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Good Intention Spoiled By Worldview
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins
A review of the book by Edith Schaeffer
Christianity is Jewish (Wheaton:  Tyndale, 1975 (reissue 1994).  224p.)

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I am familiar with Schaeffer from earlier knowledge of the L'Abri movement founded by her husband Francis.  I don't think I had ever read any of her writings before, but had read about L'Abri and seen references in other writers.  I have one other book of hers, in Spanish, on my current reading list.

L'Abri was a Christian retreat and meditation movement that offered temporary monastic opportunities for personal spiritual growth and personal discipline.  It was a welcoming and nonjudgemental place where people could question and search; where people could study, pray and explore Christian options.

While basically evangelical in orientation, it was not other-worldly oriented, but was meant to strengthen insights and understanding of Christian believers who could make a more significant contribution to their community and church.  In this book Schaeffer discusses the roots of Christian faith in Old Testament and Jewish heritage.  She refers to encounters with Jews in situations where she had opportunities to sympathetically tell these Jewish acquaintances how the basics of Christian faith and claims arise from Jewish foundations.

This book was not what I expected.  I was disappointed that all Schaeffer does is retell highlights of the Old Testament story, but she does so in a simplistic, standardized and reductionist manner.  I found myself feeling frustrated and wondering what a Jew would really think.  Her heart has the right intention, but I got the impression that her assumptions and experience caused her to violate the integrity of the story, or certain aspects of it.

The broad strokes of what she refers to as the "bird's-eye view" of the Old Testament was told with the purpose of showing how everything in the old era was pointing to the coming of a Messiah, and that Jesus is that Messiah.  There was nothing new here, except her positive, warm attitude toward the Jewish people and their history.

Warm but Condescending
She writes with a friendly and sympathetic attitude toward Jews, but the formulation of her super-history comes off stiff and unreal.  On occasion it sounds condescending, even though you know that is not how she is feeling.  I do recognize, however, that this book was actually written in 1975, so this affects her style, and explains some of the assumptions that seem to limit her perspective.

Much has been learned to enrich our understanding of the ancient East and the events and situations of the Israelites and their neighbours, which Schaeffer did not have the benefit of.  I got the feeling, though, that it would not have made any difference.  Her style is easy to read and largely takes little concentration, because all she does is repeat the Sunday School simplified, stylized version of Israelite history, which, incidentally, ignores many enlightening and enriching details and differences of opinion.

Sympathetic Advocacy
Schaeffer is to be commended for her strong opposition to the European anti-Jewish attitudes (commonly called anti-Semitic, although Semites are a broad grouping of ethnic peoples).  She rightly decries the use of the name "Christian" for these unholy, irrational and ethno-centric attitudes toward the chosen people.  Schaeffer is an excellent and expressive writer.

She quotes well-known stories from the Bible and certain key aspects and certain events she feels will tell the overall story of a continuous line from creation to the Messiah.  In the end, she also winds up being somewhat modest, by the end of the book, and sympathetically recognizes that, of course, at the time in any particular era of Israelite history, the could not expect them to have known the details and fullness of what is claimed now by those who believe that Jesus is the Messiah of the Jews.

She also, however, over-theologizes the whole story.  In spite of her stated intention to present the Jewish position to the Chrsitian audience, Schaeffer does not actually represent the biblical viewpoint from a Jewish perspectives.

Theology or Redemption?
It seems to me she thus pulls the historical stream of events out of their context into a metaphysical system that arose much later from a Greek philosophical mindset.  Parts of the book sound more like a theological treatise than a presentation of the Redemption Story.  I wondered at times why were talking about philosophical, logical concepts, rather than the relational concerns you actually see prominently in both the Tanakh (Old Testament) and the New Testament.  Only she is much more sure of herself than a philosopher normally is.  She doesn't see the pitfalls.

She does a good job drawing the parallel between the Passover practices and that motif used in the New Testament to interpret the role and person of Jesus as the Christ.  She over-draws many of the analogies, reducing them to crude allegories in some cases, but then seems to me to lose much of their meaning by over-literalizing them.

Reductionist Metaphysics Replaces History
She tends to simplify everything into a historicized metaphysic, rather than drawing out the real-life setting of either the Passion events or the historical events in the life of Israel.  Her portrayal is very stylized in how it tells the Old Testament story and how it parallels the New Testament testimony to the Old Testament.

She ignores too much reality that contradicts some of her conclusinons, in the actual Old Testament texts.  This is a common weakness of popular "Sunday School" theology, which in recent decades has been dressed up as scholarship.  It references only certain convenient texts from the Old Testament writings, conveniently ignoring those that make for difficulties in the "received" traditional version.

She tends to follow the early allegorical school of interpretation that allowed an interpreter to make whatever he needed to out of the actual Old Testament story, claiming a symbolic or "spiritual" meaning beyond or within the actual literal story.  This approach was discredited and rejected comparatively fairly early in the Christian era.  I expected more.  If I had known what the book actually was, and particularly her approach, I would not have bought it.

See related reviews and articles on this site:
[review]  Christians Started with a Greek Old Testament
[TXT]Aramaic New Testament
[Review] Cultural Drama in Christian Beginnings
[Review] The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Jewish Origins of Christianity
[review] Good Intention Spoiled By Worldview, a Review of Christianity is Jewish
[review] The Gospels in their Jewish Setting
[TXT] Greek and Aramaic Among 1st Century Jews
[TXT] Hebrew Usage in the First Century
[review] Jewish Analysis of Christian Beginnings with Paul
[TXT] Jesus' Knowledge of Greek: The Role of Language and Motif in the Fourth Gospel Narratives
[TXT] Jesus and the Hebrew Language
[TXT]The Language Jesus Used
[TXT]Literacy Training in 1st Century Palestine
[review] A New Testament Window into First Century Jewish Literature
[review]The Revelation of Comfort and Hope
[review]Yeshua - The Jewish Character of the Early Church and Jesus' Teachings

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First written 25-27 January 2007
Posted on Thoughts and Resources 29 January 2007
Posted on Amazon 16 May 2007
Last revised 29 January 2009
Last edited 10 June 2013

Copyright © 2007 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Please give credit and link back.  Other rights reserved.

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