- Covenantal Conversations: Christians in Dialogue with Jews & Judaism
The Consultative Panel on Lutheran-Jewish Relations of the ELCA has provided a substantive invitation for Jewish-Christian dialogue in their new book Covenantal Conversations: Christians in Dialogue with Jews & Judaism. Its eight chapters, case study, and eight corresponding talking points (with additional resources and discussion guides) provide substantive grist for individuals and groups to explore and build better understandings between Christians and Jews, Judaism and Christianity. With chapters developed by individual members of the consultative panel, they vary in strength. Some reflect years of struggle to comprehend the issue focused in the talking point under consideration. Some reflect less depth even though the matters at stake remain thoughtfully focused. Still, each offering provides an occasion for serious wrestling with the key issues identified by the discussants.
Developed by eight veterans of the dialogue, the contributors offer perspectives on past and present configurations of Judaism; discuss how the covenants of Judaism and Christianity relate to each other; explore ways of viewing classic categories of differentiation like Law and Gospel, Promise and Fulfillment; ponder the difficulties posed by problematic sacred texts, religious pluralism, and the place of land and hope in the two traditions; and explore the distinctive approaches each tradition offers for healing a troubled world. In addition, a distinctive case study ventures into the tangled terrain of the Arab-Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The strength of these offerings is that they provide a thoughtful and substantive articulation of the issues at stake in the identified talking points. The responses to each offering, with the exception of [End Page 143] Krister Stendahl's response to Esther Menn, are more polite than significant. They generally affirm the gesture being made by their conversation partners without entering into the give and take of more serious dialogue. The best that emerges are questions that point out areas for further reflection. In this regard, one would hope that subsequent conversation would build on these points and develop others, trusting the quality of such dialogue to be instructive and helpful.
The hope manifest in a volume like this one is best realized when local communities read the book in study groups utilizing the talking points and corresponding essays to initiate conversation with their own dialogue partners. In such cases, more extensive exploration can unfold.
For someone familiar with the landscape of Jewish-Christian dialogue, there are no real surprises regarding the discussions of the eight talking points. Each presentation offers a thoughtful summary of the issues at stake followed by a brief response from a dialogue partner (usually a representative of the Jewish tradition, with the exceptions of Krister Stendahl in chapter 3 and Peter Pettit and John Stendahl in the case study). The carefully focused case study, dealing as it does with a difficult and complex issue, demonstrates a way to explore the complexities that lie at the heart of each of the talking points. Indeed, by focusing on the Arab-Israel-Palestinian conflict, the case study may be the substantive strength of the book. Peter Pettit and John Stendahl's framing of the matter and their description of the interrelated factors involved in the situation are instructive. For example, their identification of the sacramental character of the land for Jews should invite Christians to recognize the fundamental connection between the land and Jewish self-understanding that is often overlooked by Christians who tend to idealize the land of Israel in the ways they approach this dilemma. In addition, their integration of five of the talking points in their analysis demonstrates the interconnected nature of the eight issues identified for disciplined consideration. This feature highlights the promise of this book and provides a well-constructed framework for thoughtful and discerning dialogue about an often divisive subject.
Covenantal Conversations is aptly named. The eight talking points are the opening gambits in a conversation that is meant to extend beyond its pages. The appendix, which contains the annotated talking points and a suggested framework for discussing each one, should not be viewed as an afterthought...