Deep Calls to Deep, edited by Tony Bayfield
Reflections on four years of conversation between Christian and Jewish scholars that merit serious study
Deep Calls to Deep - Transforming Conversations Between Jews and Christians
Tony Bayfield (ed)
Reviewer: Alec Gilmore
Think of two adjacent gardens (Judaism and Christianity) 'shaped differently and not planted identically', carefully nurtured over hundreds of years by two quite separate gardeners with similar but not identical ideas on horticulture, the one self-contained and the other not against a bit of borrowing and some cross fertilisation. Neighbourly relations have varied over the years, from genial to hostile, according to who was around, but apart from a small attempt to establish closer relations since WW2 (in the Council for Christians and Jews) positively learning from one another has never seriously been on the agenda . . . until now.
Deep Calls to Deep is the brainchild of the editor, Leo Beck College Professor Tony Bayfield, who chose eight Christian and eight Jewish scholars of repute as contributors (including six rabbis) and set out the road map. They were to work in pairs on specific topics and from time to time share their findings with the other 14 for discussion and revision. They were not 'representatives' of their faith and were 'to speak for themselves alone'. They met regularly (one two-day and two one-day meetings a year over four years) and built up a considerable amount of trust and understanding. The objective was to appreciate the neighbour's garden. In the finished product we have two papers from each group, each reflecting their own position in the light of the encounters, like explaining your own garden to a neighbour from a similar but very different background.
The book merits serious study and disussion at local levels and not limited to Christians and Jews. A few nuggets may whet the appetite.
Pair One ('Experiencing Modern Western Culture?') soon found that wherever they started Western Culture took centre stage. Major problems were not so much differences of faith as differences of reaction to current culture as between traditionalists and modernisers on both sides. Neighbouring gardeners, common problem.
Pair Two ('Living in a Modern Western Democracy') included a Jewish take on the downside of democracy as commonly interpreted and the problems for Jews who have a quite different understanding of what democracy means. Neighbouring gardeners, different starting points.
'Coping with Our Past' (Pair Three) suggested one approach is to focus on the local situation at the present time, digging today in their own garden with an acute sensitivity to soil, climate and immediate possibilities. Neighbouring gardeners, starting where they were.
Pair Four ('The Scriptures') set out to study specific passages together, each explaining to the other what it meant to them. Differences became moments for enlightenment and inspiration, one learning 'from Christian hermeneutics as the other benefitted from Rabbinic midrashim'. Neighbouring gardeners testing each other's plants in their own garden.
Pairs Five and Six ('Religious Absolutism' and 'Respect Between People of Faith') found it harder going, digging deep round older well-established plants, reaching their Waterloo with Incarnation and the Trinity ('Christian Particularity', Pair Seven), and 'Jewish Particularism' (Pair Eight) where extra forces had to be brought in to ease the blockage. Neighbouring gardeners 'up agin it'.
Neverthless the stream continued to flow if somewhat reduced to a trickle, concluding that since none of us has all the truth we are much more likely to find it if we explore together; having to express our faith in language that is intelligible to others not of our own ilk is a good discipline; when things get tetchy the more personal relationships we can build with the gardner next door the better; and (most important) sharing a watchful eye on the pressing needs of the wider world in which all gardeners have to operate.
Neighbouring gardeners spotting weak spots and 'ways round' to maintain the flow. Stand by for some oxbow lakes.
Alec Gilmore is a Baptist minister
Related: A new method of dialogue Interfaith discussions and studies are fine - but are we asking the right questions?