Risking Proclamation, Respecting Difference: Christian Faith, Imperialistic Discourse, and Abraham

By Chris Boesel

An important analysis of the ethics of proclaiming the Christian faith and the implications for the theology of Jewish-Christian relations.

ISBN: 9780227173145


Can Christian proclamation be made ethically safe for the Jewish neighbour? Or does the question itself harbor a hidden danger as serious as the one it seeks to remedy? In Chris Boesel’s skillful hands, these questions become highly sensitive diagnostic tools for assessing the strengths and weaknesses of two major approaches to a Christian theology of Judaism, those exemplified by Rosemary Radford Ruether and Karl Barth. In clear, surefooted, and subtle prose, Boesel shows that the strengths and weaknesses of these approaches are seldom what they appear to be at first glance.

Relying on a paraphrase of Anselm – “faith seeking the ethical” – Boesel engages modern and postmodern theologians and philosophers – from Kierkegaard to Barth, Ruether, Hegel, Derrida, and Levinas – to analyse the imperialistic dynamics entailed in the church’s theological understanding of Judaism. He demonstrates the dimensions of the problem as shown paradigmatically in the evangelical theological assumptions of Karl Barth.

Turning to Ruether’s solution to the problem, Boesel shows how her analysis and critique are driven by a specific set of modern assumptions that constitute what he calls “modern ethical desire”. Employing a reading of Levinas and Derrida, Boesel shows that these assumptions themselves constitute an imperialistic discourse of a different order, with its own specific hostility toward the Abrahamic tradition.

In light of these postmodern critiques, Boesel returns to Barth to suggest that his evangelical assumptions, while indeed amounting to a form of Christian interpretive imperialism in relation to Judaism, may nevertheless determine and delimit the knowledge and speech of Christian faith in such a way that resists more toxic forms of Christian imperialism.

The broader implications of this thesis are that the ethical faces a radical limit, both in general and in relation to concrete faith. No human remedy for the imperialistic proclamation of Christian faith presents itself that does not in turn entail an interpretive imperialism, leading to the conclusion that ethically speaking, one can only discern between different forms of interpretive imperialism. Theologically, the notion of Christian faith as irreducible to the ethical may offer a surprising – though ethically risky – approach to this predicament.

Additional information

Dimensions 229 × 153 mm
Pages 306

Trade Information JPOD

About the Author

Chris Boesel is Assistant Professor of Christian Theology at Drew University’s Theological School and Graduate Division of Religion.



Part I: An Introduction: The Problem and its Context
1. Is the Good News of Jesus Christ Bad News for the Jewish Neighbor?
2. Kierkegaard and Hegel on Abraham: The Openness and Complexity of the Modern Context

Part II: The Problem: A Theological Exemplar
3. The Problem, Part I: The “Perfect Storm” of Christological Interpretive Imperialism
4. The Problem, Part II: The Good News of the Gospel and the Bad News for the Children of Abraham

Part III: The Remedy: A Theological Exemplar
5. The Remedy, Part I: Dispersing the “Perfect Storm”
6. The Remedy, Part II: The Debt to Modernity – Interpretive Imperialism in a Higher Key
7. The Remedy, Part III: Abraham Must Die

Part IV: The Remedy as Problem, the Problem as Remedy
8. Postmodern Discernment and the Limits of the Ethical: The Way of Justice
9. The Problem as Remedy: An Interpretive Imperialism “Without Weapons”?
10. Conclusion: Faith Seeking the Ethical

Author Index
Subject Index


Endorsements and Reviews

In Risking Proclamation, Respecting Difference, Chris Boesel has dared to host a dialogue among Karl Barth, radical postmodernists, religious Jews, and those Christian theologians who seek both to follow Christ and not turn their backs on the People Israel. This is one of the essential dialogues we need to have today, and Boesel is a most able host.
Peter Ochs, University of Virginia

This book is at once vigorous and vulnerable. Respecting the Jewish neighbor invites the Christian to learn anew the strangeness of Christianity. For Boesel, proclamation has a chance of becoming authentic when it realizes it inevitably involves ethical risk.
Walter Lowe, Emory University

If handwringing and guilt are but sanitised forms of nihilism, indicative of loss (or, worse, an ambivalence) regarding Christian hope in resurrection of the material world, then Chris Boesel’s book – a re-working of his doctoral thesis – may offer some timely and sensitive alternatives for a discipleship that is both humble and evangelical. His articulation of a solution is far from simple, but by its tone and execution Boesel does instil in the reader a sense of the vulnerability and grace required to witness to a gospel-constituted human community
Richard P. Whaite, University of Notre Dame, in Theological Book Review, Vol 23, No 1

A fascinating read … Boesel is an astute reader who handles his material carefully. This work deserves a broad hearing and opens up new possibilities for conversation about the relation between faith and the ethical.
Reviews in Religion and Theology, Vol 19, Issue 1

Chris Boesel embarks upon a creative exploration of the theological and ethical underpinnings of Christian-Jewish dialogue … [an] engaging style and conversational approach … This book positively wrestles with some of the complexities spoken and unspoken … a deep engagement with Barth, Ruether, Kierkegaard and other influential thinkers, this book re-examines some of the deep held theological assumptions behind understandings of the Christian faith.
Expository Times, Vol 123, No 4

Chris Boesel’s fairly recent book undertakes a renewed contemplation of Jewish and Christian relations, meriting a serious look at the two main culprits historically responsible for Christian imperialism: anti-Judaism and supersessionism. … This is a provocative – though perhaps, in the end, slightly traditional – claim to make, though it is one that certainly deserves its retelling in a contemporary context.
C. Dickinson, in Louvain Journal of Theological and Canonical Studies, Vol 88 (1)