Sunday 10 December 2023

New Covenant Theology: The continuing dissemination of Christian antisemitism

 Prologue to the review:

Why I ended up reading this book: These are two comments that I received from a reviewer regarding an abstract for a book that I was proposing to write dealing with the issues of the Christian Bible and Rape Culture.  

Sentence from my abstract: This  monograph looks at the structural aspects of for Rape Culture in Christianity from the perspective of children who have been sexually abused within its environments.

Comment 1: What about those who argue the opposite? E.g. Helen Paynter in 'The Bible Doesn't Tell Me So'? [today's response from me: in an abstract??]

Comment 2: How can you adopt this perspective? What is your legitimacy or authority in doing so? [today's response from me: have you not read my dissertation? or some of my published articles? again: in an abstract? and furthermore, Helen Paynter is legitimate and has authority because why????? she's a Baptist pastor???? she has a PhD in biblical studies???]

Since I hadn't read what Helen Paynter says in her 2020 book, The Bible Doesn't Tell Me So: Why you don't have to submit to domestic abuse and coercive control, I decided that I would look at it. It was not available through Interlibrary Loans, so I stuck it in my shopping cart. However, the book that is being reviewed below, God of Violence yesterday, God of love today?, was available through ILL, so I ordered it. I was horrified at its implicit/explicit antisemitism. I have since removed the 2020 book from my shopping cart. If it is available through ILL at some point, I will order and read it and answer the first question, specifically.

TitleGod of violence yesterday, God of love today?: Wrestling honestly with the Old Testament

Author: Helen Paynter

Publication: Eugene OR: WIPF & Stock, 2019

The Rating System: Not really applicable to this book since it does not deal with intimate partner violence, rape culture or with sexual violence of any sort. However, I have serious reservations about this book that will be discussed below, so I thought that I might as well discuss it.

The Review:

First, as the author makes clear "This is a Christian enquiry into the violence of the Old Testament." [p. 16, italics in the original] 

This book reeks of new covenant theology and this was the starting point for Christian anti-semitism beginning in the "New Testament". I doubt that the author would consider herself an anti-Semite but that is the implication when the "God" of the Old Testament (and no, she does not use Hebrew Bible) is the flawed understanding of God that has to be explained and it is only through Jesus that we can clearly see the good God. The heading for this section of her book reads: The Fullest Revelation of God is in Jesus.

To quote: "We begin with the presupposition that we know God is good because we have seen him revealed in Jesus Christ." (p. 16)

To quote: "If we have not formed an opinion of God that is shaped by the biblical testimony that he is altogether good, then such texts do not present a conundrum. But because we have encountered Jesus Christ and studied his words and life and death, they cause a difficulty." (p. 17)

The assumption here is that if you only read the "Old Testament", your view of "God" would be flawed. Does this not imply implicitly, if not explicitly, that anyone who is a practicing religious Jew has a flawed religion or a flawed understanding of the revealed "god"? Of course it does!

There are two sections at the end of the book under the heading, Interpreting these texts today (pp.154-155). The first points out "that when we  attempt to teach them [that is, children] within the fuller context of scripture , where God is clearly not always on Israel's side, and that we do not encourage children to roll in the blood, as it were". (quotes Is. 9:5 at the end of this sentence) The second segment warns "readers not to equate "ancient Israel" with "modern Israel". Now, since she has been proof-texting throughout her book, I will offer only one text in rebuttal: Gen. 15:17, which reads: "... On that day, Yahweh made a covenant with Abram, "To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphra'tes, the land of the Ken'ites, the Ken'izzites, the Kad'monites, the Hittites, the Per'izzites, the Reph'aim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Gir'gashites, and the Jeb'usites. (RSV)" The following is a link to a map with discussion that charts this verse: Greater Israel map. This is what "text-proofing" gets you! If you are a biblical fundamentalist, then the only answer to Gen. 15:17 is that of new covenant theology!

The book is full of texts proving that the violence in the Christian Bible has a purpose in God's plan. As I read it, she must believe that by quoting violent verses/passages from the "New Testament", as well as the "Old Testament", she is showing a balanced view to help questioners realize that the "Bible" must be seen as a whole (because, of course, it is God's revelation to human beings).  

I could match Paynter prooftext for prooftext but I won't. I was partially raised religiously in a fundamentalist Baptist environment (preached a sermon at Galilean Bible camp on hiding your candle under a bushel and played the piano for services, attended  DVBS,  was a member of ISCF, YFC (our team made it to the Ontario championships for a memorization of Scripture competition ("New Testament"). Mind you, this means that, rather ironically, when scriptures come to the forefront of my mind even today, they are first and foremost in the form of the King James Version) and various revival meetings). My parents didn't see the harm in it, I suppose. However, as soon as the United Church opened a summer camp, that's where my sisters went.

Concluding Remarks: This book contains many of the problems that I believe are, at their core, harmful to a healthy Christianity. There are other issues that I could bring up but I am only concerned with antisemitism as the substrata to the whole book. The problem is that what this book brings to the table is a rather skillful intertwining of the Christian Bible, Baptist theology and its form of new covenant theology. And this is how Christian antisemitism continues to be disseminated.

Glossary:

New Covenant Theology: This is Christian theology - direct from the pages of its primary text. It is embedded in most forms of Christianity whether acknowledged any longer or not. It says that all of the previous covenants that Yahweh/God had with the ancient Israelites that one sees in the "Old Testament" (testament being another word for covenant) are superseded by the "new covenant" that Yahweh/God instituted by the death of Jesus (var. his Son, God himself incarnate. etc.) dying for our sins. And the "New Testament" is where we find this! It is not "new" as some of the Internet links suggest but that is neither here nor there. There are various forms of this. However, in none of them do the Jews come out well. [It can get very complicated but this is the gist of the belief.]

DVBS: Daily Vacation Bible School

ISCF: Inter-School Christian Fellowship, an organisation for high school students within the school

YFC: Youth for Christ

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