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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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Friday, January 13, 2006

Is the Gospel Good News for the Jews? Not Since the Second Century

This is part of a presentation I delivered at a Conference held at Fuller Theological Seminary on “New Perspectives on Jesus and the Jewish People," October 20-21, 2005. You will notice that my rhetoric is adapted to my Christian audience, not as to content, of course, but as to style. Because the paper is rather long for a blog format, I am breaking it up into sections.

In the famous Christmas story, we hear and read familiar words, words so familiar that we miss their import.

8 And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10 And the angel said to them, "Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; 11 for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who Christ, the Lord."

Notice the phrase, "good news of a great joy which will come to all the people." It is too easy to carelessly misunderstand the reference to be "good news of great joy which will come to all the peoples of earth," but that is not the reference here. Here, the reference is to one people in particular, the Jewish people. As John Nolland succinctly reminds us in his commentary on this text: “παντὶ τῷ λαῷ--’panti tow laow’ is the whole People of Israel.”

However, this has not been the Jewish experience nor has it been the missionary’s message. The coming of Jesus is not experienced by Jews, nor conceived of by the missions culture or by the historic church, as good news to “the whole people of Israel,” but rather as good news only to that small remnant who will believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and so be saved.

I am proud to be a two-time graduate of Donald McGavran’s School of World Mission and Church Growth, now transmuted into the School of Intercultural Studies. For McGavran, the watchword of the Church was “πάντα τὰ ἔθνη - panta ta ethne” [all the nations]. But today I am advocating for a negelected Biblical mandate, which I suggest should become something of a watchword for Messianic Jews and for those interested in what God is up to in the world among Jewish people --- παντὶ τῷ λαῷ - panti tow laow” all the people of Israel.

Historically, the gospel has been presented as good news for some Jews but bad news for the Jews as a whole. This is a theological worldview assumption that became canon law of the Church by the time of the Second Council of Nicea in the 787. But this assumption was already becoming well established as early as the second century. It is a theme that distorts and informs Christian and mission consensus concerning the Jews to this day.

I want to make it clear that I am speaking here not of anti-Semitism but of anti-Judaism. Lee Martin McDonald, commenting of the writings of the Church Fathers, makes a very helpful distinction for us, saying, “What at times may appear in the church fathers to be a reference to race—that is, Jews being condemned as a people or nation because of their race, is most often a reference to their religious identity rather than their ethnic origins.” Similarly, I am not saying that the mission culture and the Church manifest anti-Semitism in their assumptions about the Jews. But I am saying that anti-Judaism is endemic to much Christian thought and to Christian mission to the Jews, permeating the entire enterprise at the level of subconscious worldview assumptions.

Ignatius of Antioch, in his letters to the Philadelphians and the Magnesians [c. 114], is the first to speak of Judaism and Christianity as two separate and polarized religions, the anonymous Epistle of Barnabas [c. 130-132], and the writings of Justin Martyr, especially his Dialogue with Trypho [155-160 CE], plus the Epistle to Diognetus toward the end of the century, all sowed the seeds of various anti-Judaic positions, of which I will be highlighting two which were ratified and developed further by Augustine of Hippo, Jerome, and Aquinas. They became canon law, and part of the warp and woof of Christian thinking and doing. For example, it is to Justin we owe the habit of seeing Jews as categorically unbelievers, or as the Jewish mission culture calls them, UJ’s –unsaved Jews [because of their lack of Yeshua faith]. Justin said it this way “God promised Abraham a religious and righteous nation of like faith, and a delight to the Father; but it is not you [Jews], 'in whom there is no faith' [Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, Chapter 119, emphasis added].

Today I only have time to examine two of these assumptions, which we might term bitter seeds.

1. The first seed: the assumed and theologically necessary assumed universal perdition of all Jews who do not believe in Jesus;

2. The second seed, the negation of Jewish relationship with God and the value of Jewish piety apart from faith in Christ. This includes the relativizing of Jewish covenant fidelity, relegating Torah obedience to the status of but one option among many.

As long as these seed assumptions prevail in missionary and church circles, as long as they are not uprooted and renounced, they necessarily sabotage the progress of the gospel among the Jewish people and misrepresent both the gospel and the Messiah of whom it speaks. And these assumptions clearly establish that the gospel is NOT good news for the Jews.

Let me demonstrate.

1. The First Bitter Seed is that of theologically necessary universal Jewish perdition. As normally conceived and presented by Jewish missions, the gospel includes this assumption: “Fifty generations of your fellow Jews [that’s two thousand years at forty years per generation], including the most pious among them, are of theological necessity in hell because they did not profess Christ as Savior, but you can be in heaven with him forever if you will receive Him now.” How is this gospel good news for the Jews? Isn’t it obviously bad news for “παντὶ τῷ λαῷ and good news for only that Jew or those few Jews in front of you, to whom you are witnessing, especially if he/she/they are narcissists? If they are narcississts, they will focus on the benefit to themselves, with the doom of their ancestors and family a dim, peripheral concern. But if are not narcissists, they are apt to recoil and say, "You want me to go to heaven to be with your Jesus even though my parents, and my grandmother and grandfather, and our relatives who lived, died, and suffered in Europe for generations, and their ancestors before them are by theological necessity all doomed to suffer conscious torment in hell for ever and ever?" Once a person realizes that this is the message, he or she is apt to rightly say, "Such a message is not good news for the Jews. It is the worst possible news for the Jews, and only good news for the few who accept this message and are prepared to suppress their awareness of the assured abysmal fate of their family members and fifty generations of their ancestors, a fate awaiting even the most pious of our Jewish contemporaries, apart from faith in Christ.” This message of certain perdition for fifty generations of our people is not good news for the Jews.

You will wonder whether I believe in hell. Unfortunately, I do. But I see hell as the place of punishment for the willful, unrepentant wicked, not simply as the final resting place of those who have failed God’s theology test, and certainly not the final parking lot for God's chosen people. I challenge you to find in apostolic preaching the kind of "find heaven, avoid hell" kind of evangelism of the Jews which is standard fare for those who claim to be the most orthodox in doctrine in Jewish mission circles.

And such an approach errs in assuming that all Jewish people who do not believe in Jesus are effectively pagans, without hope and without God in the world. Canadian evangelical theologian Douglas Harink reminds us that Paul’s message to the Gentiles was for them to turn from idolatry to the true and living God of Israel, through faith in Jesus Christ. But faithful Israel are not pagans, and assuming that they dwell in heathen darkness until the light of the gospel comes to them is not true to the Bible but rather echoes the strident polemics of Justin Martyr and company.

Rather than our preaching being based on a census of perdition, might we not instead follow Peter’s mandate in Acts five to "go stand in the Temple and proclaim there all the words of this Life," a message of a fuller Jewish life through Yeshua, the Messiah promised and sent to our people in the fullness of time, without our having to use a carrot and stick method of "avoid hell and find heaven," and certainly without opining that of theological necessity, fifty generations of Jews who did not believe in Yeshua must be in hell.

This may be an approach that wins approval in church circles, it may be just peachy with the mailing list, but it most certainly bad news for the Jews, the kind of bad news loyal Jews would find off-putting to say the least. It is worthless as a base for presenting the good news to a people whose pious ones have been faithfully seeking the God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob for three millennia, of whom Paul says, “they earnestly serve God night and day” [Acts 26:7].

(End of Part One)

At 1/11/2006 11:04 AM, Anonymous Chayamindle said...

You are a spiritual leader and mentor with profound wisdom and scriptural insight. I am so thankful and gratefully inspired by your teaching and theological evolution since the old days in other camps.
On that note I find it deeply troubling that one of those camps still posts an archived "unopened letter" article that they in all likelihood know does not reflect your current thinking on the matter that is dealt with. Though masterfully and poignantly written in many ways, it was upsetting to me when I read the original almost 22 years ago, a few years before losing own my dear father. It has lingered uncomfortably in my mind ever since. Now to have discovered it posted on "their" website to bolster "their" theological agenda, with only a generic disclaimer that some information from archived articles may be outdated, is on their part simply unfair and unethical.
Are you able to request and insist that they remove it (in that the article represents an archetype of what you now purport is NOT good news for Jews.)
If they comply, it would certainly be a mitzvah to spare additional grief and spiritual turmoil to bereaving Yeshua believers who have lost non-Yeshua believing loved ones.

G-d Bless You on your journey as you continue in your work for His Honor & Glory!


At 1/12/2006 10:10 PM, Blogger jon cline said...

thanks for your thoughtful insights. you information gathering and presentation helps many to ask important questions with hope.

i attribute even greater respect to those open to G-d changing their paradigms so well done my friend.

At 1/15/2006 1:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"If they are narcissists, they will focus on the benefit to themselves, with the doom of their ancestors and family a dim, peripheral concern"

You have hit the nail on the head Stuart. Unfortunately you also describe here most of the so called "Messianic Rabbis" who I have met.

You of course are a notable exception.

I grieve along with chayamindle. My parents are now old and frail and I see little chance of them being able to relate to Messianic Judiasm in any meaningful way.


At 1/26/2006 12:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I appreciate that you put up this article. It gave me the opportunity to discuss the issues with a close friend. He thinks you are arguing that personal trust in Yeshua is not necessary for Jews. I think it is possible that you actually take an agnostic view on that.

Are you arguing that, for Jews who do not believe in Yeshua, personal trust in Him is not necessary for eternal life in the next world? Or do you argue that this trust is in Yeshua (and is personal), only without being recognized by those involved?

At 2/10/2006 9:23 PM, Blogger Stuart Dauermann said...

A Reply to Anonymous [the name DOES sound familiar!];

I think the alternatives you supply me with are too narrow. They also do not describe what I was trying to do. What I am affirming in my article is the reality and value of Jewish faith and piety in God's eyes, something which the Bible affirms and the Standard Jewish Missions Paradigm and much Christian thought either ignore or deny.

I also do not believe it is our business to construct a census of the redeemed or of perdition. Our task is to lift up the Name of Yeshua, not the Neediness of Jews, and to "Go stand in the Temple Court and keep telling the people all about this new life!" [Acts 5:20].

People get nervous about me because I refuse to pass judgment on who is in and who is out. I feel that such people are putting me in the place of being a kind of spiritual Josef Mengele, standing at the loading platform of heaven and pointing to the left or right as to who lives and who dies.

My response: No thank you. Their souls are in the hands of God, and the Judge of all the earth will do what is right [Genesis 18:25].

The fact is, evangelicals and evangelicalized Messianic Jews have an overdeveloped appetite for certitude. For some it seems It is better to have a strong answer, even if it is short-sighted, than to live with ambiguities. I think the Jewish approach is more given to living with ambiguities and holes in our knowledge [See Deuteronomy 29:29].

People will continue to label me and my friends as those who are sloppy on soteriology. Not so! We believe that Yeshua is the Way the Truth and the Life for ALL the redeemed. We just leave it in the hands of God how God applies the benefits of His redemption in each individual case, and we refuse to predicate the worth of Yeshua on the alleged worthlessness of Judaism, God forbid.

I trust this helps.


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