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22 November 2019

IT IS a saying by some scholars: You don’t have to teach the New Testament at all if you teach the Old Testament properly. It is one of the rediscoveries of this age that not only much of the language but also the theology of the New Testament has its origins in the Old. Thus, even at a purely scriptural level, the assertion in the new document by the Faith and Order Commission, God’s Unfailing Word, that “the Christian-Jewish relationship is a gift of God to the Church” is borne out. Over its 100-odd pages, the document, with sensitivity and care, attempts to formulate in what ways the Church might be a gift of God to the Jewish people. It does this with a clear-sighted awareness of why, given the Church’s contribution to the persecution of Jews through the centuries, this seems an impossibility to some.

The book is remarkable in its sure step among the rocks strewn through this relationship, such as theological support for anti-Judaism (the term “anti-Semitism” was coined only in 1860), historical misrepresentations, evangelism, and the State of Israel. As an example, here is a concluding sentence from one passage: “The Church of England should neither deny the continuing participation of Jewish people in Israel as God’s gift and God’s creation, nor limit the grace proclaimed in the gospel of Christ, which is ‘the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek’.” Paradoxes are acknowledged; misrepresentations are corrected; alternative understandings are given their due weight (”That is not to say . . . that each can be argued with equal plausibility”). Guidance is given but not set in stone: the object is to establish a place from which Anglicans, drawing on advances made by other denominations, can move forward in dialogue with Jewish neighbours. The authors accept things that hinder this dialogue, including political differences, but also a worrying neglect of the Old Testament in modern church gatherings: there seems to have grown up a notion that there are better things to do in a service than listen to more than a single Gospel reading or recite a Psalm. It is to be hoped that this publication will show the value of restoring these texts, stories, and songs.

The greatest value of God’s Unfailing Word is a section warning against common traps that preachers, evangelists, and worship leaders can fall into when defining Christianity, such as assuming that God was in the business of grace only after the birth of Christ. It points out that passages in the New Testament critical of the Jews were written by Jews to a largely Jewish readership. It recalls occasions of generous interchange between the two faiths as well as the darkest betrayals. In sum, it is required reading for all who teach and preach, since what they teach is a shared inheritance. [See details of offer here].

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