Michael Brown’s Response

I invited Dr. Brown to post a rebuttal to my rebuttal of his paper. You will find it here quoted in full. I will respond tomorrow.

Dr. Michael Brown

I appreciate Derek’s invitation to submit a rebuttal to his response to my recent paper, “Is a Postmissionary, Truly Messianic Judaism Possible?,” delivered at the LCJE-North America meeting on April 18th. For those of you who have not yet read the paper, please take a few minutes and do so now at http://realmessiah.org/postMissionary.htm, then read Derek’s response before reading further.

In all candor, I do not believe that any of Derek’s counterarguments even begin to refute the points put forth in my paper, and therefore the original paper, read against Derek’s response, serves as the best rebuttal to his arguments. I will, however, address some problems in the counterarguments he raises, although space precludes me from being comprehensive.

The first point of my paper was that, “Our calling as Jews in general and as Messianic Jews in particular requires us to be active witnesses.” In response, Derek writes, “I believe that finding culturally relevant forms of connection is a principle in modern missions.” Of course, I concur. He then argues “that pamphlet distribution, the mainstay of Jewish missions, is no longer effective.”

But where did I ever make reference to pamphlet distribution? It was never mentioned in the paper and, in fact, it never crossed my mind. Rather, my point was that, “As Jews, we are called to be witnesses of the one true God to the nations, and as Messianic Jews, we are called to be witnesses of the Messiah to our own Jewish people as well as to the nations.” Is not this entirely self-evident? Derek’s reference, however, to pamphlet distribution as part of an attempted counterargument to my point is similar to my stating, “It is important for believers to help the poor,” with Derek responding, “But the welfare system is not working.” So?

But is it even true that “pamphlet distribution” is “the mainstay of Jewish missions”? Actually, the mainstay of Jewish missions (especially in America) is Gentile believers sharing their faith with their Jewish friends and co-workers or, more narrowly, Jewish believers reaching out to their family, friends and co-workers.

Sadly, in PMJ (Postmissionary Messianic Judaism), Dr. Kinzer removes virtually all impetus for Gentile believers to evangelize Jews, encouraging the church to cultivate respect for Judaism rather than to recognize the lost condition of non-believing Jews. How many tens of thousands of Jewish souls would have been lost in the last century alone if that counsel was followed? (You can put my name on the top of the list!)

Dr. Kinzer’s counsel to Jewish believers is equally shocking, as outlined in my paper, which quotes PMJ extensively. Indeed, he argues that we who know the Father and have eternal life must receive the testimony about God from those whom Paul calls lost and cut off from the Messiah before we are fit to bear witness. How can any Jewish believer defend such a statement? Yet Dr. Kinzer actually writes that we should not only receive the witness of our fellow Jews who do not know Yeshua but that their witness should actually affect the substance of our testimony. This is outrageous.

It is one thing to be sensitive and to be good listeners. It is another thing to alter the substance of our witness in response to the witness of the non-believing Jewish community.

In defense of Dr. Kinzer’s position, Derek points to the “movement of contemporary and emerging churches in America” which, he claims “are at the forefront of bringing people to Yeshua in America.” First, I do not see these churches, generally speaking, as offering close parallels to PMJ’s proposed Messianic congregations. Second, there are a wide range of churches called “contemporary” or “emerging,” and some of them are quite bold and forthright in their witness. Third, it can be argued that in many other “emergent” churches, numerical growth is occurring, but true disciples are not being made. That is to say, the level of poor theology, the lack of repentance preaching, and the watering down of the gospel are producing strong church attendance but not real kingdom growth. For an important critique, see D. A. Carson, Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church: Understanding a Movement and Its Implications (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005).

Derek further argues that “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.”

Derek’s last statement can obviously be debated. The fatal flaw, however, to the larger argument is the belief that a major key to witnessing from “within” is for Messianic Jews to embrace “normative rabbinic halakha.” Indeed, the official UMJC statement, followed by Dr. Kinzer, states that the Jewish ekklesia “must place a priority on integration with the wider Jewish world.” In another context, I hope to address this fallacy at length, but I offer here two pragmatic observations: 1) When I queried an ultra-Orthodox rabbi about how rabbinically orthopractic Messianic Jews would be received by the religious community, he replied, “The first thing a rabbi would tell them is that every berachah they say over anything is invalid because they are idol worshipers.” He also reiterated to me that the more they claimed to be following Orthodox halakha, the more they would be rejected by the Orthodox community. 2) The very nature of our faith will cause us to be put out by our people, so the attempt to become insiders is doomed from the start. A schism has come, and it will not be repaired until Yeshua returns.

Dr. Kinzer called for “the restored Jewish ekklesia” to “take its stand as part of the Jewish people” (304) stating that, “Full healing of the schism will occur only when the wider Jewish community accepts the Jewish ekklesia as a legitimate participant in Jewish communal life” (307). As stressed in my paper, verses such as Matt 5:10-12; John 16:3; Heb 13:10-14, among many others, tell us that we should not expect this to happen.

Ironically, I have been strongly criticized in these posts for judging the motivation of people’s hearts by claiming that they want to be accepted by the Jewish community. But how else should such statements be interpreted?

As for not being “triumphal” in our witness, does this mean that we should not speak down to our people in haughty and arrogant terms? Then, of course, I concur. But if it means that we do not recognize that we are saved while Jews who do not believe in Yeshua are lost, that our sins are forgiven while theirs are not, that we have already passed from death to life while they have not, then I demur. We have something they desperately need, and we must share our faith with that deep conviction. Again, this is Gospel 101, not advanced soteriology.

Regarding my second main point, Derek restates it to say “that Jewish rejection of Yeshua today is the same as in Yeshua’s time” (my emphasis). Rather, I argued that “the Jewish rejection of Yeshua today is integrally related to our forefather’s rejection of Moses, the prophets, and the Messiah Himself” (my emphasis). That is to say, I fully concur with Derek that, “Supersessionism and antinomian theology have been the devil’s tool for far too long,” and, consequently, the Church has often made it more difficult for Jews to believe in Jesus. Indeed, I have addressed these issues for many years now, most recently in a paper delivered at an apologetics conference last June (see http://realmessiah.org/apologetics.htm). Yet I believe the New Testament points to a historic and ongoing pattern of Israel’s rejection of God’s purposes, one that resulted in the hardening of our people, and one that continues to this day. However, since Derek does not specifically address the points I raised in support of this position, I refer the reader back to the relevant pages of my paper.

Derek concurs with my third point, namely, that “The New Covenant documents make abundantly clear that our people are lost without explicit faith in Yeshua as Messiah.” He notes, however, that “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” (my emphasis). For a devoted disciple of PMJ, this is admitting a lot! In reality, Dr. Kinzer dances dangerously close to two-covenant theology, thereby raising concerns among many MJ leaders. This is hardly a matter of “pushing the word implication a little far.” In fact, in a glowingly positive review of PMJ, missiologist Charles Van Engen explicitly raised the question of where Dr. Kinzer stood on the issue of two-covenant theology. The very fact that this question was raised is telling in itself. (See http://www.hashivenu.org/papers/2006_Postmissionary_MJ_VanEngen.pdf)

Derek, however, challenges me “to cite PMJ as stating that salvation without faith is possible for any person,” which is a somewhat vague statement, not making clear who or what the object of that faith must be. Rather, let Dr. Kinzer state clearly and unambiguously that he believes that God has not made a way for Jewish people today to be saved without explicitly putting their faith in Yeshua. The ball is in his court.

Regarding my fourth point, “That the New Testament emphasizes Yeshua, not Judaism,” Derek states, “Of course this is true. But it is meaningless.” Meaningless? Meaningless to say that we should follow suit and put our emphasis where the New Testament puts its emphasis – on the centrality of abiding in the Vine, of knowing Yeshua and making Him known, of giving Him the preeminence in all things – as opposed to spending so much time trying to define what our “Judaism” should like?

Derek writes, “Dr. Brown . . . 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.”

Unfortunately, Derek failed to interact with the many scriptures I cited to support my contention, specifically: Gal 1:13-17; Phil 3:2-11; Eph 2:1-7; Col 3:1-4; Rom 6:5-11; 7:6; 2 Cor 3:6-11; Rom 8:1-4. Please take a moment to read these verses again and then ask yourself, “What traditional Jew today could possibly pen such words?” The answer is: Only one who had found the treasure hid in the field and the pearl of great price (see Matt 13:44-46), someone for whom Jewish traditions had now been relegated to a very secondary place.

Plainly, this has nothing to do with whether a Gentile should observe the Torah. It has to do with an attitude towards the Torah and Jewishness itself that reflects a mindset completely different than that of traditional Judaism, and in many passages in Paul’s writings, he does, in fact, make statements about the Torah that no Orthodox Jew would make today.

This, then, brings us to my last point, which Derek summarizes as the idea “that PMJ, if followed, will result in apostasy,” something that he finds “preposterous,” noting that, “People leave the faith all the time and for various reasons” – which is tantamount to saying, “Yes, people fall off many cliffs, so why warn them about this one?” Simply because it is quite a dangerous cliff!

Dr. Kinzer wants us to accept rabbinic Judaism as legitimate and valid; he wants us to submit to rabbinic halakha; and he wants us, on a certain level, to modify and even mute our witness toward our people. Those wanting to follow this genuinely slippery slope would do well to ask an Orthodox rabbi, “What does it mean if your religion is legitimate and valid? What does that say of mine?” And if rabbinic Judaism is legitimate and valid, why do we so quickly discard its historic and ongoing denial of Yeshua?

Derek claims that, “Integrating Yeshua and Judaism was not Dr. Kinzer’s idea. It was Yeshua’s.” Certainly not. Yeshua’s whole purpose was to fulfill what was written in Moses and the Prophets, to inaugurate the kingdom of God, and to make a way for Jew and Gentile to be saved through His blood. Judaism was not the issue for Him; the issue was ushering in the kingdom, which often meant dismantling the manmade traditions that made void the Word of God – some of which became part and parcel of the very rabbinic Judaism PMJ wants us to embrace.

On some level, Dr. Kinzer and Derek want us to become disciples of rabbinic Judaism, but doing that – for many reasons articulated in my paper – will ultimately challenge and/or lessen our allegiance to Yeshua’s lordship. The slope is real, and it is more slippery than many understand.

Almost twenty years ago I voiced my concerns about the increasing fascination with rabbinic traditions in Messianic Jewish circles (see http://realmessiah.org/tradition.htm). Today, MJ’s are being told that God wants them to order their lives according to these very traditions, and even Gentile Christians are getting caught up in the lure of rabbinic Judaism. For some, this will be the path to spiritual dilution, for others, spiritual confusion, and for others, spiritual apostasy. At the risk of alienating some friends, I will continue to sound the alarm.

Is Dr. Brown right? Should we keep doing the same thing? Have we truly moved beyond supersessionism? Tomorrow I will respond. Meanwhile, expect another post from Rich Robinson today on the topic.

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About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
This entry was posted in Mark Kinzer, Messianic Jewish, Michael Brown, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Michael Brown’s Response

  1. Carl says:

    Derek — Would it not be a blessing for the Body for Dr. Brown to allow you a similar courtesy of posting your views on his website?

  2. Carl,

    Actually, I do not have a blog on my website in which the readers have a give and take exchange on various subjects, and I did not post on my website an angry attack on Derek’s views — followed by a tempered review of my paper and other blogs dealing with my position.

    I appreciate Derek being open to ask me to respond, which I am glad to do. But my website does not have the purpose of airing all kinds of opposing views.

    Blessings,

    Dr. Brown

  3. Jaushua A.Davis says:

    I agree with the fact churches are growing in record numbers but souls are being lost because people are not testifing about the goodness of god. The sad thing is people dont know that the same miracles that he worked then he is still working today.

  4. Eli says:

    Dr Brown,

    I think we are witnessing the growing pain of the messianic movement. In all fairness, this movement has been dormant for many centuries until recently (50 yrs), and it is now struggling to define itself: How much to embrace from its jewish heritage (with the good intention of appealing to jews) and how much to affirm its allegiance to Yeshua, while at the same time being different from main stream evangelicals. This is so evident in the large variance of the messianic congregations’s style and liturgy. Talk about an identity crisis.

    I agree with you that as believer in Yeshua, we cannot embrace the authority of the very Rabbis that rejected Him. At the same time, there are biblically sound teaching in much (tho not all ) of the rabinical writings (the talmud, etc…), and it would be educational to learn some from it.. However, we ought to use very careful judgment in what we accept from it and what we cannot.

    Truly, it seems the messianic movement ought to make its own ‘declaration of independance’ and start articulating its own commentary and opinions, maybe write its own ‘Talmud’ and ‘Mishnah’.. I believe , Dr Brown, you’re the best person to start the initiative and gather the right scholars for this task !!

    G-d bless
    Eli

  5. Shalom Bayit says:

    Eli:

    I am in agreement with “Carl”. Dr Brown does not have a similar blog on his website. In my opinion, if a major leader in the movement does not have such a blog it is a prime facie indication that they do not wish on a regular basis to participate in this sort of exchange and in my opinion we should not request that they participate in such an exchange here.

    I personally am an advocate of freedom of speech and would wish that all MJ “leaders” had such a blog. Such and exchange should take place in open where all the supporters of the leader can read and take part. That is only fair to them and to their followers as well. To my knowledge with the exception of J4J there isnt such a blog. Moishe Rosen has come under a lot of criticism here and elsewhere but I have to give him credit that he has for a long time allowed for all points of view to be aired on his dime at his site.

    Certainly other organizations such as Tikkun, the RC and Hasheyvenu to cite some diverse groups also do not have a page open to this sort of discussion. Unless and until they do, in my opinion we should not engage with them here. Of course in the end, that is up to Derek. However I would not engage with them under such circumstances and will encourage others as well to follow suit.

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