Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Loosening the Grip 6

posted by xscot mcknight

I’m holding in my hands at this very moment the original German edition of Gerhard Kittel’s famous Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. I’ve got volume 4. The foreword, written by Kittel himself, is preceded by a page of German theologians, collaborators in the 4th volume of TDNT, who were killed in WWII as soldiers of Hitler’s merciless campaigns. Kittel ends in Greek: “To whom be the glory forever!” Kittel’s foreword speaks of the blood offering of those who died.

The story doesn’t end there, of course. Gerhard Kittel was given a brilliant expose in the relatively unknown book that once shook me up for weeks: Robert P. Ericksen, Theologians Under Hitler: Gerhard Kittel, Paul Althaus and Emanuel Hirsch
. In the 4th volume of TDNT Kittel expresses his gratitude that he could get the volume in print — and it was about the time the Nazis were breathing down the neck of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and banned him from any further writing. He eventually was hung in Flossenburg; Kittel lived on. Kittel, Ericksen clearly shows, should not be scapegoated (even if Kittel must be used judiciously and critically) but Kittel spent, beginning suddenly in 1933, a dozen years on the Judenfrage and he framed foundations for virulent anti-Semitism that led some to the Holocaust. Ericksen: “He swam in the Nazi stream, though he may have preferred a different stroke” (74). The volumes, in other words, were sanctioned by those who banned Bonhoeffer.

Why bring this up? Kittel swam in a stream that goes back to Kant. It was Kant, you will remember, who clearly and heinously articulated white supremacy in racialized tones. Africans, American Indians, Asians each were races, rotting was a term Kant used, and the whites were in the stream of teleological perfection of an ethico-civil state. The danger was the Jews who were a contagion and intermarriage was the fear. All of this is sketched in chp 2 of J. Kameron Carter’s must-read Race: A Theological Account.

Perhaps we need to be reminded of this: Kant explained both Paul and Jesus as framing a religion well outside the Jewish boundaries. Fundamentally, Jesus’ religion was a universal religion, one that moved beyond Judaism by grasping Greek wisdom and perfecting it, that would lead to the ethico-civil state and Paul was one who broke free from the YHWH God of Israel and moved outside the covenant connection of the Old Testament. For Kant the “race question” was tied up with the “Jewish question.” For Kant Jesus ceased to be Jewish.

When I began postgraduate work in the 70s, the Jewishness question — of Jesus, Paul and the first Christians — was coming into its own. The affirmation of Jesus’ Jewishness is a major step in the right direction of affirming race and undoing racism. The major books of my PhD days were Strack and Billerbeck as well as W.D. Davies Paul and Rabbinic Judaism. Before I had begun my doctoral work E.P. Sanders wrote a book that changed NT scholarship more than any book in the last fifty years: Paul and Palestinian Judaism. It called into question the lack of Jewishness in Christian understandings of Paul. This is standard fare today, of course. But we must not forget that 75 years ago there were reputable scholars asking if Jesus was a Jew.

Anyone who wonders if Christian theology is implicated in racism needs to be aware of this brief and inadequate sketch.



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howard diehl

posted October 30, 2008 at 3:24 am


Good point, and still pertinent. A professor from grad school days at Wheaton shared how when Marcus Barth came to the school to speak, he pleaded to a group of students to be judicious of their use of the TDNT, though “sanitized” to a large degree by Bromiley, et. al., still carried vestiges of that theological stance. It put me off the work when I began to notice some of this.
Thanks for the heads’ up.



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RJS

posted October 30, 2008 at 3:51 am


I have many Jewish friends and colleagues. Carter’s sketch in Ch. 2 floored me. It put many different things in perspective, especially in the light of what we know came next. Carter is not easy reading – but his ideas are well worth reading and wrestling with.



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tscott

posted October 30, 2008 at 6:09 am


Chilling actually. To say (in comment #1) that this work “still carried
vestiges of that theological stance” is an
understatement to me. Religion…i mean my attempt to
be pious…makes me want to puke.



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Jeremiah Daniels

posted October 30, 2008 at 6:31 am


It is an extremely disturbing chapter in human history.
While I was chairing a discussion group about a year ago, one of the older men brought up how Christianity could be perverted.
He mentioned that the Nazis referred to their state religion as “Positive Christianity.”
I had not really bothered to dig deeper into this until today and I found a reference to a book entitled “The Holy Reich: Nazi Conceptions of Christianity, 1919-1945″ (http://cli.gs/7QBGzU) which deals with the Nazi perceptions of Christianity.
I believe it is fair to ask if similar behavior has arisen in other faiths and philosophies?
Isaiah 5:20 comes to mind “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!”



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Scott W

posted October 30, 2008 at 7:28 am


We need to bring thi home, so to speak. We don’t have to look to Continental atrocities and error; we (Americans have our own home grown varieties), including those linked to Evangelical Christianity. In this regards,the KKK,esp. the new Klan,which made great inroads among conservative Protestant clergy and many politicians in the later part of the second decade of the 1900s to the third decade,where it gained considerable political strength before it was weakened by scandals. We don’t have to look to Al Qaeda as the only example of religious-based terrorists. Ideologically,the racial grid it employs falls closely along this Kantian line, with the strong Christian supersessionist anti-Semitism linked to the white supremecist notion of cultural/national hegemony. See the link below:
http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/1515.htm



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faith

posted October 30, 2008 at 7:38 am


Wow! Theology really matters. I see how profoundly it affects our community life together.



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John W Frye

posted October 30, 2008 at 7:49 am


Scot,
This may a risky question. Isn’t old line dispensationalism to some degree implicated in *Judenfrage*? The kingdom of God totally shoved off into the future; scant attention to the Gospels except to “prove” Jesus’ deity and humanity; Paul coming across as a Protestant theologian…makes me think.



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Derek Leman

posted October 30, 2008 at 8:36 am


I always want to put in a plug for two books when this topic comes up. (1) Barry Horner, Future Israel (a Reformed theologian with a pro-Israel book as part of the evangelical series of commentaries, The New American Commentaries) and (2) R. Kendall Soulen, The God of Israel and Christian Theology. Christian theology certainly is implicated in the Holocaust. Both Soulen and Horner do a good job documenting this and, more importantly, suggesting biblical theology about Israel.



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Derek Leman

posted October 30, 2008 at 8:38 am


Let me also add that many Christian theologians and leaders have learned very little from the Holocaust. The Pharisees are still the whipping boys of many a sermon. The Jews are still a four letter word. Judaism is still equated with legalism. And few people take the time to understand the grace that is all over the Old Testament and all through Judaism. Graceless Judaism exists, but so does graceless Christianity.



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RJS

posted October 30, 2008 at 9:07 am


Jeremiah Daniels,
I agree that this was a chilling chapter in human history. But…what I find the most chilling is that I do not think that it was or is unique. This tendency to twist our theology to privilege ourselves and distance or devalue others is pervasive – a consequence of the Fall. To hook to Scot’s line of thinking – it is a concrete example of our broken relationships with others and the world as a consequence of our broken relationship with God.
It is evident in ethnic boundaries
It is evident in classist elitism
It is evident in racial discrimination
It is evident in anti-Semitism
It is evident in sexism
There is this tendency to twist the gospel to support the privilege of one group and degrade the very essence of being of the others. The nature of mankind and the nature of the Gospel of Jesus Christ are topics deserving of much careful consideration. What is the difference between Kant de-judaizing Jesus to support the supremacy of “whiteness” or Agassiz describing Africans as “pre-adamite” men to justify subhuman status, and a theologian today emphasizing the eternal subordination of the Son in the Trinity in order to defend gender discrimination?
And now I’ve become way too provocative – and Scot can censor me if he wishes.



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MatthewS

posted October 30, 2008 at 9:14 am


John,
It seems that few hands are clean here, so just about any system might have some valid criticisms.
I think that old line covenant theology had writers such as Hodge who believed that whites were a superior race.
Dispensationalism saw a gulf between Israel and the church but I think it would be unfair to say that it either arose from or contributed to Judenfrage. Darby was English (I think) and defined the system beginning in the 1800s. Not sure what the Nazi connection would be.
My guess is it is neither more nor less complicit than any other protestant-ish evangelical-ish system around.
I am feeling pretty ignorant on this whole discussion, but Luther has an anti-semitic problem and he predates the entire dispy-covenant discussion.
So, I don’t think it would be fair to try to connect dispensationalism in any unique way to Judenfrage. If I am wrong, I will stand corrected!



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MatthewS

posted October 30, 2008 at 9:20 am


Jeremiah #4,
Seems to me that misconstruing the Bible and Christianity for one’s own ends is using God’s name in vain.
The scary thing is, who can be 100% confident they’ve never done such a thing?



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Rachel H. Evans

posted October 30, 2008 at 9:35 am


It’s always good to be reminded of how the Bible/theology can be used to support entrenched biases and prejudices. It makes me wonder in what ways this might be happening today. We’ve got to be vigilant, and willing to question what we’ve been taught, lest we end up being complicit in similar mistakes.
…Maybe I’m paranoid?



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John W Frye

posted October 30, 2008 at 10:39 am


MatthewS (#10),
Thanks so much for your thoughts regarding dispenationalism or any other system (after Kant).



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John W Frye

posted October 30, 2008 at 10:40 am


MatthewS (#10),
Thanks so much for your thoughts regarding dispensationalism or any other system (after Kant and Kittel et al).



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Mike

posted October 30, 2008 at 11:43 am


John Frye and MatthewS,
I asked Barthian not long ago if I might find some valuable resources in CD for understanding ethnicity as a category within theological anthropology.
His reply was that it was unlikely, as Barth lived within a culture that esteemed the German peoples above all others. He did not-I want to emphasize- suggest that Barth was consciously culpable in sustaining any kind German superiority. Only that the influence of German culture also is at work in Barth.
But, I appreciated, as MatthewS suggested, “no hands are clean”, that even a Barthian understood that someone like Barth also has influences in his theology that inadvertently serve (or continue within certain streams of) thought and practice that are racist.



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theonlypj

posted October 30, 2008 at 11:59 am


Once I learned a little bit about Kittel I was tempted to take my volumes off the shelf! Scot’s emphasis on using Kittel judiciously is wise and should be impressed on our learning community.



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MatthewS

posted October 30, 2008 at 12:16 pm


theonlypj – I hear you! Ignorance was bliss. I suppose the best advice is what was given – judicious use. If you replace the book with something else, that something else will also be stained.
You know what? I am now depressed. Here I am, knocking myself out, investing every spare penny and minute in school, so that I can buy and study books that are fallen, racist, modernist, postmodernist, culture-bound and wrong in ways we can’t even imagine. ththbpppbbbb on that!
I’m with Lyle Lovett – “Kiss my a**, I bought a boat, I’m going out to sea”! (except I can’t afford a boat, and even if I could, I would have spent the money on school and books…)



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theonlypj

posted October 30, 2008 at 12:21 pm


MatthewS – let’s get cooperative and buy a Jesus Creed boat…



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MatthewS

posted October 30, 2008 at 12:23 pm


theonlypj,
Can you make a boat out of old books? If there’s anything I’ve got, it’s old books…



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RJS

posted October 30, 2008 at 12:26 pm


MatthewS
But this has always been true hasn’t it? Every book you pick up will be wrong and right (well every book will be wrong and most will also be right). I guess this why I think of education as “learning to think” rather than expert download and student absorption of information.
Anyone who looks to further formal education for all the answers will be sorely disappointed.



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Greg The Anonymous Troll

posted October 30, 2008 at 2:42 pm


Is there is difference between theologians who harbor racist views and attitudes, and Christian Theology proper? I think there is. Leveling charges of racism against anyone who tries to make sense of the biblical distinctions between the Jews and the Church, is not only unhelpful, but actually quite destructive. It seems like there is a back door operation going on here that smears certain theological positions with the “racist” label instead of arguing against them on exegetical grounds. Certainly much of the NP literature seems to be motivated by a negative reaction and guilt about the horrors of the Nazi’s. The danger is that reactions like that typically end up resulting in jumping from the frying pan, into the fire. For example; The NP ends up repudiating the substantial basis for the entire Reformation. Not surprising for those with semi-Pelagian and synergistic leanings to begin with.



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Scott W

posted October 30, 2008 at 3:17 pm


Greg#21-
Don’t get it twisted,there is a difference between those who would blur Jewish and Christian distinctives on theological grounds and the what is being addressed in these threads. What is at stake here is not simply anti-Jewish Christian rhetoric which was a result of the intramural turf wars between the emergent Christianity and Judaism as we’ve come to know it, which is evident in the NT and the racializing of Jewishness as a part of a socio-political and cultural belief system. This is the modern development.
For generations, Jewish scholars put forth their understandings of early Judaism which were not heeded by Reformation-minded Christians. The sad fact is that the Shoah, for many, was the only thing which opened the eyes of non-Jewish biblical scholars and theologians. Just because someone has a perspective and axe to grind doesn’t mean that it is wrong. They have to be tested and their must be a willingness for scholars to listen beyond their theological perspectives. This issue is ironic for those who propound a sola scriptura position:they tend to be more hidebound with their hermeneutic of the Bible rather than letting the “chips falls where they may” exegetically nad theologically speaking. This is where some NP scholars like Tom Wright,a traditional evangelical Protestant,who came to embract what is called the NP due to his exegetical work believing that what his teachers taught him:the Bible over tradition, even evagelical/reformation ones. This openess should be a part of this discussion too, rather simply being reactionary. This is the real danger:an theological arrogance which becomes a blinding solipsistic reality.



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Jeremiah Daniels

posted October 30, 2008 at 6:55 pm


#9 RJS
HE HE HE … well … I am not nearly as good a writer as you! (Seriously! No sarcasm! I love reading your posts.)
What you are saying is what I am trying to point out.
It does not matter which religion or philosophy that we bring up. You get humans involved and they corrupt it.
#8 Derek
When I deal with the Pharisees, I always take the behavior condemned and map it into modern Christians. I try my best to make sure that the students do not leave the room thinking somehow they are exempt from the same wrong behavior.
Also, I make a thorough case for grace (hesed, right?) in the Old Testament at the same time.
So, not all of us are ignorant of this problem ;) And I am glad you brought it up!
Human have not changed. If we somehow begin to think we are not capable of atrocities, we inevitably perpetrate them.



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Jeremiah Daniels

posted October 30, 2008 at 7:10 pm


#24 Scott W
Great observation. I grew up in the Bible Belt. It was always a terrible irony to me that the KKK was supported by some Evangelical churches at its inception. Though this is no longer the case.
What we see currently is that fringe groups have taken over and actually the KKK as a political force is practically dead. It gets media play but lacks the power it once had.
That is NOT to say at all that we should relax our guard or minimize the latent ability to cause misery. In fact, it should open our eyes and force us to reach out to those people who were afflicted by our predecessors so that they victims do not give into the temptation to execute similar atrocities in vengeance.



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John W Frye

posted October 31, 2008 at 6:20 am


MatthewS,
Don’t despair…very conservative evangelical authors only write absolute, untainted truth. :)



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Greg The Anonymous Troll

posted October 31, 2008 at 9:53 am


Scott W #23
Thinking that racism is a strictly modern development is both from a theological and historical standpoint, demonstrably wrong. What is being described by Dr Carter is simply A recent (if you call the Reformation recent) manifestation of fallen Man.
Speaking of “theological arrogance which becomes a blinding solipsistic reality” I would say that acting like white people are the only ones who are racist is perhaps the most insulting and racist thing I’ve heard in a long time.



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Scott W

posted October 31, 2008 at 2:45 pm


Greg#27-
Whatever axe you have to grind, your repeated assertions have nothing do with Carter’s thesis, which does not assert that “racism” is a modern phenomenon nor that white people are the only ones who are racist.
How can ther be any fruitful dialogue if one refuses to listen to what one’s conversation partner is saying,irrespective of whether you agree with them or not. Brother, do not let a root of bitterness take hold of your heart. It is corrupting–the opposite of everything that is Christilike or Christian, even if one is orthodox. Blessings!



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Greg The Anonymous Troll

posted October 31, 2008 at 4:11 pm


Scott I don’t have an axe to grind. If anything, the whole thesis seems to be one black man’s axe grinding response to a perceived uniquely modern “White Supremacy” that arises directly from a Christian theology, exclusively taught by white people. I have been reacting directly to the particular blog posts and the responses as they go along. The above post concludes :
“Anyone who wonders if Christian theology is implicated in racism needs to be aware of this brief and inadequate sketch.”
In fact, what white Christian theology is implicated in quite directly is the Holocaust. I did not choose the loaded terms (“Racism”, and “White Supremacy”) that Carter used and I did not try to For he, and you to do that and then totally redefine their common usage is either sloppy or deliberately inflammatory.
It is interesting that in the one review on Amazon for ” Theologians Under Hitler: Gerhard Kittel, Paul Althaus and Emanuel Hirsch” by Erikson, the reviewer actually goes against the theory espoused by Carter when he notes
“he (Erikson) is not certain that their theology alone accounts for for their welcoming of the Third Reich. It is just too similar to the theology of those who opposed Hitler. Nor is the author certain that this kind of theology could prevent a recurrance of the phenomenon of theologians supporting a totalitarian or dictatorial regime in some future time of crisis.”
Again: there is most certainly a difference between Liberal German theology and Biblical theology but I don’t see any mention of this by Carter or the reviewers on this blog. I repeat my objection that hanging all this on White “Christian theology” is itself racist and insulting.



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Scott W

posted November 1, 2008 at 9:05 am


Greg#29-
If you don’t have an axe to grind,why all the extraneous comments which make it seem as if you have a persecutory complex, as if people were accusing you of being a racist or you have Carter pegged,as fitting into a particular grid? I say this because of these comments which are not in concert with the thoughtful comments you make.
Okay,back to the real issue. If racism and white supremecy are inflammatory terms to you,then you are simply using them as they are thrown around in common social discourse. Carter isn’t using that way,nor am I. (In face, personally,I don’t use the term racism because it is imprecise and has come to a shibboleth in some circles. I tend to speak of (the ideology) of white supremecy,which I have quoted Carter’s definition of this,which understcuts the point you are trying to make. If you disagree with this definition, which has to do with the social and political arrangements arising from the racial imagination of modernity (and is not so much about biology,which is development of this ideology!),–fine; but don’t misrepresent the views of the conversation partner. Then you lack integrity,and maybe even understanding or just maybe in thrall to an your ideology which won’t allow you see anything on its own terms but must be subsumed hegemonically in your own worldview. Theologocally,this tendancy is what Carter critiques about “white supremecy” In a true Christian understanding of identity,we are baptized into his death so that our identity is worked out in the plurality of the cultures of Jesus’ Body,the Church,in which we are part of each other.
Carter’s point is that in modernity,nation-state with its demands for allegiance has employed the racial (and racist!) imagination along with Christian theology as a replacement doctrine of creation,Christianity and Christian theology often being a willing accomplice in this process.His constructive approach has,first and foremost,to do with a retrieval of Christian theological resources from mainly Eastern Patristic theologians (Irenaeus,Gregory of Nyssa and Maximus the Confessor) and ante-bellum African American writers (Frederick Douglas, Jarena Lee, et al.),who embraced a “Jewish-inflected,covenantal” and ,thus,non-racial understanding of Christian identity.
This is the real deal!The question is this:Will you engage Carter on his own terms or continue to “joust with windmills”?



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