Over at the Rosh Pina Project Joseph has written an interesting piece on that champion of Christian orthodoxy and defender of the traditional view of the divinity of Christ against the Arian heresy, Athanasius. Yet again, Joseph highlights this ongoing battle faced by MJs: a leading Church figure who defended orthodoxy yet who seemingly also spoke negatively of the Jews. Thus the essay points out how Jews who reject the Gospel juxtapose Athanasius' high Christology with his negative protrayal of the Jewish people, almost as if the two are somehow related. Joseph concludes:
The challenge then for those of us believers in Jesus with a high Christology is to demonstrate to Jewish people that we repudiate anti-Semitism, and that our Christology should lead us to a positive attitude towards the Jewish people, not a negative one.Now some may argue Athanasius was not truly anti-Semitic, that some secondary sources are biased in their anti-Christian interpretation and selective citation. Others better qualified in Church history than I in must decide. But this said, yet again we see another clear example of a Church which, throughout its history, has done itself no favours in the tone and nature of language it employs. It is quite one thing to challenge - and robustly at that - the theological distortion of Mosaic Judaism which is rabbinic Judaism. After all, the New Testament's Jewish writers squarely rejected such theology in their proclamation of Christ, who is the Jewish Messiah. Yet throughout much of its history, the Church's challenging of rabbinic Judaism has all too often degenerated into condemnation of the entire Jewish people themselves, so that criticism of a religious system has shifted to intense and vociferous criticism of an entire people.
Whilst we should redeem the more positive elements of Athanasius, sifting it away from the highly-charged politics of fourth-century Alexandria, we should loudly condemn the negative aspects of his writings.
Of all the identities he could have taken, our God chose to become a Jewish man with a Jewish body, living in first-century Israel. He lived with Jews, he breathed in and breathed out Jewish teachings, and he broke bread with Jews.
Unfortunately, we face a similar situation today. Unlike traditional Reformed supercessionism which has carefully eschewed highly charged anti-Israel political language, the New Supercessionism is all too often politically inflammatory, polarising and divisive in its anti-Israel stance. This is a pity, not only because it makes Jewish evangelism so much more difficult, but also because within those circles are some committed Evangelicals who genuinely hold to a strong Christology. Unfortunately, yet again Christian orthodoxy is associated with a movement which - rightly or wrongly - is perceived by Jewish people as deeply critical of an entire people. Thus the Gospel suffers. It's time to tone down the language.