As a Messianic author, I mean no disrespect to any other author when I say that thus far in our movement, we have had only one truly academic book published about Messianic Judaism. It is the 2005 volume Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism: Redefining Christian Engagement With the Jewish People by Mark Kinzer (get it HERE).
The fact that the book is academic has pluses and minuses. There are people who have read and will read the book specifically because it is by an academic press and written in the language of the academy. There are people who won’t read the book because it is written in this way. Many people simply will not make the effort to read an academic book (which is why I write in a more popular style–that and the fact that I don’t have a PhD and perhaps would not be able to get published by an academic press).
If the importance of Israel as a people is something you care deeply about and if you are a reader, both of which qualifications are likely what drew you to this blog in the first place, then I urge you to read this book. If you want to understand the future of Messianic Judaism, I believe Dr. Kinzer’s book is the beginning of that future.
Some have been put off by the title “post-missionary,” as if the title means we do not have a message to share with our Jewish people. Dr. Kinzer is quite clear about this. Of course we have a message. We have Messiah. But “missionary” refers to a certain stance Christians have taken toward the Jewish people, a stance which has promoted continued misunderstanding. The missionary stance is: (a) you Jewish people are wrong, (b) we Christians are right, (c) you Jewish people must listen to what we have to say.
In Jerusalem, at a recent lecture, Dr. Kinzer delivered a paper, “Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism, Three Years Later.” I am not aware at this time of the paper being available online. I will make it available on Messianic Musings if that becomes a possibility. At any rate, reading the article that follows should give you a good idea of the heart of Dr. Kinzer’s message.
Speaking at “The Lindsey Lectures” in Jerusalem on July 1, 2008, Rabbi Dr. Mark Kinzer reflected on the review and discussion of his 2005 book, Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism (get it HERE). Kinzer’s book has been discussed and reviewed in both academic and missionary publications. Naturally the reaction by the missionary world was unfavorable, as Kinzer’s book calls for a change beyond what mission agencies would be likely to consider. Thus, Kinzer summarizes the reaction of Rich Robinson of Jews for Jesus and Baruch Maoz, an Israeli Christian leader who opposes the very idea of Messianic Judaism:
Some readers have found PMJ deeply disturbing. One of the earliest reviews called it “profoundly defective“ and “unbiblical“ (Robinson 2005). Another asserted that “If Mr. Kinzer’s platform were to be adopted, the biblical faith of Jesus would be destroyed among both Jews and Gentiles“ (Maoz).
Quite helpfully, in this paper, Kinzer shines the spotlight on two main ideas in his book. The first idea is widely accepted in Messianic Judaism but is rarely accepted even by forward-thinking Christian theologians. The second idea is only narrowly accepted by a sub-movement within Messianic Judaism. What are these two seminal ideas?
1. Jewish followers of Yeshua have a covenantal obligation of faithfulness to the Torah which necessitates Messianic Jewish communities as distinct from yet related to Christian communities. These Messianic Jewish communities are a part of the larger Jewish community.
2. Jewish tradition has legitimate authority in defining Torah observance and God (and Yeshua) have been active in Jewish tradition, though this tradition is not infallible.
The case for Messianic Jewish faithfulness to Torah and for distinct congregations (as opposed to Jewish believers simply blending into churches) is simple. The New Testament upholds to obligation of Jewish believers to live as Jews bound by the Torah. Living the Torah must be done communally. The Torah life is not an individualistic life, but one that calls for mutual support and walking out commandments and observances together. It is impossible for Jews in non-Jewish communities to truly follow their calling as Jews. Assimilation is not an option for a faithful Jewish believer. Kinzer refers to the case he makes in his book:
In that chapter I examine how the Apostolic Writings deal with a set of Jewish practices rooted in the Torah which by the first-century had become crucial markers of Jewish identity: circumcision, Shabbat and holiday observance, and kashrut. I reach the
Our survey of the New Testament teaching on Jewish practice (for Jews) has produced a surprising result. We have good grounds for upholding the view that the New Testament as a whole treats Jewish practice as obligatory for Jews. (95)
I do not assert here merely “that Messianic Jews lived Torah observant lives during the New Testament period“ (Glaser, 31). Instead, I contend that the Apostolic Writings consider such observance to be an obligatory expression of Jewish covenantal fidelity rooted in theological conviction rather than prudential judgment.
The final sentences of Chapter 2 demonstrate how I view the importance of this proposition:
This conclusion has profound theological implications. In many ways, the remainder of this book is an attempt to reflect on those implications and on their significance for the church and for the Jewish people. (96)
The discovery of an enduring requirement for a basic level of Torah observance for Yeshua-believing Jews is interesting and important in itself, and stands as a foundational principle of much of the Messianic Jewish congregational movement in the Diaspora.
This concept is widely (though not universally) accepted among Messianic Jewish congregations. Messianic Judaism is not about bagels and lox, but Shabbat and Torah. Messianic Judaism is more than another cultural expression. It is a distinct community within the body of Messiah, the Jewish wing of Yeshua’s global movement. Messianic Judaism’s roots are in the Jewish mission of Peter and James from the book of Acts.
Christian theologians, even those highly disposed toward Israel and Judaism, are reluctant to accept this idea. Even R. Kendall Soulen, author of The God of Israel and Christian Theology, expressed concern:
Kinzer’s vision of the church as a community of reconciliation between those who remain genuinely different left me with some lingering questions about how Kinzer would deal with the more traditional but nevertheless wholly justified ecclesial concern to express messianic peace through visible unity.
If the first of Kinzer’s seminal ideas is accepted in Messianic Judiasm but not so much by Christians, the second seminal idea is only narrowly accepted even in Messianic Judaism. Here is the idea described in Kinzer’s paper:
This sets the stage for the most radical and controversial chapter of PMJ. Having looked at the historical Christian “No“ to Israel, we now examine the historical Jewish “No“ to Yeshua. The underlying premise of both Chapters 6 and 7 is that Jewish practice requires a living tradition of communal application, and that any twenty-first century version of the Jewish ekklesia must recognize Jewish tradition as having some measure of
One cannot build a contemporary Judaism exclusively on either the Bible or modern (or postmodern) sensibility. Without some connection to the historical experience of the Jewish people, Judaism evaporates into thin air. (215)
But this raises the question, how can Yeshua-believers treat as in any sense authoritative a tradition that said No to Yeshua?
Kinzer’s answer to that question is yes. Messianic Judaism cannot make an end-run around Jewish tradition. While the rabbis did not believe in Yeshua, this does not mean that God, or even Yeshua, has been absent from their work. The Bible is filled with examples of God working through people and institutions that reject key components of God’s revelation (I might mention Balaam as one example and the magi of the New Testament as another).
Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism is a book calling for change. It is calling for Christians and Messianic Jews to recognize a new paradigm which can be summarized in the following points:
1. Jewish followers of Yeshua are a distinct group within the community of Yeshua in the world.
2. Unity and diversity are not contradictory and distinction within unity is both possible and necessary.
3. The New Testament affirms the Torah lifestyle for Jewish people, whether followers of Yeshua or not.
4. Jewish followers of Yeshua cannot effectively live out the mandate to be Torah-faithful Jews and at the same time assimilate into Christian communities.
5. The unity of Jew and Gentile in Messiah cannot mean blending and assimilating, but must mean a unity on a higher level, the practical implications of which greatly need to be discussed by Christians and Messianic Jews.
6. Faithfulness to God’s Torah means involvement in the people of the Torah, the larger Jewish community.
7. God has appointed judges in Israel to set standards for the community of Israel and the rabbis fulfill this function.
8. Accepting the authority of the rabbis decidedly does not mean conforming to various varieties of Orthodox Judaism (anyone knowledgeable about Judaism knows the wide variety of opinions).
9. Where there is a large consensus within Israel about how the community keeps the Torah, Messianic Jews are duty-bound to follow in order to be faithful to Torah in its communal sense.
10. Private Biblical interpretation is very important, but must not be allowed to separate Messianic Jews from the larger Jewish community.
11. Messianic Jews must work toward the vision of being a voice in the Jewish community and a voice in determining community standards (we are far from realizing this dream–but keep in mind promises of a great turning to Yeshua in the future within the Jewish people).
12. Messianic Judaism must represent Yeshua within Judaism and not as a voice from the outside.
I would like to hear from you, especially regarding the twelve points above. What do you think? Please comment (reasonably short comments please). If possible, refer to one of the twelve points above as you express agreement, objection, or a need for further clarification.