"To the Editors" Correspondence between Avery Cardinal Dulles and Luke Timothy Johnson
Commonweal, February 28, 2003, p. 2
Picking up on one sentence in my article for America ("Covenant and Mission," October 21, 2002), Luke Timothy Johnson ("Christians & Jews," Commonweal, January 31, 2003) holds that I erred in characterizing the Letters to the Hebrews as "the most formal statement on the status of the Sinai Covenant under Christianity" in the New Testament. I stand by my statement and challenge anyone to come up with a formal treatment.
In addition, Johnson accuses me of defending "supersessionism" and of thinking Christians should "proselytize" Jews. Both accusation are incorrect. Undoubtedly Christians have much to learn from Jews and will profit immensely from the Jews' adherence to Christ (Rom 11:12). This gives us even greater motives for sharing with Jews the good news that the Son of God came to be their savior as well as ours. We force nothing on them, but invite them with patience and love to share our joy.
I trust that Commonweal readers will judge my position from my own writings and not from reports such as Johnson's.
Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J.
The author replies:
I think it is good advice to read Cardinal Dulles's original article. He seems, however, to have missed the point I was trying to make. Yes, Hebrews says what he reported it saying. But the language of "formal statement" and "under Christianity" employed by Dulles is, I suggested, anachronistic. Hebrews is not making a "formal statement" in the sense of a Vatican declaration, but is making an argument from within a movement that is not yet - at the time of its composition - fully distinct from Judaism. I refrain from examining the implications of "under" in Dulles's phrase, "under Christianity."
I will also not comment on Dulles's odd interpretation of my point that Christians have much to learn from Jews. Dulles says, "Undoubtedly Christians have much to learn from Jews and will profit immensely from the Jews' adherence to Christ (Rom 11:12)," but, like him, I stand by what I have written.
Luke Timothy Johnson