“Not a private or a tame savior, available on tap, like a favorite beer”

In last week’s sermon, I discussed the understandable misgivings that we Christians sometimes feel about evangelism  in relation to Jews. Years ago, the Southern Baptists got into hot water in the media (like, when aren’t Southern Baptists in hot water with the media?) because they had some explicit plan to evangelize the Jews. I had a friend at the time, who is Jewish, who was indignant, and he wasn’t alone. We Christians want to say (as we often do say) that Jews have one covenant with God and Christians have another, and so let’s just live and let live.

This is bad Christian theology, and it flies in the face of everything Paul argues throughout Romans, especially in chapters 9-11. But if the only alternative to this bad theology were anti-Judaism or anti-Semitism, then I’d gladly live with bad theology!

But this isn’t the only alternative. If we as the Church love and respect our Jewish friends, we should love them enough to want them to experience this amazing gift of life and love that God has given us in Christ; and we should respect them enough to bear witness to what we truly believe. Namely, that Jesus is Lord, not merely of the billion or so professing Christians living in the world, but of the entire cosmos.

I’m reminded of a Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode I saw one time. The opening credits of the B-movie that Mike and his robot sidekicks were forced to watch showed the famous space logo for Universal Pictures. And below the logo it read “A Universal-National Production.” (I assume a company called National merged with Universal, and they hyphenated their name.) One of the show’s robot commentators pointed out the obvious redundancy: “If you’re ‘universal,’ doesn’t that imply that you’re also ‘national’?”

If Jesus is Lord of all Creation, he is also Lord of everyone within it, not merely us (mostly) Gentile Christians. Of course this is a challenge to our prevailing ideology of inclusiveness and religious pluralism. But we can’t evade the challenge and be faithful to the gospel. In his commentary on Romans, N.T. Wright deals with this challenge on nearly every page, but I especially like what he says here:

And if Christians remain loyal to Jesus of Nazareth they cannot evade the challenge of his Messiahship, upon which is based his universal lordship. He is not a private or a tame savior, available on tap, like a favorite beer, for those who want some salvation now and then. If he is not Messiah and Lord, the whole of Christianity is indeed based on a mistake and ought to be abandoned. But what if he is?…

Here, in fact, is the crowning irony of today’s attempt to appropriate Romans 9–11. For Paul, anti-Judaism would mean imagining that Jews cannot come to faith in Jesus. For many today, anti-Judaism means supposing that they can and should.

Of course, the idea that the Church can convince Jews today—after the tragic, sordid history of violence and arrogance that has too often characterized our relationship over the centuries—may seem daunting, even hopeless. But the fact remains, even today, that ethnic Jews do become Christians. They are in our churches, and God knows that we Gentile Christians—the “wild olive branch” grafted onto an ancient root—benefit from their witness.

N.T. Wright, “Romans” in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol X., ed. Leander Keck (Nashville: Abingdon, 2002), 697-698.

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