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Reviewed by:
  • For the Sake of Heaven and Earth: The New Encounter Between Judaism and Christianity
  • John T. Pawlikowski
For the Sake of Heaven and Earth: The New Encounter Between Judaism and Christianity, by Irving Greenberg. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2004. 274 pp. $20.00.

Irving Greenberg has been one of the most thoughtful and creative contributors to the Jewish-Christian conversation begun in the wake of the II Vatican Council's groundbreaking statement on the church's relationship to Judaism and the Jewish people some forty years ago. He has deeply influenced the thinking of many Christians in the dialogue with Jews, myself included, on theological perceptions of the church-Jewish people relationship, on the Holocaust, on understanding God today, and on ethical issues such as the use of power in our complex global world. Even when in disagreement with Greenberg in some areas such as the use of power, his perspectives have provided a constructive challenge for development of our own ideas.

Because of his central stature in the contemporary Christian-Jewish encounter it is especially valuable to have his disparate major essays (seven in number) published in a wide variety of journals in a single volume. While Greenberg himself has changed or modified some of the views presented in earlier essays, it is useful to witness the progression of his thought. He himself has aided this by including a new, splendid introductory essay in which he describes his personal, often painful, experience of entering the world of dialogue as an Orthodox Jew and walks with us along his personal theological faith development once he became convinced of the centrality of interreligious conversation for sustaining the respective religious perspectives of Jews and Christians.

The volume ends with short reflections on Greenberg's work by several noted Christian and Jewish authors representing a wide ideological spectrum, including James Carroll, Michael Novak, Mary C. Boys, Bishop Krister Stendahl, and David Novak. A study guide with questions on each of Greenberg's essays concludes the volume. This guide will certainly enhance the book's usefulness in the classroom or other study situation.

If one were to summarize the key points made by Greenberg in this volume, as well as throughout his career as a major contributor to the dialogue, the following would certainly be included on the list. Christianity and Judaism, despite their continuing distinctiveness which Greenberg as an Orthodox Jew would never blur, exist in a permanent form of bonding, in part because of their common origins. As a result, whatever changes occur in the self-understanding of one of them significantly affects the other. [End Page 180]

Secondly, neither Judaism nor Christianity can ignore the impact of the concrete social and cultural realities in which they are imbedded. Greenberg, while critical of some of the secularizing forces of postmodernity, does not react to them in a totally negative way. For him these realities, whether the Holocaust, the re-creation of Israel, the pluralization of religion, or the development of scientific thought, need to be confronted by theology in a constructive fashion. Judaism and Christianity, he insists, ignore these realities at the peril of their relevance. One of the important side-effects of the dialogue is the healthy cross-fertilization that can occur as both faith communities struggle to respond to these trends.

Throughout his career Greenberg has remained convinced that in light of the covenantal connection between the church and the Jewish people there needs to be an authentically Jewish response to the alterations in Christian self-understanding relative to Judaism. Hence he has set about to develop a specifically Jewish theology of Christian covenantal reality that is not rooted merely in a vague affirmation of religious pluralism but grows out of the Jewish tradition. One notion he has put forth at times involves seeing Jesus as a "failed Messiah." While the term may appear at first glace as a totally negative assessment of Jesus, it represents in fact an attempt to find a positive covenantal role for Jesus, though much more limited than Christianity would historically claim.

Greenberg's views of Christianity are generally shaped by individual thinkers, some on the cutting edge of present-day Christian theological...


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