Last Updated on September 7, 2008
Here is a short piece I wrote in response to Philip Cunningham and Jan Katzew’s essay “Do Christians and Jews Worship the Same God?” which can be found in the collection Irreconcilable Differences?
The two different emphases of God’s character(s) as presented by Jews and Christians are complimentary in their natures. Rather than being either contradictory or contrasting, Christianity and Judaism (in generic terms) each provides understandings of God that augment each other.
Rather than understanding the complimentary natures of both Judaism and Christianity within the confines of either a) history or b) theology, a much more beneficial understanding of God arises when these two competing religious teleologies are reconciled. The term competing is used in this context because, traditionally, Christian theology has been the underpinning of understanding the “Judeo-Christian” tradition from the modernist Christian perspective seeking to understand the value of Judaism to contemporary Christianity. The evolving understanding of humanity, Christ, God and the creedal statements, which have come to define Christianity proper but do not have an analogue in the Jewish faith, heavily influences this theology. Rather than having a concrete theological conception or even need of theology to reflect upon the Scriptures, Jews come to know and experience God as an active participant in history. This historical understanding places a great deal of emphasis on the individual, since like God, each person must willingly choose to act to participate and fulfill the parameters of the covenantal relationship.
Although Jews emphasize the holiness, uniqueness and transcendence of God and Christians tend to emphasize the nearness of God and the ability of humans to have relationships with God
(in accordance with God’s transcendence), the historical ethical impetus of Judaism and the prominence that Christians place on a theological understanding of God each provide complimentary means to better understanding God. It is in the dynamic relationship that exists between the historical and the theological that God may be experienced on a relational and individual level. While access to understanding God can be found within the Jewish and Christian faiths respectively, there is a great deal of fertile and rich space for a human to experience God in this interplay between theology and history.
In their essay “Do Christians and Jews Worship the Same God?” Philip Cunningham and Jan Katzew approach this topic from their respective points of views as a practicing Catholic and a practicing Jew . At the outset of their essay, Cunningham and Katzew somewhat heavy handily misrepresent their final task by framing their goal as “theological harmony, not homogenization.” It is not the anti-homogenization point that is disjointed (rather, it is very valid), but the insistence on theological harmony when their actual accomplished goal by the end of their essay is to tie the experiential and historical nature of Judaism with the theologically biased worldview of Christianity. This is no small feat. Rather, as they state in numerous places, God is known to us and best experienced by us when these two seemingly irreconcilable differences are bridged with a coherent understanding of the relationship of history and theology:
God is known to us through historical experience, and as a result of that experience Jews are called to accept that God as the one and only, the foundation for ethical monotheism…Our belief in God’s existence is not the consequence of philosophical argument but of historical experience.
The ancestors worshipped the same deity, but their relationships were private, personal, and unique. So it is with each one of us. Christians agree with the Jewish experience that God is met in history and that such meetings generate relationship.
The relational aspect is the glue that sticks the theological with the historical in this architecture. Whereas Chistianity proper and Judiasm proper have general understandings of the nature of God, those conditional statements or understandings of history do not limit God and the individual. The subjective nature thus enables the wiggle room needed to experience God both theologically and historically through the mutual benefit of Christianity and Judaism.
Therefore, it is possible for Jews and Christians to worship together, pray together, study Scripture together and minister in the community together because of their mutual worship and allegiance to the same God.