MAPPING MESSIANIC JEWISH THEOLOGY: A CONSTRUCTIVE APPROACH
Richard Harvey, Paternoster, 2009
Buy the book here or here. My review of MMJT is merely a summary and a list of some questions raised and not a replacement for owning the book. MMJT is a significant challenge for more work to be done in Messianic Jewish theology as well as a wonderful summary of what has come before. The value of owning this book is, first, to see the diversity already within the movement and, second, to imagine the future.
In Harvey’s third chapter, he summarizes previous studies of Messianic Jewish theology and does so in two sections. The first section is studies of the state of Messianic Jewish theology and the second is writers directly proposing Messianic Jewish theology.
The State of MJ Theology: Previous Studies
If anything, this part of Harvey’s book shows the inadequacy of previous studies in this area. The few studies of the state of MJ theology that exist are by those not involved in the congregational movement of Messianic Judaism.
Arthur Glasser was a missiologist at Fuller Seminary. In several writings from the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, Glasser describes what he sees in the movement at the time. He viewed MJ as an indigenous form of Christian expression, seeing three necessary developments in every ethnic subgroup of the church: (1) native musical forms, (2) organization around evangelistic priorities, and (3) theology contextualizing the concerns of the group.
In two studies focusing on the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America (MJAA), Robert Winer and Ruth Fleischer-Snow describe Messianic Judaism as the eschatological (last days) return of Jewish faith in Yeshua.
In a 2002 Yale study, Gabriela Reason compares the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations (UMJC) and the MJAA and their stance toward their evangelical Christian roots. She notes that the UMJC has moved further beyond these roots, identifying more with the Jewish community. Reason prefers MJ to remain evangelical.
Rich Robinson of Jews for Jesus wrote a 2005 field guide for Messianic congregations. He notes the development of a Hashivenu style Messianic Judaism, aligning more closely with Judaism and branching away from evangelical roots. Robinson defines as “healthy” expressions which remain more closely allied with evangelicalism (as Jews for Jesus is an evangelical parachurch ministry).
As can be seen from this summary, previous studies of MJ theology have not investigated the merits of deeper reflection on being Jews with faith in Yeshua. The need for Messianic Jewish congregations to navigate Jewish life and Yeshua faith, being related in different ways to Christian theology and history and Jewish theology and history. If anything, Harvey shows why a book like his was so needed.
Some Emerging Theologies of Messianic Judaism
The second part of chapter 3 is more fruitful. Harvey summarizes David Stern’s Messianic Jewish Manifesto (now available updated as Messianic Judaism), Arnold Fruchtenbaum’s Hebrew Christianity, and Mark Kinzer’s theology, some of which is found in his book Postmissionary Messianic Judaism.
Harvey argues that MJ theology has for the most part followed a populist model, producing popular level books and remaining close to evangelical concerns. Few, other than Mark Kinzer, have branched out into serious engagement with Christian and Jewish theologians.
MJ Theology to Date and in the Future
My take, after reading Harvey’s summary of previous work on MJ theology, is that we are on the verge of something great.
I say this because it is apparent that much that has come before has been limited by the small size of our movement, by a need in the early decades for many to remain close to evangelical Christian roots, and by an emphasis on the practical and popular.
But I know, because I work with and read the work of many great emerging scholars, that Messianic Judaism is coming of age. We have a plethora of theologians and scholars poised to make new contributions to theology from a Messianic Jewish perspective.
In relation to Christian theology, MJ theology offers a number of promising advancements. MJ theology offers a chance to reconfigure theological categories without supersessionism (the idea that the church replaces Israel as the people of God). MJ theology offers to Christian theology the tools of a more diverse Jewish hermeneutic (method of interpreting the Biblical texts). MJ theology offers more of an insider view of the apostles as men of Israel and not just men of the church.
In relation to Jewish theology, MJ theology offers a new perspective centered in Yeshua. Jewish theology is every bit as diverse as Christian theology and from the many streams there is potential for investigation of Yeshua within the existing structures.
My judgment is that Harvey’s MMJT comes when we are on the cusp of much development. MMJT encourages this development and will go on to suggest some directions as well.