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Facing Islam

I was surprised to read such a distorted overall view of Christianity and Islam in First Things (Robert Louis Wilken, “Christianity Face to Face with Islam,” January 2009). The author completely ignores the drastic failure of Muhammad’s teaching in today’s world.

First, he ignores the prevailing democratic freedoms of the Christian nations. Second, and more important, he ignores that Christ taught us that we have free will and that we should love our fellow man including our enemies, a teaching that promotes peace between nations. Muhammad teaches his followers to kill those who do not agree with his teachings, encouraging war between nations.

Third, Christian nations have developed capitalism, which today is eliminating world poverty faster than all the charitable giving and government grants in our world can ever hope to do. Muhammad’s teachings don’t encourage humans to educate and prosper.

Joe Sabatini
West Chester, Ohio

Here is where Islam fails to understand the basis of peace among the peoples of the earth. If God is one and alone, then relationship is not an inherent attribute of God, nor is it necessary for the human made in God’s image to be fully human. It leaves open the possibility that men and women can please God while still at enmity with one another and having contempt and disregard for the rest of creation. Peace on earth might be a religious value for some Muslims, but it will become simply a rule or ethic without being understood as a condition of the fulfillment of their being. As a rule or ethic, it becomes optional. For the Christian, the human is not fully human and human life is never complete until there is peace on earth, and that end is therefore not optional and must remain a central Christian value.

Christianity has never understood force as a legitimate means of spreading the Word. The Crusades and the wars around the Reformation were about things religious, but they were not about witnessing to the truth. Even if one wanted to believe these wars were about spreading religion, they would have to be understood as a historical aberration. On the contrary, Islam has always understood the sword as a primary tool of domination and propagation. Perhaps it is the doctrine of the Trinity as opposed to a doctrine of God alone, and the consequences of understanding relationship, that leads to this conclusion.

As Wilken points out, Islam was regarded early on as a heresy. I wonder if its primary heresy is its mistaking the oneness of God for a lone and lonely God. And I wonder what hope there is for peace on earth as long as Islam persists. Islam’s dominance of Wilken’s map perhaps illustrates its value of domination above right relationship and peace.

Daniel L. Monahan
Loomis, California

After reading Robert Louis Wilken’s article I felt at a complete loss. He states: “The career of Christianity is marked as much by decline and extinction as it is by growth and triumph.” And “Christianity seems like a rain shower that soaks the earth and then moves on, whereas Islam appears more like a great lake that constantly overflows its banks to inundate new territory.”

I agree with this analysis but long to know how this pattern can be changed. Is Christianity headed for a slow extinction at the hands of Islam? At the end of his article Wilken writes: “The question to be asked, then, is whether, face to face with Islam, Christians will be able to sustain, rebuild, and create strong and resilient communities that provide institutional anchorage for the faith to endure and flourish. Will they have the imagination to form the spiritual architecture of the societies of which they are a part?” He says that this is a task to which “Christianity is particularly well suited.” But his article and history seem to indicate Islam is better suited for the task.

If the Eastern Orthodox culture of the Far East was nearly destroyed by communism and Islam, and Catholic and Protestant Europe were nearly destroyed by secularism, then what model exists for us to follow? Can anyone even point to such a model? With no blame to Wilken, I felt completely discouraged after reading his article and would like to know if there are any good writings suggesting a way forward.

Eddie Bromley
LaCenter, Kentucky

Robert Louis Wilken replies:

It is easy to caricature Islam—for example, that the sword has been the primary tool of domination and propagation. Only if we are able to go beyond such caricatures will we be able to appreciate the unique religious challenge Islam presents to Christianity.

Of course, Islamic militancy is a part of the historical record, but it is not the whole story, and in my view not the most significant. More significant is the tenacity and resilience of Islam as a religion. No ideology has the power to coerce people to live according to its dictates for fourteen centuries.

I agree with Mr. Bromley that the historical account I presented was sobering. Yet I ended on a positive note. In spite of the decline of Christianity in Europe, the vitality of the churches in many other parts of the world is impressive. And given Christianity’s history and character, its spiritual and intellectual resources, there is every reason to be hopeful.

The challenge of Islam, however, does force us to think in new ways, particularly about the relation between religion and culture. Philip Jenkins’ The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity is a useful account of the expansion and establishment of Christianity around the globe and a glimpse of what Christianity might look like in the decades to come.

Capitalism: Not Dead Yet

In “An Apology for Democratic Capitalism” (January 2009), Michael Novak trots out some hoary Republican tropes that seem to be assumed far more often than investigated. I was particularly bothered by the fuzzy-math calculations in the paragraph discussing taxes paid under Ronald Reagan. I am neither a mathematician nor the son of a mathematician, but taxes were slashed on the rich from 70 percent to 28 percent and they paid more? That would mean someone making $100,000 a year would have to instantly vault up to making at least $250,001. At its worst, this information is willfully deceptive; at its best, it is a laughable error that casts a long shadow over many other political positions espoused by First Things.

John Fox
Los Angeles, California

I have long admired Michael Novak and enjoyed his writings. His “Apology for Democratic Capitalism” was typically lucid and sane. As is his wont, Novak foresees an early recovery from the current devastating implosion. I fear this time he and the usually lucid Steve Forbes are wrong. This time there will be no recovery, for this crisis marks a civilizational change of the deepest kind.

Novak has never found any significance in the fact that capitalist economic science was a product of the antireligious Enlightenment. The new philosophers of what came to be known as rationalism sought a theory of knowledge that excluded the subjective dimension of thought that gave religion its entree into the public square. Their new conception presented knowledge as purely objective and impersonal and deplored any intrusion of subjectivity as bias. In strong contrast, the earlier metaphysics had defined truth as “the self-presence of Being to itself.” In that view the human subject was at the heart of all intellection. And even postmodernists have long since dismissed the epistemology of their forebears as deluded.

Economic growth in the United States during the last two decades was produced by two serial bubbles. At least the high-tech bubble, unlike the housing bubble, had something real beneath it. Wall Street (and even more European banks, by the way) went so obsessively for housing derivates because there was no other source of profits. Nor will there be sufficient profits in the future to support the gigantic new debt the government has loaded onto the economy. There can be no recovery by traditional means.

Bubbles are fed by the conviction that “this time is different,” and all recoveries by the underlying strength of the market. But capitalism and the market are not the same thing. Capitalist theory encased the market in a cultural integument that has now burst. Without a new approach that sees economics as fundamentally human, the only ostensible exit from this disaster will be effective socialism. And, if that happens, all our freedoms and all prosperity will die.

We need a whole new approach to economics and economic science to recover from this disaster. I predict that Obama’s monster stimulus-spending will revive the economy only temporarily, in a false spring. Very soon the crisis will be worse than it is now.

Robert Ghelardi
Alamosa, Colorado

Michael Novak replies:

It is hard to name any economic topic regarding taxes during the last thirty years that has been more thoroughly investigated than the tax issue brought up by John Fox. Dozens of studies and books have reported and analyzed the data. For a bipartisan account, Fox might consult the report of the Joint Economic Committee of the Congress in April 1996 (during the Clinton years). The study reports a consensus that low marginal tax rates increase incentives to bring more income under taxation. Thus, from 1980 to 1989, as tax rates went down, total income tax revenues rose from $244 billion to $446 billion. The share of the tax burden paid by the top 1 percent in 1981 was 17.6 percent. But by 1988 their share had jumped to 27.5 percent. Similarly, the share paid by the top 10 percent of taxpayers increased from 48 percent to 57.2 percent in 1988.

Meanwhile, the share paid by the bottom 50 percent fell from 7.5 percent to 5.7 percent. The share paid by the middle class (those earning between the fiftieth percentile and the ninety-fifth percentile—in 1988, between $18,367 and $72,735) also dropped: from 57.5 percent in 1981 to 48.7 percent in 1988.

As the Joint Committee summarizes, “reduction in high marginal rates can induce taxpayers to lessen their reliance on tax shelters and tax avoidance, and expose more of their income to taxation. The result in this case was a 51 percent increase in real tax payments by the top 1 percent.”

The crucial point not to be overlooked is that tax rates alter incentives and change behaviors.

The letter of Robert Gherlardi is also helpful, although I do not understand where he gets the idea that “capitalist economic science was the product of the antireligious Enlightenment.” Actually, Gertrude Himmelfarb’s study distinguishes three types of Enlightenment: the Continental, the British, and the American, and she found only the first of these antireligious.

The art of forming a capitalist economy—more an art than a science—was developed most highly by Anglo-American thinkers from Adam Smith to Abraham Lincoln (whose Homestead Act and Land-Grant Colleges Act were expressly designed to generate as many independent entrepreneurs as possible, and to make invention and discovery the main cause of wealth).

In the twentieth century, the Austrian school of economics—notably Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek—became famous for stressing the subjective element of economic life, particularly in personal action, and more especially in the personal act of enterprise.

Since my risky prediction in December about the markets’ early recovery this spring, Obama has disparaged the market, investors, and economic actors. His actions will delay recovery several months longer than it should have been.

Furthermore, the government can scarcely manage its own enterprises—the post office, abuses in defense procurements, foreign aid, and the like. The idea that government will now manage private enterprises, too, does not pass the credibility test. Especially after the high-handed ways by which the government ran Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac into the ground, setting a fire in the epicenter of our financial crisis.

The Jewish Jesus

As a gentile and former Protestant minister who was brought into the Catholic Church by a Jew, I would like to offer some thoughts relating to Mark S. Kinzer and Matthew Levering’s interesting two-part article “Messianic Jews and Messianic Gentiles” (January 2009). Every gentile Christian knows that “salvation is from the Jews.” Our debt to the role of Israel in salvation history and the privilege we enjoy in having Abraham as our father by adoption can hardly be overstated, for all the holy reasons this is so. Israel has given us the law, the prophets, and she who bore the Christ.

Still, it is good to remember that history, even salvation history, as Levering seems to suggest, is never more than an instrument to eschatological purpose. To be sure, salvation history is profoundly Jewish in its instrumentality, but not exclusively so. If we owe everything to the Jews, the Jews have their indebtedness also. Kinzer sees the priestly office of Christ as deriving from “Israel, according to the flesh,” but the Church (following Scripture) traces Christ’s priesthood not to Aaron but to Melchizedek, the mysterious non-Jewish “priest of the Most High God” (Heb. 7:1). The author of Hebrews, speaking of Christ, quotes Psalm 110:4, “Thou art a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek” (Heb. 6:20), and notes that “this man [Melchizedek] who was not of their genealogy received tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises.” He adds: “It is beyond doubt that the inferior is blessed by the superior” (Heb. 7:6–7). In salvation history, Israel has its dependencies too.

Every true Christian believes, with Paul, that the role of Jews in salvation history is not over. Jews will become Christians, and the Church will be transformed in ways we can hardly imagine. But in the eschaton there is both continuity and discontinuity: continuity where a “new Jerusalem comes down from heaven” (Rev. 21:2), discontinuity where a voice from heaven declares “the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4). Here eschatology transcends history, and, as Paul put it, “in that new creation there is neither Greek nor Jew” (Gal. 3:11).

And yet, even then, as Paul and Kinzer insist, “if we are Christ’s, then we are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3:29).

Bud Scott
Logos Institute
Tarpon Springs, Florida

Although I found their articles rich in insight, I am concerned that Mark Kinzer’s criticisms of Lumen Gentium and Matthew Levering’s criticism of Kinzer’s position may have distracted attention from the theological and historical significance of the dialogue, between Messianic Jews and the Catholic Church, from which Kinzer’s article was adapted.

The Jewish people have an enduring place in God’s plan and an important place in the Church’s life and mission. The “gospel of God . . . concerning his Son” (Rom. 1:1–3) is addressed first of all to ethnic Israel as an expression of God’s faithfulness to his promises (Rom. 1:16, 15:8). The remarkable thing to the earliest Christians, who were all Jews, was that this gospel is equally addressed to gentiles, to whom it reveals God’s mercy (Rom. 15:8–9). Paul expresses his wonder at the “mystery” kept hidden from previous generations, that “the gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Eph. 3:6).

The Church is in fact “an eschatological renewal” and expansion of Israel in and through God’s messiah, who “reconfigures Israel around himself.” Jesus indicates the continuity of his community with Israel by describing the role of his twelve apostles as presiding over “the twelve tribes of Israel” (Luke 22:30). In many other places the language of the New Testament attests to the Church’s continuing identification with Israel, even in local churches where gentile members greatly outnumbered Jewish believers (for instance: Gal. 3:28–29; Col. 2:11; 1 Pet. 1:1, 17; 2:3–12; Rev. 21:12). Since the beginning of the Church, when Christians have prayed the psalms, they have interpreted references to Israel and Jerusalem as applying to the Church. In view of this longstanding tradition, referring to
the Church as the “new Israel” is ­legitimate, so long as this is not understood as denying the enduring significance of ethnic Israel.

The Letter to the Ephesians indicates that the unity of Jews and gentiles in the one body of the Messiah was part of God’s eternal plan and is constitutive of the Church. Even if the Church consists of a vast majority of gentiles, it is never merely a gentile Church. Romans 11 indicates that sometime in the future the Jewish people as a whole will recognize their messiah and “all Israel will be saved”; The Catechism of the Catholic Church identifies this as one of the signs that precedes the Lord’s return. Paul indicates that in the interim there exists a remnant of ethnic Israel, chosen by grace, and he identifies himself as part of that remnant (Rom. 11:1–6).

Kinzer and the branch of Messianic Jews to which he belongs continue to observe Torah not in order to be justified but to be faithful to the covenant that God made with their ancestors. Today, most scholars believe this was the position of the Twelve, the Jerusalem Church, and even of St. Paul (Acts 21:20–26), despite the latter’s insistence that justification comes through faith and that gentiles should not take on the law of Moses. Although many have misunderstood Paul on this point, and although at times the Church forbade Jewish–Christian observance of Torah, there is no obstacle in the Catholic Church today to Jewish Christians following this apostolic practice, nor should there be. Rather, at this time in history when many Jews are recognizing Jesus as their messiah, the Church should make room for them, remember her own Jewish heritage, and reach out in friendship to all Jews in hope of the messiah’s “recognition by ‘all Israel’” and the day when “the people of God [will] achieve ‘the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ’” (CCC 674, Eph. 4:13).

Peter S. Williamson
Sacred Heart Major Seminary
Detroit, Michigan

As for Matthew Levering’s fears of a “twofold ecclesiology” if we embrace a special identity for Messianic Jews in the Church, he should read what John Paul II had to say about the twofold composition of the Church, that is, the East and the West. We are together as two lungs in the same body. Nobody worries much (anymore) about the “privileges” of the East over the West, even though the earliest liturgies—to say nothing of the Scriptures or missionaries—were undoubtedly Semitic or Greek.

Let’s be more concerned to fulfill what Ephesians 3:6 says in the Western lectionary reading for Epiphany, that Jew and gentile should be “copartners” in the “same body.” If the ecumenism between East and West promises so much for a messianic witness to the world of Eastern Europe and the Middle East, imagine what might unfold for the human race if Jew and gentile unite in the “same body” of Christ.

Mark F. Whitters
Matt Schumann
Eastern Michigan University
Ypsilanti, Michigan

Please allow me, as one of the Catholic participants in the informal Catholic–Messianic Jewish dialogue, to comment on Matthew Levering’s critique of Mark Kinzer’s article. Levering is hardly being fair when he complains that Kinzer is trying to “play off” Lumen Gentium and the Catechism. Kinzer is arguing that there is a development between 1964 and 1993, a point that Levering himself admits elsewhere in his article. But the real difference between Levering’s response and the response of the Catholic team in the dialogue discussions is that the latter recognizes that the official Catholic repudiation of supersessionism beginning with Nostra Aetate (1965) has major theological implications and poses significant challenges that will take time to work out. The Catholic Church has begun to address this task and will continue to do so in the years ahead. This process is already evident in the Catechism and in the 2001 document The Jewish People and Their Scriptures in the Christian Bible from the Pontifical Biblical Commission.

Levering argues in effect that the “eschatological fulfillment” in Christ means that the Old Testament distinction between Israel and the nations no longer has any theological or spiritual significance. The repudiation of supersessionism, however, means that Israel’s election was not just for a time. To affirm this distinction is not to claim that Jews are better than gentiles, or that Jesus-believing Jews have an intrinsically better relationship to Jesus than gentile Christians, as Levering argues. It is merely to affirm that there remains a difference—a difference that requires, for example, a distinct approach to the catechesis of Jews from that of gentiles, as Cardinal Schanborn argued in the article cited by Kinzer. This does not create “two churches under one messiah,” for in Christ “the two” are made one. This unity is not the abolition of the distinctiveness of the two, any more than the union of marriage abolishes the differences between man and woman.

Levering’s objections to Kinzer focus on “eschatological fulfillment” in Christ. It is probably true that the argument in Kinzer’s article would be strengthened by a greater attention to eschatology. It may be in the area of eschatology that the Christian encounter with Jesus-believing Jews will prove to be the most challenging, since the Jewish people remain the bearers of the messianic hope, opened to the nations through the death and resurrection of Israel’s messiah. The formulation “The messiah reveals the participation of all things in the eschatological fulfillment that he accomplishes by his death and resurrection” does not do justice to the biblical witness that the eschatological fulfillment is achieved through two comings of the messiah, not one. It is part of “the mystery of Christ” that the “partial hardening” of Israel “for a time” is an integral element in how the final fulfillment will be worked out at the end of history (Rom. 11: 25–26, CCC 674). It is no accident that the biblical witness is that Christ is “the Alpha and the Omega” and not just the center.

Msgr. Peter Hocken
Vienna, Austria

Mark Kinzer is justified in his complaint that the Jews have been eschatologically shortchanged. The prevailing eschatological idea that the Church is the new Israel has diminished and sidelined Israel. This speculative but extremely old idea is why the Church, for much of its history, did not know what to do with the Jews. It is one reason why the Church often failed to honor the Jews and often stood idly by while anti-Semitism ran rampant in the streets.

Kinzer thinks the answer is to emphasize the continuity of the Old and New Testaments. This approach introduces a new error. Far from being a continuity, the Mosaic Covenant is abolished in the New Testament. If you think not, read the Letters to the Galatians and Hebrews. The Abrahamic covenant, however, is still in effect and offers authentic continuity.

Levering is correct in his reproof of Kinzer’s continuity model but thinks that the “fulfillment” model, in which Christ fulfills the covenants, solves the problem. While there is some truth in the fulfillment model, it perpetuates the historical supersessionist ecclesiology, of which Kinzer rightly complains. Neither man has found a solution to this age-old problem of the Jews, because both are working within a false paradigm, namely Catholic amillenial eschatology.

Lutheran amillienialists have ex­actly the same two continuity and fulfillment camps. Both camps must use metaphor and speculation in a strained attempt to square their ideas with Scripture—with no small amount of sweeping inconvenient scriptural passages under the rug.

The conventional premillennial model of the evangelicals offers half a loaf to the Jews. This model offers a partial upgrade of Israel, at the cost of introducing an unbiblical “secret rapture of the Church.” The model ultimately reduces Israel and the Jews to an honored but second-class position. If all Israel will be saved during the Great Tribulation, most of the Jews will be saved too late to participate in the rapture and the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, and they will not be part of the bride of Christ. The gentile church will still be on top and the Messianic Jews will get second-class honors and glories. As a gentile believer, I am tired of seeing the game rigged against the Jews.

At the eschaton, or the divinely appointed climax of the age, Israel will be central:

1) All the prophesies that must be fulfilled before the Great Tribulation can begin to pertain to Israel.

2) After the sealing of the 144,000 Israelites—12,000 from each of the twelve tribes of Israel—most of the prophetic and evangelical work on earth will be done by or led by Messianic Israelites.

3) When Christ returns with his resurrected Church, he will sit on David’s throne in Jerusalem and will destroy the concurrent gathering of the enemies of Israel—just as King David destroyed the enemies of Israel.

4) The Marriage Supper of the Lamb will be in Jerusalem, and all redeemed Jews and Israelites will be part of the bride.

5) Christ will reconstitute and expand the nation of Israel to
the borders that God described to ­Abraham.

6) Christ will rule all nations for a thousand years as he sits on David’s throne in Jerusalem. The only ­worldwide government in all history will be an Israelite monarchy empire.

7) The twelve apostles and the twelve patriarchs of Israel will have equal honors in the New Jerusalem. For all eternity, the redeemed Jew will take second place to none.

Fred Hutchison
Dublin, Ohio

Matthew Levering’s analysis suffers from a fundamental flaw but one that has its intellectual origins in longstanding American constitutional battles and thus has become so completely ingrained in the modern American psyche that it seems part of the natural order of things: Where there is a difference between two classes, there must, ipso facto, exist a hierarchy between them. The idea that two classes of believers could exist in parallel yet possess the same closeness to the Christ appears to be foreign to Levering’s comprehension. Yet, that is all that Rabbi Kinzer is claiming: no more, no less. There is nothing in Kinzer’s analysis that relegates gentile Christian believers to a Tom Smothers–like rant that “Mom liked you best.”

Rather, both parts of the ecclesia (I use the term to distinguish it from the all-too-human institution of the Church) have complementary and necessary roles to play. Going forward, the question is one not of who is to be more honored but of how both parts of the ecclesia can gain grace from the presence and participation of the other. How can Pope John Paul II’s call of Ut Unum Sint become inclusive enough to repair this most primitive breach?

Using the same reasoning that he employs in his piece, does Levering hold a higher place at the eschaton for the ordained than for the non-ordained? The ordained have placed on them obligations, such as the daily recitation of the Office, that are not part of the secular state’s calling. Yet nowhere in the Catechism is there any sense of such rank clericalism; indeed, such a concept is foreign in post–Vatican II theology. Likewise, Kinzer’s statement that the continuing obligations of Torah on Messianic Jews do not confer special privileges either. Instead they denote obligations that God, for reasons that will be unknown until the eschaton, has placed on the nation of Israel.

The role that the Messianic community can play today is that of the capstone of the arch, in which gentile Christians and Torah-observant Jews who have not embraced the Christ can be a community of commonality. That the Messianic community has suffered verbal brickbats from both sides is almost theological proof that there may be something true at work here. It is all too typical for God to make those he chooses pay for the right to be so selected.

James L.J. Nuzzo
Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts

Mark S. Kinzer replies:

I am grateful to all who wrote letters in response to the theological exchange regarding Messianic Jews and Lumen Gentium. I will restrict my comments to those letters that took issue with my contribution.

Bud Scott wishes to remind us that “if we owe everything to the Jews, the Jews have their indebtedness also.” I could not agree more. The biblical example he selects to demonstrate this truth, however, fails to support his point. Scott notes that the Church traces Yeshua’s priesthood to the non-Jew Melchizedek and argues that this refutes my assertion that the priestly office of Yeshua derives from Israel according to the flesh. Several exegetical considerations undermine this argument. First, the Letter to the Hebrews connects Yeshua to Melchizedek through the citation of Psalm 110:4, “You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.” This is a messianic psalm, addressed to the Davidic king whose capital was the same city over which Melchizedek ruled. The purpose of the Psalmist’s reference to Melchizedek is to emphasize the priestly prerogatives of the Davidic dynasty, or at least those of its final and definitive representative.

Second, one of the primary purposes of the citation of this psalm in the Letter to the Hebrews is to defend Yeshua’s priestly role against the charge that he could not function as a priest because he was descended from Judah rather than Levi (Hebrews 7:11–17).

The psalm supports the claim that the Davidic monarchy—descended from Judah—has a priestly vocation. The Melchizedek story in Genesis 14 enables the author of the letter to go even further and assert the superiority of the Davidic over the Levitical priesthood.

Thus, the point is not the non-Jewish origin of Yeshua’s priesthood but its derivation from his identity as the messianic Son of David—the priestly king of Jerusalem.

Third, when Hebrews seeks to portray Yeshua’s priestly service, it does so by associating it not with the non-Jew Melchizedek’s sacrifice but with the sacrifices of Israel. Yeshua’s death, resurrection, and ascension constitute a heavenly fulfillment of the worship undertaken by Israel’s Levitical priests in Israel’s earthly sanctuary on Israel’s Day of Atonement (Hebrews 9:1–14). This is a sacrifice that can be offered only by the resurrected and ascended Son of David—referred to in Psalm 110—and not by the mortal sons of Aaron. But, as a sacrifice offered by Israel’s king, it derives fully from Israel’s priestly role in the world.

Affirming my basic concerns, Fred Hutchison believes that the “idea that the Church is the new Israel has diminished and sidelined Israel.” Nevertheless, he thinks that I fall into a “new error” when I “emphasize the continuity of Old and New Testaments” and fail to recognize that “the Mosaic Covenant is abolished in the New Testament.” I would take great pleasure in a discussion with Hutchison on this point, but I will restrain myself since that was not actually part of my argument. Hutchison may be forgiven for not noticing this, since Matthew Levering appears to have read my article in the same way.

My chief point was not the continuity of the covenants but the continuity of their recipients. It is true that I disagree with both Hutchison and Levering in the continuity I see in the provisions and requirements of the covenants. That was not the point of my article, however. Instead, I was arguing that the original and primary recipient of the renewed covenant is the same Israel that entered into the covenant at Sinai, though this Israel is now expanded to include all those from the nations who are united with Abraham’s singular seed, the messianic king of Israel. I was focusing on the identity of the community, not on the laws and institutions that constitute its prescribed way of life.

Peter Williamson fears that my “criticisms” of Lumen Gentium may distract attention from the crucial significance of the Catholic–Messianic Jewish dialogue. I fear that his fears are justified. In the lengthier paper from which the First Things article was adapted, I express my profound appreciation for Lumen Gentium. It is truly a milestone in ecclesiological teaching. Its deficiencies pale in comparison to the depth of its insights and the breadth of its scope, and it should be assessed charitably in relation to the times in which the document was written.

The Council fathers could not have anticipated the emergence of the Messianic Jewish movement nor the possibility of a revived “Church from the Circumcision.” Moreover, as Fr. Peter Hocken suggests in his letter, the weaknesses I find in Lumen Gentium are not errors to be refuted but inadequacies demanding further theological exploration and doctrinal development. I did not intend to “criticize” Lumen Gentium, though I can understand why readers might conclude otherwise.

Finally, I wish to thank First Things for publishing this exchange. Little public attention has been given to the significant implications of Messianic Judaism for the Church. Discussion needs to begin, and there is no better place for that to happen than in this journal, founded by one of the few who recognized those implications many years ago.

Matthew Levering replies:

Peter Williamson, without perhaps meaning to do so, puts his finger on my central question, one that cannot be solved for Catholic Christians solely by historical research: What does it mean for Messianic Jews, Jewish Christians, “to be faithful to the covenant that God made with their ancestors”? It seems to me that Kinzer needs to engage more seriously with fulfillment theologies (especially that of the Catechism) of the messiah’s saving work. Broadly speaking, the question is how one divine covenant participates in a later one. Once the question is framed in terms of participation, disagreement with Kinzer does not mean that one conceives of divine covenantal action strictly along a supersessionist timeline, according to which what is later negates and displaces what is earlier. Instead a broader range of options opens up. In this light, I am hopeful that Msgr. Hocken might reevaluate my suggestions for how to understand divine covenantal action. I agree with him that “Israel’s election was not just for a time,” and indeed I do not find much in his letter with which to disagree, other than to insist again on the importance of the Catechism’s theology of Christ’s saving work.

With respect to the letter of Professors Whitters and Schumann, I share their interest in facilitating the partnership of Jew and gentile in the “same body.” Regarding the issue of ordination raised by James Nuzzo, at stake is the question of how all believers share eucharistically in Christ, definitely not brickbats or sibling rivalries. Although Bud Scott and Fred Hutchinson do not agree with each other, I agree with both of them that “the role of the Jews in salvation history is not over.” The point of my response to Kinzer was to raise some theological issues that I think he needs to examine more fully. I hope that, in this way, the exchange will eventually bear excellent fruit.

Seeing and Disbelieving

God bless Mary Eberstadt for courageously speaking the flat out truth about the toxic fallout from the sexual revolution. Her piece (“The Will to Disbelieve,” February 2009) supports the equally trenchant observation by one analyst (whose name escapes me) that all the loud pronouncements from academia have one thing in common: their total lack of substance.

The will to disbelieve, I trust Eberstadt would agree, applies with equal validity to what elite leftists call “the so-called war on terror.” There is, of course, nothing so called about it, as all the gory and graphic evidence proves. The chief cause driving this phenomenon and that relating to sexual mores cited by Eberstadt can, in my view, be summed up in one word: cowardice. Seeking to cloak their fear of reprisals for naming real root causes, progressives trumpet phony diversions depicted as earth shattering crises (namely, global warming), missile defense, homophobia, protecting our borders, the religious right, abstinence education, prayer in schools, animal rights, biblical creation, etc.

The faculty-lounge types know they can rant and rave till the cows come home about such issues because the targets of their trumped-up ire (the United States and Christians) present no retaliatory peril.

O.M. Ostlund Jr.
Altoona, Pennsylvania

Promoters of the sexual revolution can still ignore its unfortunate consequences, as Mary Eberstadt says they do, partly because it is difficult to show that these consequences are logically necessary. The argument from empirical evidence can be explained away by reference to the fallacy of post hoc, propter hoc. The same could apply to the results of communist rule. The willful blindness Eberstadt condemns in liberationists and Marxist professors, therefore, is not so bad as that of the pro-life journals. These ignore, without ever trying to rebut, the logical necessity of arguments that show that the abortion dispute demands that those who engage in it are obliged to fight each other fairly in a fiercely physical sense to resolve that issue, especially since one side wins while it remains unresolved. Being pro-life means being pro-your-own-life first of all; that is the “shared value” of pro-life and pro-choice to which the former necessarily appeal in vain.

Colin Burke
Port au Port, Newfoundland

While Mary Eberstadt makes a convincing case for the consequences of the so-called sexual revolution, she simplifies its cause. She says it was simply hatched by myopic intellegentia and liberationists, as if they alone have the power to alter human behavior. Let me bring up some major changes that contributed to the collapse of traditional sexual morality.

Since the Second World War, there has been a separate youth subculture which is detached from adult supervision. There is a distinct youth music, language, and values system. The latter is basically following one’s libido. The consolidation of schools, easy access to automobiles, a wired society, and the prolonging of education have contributed to this.

Also since World War II, the age at which one reaches puberty keeps dropping, while the age at which one accepts adult responsibility keeps rising. Now factor in the common use of antibiotics to control sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and we have the recipe for a radical behavior change. Until the 1940s, if one was sexually promiscuous, he would contract an STI with near certainty. There would be no ready cure for the consequences of sexual licentiousness. The Centers for Disease Control estimate that two to three million teens contract STIs every year. Now they go to a nearby clinic to get antibiotics. Even AIDS can be contained. Today the consequence of young bucks sowing their wild oats does not immediately affect them. It is thrust on our society with the consequences Eberstadt shows.

Leland Gamson
Marion, Indiana

Proving God

I was frustrated reading the essay “Asking the Wrong Question” (January 2009), in which Alan Mittleman contended that people of faith should give up answering the “big questions,” such as “Does God exist?” It seemed that since Mittleman witnessed the poor showing by theists in the Templeton Foundation–spon­sored debates, he concluded it best that believers give up on the whole debating enterprise. He also has fundamental problems with the endeavor. He thinks posing the question is a tactically bad idea, and he also thinks it is a question the theist is not suited to answer. He states, “The question—‘Does X exist?’ is a question about things and persons, not about the God of Israel.” This is wrong on many levels. The God of Israel said, “I am who I am,” a strong claim to existence. For Christians, God is three persons. Persons and historical events are the essential elements of Christianity and Judaism. If believers cannot defend these things, then we should give up the idea that there is any connection between faith and reason.

However, the theists’ contentions are defensible. It is unfortunate that many articulate theists do not know how to debate. Mittleman gives an example when he says: “The atheist challenges the believer to produce sufficient evidence to persuade him. The believer cannot.” But a good debater would never solely accept the burden of proof. A good pastor or theologian does not necessarily make a good debater. Even a good debater may not have the philosophical background to prevail.

This is unfortunate because the believer actually does have better evidence. The contemporary version of the Kalam cosmological argument is amazingly strong. The design argument (found convincing by Antony Flew) is strengthened by current science. The moral argument is persuasive to anyone recognizing the need for objective moral grounding.

God is not some ancillary unicorn or gremlin. Rather God is the necessary beginning, the necessary “I am.” The properly prepared believer can and should defend “God is.”

Joshua Runyan
San Diego, California

It struck us when reading “Asking the Wrong Question” that one way to characterize faith is that it is similar to, or analogous to, emotions (and even reason), being essentially one of the ways to “engage with the world” according to R. Solomon’s understanding of emotions. It would be of real interest to see such an approach developed. For example, faith, reason (hope), and emotion (including some or all aspects of love) may each have neurological aspects, intentionality, interaction with physiology and health of the body, and so on. This comparison or similarity may lend support to why asking “Does God exist?” is not the right question and why faith-like emotions cannot be avoided in daily living and academic discussion.

Decision making requires active emotions. Could it be, perhaps, that an active faith of some kind is required in order to be rational? Therefore, to decide accurately whether God exists may require a more whole-person response, rather than just a mind or language game “in the head.” This is surely implied by the question “Does God exist?” as it targets belief or a proposition. Could it be that the decision making, even the scope of life, of atheists is limited by conflating rationality/objectivity/accuracy with mere mental reason alone, which is why they ask a wrong question?

In research in patients with cancer, with a focus on psycho-emotional symptoms, and with some attempt at measuring spirituality, patients respond to the diagnosis and management of cancer more as whole persons, and they rely on faith, reason, and emotion. Where these are in gross error, or more typically too salient or abnormal, they will interfere with making decisions and complicate clinical management. In The Brothers Karamazov, things happen around the Grand Inquisitor that answer his questions, but he cannot see that because he wants only one form of answer—a severely reduced form that depends on reasoning alone, stripped of faith or emotion. The same is true for the atheist or very skeptical inquirer.

Glenn Jones
McMaster University
Hamilton, Ontario

Lyndsay Richardson
Credit Valley Hospital
Mississauga, Ontario

Provocative Poetry

While I usually enjoy First Things’ sense of salon, the poem about John Calvin (“Visiting Geneva,” February 2009) seemed cruel, forced, and needlessly provocative. I can think of a hundred ways of engaging the debate over the Reformation without playing the “Taliban” card or creating caricatures. Even within the Catholic tradition of that time, there were “double predestination” types—a broad range in the technical understanding of hot-button issues. Calvin was not, and does not deserve to be colored as, warped or freakish. He was just as much the product of his age as were the Catholics of that era. It is pointless to resort to slights and “gotcha games” or to throw stones at historical ­characters.

Wilbur Nelson
Soldotna, Alaska

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