McKnight Discusses N.T. Wright’s View of Sabbath

I am a fan of N.T. Wright and even more a fan of Scot McKnight. Yet there is one area of tension between my theology and Wright’s. I have written about it before and I have addressed Wright in a question and answer session at SBL (look under the N.T.Wright category and you will find the story in an old post). McKnight is more neutral on the issue and is simply discussing it on his blog.

I commented in the discussion this morning and things are getting a tad heated. Wright wants to use the Sabbath as an example of how scripture has (and this is my term, not his) evolved, moved on, gotten past primitive old rules and become more spiritual and universal.

McKnight sums up one of Wright’s points this way: “To continue celebrating sabbaths is to focus on the signposts when we have already arrived,” and, ” You don’t need the alarm clock when the sun is flooding the room with its light.”

I posted comments taking a different view. Meanwhile, McKnight thinks it inappropriate for me to use the term “supersessionism.” Let me emphasize that I know Scot McKnight to have respect for Judaism and that he is open to reading Paul as pro-Judaism. He does not like the term supersessionism and I think, from past exchanges, that he dislikes it because it implies that larger Christian tradition has been flawed with an error. McKnight, if I am interpreting his past statements correctly, does not wish to view the larger Christian tradition as containing any inherent flaws.

In this, he disagrees with R. Kendall Soulen (The God of Israel and Christian Theology), who finds that Christianity quickly became unfaithful in the area of respecting God’s covenants. Yes, Christendom is just as vulnerable to sinful error as Israel. Why is that surprising? And who thinks that the Church has been more faithful on the whole than Israel? History says otherwise. We are all in the same boat. Jews and Christians are both people of repentance and error, always needing course correction and return to God.

Here is the discussion: http://www.patheos.com/community/jesuscreed/2011/06/01/tom-wright-scripture-and-gods-authority/

POSTSCRIPT
Dana wrote in with some great questions. I know some of you don’t read the comments, so here are my answers:

Dana:

Thanks for your questions.

(1) What is Israel’s role now that the Messiah has come, from out of the people group of Israel, and has fulfilled everything to which the OT was pointing in terms of God’s rescue of all humanity from death and God’s forgiveness of sin?
…The job is far from done. As Soulen says in his book, The God of Israel and Christian Theology, it is common formula for people to think incarnation-passion-resurrection-poof, all is done. But consummation awaits and redemption is incomplete. Israel’s redemption and consummation is the precursor to broader redemption and consummation, just as Israel was the precursor to universal revelation. In other words, it ain’t over yet and what will happen in the future with Israel is crucial to what God will do. The plan generally works as per Gen 12 with the specific locus of redemption coming through Israel to the nations. So I take the prophetic word about Israel’s restoration to be true, unfulfilled, and crucial to worldwide restoration and consummation.

(2) How is Israel still elected?
…Don’t take my word for it. Romans 11:2, 26-29. Election is a broad term.

(3) In what does Israel’s “unique chosen status” consist now?
…I’d love for you to read Soulen. Also, Markus Barth’s commentary on Ephesians 2. Also Michael Wyschogrod’s Body of Faith. Lots of reading, I know. But while I’m recommending, Mark Kinzer’s Postmissionary Messianic Judaism goes over all this ground in simple, well-developed terms written for Christian theologians as part of the work of Jewish-Christian relations.

(4) Are there now two peoples of God?
…”People of God” is a flexible notion as are many biblical notions. We call it bilateral ecclesiology, two distinct but united peoples in Messiah. See Kinzer if the subject is of major interest.

(5) how do you understand Paul’s comment in Eph about the wall being broken down and the two being made one?
…Markus Barth on Ephesians 2. It’s in the Anchor series. Man and wife are two and one also.

(6) Why is it necessary for a sharp “particularism” of Israel to continue past Pentecost?
…Why was particularism necessary before Pentecost? Common to Christian modes of thought is that the “before” questions don’t matter, that all has changed or been undone in Christ. Genesis 12 sets up a fairly simply explanation of how the particular blesses the universal.

Here is the link to the post about my question to N.T. Wright at SBL 2009:
http://www.messianicjudaism.me/musings/2009/11/23/paul-n-t-wright-and-what-about-mjs/

This entry was posted in N.T. Wright, Sabbath, Scot McKnight, Supersessionism, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to McKnight Discusses N.T. Wright’s View of Sabbath

  1. I too appreciate Scot McKnight and sympathize with his aversion to being called supersessionist. I think he would do well to consider that he is instead exhibiting signs of what I term “cryptosupersessionism,” defined as “an unconscious and entrenched cluster of presuppositions held by those who assume the expiration or setting aside of those identity markers that formerly applied to the Jewish people, effectively nullifying Israel’s unique chosen status in whole or in part.” In this case, the shoe fits. You might direct him to my posting on the concept at http://www.messianicjudaism.me/agenda/2011/05/19/incovenient-truths-crytposupersessionism/

  2. James says:

    I briefly visited the original site, but decided it wasn’t worth it to go through the entire content of the post and the responding comments. I pretty much know what it’ll say and I’m trying to reduce aggravation in my life, especially in the realm of faith. I’m want to find hope in my continuing journey, not watch it be stepped on and mashed flat.

  3. Joseph W says:

    my main problem with NT Wright is this:

    He thinks it is actually a sin to keep Sabbath, or keep Jewish ordinances, laws or festivals, because it is going back to the old way of doing things, and re-crucifying Christ.

    Here I expand on what I don’t like about NT Wright’s writings:
    http://lmf.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/NT-Wright-and-the-Jewish-People.pdf

    I think you could point to Colossians 2:16 here:
    http://scripturetext.com/colossians/2-16.htm

    At the very least, NT Wright shouldn’t be judging people who keep Shabbat harshly.

    • Derek Leman says:

      Joseph:

      Thanks and good dialoguing with you earlier about this. I read your paper before you posted the link here and I like what you have to say. In defense of N.T. Wright, let me say the guy has done much good and has been a major agent of change in the way people look at the gospel. Most of his work has been friendly to a Jewish-sensitive reading of Jesus and Paul. It is a shame that he must displace Israel to make room for the Church (especially when you consider how well he knows Second Temple Judaism).

  4. Dana Ames says:

    Hi Derek-
    I came over here because I didn’t want to clutter up Scot’s thread.

    My biases: I’m a huge fan of NTW, but don’t consider him “infallible/inerrant”; I disagree on a few matters. I was so exceedingly happy to have found his work because he’s a self-identified evangelical who takes the Jewishness of Jesus & the NT writers seriously, something I have done since noticing it as a teenager. Like you, at a point in my life I was led “back in time”, but unlike you I entered Eastern Orthodoxy.
    I don’t think one can characterize Wright’s view of Judaism or the OT as “primitive”; I’ve not encountered that anywhere in his writing, and I’ve read most of him, and listened to most of his available audio as well.

    These are not trick questions/comments; I really want to understand what you think. BTW, I tried reading your post re your question to him at SBL, and it disappeared after few paragraphs, though the comments remain. Again, I don’t believe Wright sees the destruction of cultures in the New Creation; quite the opposite.

    So,
    What is Israel’s role now that the Messiah has come, from out of the people group of Israel, and has fulfilled everything to which the OT was pointing in terms of God’s rescue of all humanity from death and God’s forgiveness of sin? How is Israel still elected? In what does Israel’s “unique chosen status” consist now? What does the “irrevocable election” of Israel look like *now*? I’m asking this mostly wrt Jews who do not believe Jesus is the Messiah.

    Are there now Two “peoples of God”, one messianic and one not? If so, how do you understand Paul’s comment in Eph about the wall being broken down and the two being made one? Why is it necessary for a sharp “particularism” of Israel to continue past Pentecost?

    I would never say that Christians have been totally faithful; however, in spite of infidelity, persistent sin and messy (sometimes bloody, God forgive us) relationships, the church has endured, and some believe that it is because the Holy Spirit is present in the church in a way that preserves the core understandings of God’s work, seen in light of the Gospels, as well as empowering people to love God and others and to actually do what God wants us to do as fully human Persons. What is the church for? and as a corollary, how do you understand the trinitarian nature of the Godhead?

    I realize you are busy, and these aren’t easy questions. No rush; I have some work to do today too, and will not be at the computer tomorrow morning. I will check back. I appreciate giving me the time and attention in the conversation. Thanks, Derek.

    Dana

    • Derek Leman says:

      Dana:

      Thanks for your questions.

      (1) What is Israel’s role now that the Messiah has come, from out of the people group of Israel, and has fulfilled everything to which the OT was pointing in terms of God’s rescue of all humanity from death and God’s forgiveness of sin?
      …The job is far from done. As Soulen says in his book, The God of Israel and Christian Theology, it is common formula for people to think incarnation-passion-resurrection-poof, all is done. But consummation awaits and redemption is incomplete. Israel’s redemption and consummation is the precursor to broader redemption and consummation, just as Israel was the precursor to universal revelation. In other words, it ain’t over yet and what will happen in the future with Israel is crucial to what God will do. The plan generally works as per Gen 12 with the specific locus of redemption coming through Israel to the nations. So I take the prophetic word about Israel’s restoration to be true, unfulfilled, and crucial to worldwide restoration and consummation.

      (2) How is Israel still elected?
      …Don’t take my word for it. Romans 11:2, 26-29. Election is a broad term.

      (3) In what does Israel’s “unique chosen status” consist now?
      …I’d love for you to read Soulen. Also, Markus Barth’s commentary on Ephesians 2. Also Michael Wyschogrod’s Body of Faith. Lots of reading, I know. But while I’m recommending, Mark Kinzer’s Postmissionary Messianic Judaism goes over all this ground in simple, well-developed terms written for Christian theologians as part of the work of Jewish-Christian relations.

      (4) Are there now two peoples of God?
      …”People of God” is a flexible notion as are many biblical notions. We call it bilateral ecclesiology, two distinct but united peoples in Messiah. See Kinzer if the subject is of major interest.

      (5) how do you understand Paul’s comment in Eph about the wall being broken down and the two being made one?
      …Markus Barth on Ephesians 2. It’s in the Anchor series. Man and wife are two and one also.

      (6) Why is it necessary for a sharp “particularism” of Israel to continue past Pentecost?
      …Why was particularism necessary before Pentecost? Common to Christian modes of thought is that the “before” questions don’t matter, that all has changed or been undone in Christ. Genesis 12 sets up a fairly simply explanation of how the particular blesses the universal.

      I will fix the post about N.T. Wright. It is a problem from porting my blog over and happened to some posts but not others. Then I will post the link.

  5. Derek Leman says:

    Here is a link to the post about N.T. Wright and the question I asked him at SBL in 2009:

    http://www.messianicjudaism.me/musings/2009/11/23/paul-n-t-wright-and-what-about-mjs/

  6. Dana Ames says:

    Thanks Derek.

    I will make a list of the books.

    In the meantime 😉 a few questions for further clarification, if you have time.

    1) What does Israel’s redemption look like? What will happen that will cause folks to say, “Aha, Israel is now redeemed! And this is how it affects the nations…” And how does this related to the Jews who presently do not believe Jesus is the Messiah?

    2) It doesn’t help me to simply quote scripture. As in most things, this is a matter of interpretation, and it’s clear you don’t agree with Wright’s interpretation of Rom 12. How do you think that passage of scripture is correctly interpreted, and what is your understanding of how Paul saw “election”?

    3) Is is possible to give me a summary?

    4) and 5) Ok, but I don’t see the union advocated in what I’ve read of your writing. Maybe I haven’t read enough of it.

    6) Gen 12 says that God will give Abraham’s descendents the land, and that all the families of the earth will be blessed in Abraham. I don’t see, from the words of the passage only, an explanation of *how* the particular blesses the universal. Again, hermeneutic.

    Church? Trinity?

    I’ll pop over and read that SBL post now.
    Dana

    • Derek Leman says:

      Dana:

      If my answers are concise, it is because I work a lot of hours and several jobs supporting my family of ten! Blogging is a passion, but not even a part-time job.

      Israel’s redemption looks like my book The World to Come. It looks like Isaiah 2; 11; 25; 35; 65; Jeremiah 23; Ezekiel 36-37; 40-48; and the many other passages in the prophets that speak of the restoration of the land and people. These passages are neglected, in my opinion, in Christian theology overall (because for many, there is no future Israel).

      I’d rather not in a few sentences try to describe the biblical concepts (plural) of election. Yes, I know proof-texting a few scriptures is not adequate as an answer, but we have only a little space and time. If enough people are interested in the topic and detailed exploration of it, I could make it a project for June. Comment and let me know if you want a study of election, Israel’s election and the Church’s election.

      The how of mutual blessing, a la Gen 12 and the Abrahamic promise, is the theme of Soulen’s The God of Israel and Christian Theology as well as Kinzer’s Postmissionary Messianic Judaism. Evangelicals will greatly appreciate as well Barry Horner’s Future Israel.

      Yes, I believe in the Church and the Trinity. I have written about the Nicene Creed (search that term) and how Jewish concepts of God dovetail with the relationship of the Father and Son in Christian theology.

      • Dana Ames says:

        Thanks Derek.

        Wow, you are a busy guy. If you feel like putting up a study, let me know, but only if you have the time, since you’ve already written a book…

        I’ll investigate further. I did search for “Nicene”, and the two posts that came up were among those that are only partial.

        I appreciate all the thought you have given to all of this, and the consistency of your life choices. May the Lord bless you & your family.

        Dana

  7. James says:

    I wasn’t going to comment again, but your postscript inspired a few responses:

    (4) Are there now two peoples of God?
    …”People of God” is a flexible notion as are many biblical notions. We call it bilateral ecclesiology, two distinct but united peoples in Messiah. See Kinzer if the subject is of major interest.

    While a lot of people think I’ve “bought into” the bilateral ecclesiology (BI) viewpoint, I think it needs a lot of work. I don’t have a problem with the Jewish people being defined specifically by the Mosaic and Abrahamic covenants while the rest of (believing) humanity has a different set of covenant responsibilities to God, however the relationship between Jews and non-Jews (who are believers in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah) is poorly defined. I know Kinzer makes a point of saying that Jews and non-Jews are “united peoples in Messiah”, but the “unity” needs further development.

    (5) how do you understand Paul’s comment in Eph about the wall being broken down and the two being made one?
    …Markus Barth on Ephesians 2. It’s in the Anchor series. Man and wife are two and one also.

    I don’t think that a marital metaphor works very well in describing the relationship between believing Jews and non-Jews. I actually wrote a blog post today called Two and One and at least as far as Chabad (Orthodox) thinking goes, the closeness and intimacy of the two being one in a marriage would be “too close for comfort” for Jewish BI proponents. In Rabbi Freeman’s commentary, which I quote in my article, a (Jewish) husband and wife are so close that when he obeys the commandment and physically wears tzitzit and tefillin in prayer, it’s as if she fulfilled the commandment as well.

    I think this would make most BI supporters in MJ a little uncomfortable. Probably why I think the believing Jewish/non-Jewish or Messianic Jewish/Christian interrelationship as defined in BI needs to continue to evolve. I’m not trying to argue or to be cranky, but I really don’t see BI as a “done deal”.

    • Derek Leman says:

      Good thoughts, James. Keep in mind, the man-woman-two-in-one analogy is only meant as an example of the idea of a distinction-within-unity or a differentiated unity. I did not mean to imply multiple deep comparisons between Jew-Gentile and husband-wife.

      • James says:

        I know, but that may not be apparent to others reading these comments. One of the major challenges facing MJ/BE is how or if it intends to have a relationship with (non-Jewish) Christianity and continue to retain its uniquely Jewish identity. Although I’ve largely removed myself from that struggle, it’s not as if I’ve stopped caring.

  8. Joseph W says:

    Reading NT Wright is like watching an Olympic diver, who performs beautiful moves through the air, but can’t quite land properly.

    Fantastic analysis, historical sensitivity, eye for detail, sympathy for characters, empathy and accuracy in NT Wright. But it all leads him to conclusions about the future of am yisrael and the covenants that we profoundly disagree with!

    • Derek Leman says:

      Good analogy, Joseph. And I will always love N.T. Wright for the beauty of his writing, research, and for opening my eyes in the late 90’s to the depths of Second Temple Judaism and historical Jesus research.

  9. Dan Benzvi says:

    “I did not mean to imply multiple deep comparisons between Jew-Gentile and husband-wife.”

    That is because I corrected you before. How can a husband-wife be one when BE wants them to live in separates hauses?

    • “How can a husband-wife be one when BE wants them to live in separates hauses?”

      Not separates houses, just staying on their own side of the bed will suffice (oh, and the wife shouldn’t try to glue on fake mustache and beard, or speak in a deep voice).

      • Lrl79 says:

        This is an interesting comment.

        Please understand that I am not well versed on all things Messianic, I’m a L O N G time Christian married to a Jew and trying to figure out Gd’s ways (as best as possible) and to stop gentilizing my husband.

        And, I’ve been trying to get to this very thing with Derek but he won’t “go there”.

        In our Shul a man (and a few others) come dressed as orthodox-ish Jews but they aren’t. They create a lot of discomfort. And this is, to me, the same as cross-dressing.

        I also feel that Messsianic “conversion” is the same thing. It is kinda weird and offensive, and sad. I’m trying to find a good argument/defense for it but I just can’t think of one.

        Maybe you will help me understand this. I truly want to know my place, and to encourage my spouse as much as possible in his calling but this whole covetousness of Gentiles in the Messianic rhelm is very uncomfortable.

  10. Dan Benzvi says:

    Sorry,

    Houses…..

  11. James says:

    OK. I read McKnight’s review of Wright. I didn’t agree with him and I said so. Let the games begin.

  12. Todd says:

    Dana – I also went “back in time” but to the Catholic Church. Some views pertinent to your questions (within the boundries of acceptable views in the Catholic church) are summarized at the Website of the Association of Hebrew Catholics, including a pdf of the founders book on the questions raised by Jewish Identity. Also, if you search on that site you can find interesting articles related to covenant and mission.

    Todd

  13. Todd says:

    On that site here is link to the book Jewish Identity

    http://hebrewcatholic.org/AboutheAHC/jewishidentity.html#PDFversion

    On that site here is interesting link to article on one way of explaining how to characterize the continuity/discontinuity resulting from the coming of Messiah.

    http://hebrewcatholic.org/FaithandTheology/Reflections-Covenant-Mission/allisraelwillbes.html

Comments are closed.