Sunday, July 29, 2007

Cheap Caricatures of Judaism

In the latest issue of Christianity Today, Simon Gathercole writes a provocative piece called "What did Paul Really Mean? The author tries to explain, for an evangelical Christian audience, the "new perspectives on Paul" movement represented by scholars like James D.G. Dunn and N.T. Wright. I like the following excerpt:

"E.P. Sanders rightly detects in much of the traditional Protestant description of Judaism an anxiety about Roman Catholic works-righteousness crouching at the door. This leads us to Sanders' concern with portraying Judaism in a fair and unprejudiced light. This is also an important contribution: There can be no place in the church for cheap caricatures of Judaism. Sanders has encouraged scholars to look seriously at Jewish sources around the time of Paul to understand what they really say."

Gathercole goes on to say:

"We also need to be careful in how we talk about Judaism from the pulpit and in our conversations about Scripture. Christians must avoid cheap caricatures as well as a politically correct anxiety about saying that Jews need to hear the gospel."

To most of this I say, Amen. I do disagree with Gathercole's final assertion (that Christians should not be afraid to state that Jews need Jesus), but Christianity Today is after all an evangelical magazine, so fair enough. Nevertheless, I was struck by his language of "cheap caricatures" and I think that the 19th century conversionist fiction is Exhibit A in this regard. I only wish that the 20th century descendants of Amelia Bristow and company had learned this lesson. Perhaps we'll see more nuanced Christian fiction in the 21st century.

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