Robert S. Frey, "Issues in Post-Holocaust Christian Theology," Dialog 22 (Summer 1983) 227-235

Abstract by Jerry Darring


The Holocaust is unique because 1) it was carried out by a state sponsored, technologically sophisticated system; 2) the Jews were defined as enemies of the state simply because they were Jews; 3) every single Jew had to be murdered; 4) Jews were regarded as the prototypical superfluous and undesirable people; 5) the murders were carried out in a rational manner by professional people. The anti-Judaic teachings of the church contributed to the Holocaust, but "One must be wary of placing guilt at the collective doorstep of the Christian Church, for guilt has a way of being displaced into hatred of the perceived causal agent, in this instance, the Jews. Contrition for the Holocaust can legitimately begin only within the minds and hearts of concerned Christians by means of their own will" (228).

How are the churches theologically to interpret the Holocaust? Christians cannot "explain" the Holocaust without disparaging the Jews. Biblical motifs, such as the Deuteronomic formula that evil is punished and good is rewarded, or the Jobian interpretation of suffering are not applicable.

What is God's role in human history? "The revelation for the Christian, proclaimed via the Holocaust, is that God expects man to assume responsibility for his actions and contributions to history" (230). God supports and sustains positive human behavior. Christians are to be active social agents and not just passive recipients of a salvation formula.

Does the "End of Days" justify the events of temporal history? "We submit that ultimately no event on any plane can redeem such suffering as was the Holocaust, neither the creation of the State of Israel nor the attainment of a distant heaven" (232).

Is Christianity a good system badly implemented? Theology and practice go together, so it is wrong to say that a religion is valid but its practice has gone wrong. "Judgment for Christian complicity in the Holocaust must extend back through the believer, his theology, and to Christ himself." Christianity has a record of being anti-Judaic, at times violently so, and "No appeal to intrinsic good can erase twenty centuries of historic event" (232).

What is the nature of God if such an event as the Holocaust can occur? Theologians have struggled with this issue since the Holocaust, and it is clear that God is sustaining human effort in a direction that we chart for ourselves.

What difference did the resurrection make for the world? "We think that the most the Christian can assert concerning Jesus is that he was a step in the long revelatory process of Israel. The resurrection, then, provided the means for more of humanity to experience the One of Israel" (234).

Can the churches continue to proclaim their kerygma without simultaneously saying: And the Jews be damned? The way to reduce anti-Judaic thought patterns is to focus less on the Jewish rejection of Jesus and more on their fidelity to God's covenant.

Is not the time long overdue to recognize the viability and steadfastness of the Jewish people as a people; concurrently, must not Judaism be seen as a complete means of worshipping deity? The church should affirm the independence of Jewish community and life, Judaism, the integrity of the Hebrew canon, the validity of the development of Judaism over the centuries; it should reject the notions of the "Old Testament" and the "New Israel."