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A Discussion of Messianic Judaism, the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm, and Related Leadership Issues from the Preoccupied Mind of Rabbi Stuart Dauermann, PhD.

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Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Do You See What I See? A Messianic Jew Speaks to Christian Seminarians

When a Jew does research in a Christian setting, he or she sees different things than does the average Christian seminarian. In this address, I try to awaken a group of Christians to how certain Christian theological assumptions look to a Jew.
I spend much of my time doing theological research in the main floor reading room of your seminary library. And over the years I have had to develop more and more self control in order to resist the urge to throw this book or that across the reading room. From whence cometh these temptations?

These temptations arise because of the irritation and outrage I often experience reading in standard Christian commentaries. For example, some years ago I was browsing a commentary on the Book of Acts, written by the esteemed evangelical icon John R.W. Stott. The passage under review was Acts 1:1-8.

"In Acts chapter one, we see the Apostles meeting for forty days with the resurrected Messiah, who spent that time giving them many infallible proofs that he had indeed conquered death, and speaking to them about the kingdom of God. We read in Acts 1:6-8:

"When the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, ‘L-rd, are you going to free Israel now and restore our kingdom?’ ‘The Father set those dates,’ he replied, ‘and they are not for you to know. But when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, you will receive power and will tell people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth’ " [NLB].

In commenting on Acts 1:6, the Apostles’ question, "L-rd, are you going to free Israel now and restore our kingdom?," Stott says this:

"The mistake they made was to misunderstand both the nature of the kingdom and the relation between the kingdom and the Spirit. Their question must have filled Jesus with dismay. Were they still so lacking in perception? As Calvin commented, ' There are as many errors in this question as words.'"

Now here’s my dilemma. Please help me! I have looked and looked and looked in this text and I can’t find any evidence of Yeshua’s dismay. You are seminarians. Perhaps the dismay is in that last, great, refuge of all exegetes, the original Greek?

Obviously the dismay is not in the text. Not even in the Greek. If it is not there, then where is it? It is in Reverend Stott’s theological system!

This systemic dismissal of any kind of Jewish perspective on Christian truth is something that deeply troubles not only me, but also every Jew I know at this seminary. I am quite sure that that these students would agree with my contention that the Christian theological tradition at best ignores the Jewish people or views God’s dealings with the children of Jacob as merely a temporary means to an end. My people are at best simply an instrumentality that lays the groundwork for what God is doing in the Church. . We are the Parcel Post People of God delivering the package of salvation to the Church, only to then recede from view. We Jews are the stage hands of salvation whose only role is to move the furniture and scenery out onto the stage of holy history so the "real show" involving the Church can begin.

In his masterful work, "The God of Israel and Christian Theology" Wesleyan theologian R.K. Soulen chronicles and parses this Christian minimization of God’s dealings with the Jews, highlighting what such a practice costs the Church by way of forfeited truth.

His contention is that the only God the Church has is the God of the Jews. In fact, for Soulen, the gospel ought to be stated in these terms: "The God of Israel has worked in Jesus Christ for the sake of all."

He says, "If it is true that the gospel about Jesus is credible only as predicated of the God of Israel, then the integrity of Christian theology …depends upon bringing traditional forms of Christian thought into a further degree of congruence with the God of Israel" [xi]. Soulen demonstrates that apart from this congruence, "Christianity … embodies what is in effect an incomplete conversion toward the living God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob" [x].
My goal this morning is to demonstrate three areas where, like Soulen, I as a Jew find much Christian theologizing to defective, incomplete and even semi-converted.

Perhaps in our few minutes together, I will be able to help you to see things through my eyes, so that when we dismiss, you will be able to answer in the affirmative when I ask you, "Do you see what I see?"

Part of the problem is this: when I read most Christian theology I see another Jesus than I see in Scripture.

Our text is John chapter four. In this chapter, Jesus, or as his mother called him, Yeshua, identifies himself as a Jew. He does this when he says to the woman, "we worship what we know for salvation is from the Jews." Similarly, he is identified as a Jew by the Samaritan woman who asks him, "How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a Samaritan woman, since Jews have no dealings with Samaritans."

The Church seems to miss the import of this, paying only lip service to Yeshua’s Jewish identity. It seems to me that too much of the Church sees Jesus as the generic Christ, the cosmic savior, the Metaphysical Hero—but not as the ultimate descendant of Jacob our ancestor who gave us this well [Jn 4:12], not as the Son of David, not as fully and as to his human nature, solely, totally, truly and permanently a Jew.

In his masterful address at the November 2000 Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, Dr, Craig Blaising addressed this issue squarely. Here is part of what he said:

"It is remarkable that the great creeds and confessions of the faith are silent on this point, being satisfied simply with the affirmation of Christ’s humanity. However, in Scripture, not only the Jewishness of Jesus, but also his Davidic lineage are central features of the Gospel. For example, Paul, in Romans 1, summarizes the gospel in this way:

"'The gospel of God which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord.'

"This is the gospel which he says in Romans 1:16 is to the Jew first and also to the Greek. In 2 Timothy 2:8, he writes, 'Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendant of David, according to my gospel.'

". . . The point is that the incarnation is not just the union of God and humanity; it is the incarnation of the Son of God in the house of David as the Son of covenant promise. From a human standpoint, Jesus is not just a man, or generic man; he is that man--that descendant of David" [Blaising, Craig. "The Future of Israel as a Theological Question." Nashville, 2000:17-19].

Roman Catholic theologian Bernard Dupuy saw this clearly in 1974 when he wrote: "We have to get back to the One who became incarnate as a Jew among the Jews; to the One for whom being a Jew was not some kind of throw-away garment but his very being."

It is small wonder that the Church gives short shrift if anything to the Jewish identity of the Savior. This is because the Church neglects and obscures the fact that he covenants of grace are by the eternal counsels of God mediated through the Jews. The Church has in fact succumbed to the arrogance of which Paul warned her the eleventh chapter of the Letter to the Romans.

Yeshua is quite direct on this matter in his conversation with the Samaritan woman. In effect he says this: "You Samaritans don’t know what you are talking about, we Jews do know what we are talking about because salvation is from the Jews." The blessings that come to the nations do not come down from God like rain from out of the sky: Instead, they come through a conduit—a pipeline, and that pipeline is the Jewish people. The Jews are the people of promise, but not simply for their own sake. They are the people of promise for the sake of the world. As God told Abraham, Isaac and Jacob "In you and in your seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed."
Returning now to that ultimate Jew through whom blessing comes to the world, it is clear that Church has transformed Jesus the Seed of Abraham, who is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Son of David and the ultimate King of Israel and the nations into a generic Christ, a cosmic Christ, a metaphysical a-historical figure. Christendom has made the Son of David into the "Son-of-Man-Without-a-Country."

Are you not terrified and dismayed by such an indictment? You should be! Why? Because no such Christ ever existed—such a faith is a faith in nothing, a theology of thin air, a soteriology of smoke and mirrors. This is what Jacques Derrida calls logocentrism. An Algerian-born Jew, Derrida contends that western philosophy and theologizing refer only to words as compared with other words, so that the concept of coming ever closer to the some objective single "truth" or "meaning" through rational processes is but a pompous illusion. For Derrida, all Western philosophical discourse is simply talk.

Is this what you believe? Is this your "Christ of faith?" Is Christian theology just holy words about holy words? Is it only talk? Or are your words of faith instead rooted in a solid rather than a metaphysical referent? Do your words refer to something substantial, something truly incarnate, the Word made flesh—Jewish flesh—covenant flesh? Are your words of faith grounded in the only true Christ who ever lived, Jesus the Son of David, the root and repository of all the covenants, the One in whom all the promises of God are Yea and Amen?

Lest there be any misunderstanding, let me plainly say what I mean: Jesus of Nazareth never has been nor is he now simply the Lord of the Church. He is first the Messiah of Israel, who unambiguously self-identified as a Jew, and was recognized as a Jew by all who met him. You cannot have a Lord of the Church who is not first, last and always the King of the Jews. He is not simply the cosmic Christ, the Son-of-Man-Without-a-Country, the Generic Savior, but bone of Jewish bone, flesh of Jewish flesh, the Holy One of Israel, and the Seed of David in whom alone all the promises to Israel and the nations are Yea and Amen.

Again, Dupuy puts it beautifully when he says it this way:

". . . It was in becoming incarnate in the Jewish people that Jesus offered himself as savior to the entire human race. We can acknowledge Jesus only as he appeared to us: as this particular Jew, this just and suffering servant; it is thus that he reveals himself in order to reign over the world."

Do you see what Dupuy saw, and do you see what I see? Do you see a Christian theology that has turned away from the One and Only Savior to a fashion a Christ of its own choosing?

Jeremiah’s words to his generation apply just as well to Christendom as we know it: Instead of partaking of the Savior whom God sent into the world of, by, for, and through the Jewish people, instead of drinking at Jacob’s well, the Church has forsaken the fountain of living waters and hewn out cisterns, broken cisterns which can hold no water.

Another part of the problem is when I read most Christian theology I see another ekklesia/another people of God than I see in Scripture

Returning to John four, we find the Samaritan woman, Yeshua, and the people of the village all in agreement identifying Yeshua as the Messiah [Come see a man who told me all that I ever did! Can this be the Messiah?"] and also as Savior of the world ["We have heard from myself and believe that he is the Savior of the world"]. Although related, the terms "Messiah" and "Savior" are not synonymous terms, but rather reflect the Messiah’s two-fold ministry first to the lost sheep of the house of Israel and then to that other fold, the other nations, the Gentiles.

We should not forget that the Messiah is first of all the King of Israel. The Messiah is not simply the King of all Nations, but rather he is the King of Israel and the nations. Once you think of this, you begin to see evidence for it all over the Bible.

He is the one of whom it stands written in Isaiah. "It is too small a thing that you should be my chosen one to raise up the outcasts of Israel. I will also make you a light to the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the furthest ends of the earth" [Isa 49:6]. He is the one whom Righteous Simeon called "a light for revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of your people Israel." He is the one of whom it was said, "unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior who is Messiah the Lord."

Yeshua is the King of Israel. That means he is the one who is the personal guarantee of the fulfillment of God’s promises to His covenant nation. And it is only as he is first and foremost the King of Israel that he can also be "the Savior of the world" [John 4:42].

We must return to the apostolic understanding of the Jewish people as the foundational people of God. The ekklesia I see in Scripture is one in which Gentiles become co-heirs with Jews of Jewish promises, NOT replacement heirs who bump the Jews off the stage of salvation history and then redefine both the Christ and His people. It is not the Gentiles instead of the Jews, but the Gentiles because of the Jews and together with the Jews—for the blessings that come to the nations come from the hand of God to the people of Israel and through the hands of Israel to the nations.

Christian theology feels very uncomfortable with this kind of talk. This is in large measure because much Christian theologizing leans toward an ecclesiology which I term "the Church as The Borg."

"The Borg" is of course that planet-sized entity floating through space which has become part of the Star Trek saga. All who become members of The Borg become cyborgs, part machine, part human. Their individuality is eradicated in the process. What they once were is of no importance; their origins are immaterial. All that matters is that they are now part of The Borg, a multi-individual organization/organism that functions with maximum efficiency as each part does its work. It is known as "The Collective" and collective consciousness is the name of the game. Whenever The Borg encounters a new civilization, the message is beamed out "You shall be assimilated." And that is exactly what happens. Individuality, ethnicity, origins, all are subsumed under the greater good of absorption and full function within The Borg.

You don’t have to read long or hard in Christian theology to discover that the prevailing assumptions about the people of God are more Borg than Bible. Indeed, the Church as The Borg is the prevailing paradigm.

This is a subliminal subtext of Christian theologizing, but there is no shortage of explicit references to this paradigm. Consider this quotation from George Beasley-Murray’s commentary on Revelation:

"…the death of the Lamb of God, coupled with his resurrection, brought to men emancipation from sin’s slavery, that they might become members in the race drawn from all nations, a company of kings and priests to God in the new age." [Beasley-Murray, George Raymond. The Book of Revelation. London: Marshall, Morgan and Scott, 1974:127-128, bold print emphasis added].

Here we see all of humanity subsumed into a new race: ethnicity is no longer significant. Once you were a Jew, once you were a Swede, once you were a proud Ibo, or Hausa, or Dongo, a Tutsi, a Cubana, a Salvadoreña, once you were a Korean. But none of that is important now. Now you are a Christian, and that is all that really matters.

Welcome to The Borg.

Over and over again it becomes clear to me that if I really believed what most Christian theologizing says about the Jews, I would either have to be a self-hating Jew to be a Messianic Jew, or I would have to apostasize from that faith in order to maintain my allegiance to my Jewish people. The only way I can be both a Jew and a believer in Yeshua is to adopt a hermeneutics of great suspicion pertaining to the theological tradition of the West, or what might be called, The Theological Tradition of the Borg.

Finally, the problem is this: when I read most Christian theology I see another consummation than I see in Scripture.

In John Four, Yeshua speaks of a time when people would no longer worship God on Mount Gerazim [which the Samaritans favored] or Jerusalem, the holy site of the Jews. But does this mean that Christianty transcends nationality in the sense of making national identity and origin of no importance? There can be no doubt that Christian theologizing moves in this direction.

For example, in dealing with the question of whether the 144,000 of which Revelation speaks might be Jewish people, Robert H. Mounce dismisses the possibility in a very telling manner. Listen to the assumption which informs his dismissal:

"A few commentators interpret the 144,000 as a literal reference to the nation Israel. But this interpretation seriously complicates the book of Revelation by bringing in racial distinctions that no longer exist in the NT purview . . .. The Church is the eschatological people of God who have taken up Israel’s inheritance" [Mounce, Robert H. The Book of Revelation (Revised Edition). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998:158].

Here he combines in one paragraph two problematical areas of Christian theologizing, the Church as The Borg even into the eschaton, a people of God with no racial distinctions; and the assumption that Israel is now off the stage with the Church having taken her place.

Of course I have problems with this view for a variety of reasons. Considering Revelation’s reverences to God as "King of the nations" and the one to whom "all nations will come" [Rev 15], and the one who "ransomed for God saints from every tribe and language and people and nation" [5:9], the one who will "dwell with them as their God, [and] they will be his peoples" [21:3], it seems incontrovertible that Mounce’s theological presuppositions are controlling his conclusions to the unjust disenfranchisement of Israel and the reduction of God’s purposes to the salvation of the kind of undifferentiated humanity of which the Bible never speaks.

Behind Mounce’s interpretation and that of almost the entire Western Church stands what might be called "spiritual vision eschatology." Craig Blaising explains for us what is meant by the term and offers us a very appropriate and telling alternative:

". . . In the history of the Church supersessionism [the Church’s replacement of Israel] and spiritual-vision eschatology fit hand in hand. What do I mean by spiritual-vision eschatology? I mean that traditional eschatology which sees eternal life as a timeless, changeless, spiritual existence consisting primarily in the human soul’s full knowledge of God. This knowledge is understood to be like a direct view, vision, or beholding of God. This is the sum total of what eternal life is and it defines what is meant by heaven. The resurrected body is expected to be a spiritual body in the sense that the body is composed of spiritual substance or has been transformed into spirit. The emphasis is on the individual’s unchanging visionary-like epistemic experience of God. This spiritual-vision eschatology traditionally has seen earthly life as a symbol of spiritual realities. Supersessionism fits well with this view in denying a future for Israel since a future for Israel literally has no place in a spiritual-vision eschatology. A future for Israel would demand a national and political reality in the eschaton with all its context of land and fruitfulness. This is all thought to be carnal by spiritual-vision ideology. It is simply not possible. As a result, Israel can only be a symbol of a spiritual people headed for a spiritual destiny.

"To take the future of Israel seriously would demand that this spiritual-vision eschatology be modified at best or, at the most, replaced entirely with a different eschatological concept. We are not talking here about that alternative which spiritual-vision eschatology has thought was the only alternative, that is one that is carnal in every sense of the word carnal, in the manner say, of Muslim eschatology. Rather we are talking about the alternative which most biblical theologians see expressed in Scripture, that is, new creation eschatology. New creation eschatology emphasizes the liberation of the cosmos from sin, the bodily resurrection and glorification of the righteous, and the liberation of the cosmos to share in the liberty of the children of God. It does not see the eschaton as simply a continuation of the past, but does emphasize its continuity with the past as seen in the resurrection of the body. New creation eschatology does not see the eschaton as a timeless, changeless or essentially visionary-like epistemic state. It is not eternal in the classic timeless sense but everlasting. New creation eschatology has a place for the earth, the cosmos, for the fullness of created life, but especially for resurrected human life living under the lordship of the resurrected Jesus Christ in fellowship with the Triune God. It would see human life in created wholeness--not as undifferentiated individuals but as differentiated individuals. But neither would it see them as just differentiated individuals, but rather differentiated in ethnic and communal dimensions as well, since these form an essential aspect of our identities. And what will we find here except Israel and the Gentiles who are together blessed by God, living under the lordship of Jesus Christ to the glory of God." [Blaising, Craig. "The Future of Israel as a Theological Question." Nashville, 2000:23-25].

In conclusion, let’s just recap.

1. As I read Christian theology, I see another Jesus than I see in Scripture. The Church has transformed Jesus the Seed of Abraham, who is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Son of David and the ultimate King of Israel and the nations into a generic Christ, a cosmic Christ, a metaphysical a-historical figure. Christendom has made the Son of David into the "Son-of-Man-Without-a-Country." Do see what I see?

2. As I read Christian theology, I see another people of God than I see in Scripture. I see the Church as The Borg, devouring cultures and assimilating people into a multi-individual entity which presses people toward uniformity—everyone being the same, rather than what the Scripture holds out to us—that unity whereby people remain different yet live in peace. I see the Church arrogating to itself the status of being the New Israel, having treated the Chosen People Israel, like stage-hands, like the Parcel Post People of God whose only task is to deliver the stuff of salvation to the Church and then get out of the way. I see a Church which has succumbed to the arrogance which Paul warned about, a Church which has forgotten it is a guest in the Jewish house of salvation, grafted into a Jewish olive tree, co-heirs with the Jews who were are, and evermore shall me the foundational people of God Do you see what I see?

3. Finally, as I read Christian theology, I see another consummation than I see in the Bible. In contrast to the prevailing paradigm of spiritual-vision eschatology, I see an eternal state in which all of us are fully human, with resurrected bodies and ethnic identities in tact, rejoicing not simply as nationals but as nations in the presence of the One True God in all the beauty of our cultural and ethnic distinctiveness.

I believe the Bible teaches that in the eternal state we will not be less different but more so, allowed at last to be as God created us to be, not accommodating ourselves to those political realities which oblige us to blend in and "not make waves" We will be utterly diverse, we will all appreciate, rejoice in, and understand totally the richness of each community’s cultural contribution and perceptions. We will be gathered together, united but not uniform—all of us redeemed, all of us glorified, and all of us living in total peace and unity.

A gospel of uniformity is what I term the "Gospel According to Pol Pot." The G-d of Israel and the Church is not the G-d of uniformity. Rather, His Spirit works toward that unity in which we are utterly different and distinct and yet living in complete love and peace with one another. In short, I am one of that growing number of people who recognize the neo-Platonic nature of Spiritual vision eschatology and who recognize the weighty evidence in Scripture for a new creation eschatology.

Meanwhile, I see the outworking of what Yeshua told the Samaritan woman, that salvation is from the Jews. I see a Church drinking living water from the same well as the Samaritan woman, a well the Church did not herself dig, a well of living water that is first and foremost Jacob’s well.
Today, I want to issue a challenge. And it is this: Christian theology is not inspired the same way all Scripture is inspired. As you continue studying and learning, I suggest you ought to adopt a hermeneutics of suspicion whenever you are reading or hearing Christian theology. Whenever a statement is made, in dependence upon the Holy Spirit you should constantly be asking [1] Is this really what the Scripture is teaching? [2] Is this really the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? And most importantly, [3] What is the agenda of the people who are presenting this theology? What position or tradition are they trying to prove or prop up? What are they trying to disprove? What are their deep community interests? What system are they seeking to validate?
Sometimes it is good to be suspicious. It is good to be wise as serpents—even when reading theology or perhaps especially when reading theology!

In all of this, may the God of Israel be with you as you continue to come to Yeshua, the Son of David, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, Jacob’s Living Well, who said of Himself in this same Gospel of John, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink, and out of their inmost being shall flow rivers of living water." L’chaim!