“He is our peace”: The Letter to the Ephesians and the Theology of Fulfillment by David Ford

Kris Lindbeck, cont’d.

If I have done poor justice to Dr. Wolfson’s essay, I am afraid that I will do no better for Dr. Ford’s, as I have not yet read Peirce, Pragmatism, and the Logic of Scripture. However, I will try my best.

Part of what impressed me about the essay was its unflinching expression of the hideous problems which have arisen from the Christian insistence that God in Christ Jesus is the all in all. Dr. Ford makes clear that it is not only specific anti-Jewish passages in the New Testament, but also the triumphant universalism of the earliest church that has sown the seeds of hatred and persecution. In this claim, Dr. Ford nearly echoes some of the objections to Christianity which come from outside the Church, but he speaks from a context of building up Christianity rather than seeking to replace it with another truth even more universalistic but more tolerant.

Ford also expresses well the inadequacy of the two common ways of overcoming the unwholesome supersessionist use of universalist teaching. Neither evocation of Jesus’ ethics, nor consciousness of the historical context in which Ephesians (and the whole New Testament) was composed is sufficient to overcome the spiritual dangers of Christian pride and complacency. Nor do they address the “issue of the prominence of Jews and Gentiles in the letter, in which peace between them is made central to the musterion of the Gospel.”

Ford’s solution is to begin the process of finding a new reading of Ephesians that does justice both to the text and to its community of readers as Christians who desire to walk in wonder and humility with Jews under God. This reading ideally will lead to a new “common sense” of Ephesians. Ford points to readings which suggest that “the basic plot is a Jewish one oriented to consummation, with Gentile redemption as a subplot,” and also to verses which emphasize that God and God’s gifts are beyond human understanding.

I agree with both these views—strongly. And yet, I want something else. While I am not averse to seeing my faith as a “subplot,” I am a rather special case in my love for and long study of Judaism. At the very least, I do not believe that any Christian can happily subordinate her salvation history to that of Israel without a deeply felt horror of Christian anti-Judaism and/or a more than superficial appreciation of Judaism after the destruction of the Temple. This is possible, but it is not happening in the churches as a whole.

I turn to another quote from the essay: “The God identified here questions many of the terms and presuppositions in which Christian supercessionism has been expressed—concerning linearity, binary oppositions, completeness, closure, the boundaries of communities, election and salvation.” These terms can and should be questioned, but I am not sure they can be done without. Many of them, or concepts like them, are integral to the picture of God and of the faith community in Hebrew Scripture, and in Judaism and Islam as well as Christianity. S/He is a jealous God. We are chosen people(s).

There is a drive in the three monotheist faiths for understanding everything in terms of God’s will, and refusing to look away from life and death, love and hate, Plato and Aristotle, demons and angels, and the other Biblical faiths, until we comprehend their place in our best understanding of God’s plan for creation. Of all that I have read about Jesus from a Jewish perspective, I have been most influenced by an essay by Rabbi Yitz Greenberg, maverick Orthodox leader, who described Jesus as a failed Messiah—like the Baal Shem Tov. He could have been it, but the world was not ready. I read this and was deeply moved because I heard in it a reaching out to understand Christianity from within Judaism. Rabbi Greenberg kept his feet on Jewish ground, not floating off into tolerant universalism, while extending the wisdom of his heart to the Nazarene other. His insight helped me understand Jesus as Jew better. Without the resurrection, precisely what Christ would have seemed is a noble failed messiah, like the great Baal Shem Tov of blessed memory.

Can I resolve this problem of remaining faithful to the wholesome aspect of universalist particularity within Christianity while at the same time reaching out the wisdom of my heart to the other? I perhaps do it sporadically and in part, although I often fall short in either faithfulness or openness—but I can’t yet explain what I try to do. That is one reason why I am so excited to have been invited to become a member of the advisory board of the Society for Scriptural Reasoning.