T & T Clark £25 (0-567-04132-8); Church Times Bookshop £22.50
The experience of God: This informs theology and underlies public
religious witness, says Marcus Braybrooke
HOW should Jews and Christians relate to the political environment? Franz
Rosenzweig and Karl Barth, Randi Rashkover argues, offer an approach that
avoids fanaticism and assimilation. They reject both Constantinian imperialism,
which is the temptation to control and rule, and secular invisibility, whereby
religions fail to critique the dominant ideology.
Rosenzweig held that Judaism cannot ally itself with the goals of a secular
nation state. Karl Barth drafted the Barmen Declaration, which voiced the
Confessing Church's opposition to Nazism, and declared that the Church could
not change its message to fit in "with prevailing ideological and political
Their approach, which Randi Rashkover calls the
theology of testimony or the politics of praise, flows from their understanding
of revelation. For both theologians, revelation is the irruptive encounter
between a meta-rational, loving God and the individual chosen to receive this
love. In this encounter, people recognise their sinfulness and no longer trust
their own cognitive or moral abilities.
Their criticism of much
theology is that it tries to fit God into existing human categories. Revelation
is not words about God, but a life-changing encounter. Those who are thus
chosen by God receive the command to love their neighbour. This means treating
the neighbour as a person who, like the self, is also loved by God. Witness to
the God who loves, therefore, provides the basis for challenging political
authorities in the name of justice and human welfare.
At a time
when politicians and economists are more open to the contribution to society of
religious leaders, this book challenges such leaders to ask themselves what is
the distinctive contribution that religious witness adds to public debate.
The importance of this book is matched by the concentration
required to read it. I found it difficult because the author repeatedly uses
her own terms, such as theology of testimony, of which the meaning is not
self-evident. The book also includes detailed exposition of the thinking of
Franz Rosenzweig and Karl Barth, and of Hermann Cohen - a philosopher who
influenced them both - who in his later life applied Kantian ethics to his
interpretation of Judaism.
In doing this, Rashkover, who is
assistant Professor of Religious Studies at York College of Pennsylvania,
critiques other scholars' interpretations - but the discussion is difficult to
follow if you are unfamiliar with their writings. Rashkover's theological
starting-point is very different from my own more mystical approach. Yet I
recognise that her life-changing encounter with God has similarities with the
mystical sense of oneness with the Divine. Both start with experience.
Increasingly, contem-porary mystics also challenge political authorities that
deny human rights and the sacredness of all life.
This book, which contributes to mutual understanding between Jews and
Christians, may also encourage dialogue between Christians of different
The Revd Dr Marcus Braybrooke is President of the World Congress of
Faiths, and a co-founder of the Three Faiths Forum.
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