Messianic Jewish Musings

Michael Brown and Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism


I promise, I will blog about other things. I was enjoying some posts of a more inspirational nature before this debate started. See “Sabbath Meditation, Picking You Up Off the Floor” and “The Rabbi and the Businessman,” for example.

I promise you, this post will not be angry. Now, I will turn to some of Dr. Brown’s ideas and critique them. This is no longer about whether anyone misrepresented anyone or imputed motives. Now we will talk about theology and practice.

Dr. Michael Brown has recently proposed five main points in response to Dr. Mark Kinzer’s book, Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism. Dr. Brown’s five points in response to Dr. Kinzer are:

1. “Our calling as Jews in general and as Messianic Jews in particular requires us to be active witnesses.”
2. “The Jewish rejection of Yeshua today is integrally related to our forefather’s rejection of Moses, the prophets, and Messiah himself.”
3. “The New Covenant documents make abundantly clear that our people are lost without explicit faith in Yeshua as Messiah.”
4. “The overwhelming emphasis of the New Covenant documents is YESHUA rather than Judaism.”
5. “The path to Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism is the path to negation of the true Messianic faith.”

Now, of these five statements, I only agree with the first and third. The fourth, while true in its simple sense, is misleading.

I do not disagree that we are called to be active witnesses. I suspect from some of the comments in his paper that Dr. brown means something different by the term than I do. I think relational witness is active. I am also not against all forms of proclamation. I simply think that in some cultural settings it does not work. In fact, though I am no student of Christian missiology, I believe that finding culturally relevant forms of connection is a principle in modern missions.

I contend that in post-Christian America, many forms of public proclamation are harmful rather than helpful. We all know this. We have all seen street preachers bringing discredit to our Messiah. I am not talking about the Jewish missionary handing out pamphlets here, but more egregious forms.

I further contend that pamphlet distribution, the mainstay of Jewish missions, is no longer effective. Anecdotally, I can tell you, that in a former phase of life I distributed hundreds of thousands of pamphlets. I met thousands of Jewish people on the street. I never saw a cold contact developed on the street show any interest in meeting, much less placing faith in Yeshua. All of our effectiveness in the Jewish mission I worked for came from relationships built with Jewish people by Christian friends.

Here is where I disagree with Dr. Brown’s first point. He suggests that being an active witness is a rejoinder to Dr. Kinzer’s book and to Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism (PMJ). I don’t agree at all. Let me illustrate.

There is a movement of contemporary and emerging churches in America. These churches are often criticized for shallowness or bad theology. Yet it is nonetheless true that these churches are at the forefront of bringing people to Yeshua in America. I am well aware that many people come to faith in traditional churches as well. Nonetheless, my point is simple: the trend on evangelism in the church is a relational model. Where it is being practiced, there are results. Where the methods are still from previous eras, such as door-to-door intrusions on people’s lives, the results fall off sharply.

Dr. Kinzer is calling for a widespread relational witness of Jews to fellow Jews, from within, not from without. He is calling for a witness from a position of mutual appreciation and not one side being triumphal with regard to the other. This kind of witness is active, not passive.

By contrast, the active witness of Jewish mission agencies is harming the cause of Yeshua. Sure, there are some results. These are mostly the result of relationships and not the results of bold, street proclamation. Jewish mission leaders should be more forthcoming with this information as mission agency newsletters imply (usually without directly saying so) that street proclamation is the reason for changed lives. Rather, many Jews are frantic not to make friends with Messianic Jews for fear they will be embarrassed by bold tactics they have seen on the street.

I do not agree at all with Dr. Brown’s assertion that the modern Jewish rejection of Yeshua is equatable with that same rejection in Yeshua’s time or in the age of the prophets.

In the first place, it is possible to read Yeshua’s statements about the faithlessness of Israel in an anti-Semitic manner. I do not believe Dr. Brown has done this, but let me preface all my remarks with this statement: if God had chosen the Italians, the Chinese, or the Americans, none of these people groups would have fared better than Israel. Israel is not especially anti-God. Israel is part of the same human race with the same anti-God issues as everyone else.

The modern Jewish rejection of Yeshua is in a much different category than in Yeshua’s time. Yeshua did not ask his generation to turn their backs on God’s covenant in order to become a Christian. Yeshua came from within Judaism to his fellow Jews, the very thing Dr. Kinzer is calling for in PMJ.

For most of the last 2,000 years, Jews have been required to say no to God to say yes to Yeshua. This is an undeniable fact. The only way to deny it is to say that God’s Torah for Jewish people is obsolete. Many Christian theologians will now at least admit that circumcision is still required for Jewish people (it goes back to Abraham, which gives it an upper-hand even in anti-Torah theologies). Yet, even circumcision has historically been denied for Jewish Christians (I mean circumcision on the eighth day with intentionality).

Dr. Kinzer is right to point out this ironic tragedy. Supersessionism and antinomian theology have been the devil’s tool for far too long. He must laugh that in order for a Jew to believe in the Jewish Messiah, the church has required that Jew to say no to God.

If Dr. Brown had made a simpler point, I might have agreed with him. Had he said we are naïve if we think Torah-observant Messianic Jews are likely to start a revival of Yeshua faith any time soon, I would agree. However, the point would not mean much. After all, the vast majority of human beings in this world are rejecting the witness of the church. It is not as if pamphlet-passing is bringing revival either.

Dr. Brown and I agree on this point. Nothing Dr. Kinzer says in his book clearly denies this point. It may be an implication of some of Dr. Kinzer’s statements in this book, if you push the word implication a little far. Nonetheless, I would challenge Dr. Brown to cite PMJ as stating that salvation without faith is possible for any person.

Of course this is true. But it is meaningless. It is like saying, “The book of Esther emphasizes the human characters and not God.” Right. But God is understood and that is the point.

It is not surprising when Jews, such as the authors and characters of the New Testament, take their Judaism for granted. In fact, it is common to be around Jews who live Judaism and rarely talk about it. The same is true of Christians. If I meet a Christian who spends more time talking about Christianity than living it, I know something is wrong.

The Jews of the New Testament already had Judaism. What was new was Yeshua and the Holy Spirit and the good news. So, naturally, that is what they discussed. Factor in the fact that the audience of the New Testament is largely Gentile, and you can understand even more why there are no pointers on reading Torah in the synagogue in Paul’s letters.

Dr. Brown, in this section of his paper, goes on to suggest that Paul had veritably left Judaism behind, at the very least relegating it to minor importance. He asserts that Paul made statements about the Torah no Orthodox Jew would make today. I disagree. The Orthodox Jewish position on the Torah and Gentiles is much like Paul’s: Gentiles are not required to keep all of it. If you are a Gentile, try an experiment, ask a rabbi if you should stop eating pork. You will find that Judaism believes there is nothing wrong with pig. It is simply forbidden to Jews.

Dr. Brown considers PMJ a slippery slope away from the faith. I suppose he means that if Jews who believe in Yeshua start living like Jews, attend Jewish community events, and think of Israel as “our people” instead of “those people,” then the next logical step is to jettison Yeshua-faith altogether.

This is preposterous. People leave the faith all the time and for various reasons. Being true to one’s Jewish identity is not an example of a dangerous mixing of fire and ice.

PMJ does not call for Messianic Jews to abandon meeting together and being Yeshua-centered. PMJ does not call on Messianic Jews to reject Christian churches and brotherhood with Christians. PMJ calls for a different stance towards the Jewish people and for the reality of Jewish covenant identity in the lives of Messianic Jews.

What about those Post-Missionary Christians in all the contemporary and emerging churches? Are they all becoming atheists? I don’t think so.

Neither will Jews who connect with Sinai, with Abraham, with the covenant of God with his people, be in danger because of that connection of rejecting Yeshua. Integrating Yeshua and Judaism was not Dr. Kinzer’s idea. It was Yeshua’s.