In some of his recent works, N. T. Wright has noted that the historic creeds of the church leave Israel out entirely. Thinking theologically apart from Israel results in a hollowed-out vision of the church’s identity and mission and tends toward a gnosticized conception of history, salvation, and Christian existence.
Wright’s point is largely that neglecting Israel keeps us from recognizing that the Scriptures tell the story of God establishing his reign of blessing over all the earth in Israel’s Messiah Jesus.
I’m currently enjoying Kendall Soulen’s masterful The God of Israel and Christian Theology. He argues that the distinction between Israel and the nations is fundamental to Scripture and to God’s eternal purposes.
“ . . . the distinction between Israel and the nations is an inescapable fact of the biblical narrative. Indeed, Friedrich-Wilhelm Marquardt has suggested that the distinction between Israel and the nations constitutes the basic structure of an ontology in Israelite idiom. In this he is undoubtedly correct. Marquardt’s appeal to the term ontology is appropriate because the Scriptures view the distinction between Israel and the nations as a part of the abiding constitution of reality in God, anticipated from the beginning and present at the end of all things. At the same time, his observation can be made more precise. Viewed in light of the distinction between Israel and the nations, biblical ontology takes the concrete form of economy, that is, of God’s providential care and management of the households of creation. More particularly still, biblical ontology takes the form of an economy of mutual blessing, in which God summons the households of creation to receive God’s blessing in the company of an other. Because it belongs to the glory of the biblical God to love the human family in a human way, in the fullness of its corporeality and concreteness, God’s economy of mutual blessing exhibits a certain order or taxis, a taxis summarized by a first-century Jew in the phrase, “to the Jew first and also to the Gree” (Rom. 1:16) (p. 121, emphasis added).
Soulen’s work is programmatic and far-reaching, and it has implications for all aspects of Christian theology and practice, from the identity of God to the character of mundane relationships.
Reckoning with the relationship between Israel’s Scriptures and the Christian canon is an abiding challenge for biblical scholars and theologians. Much of my work is driven by a desire to overcome a reading of Paul that marginalizes Israel, either as being subsumed within the church or left behind as merely preparatory for God’s work in Jesus. Soulen provides a profound, hopeful, and compelling theological vision for rightly reckoning with Israel’s Scriptures, the God of Israel, and the Israel of God.