Friday, January 12, 2018


I think there's some confusion on what is meant by "supersessionism", so I'm going to quote an exposition. Although the scholar in question clearly has a theological bias, my point in quoting him is not to take a position but to define the concept(s). Like other theological paradigms (e.g. Calvinism, Lutheranism, amillennialism), supersessionism is a wholesale reading strategy. Its appeal lies in the integrative power. But a corollary danger is to marginalize or delegitimate whatever can't be assimilated into the interpretive paradigm. 

The standard model is supersessionist simply by virtue of the story that it tells. According to the standard model, Israel and the church both depend exclusively upon Christ for their theological significance. But Israel corresponds to Christ in a merely prefigurative and carnal way, whereas the church corresponds to Jesus Christ in a definitive and spiritual way. Hence Christ's advent brings about the obsolescence of carnal Israel and inaugurates the age of the spiritual church. Everything that characterized the economy of salvation in its Israelite form becomes obsolete and is replaced by its ecclesial equivalent. The written law of Moses is replaced by the spiritual law of Christ, circumcision by baptism, natural descent by faith as criterion of membership in the people of God, and so forth. As a result, carnal Israel becomes obsolete. This understanding of supersessionism can be called economic because the ultimate obsolescence of carnal Israel is an essential feature of God's one overarching economy of redemption for the world. 

Economic supersessionism is often accompanied by a complementary narrative viewpoint that can be called punitive supersessionism. According to punitive supersessionism, God abrogates God's covenant with Israel (which is already in principle outmoded) on account of Israel's rejection of Christ and the gospel. Because the Jews obstinately reject God's action in Christ, God in turn angrily rejects and punishes the Jews. 

While economic supersessionism need not be overtly hostile toward the Jewish people, it logically entails the ontological, historical, and moral obsolescence of Israel's existence after Christ…Furthermore, economic supersessionism shapes the way Christians read great expanses of the biblical story (from Abraham to Christ and Pentecost), and is therefore deeply interwoven with the narrative and conceptual fabric of the standard model as a whole. 

In addition to these two explicit doctrinal perspectives, the standard model is also supersessionist in a structural sense, that is, by virtue of the manner in which it construes the narrative unity of the Christian Bible as a whole. The standard model is structurally supersessionist because it unifies the Christian canon in a manner that renders the Hebrew Scriptures largely indecisive for shaping conclusions about how God's purposes engage creation in universal and enduring ways. 

The standard canonical narrative turns on four key episodes: God's intention to consummate the fist parents whom God has created, the fall, Christ's incarnation and the inauguration of the church, and final consummation. These four episodes play a uniquely important role in the standard model because together they constitute the model's basic plot or storyline. They relate how God's works as Consummator and as Redeemer engage human creation in ways that have universal and lasting significance. In this way, the four episodes determine the basic narrative and conceptual structure of the standard model as a whole. 

First, the foreground portrays God's engagement with human creation in cosmic and universal terms. Christ figures in the story as the incarnation of the eternal Logos, humankind appears as descendants of the first parents and possessors of a common human nature, and so on. Second, the foreground completely neglects the Hebrew Scriptures, with the exception of Gen 1-3! The story tells how God engaged Adam and Eve as Consummator and how God's initial consummating plan was almost immediately disrupted by the fall. The foreground story then leaps immediately to the Apostolic Witness interpreted as God's deliverance of humankind from the fall through Jesus Christ. So conceived, God's purposes as Consummator and Redeemer engage human creation in a manner that simply outflank the greater part of the Hebrew Scriptures and, above all, their witness to God's history with the people of Israel.

What then becomes of the center of the Hebrew Scriptures, namely, the God of Israel's history with the Israel of God? Not surprisingly, it recedes into what I will call the background of the standard canonical narrative…God's history with Israel does not form an indispensable narrative element of either God's initial work as Consumator or God's work as Redeemer in its definitive form. Bracketed between these two decisive modes of God's engagement with creation, Israel's history is portrayed as nothing more than the economy of redemption in prefigurative form. So construed, Israel's story contributes little or nothing to understanding how God's consummating and redemptive purposes engage human creation in universal and enduring ways. Indeed, the background can be completely omitted from an account of Christian faith without thereby disturbing the overarching logic of elevation history. R. Kendall Soulen, The God of Israel and Christian Theology (Augsburg Fortress), 29-32.

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