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Michael S. Kogan, Opening the Covenant: A Jewish Theology of Christianity.

Michael S. Kogan, Opening the Covenant: A Jewish Theology of Christianity. Oxford, U.K., and New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. Pp. 284. $29.95.

In this volume, Kogan, the Montclair State University professor and dialogist, draws together a collection of occasional pieces--a number of them published in this journal--to articulate a "pluralist theology of Judaism." This theology is not developed in a systematic fashion from beginning to end. Instead, it emerges through the myriad conversations Kogan elucidates in its pages: conversations with a staggering variety of Messianisms in first-century Palestine (chap. 2); conversations with ancient and modern Jewish interpreters of Christianity and Christian interpreters of Judaism (chaps. 3-4, 6); conversations inaugurated by the post-conciliar Catholic Church, the World Council of Churches, and a range of more local--and sometimes more controversial--scholarly and denominational initiatives in the twenty-first century (chaps. 5, 7); pastoral conversations at the grassroots level of synagogue, church, and civic community (chap. 9); and even the desperate conversation of Jacob with a shadowy figure he names as God, which reveals both the struggle of faith and the "irreducible uncertainty of the reality of the divine" (p. 190). Such a mature, existentialist understanding of faith should, on Kogan's reading, lead Jew and Christian alike to acknowledge "One God, two revelations, two true religions" (p. 35), and beyond.

Kogan breaks little new ground here. His gift resides, instead, in his sensible negotiation of contested issues and his ability to reduce complex ideas to relatively simple, digestible formulations. In surveying the work of the Catholic Church since Vatican II, for example, he expresses genuine appreciation for certain forms of theological inclusivism and even admits that this may be "as far as the church can go" (p. 13 l)--a sentiment largely vindicated by the 2000 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith document Dominus lesus, which strangely escapes mention in this book. Still, such appreciation does not deter Kogan from pressing for a more pluralistic settlement that recognizes the multiple revelations of the one true God. Along the way, he draws a number of convincing parallels between the two faiths, including especially the close soteriological connection between the people Israel as a collective individual and Jesus as the "exemplary Israelite," respectively, as "the key to understanding the relationship between the two sister faiths" (p. 29). Like many before him, he suggests that Jewish theologians should view Christianity not as a deviation but as an extension of God's promises to the gentiles. Yet, here again, he is most compelling when he moves beyond such common formulations to argue that Jews need not reject--even if they cannot accept--distinctive Christian teachings on incarnation, vicarious sacrifice, and resurrection (pp. 114-118).

Opening the Covenant represents a very worthwhile, if patchy, introduction to the rich possibilities of Jewish-Christian dialogue. Those looking to engage its claims at a more profound level, however, will need to look beyond Kogan himself to his sources, including the Torah, to be sure, but also the likes of Soren Kierkegaard and Paul Knitter. Poetically enough, Kogan's argument for mutual enrichment stands or falls with those others--both Jews and Christians--from whose wells he has drunk so deeply.

Reid B. Locklin, St. Michael's College, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada
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Author:Locklin, Reid B.
Publication:Journal of Ecumenical Studies
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2010
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