In The God of Israel and Christian Theology, R. Kendall Soulen proposes an alternative to the standard story Christian theologians have told since the 2nd century. In a short chapter, he tells us what the rest of the book will propose.
The standard story is not completely wrong. It came as a response to Gnosticism. Gnostics taught that the material universe was created by a lesser god. The result of this was that the material universe was inferior. Salvation was about being liberated from it.
Soulen says that the standard model correctly challenged this ontological claim. In other words, the 2nd century fathers affirmed that the material creation was originally good. Sin and the need for salvation came later. However, along with the disrespect for matter, Gnosticism also entailed a disrespect for history. Gnostics relegated the covenant with Israel to an inferior past era. Christian theology did not entirely escape this.
While Christian theology affirmed the goodness of creation, it saw Israel’s role as preparation for redemption in Jesus, not as part of God’s bringing creation to fulfillment. Israel was given only a transitory role. Soulen wants to correct this by connecting the covenant with Israel to consummation instead of redemption. He wants to give Israel an ongoing role in divine-human history.
Supercessionism—the idea that Christ and the church supersede and replace Israel as the people of God—shares in the gnostic depreciation of carnal history. It implies that Christianity is spiritual and universal so that it leaves behind the historical and particular reality of Israel.
Soulen believes that the Christocentism of much Christian theology is a mistake. The Hebrew Scriptures as part of the canon means that you cannot unify the narrative by eliminating the God of Israel and the divine intention to continue to bless all people through God’s chosen people. The good news has a double focus.
This double focus is there in Acts 8:12 where Phillip preaches “good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ.”
Soulen summarizes his proposed alternative approach:
. . . Christians should acknowledge that God’s history with Israel and the nations is the permanent and enduring medium of God’s work as the Consummator of human creation, and therefore it is also the permanent and enduring context of the gospel about Jesus (p. 110).
The final chapters of his book are going to unpack this.