So far I have not drawn any comments about PMJ from the Messianic Jews out there who read this blog. I listed twelve implications of Mark Kinzer’s book Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism and, thus far, only Christians who reject the obligation of Jewish believers to Torah have responded. I hope the conversation can include more diverse views at some point.
In light of the interaction so far, I want to comment on and excerpt a piece of Kinzer’s paper, “Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism, Three Years Later.”
I have for a long time had a question for the various Christian missions to the Jewish people, including Jews for Jesus and Chosen People Ministries and dozens of others. This question is not new and anyone who does this work has engaged it many times, I am sure.
The question: How important to God is continuing Jewish identity and how does your model of outreach handle identity?
Let me couch the question in Biblical terms. When God made a covenant with Abraham and declared that a people would come from him and bless the whole world, did God intend that a Messiah would come and bring an end to this covenant? Circumcision was to be the sign of identifying with these children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
How does the identity of being one of the descendants of Jacob get passed down?
The Jewish answer for quite a long time has been simple: Jews marry Jews and raise their children as Jews.
Is the answer of the Christian missions movement that this is no longer important? Does faith in the Jewish Messiah bring an end to the Jewish people? Should Jewish people assimilate into the larger Christian community and disappear?
I will excerpt a piece from Dr. Kinzer’s paper, add a few clarifying comments for those who might not understand his jargon, and leave the question out there for you:
Within the community of Christian missions to the Jews, I would hope for a willingness to pursue ecclesiological questions, and to see them as important in their own right and not only as subordinate matters related to missiology and soteriology. As should be clear from PMJ, I see Jewish communal identity as an ecclesial reality that is fundamental to the life and mission of the Christian Church. Some of the responses to PMJ from those in the missionary community have acknowledged the importance of these questions, and have summoned their colleagues to address them. To my knowledge this has not yet occurred, but the conversation has just begun.
In particular, I am eager to hear discussion among the missionaries concerning the importance of sustaining cross-generational Jewish life for their converts. Is it important that the grandchildren of Jewish believers in Yeshua also identify and live as Jews? If so, have traditional missionary methodsand models facilitated this goal, or hindered it? If bilateral ecclesiology in solidarity with Israel is not an option, how can this goal be achieved? Engagement with such issues will require that missionaries set aside atomistic approaches to ecclesiology, missiology, and soteriology, and think in more communal terms. In the process, they may discover neglected truths in a Bible that took shape in a world unfamiliar with modern Western individualism.
Clarifying a few terms:
1. Ecclesiological questions — Ecclesiology means our theology of congregation. What is a community of faith? How is it structured? What is its purpose? The ecclesiological questions most pertinent to Christian missions to the Jewish people are things like, “Should Jewish believers in Jesus be assimilated into churches?”
2. Missiology and soteriology — Missiology means the method of mission or outreach. Soteriology means theology of salvation.
3. Jewish Communal Identity — What does it mean to be a Jew? How does Jewish identity continue from generation to generation?
4. Bilateral ecclesiology — Kinzer’s own term for the idea that Jewish believers should form distinct communities rather than assimilate culturally into Christian communities. Bilateral means that Christian and Messianic Jewish communities are two wings of the same Jesus-movement, distinct, yet related by faith and a commitment to brotherhood.
5. atomistic approaches — Approaches to the kinds of questions raised here that are individualistic instead of creating community-wide solutions. An atomistic approach is sort of a “do what is right in your own eyes” solution instead of finding standards for the whole community to follow.
So, how about it? How will Jewish life continue among those Jews who believe in Jesus? Is God abolishing Jewish identity in Messiah? If not, how will the methods of Christian missions take seriously a need for continuing Jewish identity?