Well, we have had a heated debate here about Mark Kinzer’s Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism. I have made some strong statements. Others have made some strong statements. I think I have learned some things from my elders (Dr. Brown, Rich) about scholarly dialogue. Of course, in the beginning it wasn’t all that much about scholarly dialogue — I was simply denouncing a paper which I thought misrepresented Dr. Kinzer and which I thought was too preachy.
I have learned that it is far more important to address the substantive issues than to denounce rhetoric.
Still, one of my critics and friends has made the remark that I seem to be emotionally vested in Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism (PMJ). Well, I am. I thought I might share a few reasons why.
First, I have made the journey from various anti-Torah theologies that see the Bible as a divided book to a holistic Biblical theology of Torah and election and redemption and grace. Even in my early days as a believer at Georgia Tech (I grew up non-religious in a non-Jewish home) I struggled with what I was learning at church. First they told me the Bible was the Word of God, which took me a while to swallow, and then, after I swallowed it, they practically emasculated the Old Testament.
I was not the only one who had trouble understanding the typical anti-Torah theologies (”only the moral law remains,” “all of the law has been done away with,” “only what is repeated in the New Testament counts”). People in my Sunday School classes had difficulty articulating the multiple-personality-disorder view of the Bible because theologically it is a stretch.
I began to be officially educated in an evangelical Bible college where I was taught the theology of dispensationalism (the Old Testament was another dispensation and it does not apply directly to our situation today). For a long time I hung on to this theology which divided my Bible based on invisible boundaries my teachers assured me were valid. At least it made more sense that Reformed theology, dividing the law haphazardly into categories.
Still, I was uncomfortable. It was hard for me to relegate the Old Testament to the back shelf. It was theologically inconsistent for me to believe that God used to think dietary law was important, but somehow in Mark 7, Yeshua taught this was a primitive earlier stage of revelation. Why would God bring up a topic like dietary law and then repeal it as primitive and unworthy? Furthermore, why did evangelicals take words like “forever” very seriously when it proved a pet doctrine but completely disregard the word when it was used of God’s covenant with Israel at Sinai? While we’re on the subject, why did churches reject the Torah but preach tithing right out of Deuteronomy and Malachi?
Eventually, I picked up a copy of a Hasidic book called Taryag Mitzvot. Taryag is a Hebrew acronym for a number, 613, the number of commandments as the rabbis enumerate them in the Torah. I discovered that rabbinic Judaism had some good solutions to many of the problems with the Torah, such as, how can Torah be valid when many of its law cannot be literally kept today? I began to think more critically about the Torah. It was not what my evangelical teachers had assured me it was. I learned about case law and developed a new hermeneutic (for myself) in interpreting Torah.
I found that Yeshua’s teaching and practice upheld the Torah (Matt 5:17-19). I decided that “fulfill” cannot mean the same thing as “abolish,” though many theologies fail to account for this. I even found that Paul’s statements about the Torah were taken out of context and misapplied. I realized the truth of Romans 7:14.
The people who are criticizing PMJ on this blog are people still stuck in the old paradigm of Torah rejection. I call this the old paradigm because I believe error gradually, more slowly than I would like, comes to the surface amongst God’s people. I cannot believe the anti-Torah theologies of the churches will last too many more decades. I am an optimist (or simply naive). I think serious scholars more and more will reject seeing the New Testament as an anti-Torah book.
I am also passionate about PMJ because I reject a triumphalist stance in witness. Those who are criticizing PMJ take the position that rabbinic Judaism is a false religion. They have not come to the same conclusions I have.
I used to see it that way. In fact, even as recently as two or three years ago I would say in sermons, “The rabbis say,” and then present the rabbinic position as a false one. I do not mean that now I think rabbinic commentators are always right (any more than Christian ones). But a shift has occurred in my thinking and my rhetoric. The rabbis are not them. They are part of us, part of the conversation of people who believe God’s word and seek its meaning.
The fact is, the image of God resides in all humankind. Hindus, Buddhists, and Muslims are not completely without truth. It is possible to speak to a Hindu from a position of commonality instead of immediately emphasizing dissimilarity.
Yet with Judaism, there is more. Judaism shares 80% of the revelatory text of our faith. Judaism gets a lot right. And more than that, Judaism has not been abandoned by God.
If you look at God’s promises to preserve Israel and at history since the time of the New Testament an interesting thing happens. You have to ask, what has held Jewish people together? What has kept the Jewish people from assimilating, like so many other peoples and religions? The answer is not ethnicity. Ethnicity is not a strong bond. Ethnic peoples assimilate and mingle and lose their identity. The answer is Judaism, especially the teachings of the rabbis. Even the most secular Jew in the world today defines him or herself by the teachings of the rabbis (unconsciously, of course).
Some say, “But God could have used anything to preserve his people!” Sure, but I’m not talking about alternative realities. I am talking about actuality. God used rabbinic Judaism.
More than that, God has not left his people. The elect people of God, through whom his entire plan to redeem creation is based, are still the Jewish people (even in unbelief, Rom 11:28).
In my journey, I decided to work with God and not against him. I decided that rejecting rabbinic Judaism was kicking against the pricks. Matthew 23:1-3 makes perfect sense to me. It does not make sense to the critics of PMJ.
There are other reasons I am passionate about PMJ.
1. I have found Jewish prayer to be a spiritual discipline of great depth.
2. I believe that only PMJ finally rids the body of supersessionism (replacement theology, read R. Kendall Soulen or at least some posts on this blog about him and the canonical narrative).
3. I believe that dispensationalism and Reformed theology are fading paradigms.
4. I believe that representing Yeshua from within Judaism is biblical.
5. I understand that Torah must be kept communally, as part of Klal Yisrael, and is not subject to thousands of private halakhot.
6. I believe that PMJ, properly interpreted, recovers the entire counsel of God’s word.
7. I believe that PMJ raises Messianic Judaism out from being either a protest against the church or an assimilation into the church and recovers a proper relationship between the Jewish members of Messiah’s body and the non-Jewish members of Messiah’s body.
8. I believe that PMJ finally finds the appropriate reason for Torah and Jewish life, not to bait and switch Jews into assimilating into Christian identity, but to serve God as he commanded and create the community he designed to draw Israel to Messiah.
This is my challenge to critics of PMJ. If your paradigm is so God-centered, scripturally correct, and missiologically sound, then:
1. Why use Jewish practices at all when you do not believe them to be normative or even appropriate to the spirit of New Testament freedom?
2. Why use Jewish symbols and culture to draw Jewish people in when you have no intention of encouraging them to keep God’s covenant (Torah) and retain Jewish identity through the only proven source of Jewish identity?
3. What sort of Jewish communities of faith are you building? Aren’t you just practicing the same assimilationist methods of the dark ages of Christianity (you were a Jew, now you are something else, a Christian)?
4. How is the Bible the Word of God to you? How are you honoring God with theologies that imply he first gave a primitive, unworthy revelation perfected only in the New Testament?
5. How is your pick and choose Torah observance consistent at all and how can you imagine God’s plan was for every man to do what is right in his own eyes instead of following communal standards?
6. How is your message to Jewish people good news? Aren’t you denying the humanity of the Jews you assimilate into the church? Aren’t you saying, “In order to be saved, you must realize that keeping God’s commandments to Israel is not required”? Aren’t you asking Jews to say no to God in order to say yes to Yeshua?