The Jewish-Christian Debate
To the Editor:
My rather scattered notes concerning the theological differences between Judaism and Christianity (December 1953) have given rise to a series of remarkable comments from the Jewish and Christian side, both orthodox and liberal. All comments point to the impasse of theological discourse today: there is no “solution” in the relation between Judaism and Christianity since at the origin of Christianity stands the assertion of the suspension of the Mosaic Law. Never can a later reinterpretation of issues overcome the original condition of the problem.
The theological dispute between Judaism and Christianity, if taken seriously, remains in a perennial stalemate. It has not developed an inch in the course of twenty centuries. The stalemate can only be broken if the theological frame of reference is surpassed. But if the theological frame of reference is surpassed, do not the premises for a dispute or for a reconciliation between Jewish and Christian doctrine become obsolete?
Our situation today is rather paradoxical: theologically charged symbols rule a society whose religious foundations are neutralized. The various attempts at religious reconstructions have only brought it into the open that the foundations of liberal society are post-Christian (as well as post-Jewish). David Friedrich Strauss asked a hundred and fifty years ago: are we still Christians? His negative answers enraged the pillars of liberal society of his time. Today Karl Barth, the great Christian theologian, must justify the analysis and prognosis of David Friedrich Strauss.
Are we still living in a frame in which a dispute between Jewish and Christian theology is possible? If we should judge by the various theological enterprises of today the answer cannot be in doubt. But religion does not live on theology alone: there are some, not many, Jews left “who walk in the law of the Lord,” there are some, possibly fewer, Christians left who can participate in “the foolishness of God.” Then there are multitudes for whom Judaism or Christianity provides a social frame of reference with spurious theological allegories. They populate the streets and the sanctuaries but they will neither inherit the earth nor enter the Kingdom of Heaven.