this root of God’s covenant with the people of Israel, which is like the exact opposite of Judaism as the foil to Christianity or supersessionism, whereby God’s covenant with the Gentiles or Jesus replaces or somehow kind of scoots out of the picture God’s ongoing covenant with the Jewish people. And so, I think just kind of in general, we’re seeing a radical reassessment of the relationship between Judaism and Christianity. And that’s one of the most hopeful developments because I think for far too long again, these are these mutually exclusive traditions and then we sort of take these historical developments, and we read that back into our biblical exegesis, right? We read Jesus as against the Pharisees, we read Paul as the prototypical Christian, and it becomes the sort of echo chamber of what we already believe about grace versus law and all of these things. And so, I think there’s remarkable developments. And I really believe that we’re just at the beginning of this. I mean, we’re really seeing these unbelievable trends in New Testament scholarship where you have this whole school of Jewish New Testament scholars who are teaching us, all of us, how to read these texts as they were probably intended to be read in a first century Jewish context. And so, I guess I always want to sort of challenge especially Christians, to be like, how can all of us sort of onboard in different ways to these conversations? You might not dedicate your life to sort of Jewish Christian relations or, you know, countering antisemitism or whatever, but what does it look like in each of our contexts to begin to sort of chip away at some of these, I would say very destructive, tropes? Judaism as a foil to Christianity, Judaism as a religion of works righteousness. The law is what Jesus came to set us free from all of these things. Like, what does it look like for that to land for each one of us in our lives and our faith communities and the conversations that we have and our circles of influence? What does it look like to begin to contribute to the eroding of these categories, these historical categories that cause us to read our Bible in a certain way, and they cause us to think about our faith in a certain way? So maybe I’ll just leave there for listeners. What does it look like for these concepts to land in your own life and faith and community?
(51:31) Justin Ariel Bailey: That’s a wonderful challenge with which to end. The book is Finding Messiah: A Journey into the Jewishness of the Gospel, published by InterVarsity Press. And the author and our guest is Dr. Jennifer Rosner. Jennifer, thanks so much for joining us on the In All Things podcast.
(51:47) Jennifer Rosner: Thanks again for having me.
(51:58) In All Things: Thanks for listening to the in all things podcast from the Andreas Center at Dordt University. Original music is provided by The Ruralists, and thanks are in order to Ruth Clark, Channon Visscher, Vaughn Donahue, and the production team at the Andreas Center. You can find us online @inallthings.org or follow us on Twitter under the name @in_all_things. You can subscribe to this podcast on iTunes, Spotify, and wherever podcasts are found. And if you find our content beneficial, please help us out by leaving a review and sharing with others. Thanks for tuning in.
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