Richard Hays: Difficulties for contemporary Christian theology

“Difficulties for contemporary Christian theology arise wherever acute awareness of continuity with Israel’s scripture is lost – whether  unwittingly forfeited or deliberately rejected. Many Christian congregations today are in fact naïvely Marcionite in their theology and practice: in their worship services they have no Old Testament reading, or if the Old Testament is read it is rarely preached on. Judaism is regarded as a legalistic foil from which Jesus has delivered us. I once had a divinity student say to me in class: “Judaism was a harsh religion that taught people to fear God’s judgment, but Jesus came to teach us love God with all your heart and soul and strength.” Sadly, this earnest student was completely unaware that the command to love God with all your heart and soul and strength, quoted by Jesus in Mark, comes from Deuteronomy 6:5 and that it stands at the heart of daily prayer in the Jewish tradition. The unconscious Marcionite bias reflected in the student’s words has had disastrous effects on the theological imagination of many churches, and indeed on certain sectors of New Testament scholarship: everything in the Gospels that looks too much like the Old Testament is screened out as “inauthentic” and theologically dangerous teachings about the election of a particular people, the mandate for holiness and purity, and the expectations of God’s ultimate judgment of the world. All this is excluded from the authentic red- letter material of what Jesus “really” taught.” – Richard Hays, “Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels”