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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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Monday, March 27, 2006

Community Building 101

(This is a sermon for Shabbat Vayakhel-Pekudei presented March 25, 2006 at Ahavat Zion Messianic Synagogue, Beverly Hills, CA. It examines and challenges the fundamental posture people bring to the prospect of engagemenet with a local congregation.)

If we believe that congregations of God’s people are the divinely ordained means of God accomplishing His will in the world, and that these congregations constitute a witness to His majesty, then what question should we be asking about ourselves and our congregation?

One of the usual questions people reflexively ask is “What am I getting out of my congregation?” But if our congregations are meant to be the means of glorifying God and accomplishing His will, shouldn’t our question rather be “What is my congregation getting out of me?”

This is quite a paradigm shift, quite a change in perspective. Can this change in perspective be demonstrated from our Scriptures and tradition? Let’s see.

If we take a close look at the beginning of today’s Torah reading, examining Shemot/Exodus 35:4-36:5, we will see how very much the community was occupied with serving God and seeing that He got the glory He deserved. We see nothing here of what is axiomatic and automatic in our generation. . . “What’s in it for me?”

Instead, we find the people investing their time, talents, and treasures in building something for God. They bring various building materials, of various kinds, from very expensive to less so. Then people of various skill levels came together to make all that the Lord had commanded. The participants included young and old, male and female, rich and poor. Also involved were those who were especially skilled, the craftspeople. At the head of the project were the especially talented Bezalel and Oholiab. And Bezalel was skilled not only in doing the work, but in teaching others to do so.

There is not a syllable here of the kind of “What’s in it for me?” mentality so prevalent in our day. Neither was there coercion. Rather, there was widespread communal “ buy in.” People rose to the occasion, and the occasion was splendid. So much so, that we read in chapter 36:4 all the artisans who were engaged in the tasks of the sanctuary came, each from the task upon which he was engaged, 5 and said to Moses, "The people are bringing more than is needed for the tasks entailed in the work that the Lord has commanded to be done." 6 Moses thereupon had this proclamation made throughout the camp: "Let no man or woman make further effort toward gifts for the sanctuary!" So the people stopped bringing: 7 their efforts had been more than enough for all the tasks to be done.

What an unambiguous model for community building: community building is a community effort.

Our bears this out as well. In the first verse of the Haftarah, Ezekiel 45:16, speaking of the idealized vision of the eschatological Temple, we read:
16 In this contribution, the entire population must join with the prince in Israel.

Notice—the entire population, the entire people of God, must join with the prince in His offerings. We are all to be involved. This is not something to be left up to the leaders and the professionals. As the leaders serve God, so must the people. That is why leaders are leaders—they lead the people in doing as they do.

I think we will agree that nowadays people evaluate congregations from a consumer mentality—“What is the best congregation to meet my needs with the least cost or inconvenience to myself?” “Where can I get the most bang for my buck?”

If we trust the Bible as our guide for right living, if we find we cannot entirely divest ourselves of this self-centered mentality, we would at least do well to make repeated efforts at reorienting ourselves, deciding to counterbalance this native narcissistic perspective with a different one, as modeled in these Scriptures.

As we think about our relationship God, we should develop the habit of asking ourselves, “Is my congregation getting enough out of me?”

Our Newer Covenant reading bears this out. Notice how the assumption is that everyone has a part to play—just as our Torah passage put it, just as our Haftarah passage put it. Many people imagine that now that the New Covenant has come, we are all off the hook as far as defined responsibilities are concerned, we only have to do what we feel like doing when we feel like it. Try harmonizing that with this Newer Covenant passage.

1 I exhort you, therefore, brothers, in view of God's mercies, to offer yourselves as a sacrifice, living and set apart for God. This will please him; it is the logical "Temple worship" for you. 2 In other words, do not let yourselves be conformed to the standards of the 'olam hazeh. Instead, keep letting yourselves be transformed by the renewing of your minds; so that you will know what God wants and will agree that what he wants is good, satisfying and able to succeed. 3 For I am telling every single one of you, through the grace that has been given to me, not to have exaggerated ideas about your own importance. Instead, develop a sober estimate of yourself based on the standard which God has given to each of you, namely, trust. 4 For just as there are many parts that compose one body, but the parts don't all have the same function; 5 so there are many of us, and in union with the Messiah we comprise one body, with each of us belonging to the others. 6 But we have gifts that differ and which are meant to be used according to the grace that has been given to us. If your gift is prophecy, use it to the extent of your trust; 7 if it is serving, use it to serve; if you are a teacher, use your gift in teaching; 8 if you are a counselor, use your gift to comfort and exhort; if you are someone who gives, do it simply and generously; if you are in a position of leadership, lead with diligence and zeal; if you are one who does acts of mercy, do them cheerfully (Romans 12:1-8].

Notice this is addressed to “every single one of you.” Notice, “so there are many of us, and in union with the Messiah we comprise one body, with each of us belonging to the others.” Each of us—that means every single one of us—belongs to the other.

This language should remind you of something. In what other interpersonal relationship are people told that they now belong to each other? [Marriage]. Yes, membership in a congregation is like a marriage—it is a covenant relationship in the sight of God, one which entails responsibilities for each other. And “every single one of us. . . each of us. . .belongs to one another."

Community building 101 dictates that we not only ask ourselves “What is my congregation getting out of me?” which is itself suspiciously narcissistic question. We must also or even instead remind ourselves that we do not belong only to ourselves. We belong to God: “You were bought with a price, therefore glorify God in your bodies, which are God’s” [1 Cor 6:17], and we belong to each other [Romans 12:5].

This is quite a distance from the “What’s in it for me Gospel,” isn’t it?

In your bulletins today, you have a copy of what we call the G.R.A.C.E. Criteria, the means whereby we gauge if people are appropriate for our congregation and appropriately related to it. It is easy to see that the lessons of today’s readings are echoed in these criteria:

Growing in relationship with God because of their involvement with us.
Responsive to and respectful of our vision and our leadership.
Appropriate to our congregation.
Contributing to the life of the congregation.
Engaged in healthy relationships with others in the congregation.

Actually, today’s readings strongly illumine the fourth of our G.R.A.C.E. Criteria—“Contributing to the life of the congregation”. And there is another verse a little later in Romans 12, that also illumines this: 11 Don't be lazy when hard work is needed, but serve the Lord with spiritual fervor.

What then does all of this mean?
First, it means that the gimme gospel is a product of the spirit of the age—and not the Spirit of God.
Second, it means that, if the Bible is true at all, then we should be asking ourselves, “What is my congregation getting out of me?”

Now, I know what some of you are saying inside. “I’d like to be more involved, but I am too busy.” And you are right, you are too busy. If you cannot be genuinely and consistently involved in contributing to the life our your congregation, by a combination of your treasures, your talents, and your time, then, if the Bible is true at all, your life is spiritually dysfunctional, and you need to cut back somewhere so that you might get it in better balance. I realize as well, that it is possible to be too involved in congregational life. In such cases, the balance needs to be restored on the other side of the scale. But, except for a handful of people here, that is not a danger.

If you would fulfill your God given relationship with your congregation, if you would honor your covenant with the others in this body, you will ask yourself, “What is my congregation getting out of me?” and you will make sure that you can honestly say, “I contribute to the life of Ahavat Zion with a combination of my treasures, my talents, and my time.” There are a wide variety of ways people demonstrate involvement, just as our Newer Covenant reading reminded us—“4 For just as there are many parts that compose one body, but the parts don't all have the same function; 5 so there are many of us, and in union with the Messiah we comprise one body, with each of us belonging to the others. 6 But we have gifts that differ and which are meant to be used according to the grace that has been given to us.” And all these ways are good, right and proper.

Some of you are very already heavily engaged with the life of our congregation, through giving of you treasures, your talents, and your time. God bless you. You make this body live.

For the rest of us, the message of today’s lesson is this: Membership in a community of God’s people is anything but a spectator sport. Get involved. Ask yourself this question and answer it: “What is my congregation getting out of me?” What are you contributing to the life of this congregation? This is not meant to be the occupation of the professionals and the superstars. As in our Torah reading, our Haftarah reading, and our Newer Covenant reading, it is all the people giving as their hearts move them, it is all of the people joining themselves with the priests offering, it ir rich and poor, male and female, skilled artisans and common people, building the community. Every one of us belongs to the others, and these imperatives are addressed to every single one of us.

If someone asks you to help with something, your first impulse should be to make yourself available, not to beg off every time. Sometimes we must excuse ourselves, but if we do it as a habit of life, then something is out of balance.

If you see that something needs doing, or someone needs help, volunteer. I did not say “overcommit.” This would be wrong; but volunteer, at least once in a while.

Let’s restore spiritual balance to our lives. Let’s ask ourselves, “Is my congregation getting enough out of me?” For in giving of yourself to your congregation, you are giving to God. And if you withhold yourself from engagement with your congregation you need to ask yourself, “Why?”

Some questions before we go:

(1) What are the signs that someone is overcommitted to religious community matters, activities and projects?

(2) What are signs that somone is undercommitted to religious community matters, activities and projects?

(3) What about you? And what are you going to do about it?

At 3/27/2006 12:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Professor Dauermann,
Have you surveyed the experiences of different mainstream Jewish congregations?
Traditional Judaism has built in mechanisms for maintaining and nurturing community. For example, the eruv, the requirement for a minyan, emphasis on Torah study as the will of God, etc.
Other expressions of Judaism don't have such drivers. Rather a particular rabbi or cantor might be the factor explaining why a congregation thrives or not. Even then the idea is usually not, "what can we as a community accomplish," but what does the community provide to its member families by way of life cycle services, Shabbat and holiday services, and the like.
I may be wrong, but the focus of your congregation as "doing the will of God" seems more to place you in Christian, rather than Jewish, space. Do you see it this way, or what am I missing? (Not that there is anything wrong with what you are doing, in fact it can be quite noble if your community is pursuing those things truly of value to God and not what sometimes passes as the will of God.)

At 3/27/2006 1:19 PM, Blogger Stuart Dauermann said...

Dear Rabbi/Doctor Anonymous,

A few points, I know more about mainstream Jewish congregations than you imagine. Of courseI am well aware of the conventions you mention. My synagogue is in the Pico Robertson area of Los Angeles, an area serviced by a well-maintained eruv. In my congregation we insist on a minyan before certain aspects of liturgy can be done, just as other synagogues do, and for us as well, to use your language, we have an "emphsis on Torah study as the will of God."

As for sounding somewhat Christian to your ears, I am the servant of a significant time of transition among some in the Messianic Jewish movement. I am serving a people who have dwelt in Egypt for a long time, and must speak to them in terms they understand, as I lead them to Sinai and Torah, in the context of Messianic Jewish identity.

Remember, when Moshe Rabbenu met Jethro's daughters at the well in Midian, they went back to their father and said they had met an Egyptian. Moses bore the accent and garb of where he had long sojourned. But this did not mitigate his Jewishness or authenticity. I too bear the accent of where I have long sojourned, and must speak to a people who have themselves been in Egypt for a long time.

But I bear no stigma for this. In fact. I imagine feel as proud of my vocation as a leader and my identity as a Jew as did Moses.

As for " pursuing those things truly of value to God and not what sometimes passes as the will of God," that is of course a tricky and urgent business. I cannot claim to always discern the one from the other. Can you?

At 3/28/2006 7:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Professor Dauermann,

I must say that you do not sound like others that seek to convert us to Christianity. My head is somewhat spinning with questions, more of interest in your experiences than your message. So if you choose to spend your time in other endeavors rather than interact with me, I understand.

At this time, rather than ask my questions, let me try to answer your question. You asked me if I can tell the difference between the actual will of God and what sometimes passes for it. When it comes to particular actions, you must know that in Judaism we place an emphasis on free will and don’t usually ascribe our actions as being “the will of God.” We do have traditions and to the extent the will of God has been ascribed to certain actions, we seek to follow or adapt those as best as possible.

One of the most long standing, and perhaps even foundational as a difference between the two religions, is that we see it as the will of God to not accept Christian claims that Jesus fulfilled the role of Messiah.

We differ at a fundamental understanding of interpretation of Tanakh as well as acceptance of what Christians consider as historical fact.Unless I have seriously misread your thinking, you side with the Christians in this matter. As such, don’t you by necessity have to say that those who don’t accept the Christian understandings are “outside the will of God”? This is quite a dilemma, isn’t it?

Either the will of God is to reject Christianity’s claims, or it is will of God to accept Christianity’s claims.

Upon reflection this dilemma seems to be at the root of much contention. For traditional Jews, we have to see those such as yourself as apostates. For you, don’t you have to see us as being disobedient to the will of God and subject to suffering on account of this?
Isn’t this how history has played out so far? You seem to want to blaze a different trail, but isn’t the weight of history, tradition, custom, and more stacked up against you?

Maybe in your move “out of Egypt” you will find your way into a new land. Or maybe you will find yourself in Christian land. Or maybe you will find yourself back amongst your people.

Whatever your destination your journey will no doubt be as difficult as that of Moshe. Maybe your critics will wish to do to you what Moshe’s followers wanted to do to him!

Please be encouraged, I find observing your journey to cause me to think about matters long ago considered settled. Ideas that have grown stale have taken on new vitality (resurrected if you will) and I’m finding my own Torah study to be infused with something I can’t describe.

At 3/28/2006 8:01 AM, Blogger Stuart Dauermann said...

You say, “I must say that you do not sound like others that seek to convert us to Christianity.” I just love it when you speak this way. . .it’s kind of like a person who tells a black friend, “I like you Roger; you’re not like other black people.” You are an intelligent person, Rabbi Anonymous. If I may, I would like to respectfully suggest you be more careful in your language. You wouldn't want people to get the wrong ideas about you!

Secondly, an incautious reader might surmise that you are playing to the crowd and trying to get in your shots, telling them, “Remember, this guy Dauermann, as intelligent and slick as he is, is only trying to convert Jews like all the rest of them.” You wouldn’t want to give that impression would you? I want people to not misread what a fine person you are.

Of course I recognize the truth in what you say, that in Jewish space, at least much of the will of God for us is mapped out in Scripture and the tradition. As quoted elsewhere on my blog, one of my favorite texts is Devarim/Deutoronomy 29:29 which reminds us that “the things that have been revealed belong to us and to our children that might observe [keep] all the words of this Torah.”

However, I would like to reframe, if I may, your discussion that it is the will of God that the Jewish people reject the claims that Yeshua fulfilled the role of Messiah. To this, in keeping with oft neglected indications in the Newer Testament, I would answer both “Yes” and “No.”

It was the will of God that for the most part, Israel rejected the claims of Yeshua. In the mysterious Providence of God, this was the means whereby the good news of Messiah went to the pagan nations that they might “turn to God from idols to serve the Living and True God,” the God of Israel. [The quotation is from 1 Thessalonians 1:9]. We see the Jewish communal rejection of Yeshua as positive in at least two senses. The first, is what I just mentioned. The second is this: in the European Jewish experience, and sadly, too often since then, Jews were presented by the Church with the ultimatum to accept Jesus and to sever their ties with the Covenant God made with their ancestors; to leave off living Jewish lives, to cease contact with the Jewish community, and to not even marry other Jews. This became a matter of canon law. In such a climate, the Jewish “No” to Jesus became a “Yes” to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

But all of this was by no means a negation of Yeshua’s Messianic claims. Rather, we see this as a repetition of the pattern established by Joseph, our ancestor. Rejected by his brothers, given up for dead, he became the means whereby multitudes from among the nations found life, and eventually, when he revealed himself to his brothers, he was seen as their life-giver as well. It was Joseph who said to his brothers “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.” It was Joseph who said, “God sent me before you to preserve life . . . .And God sent me before you to preserve a posterity for you in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you who sent me here, but God.”

Joseph’s brothers and father, our ancestors, never would have guessed that Joseph was alive and that he was their life-giver, but he was. My colleagues and I, advocates of the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm, see the same counter-intuitive awe-inspiring divine sovereignty at work in the saga of Yeshua and the Jewish people as was evident in the case of Joseph.

Of course, although it was part of the Divine plan that Joseph’s true status be hidden for a time from the eyes of his brethren, there came a time when it was crucial that he be revealed to them. We believe the same to be true of Yeshua and Israel, and we are servants of that purpose.

In view of all this, what do you think my answer is to your question, “Don’t you by necessity have to say that those who don’t accept the Christian understandings are ‘outside the will of God’? The answer is quite complex, as outlined above. Sometimes the Jewish “No” to Jesus has been part of the will of God, insofar as he has been presented to Jews as the exit from Jewish life. However, we neither present nor see him in that manner.

And your repeated use of the term “Christianity” is not helpful. Although we proclaim Yeshua, we do not believe that incorporating Jews into churches or removing them from Jewish life is the will of God. I am afraid your either/or thinking, as in this statement, “Either the will of God is to reject Christianity’s claims, or it is will of God to accept Christianity’s claims” is not to the point.

Similarly, in view of what I have stated here, which is better developed by Mark Kinzer in “Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism,” your statement, “don’t you have to see us as being disobedient to the will of God and subject to suffering on account of this?” and what follows it, is outmoded and totally unsuited to the paradigm we advocate and the trail we are blazing.

Thank you for this opportunity to clarify matters.

Joseph is alive!

At 3/28/2006 8:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You said, " 'pursuing those things truly of value to God and not what sometimes passes as the will of God,' that is of course a tricky and urgent business. I cannot claim to always discern the one from the other. Can you?"

Yes, Dr. D. I and many of us almost always can 'discern', my issue is not discernment. For discernment doesn't automically precede 'pursuing'. This is why we need each other and we need you Dr. D.! Don't you agree? Or to simply put it "Logs burn better together when stacked not separated. It is essential to my well burning that you stay hot. toda - Alon

At 3/28/2006 9:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I apologize for causing you to react so strongly to my language. I see that you are trying to create a "third rail" as it were, one not of Judaism and not of Christianity. You are free to do this of course, but do you expect to convince traditional Jews to see this as anything other than Christianity?

Let us look at the evidence and show me where I am going wrong:

1) Judaism rejects Christian scriptures as holy, God-given, authoritative, etc. Christians as a matter of faith accept these writing as given by God, God-breathed, authoritative, some consider them inerrant, etc. Sorry for the black and white thinking, but isn't that the way it is? Your new paradigm sees the Christian scriptures in the same light as Christians, not as Judaism, correct?

2) Judaism sees Jesus as a man, nothing more. Christianity ascribes to Jesus divinity. Your new paradigm falls on the side of Christianity on this point, does it not?

3) Judaism does not seek to proselytize (though some expressions actively pursue efforts of Teshuvah). Christianity has in its mandate conversion efforts. Built into your new paradigm, you again fall on to the Christian side, correct?

4) When trying to reach a meeting of the minds, your efforts of reframing the issues fall back on midrashic-like methods, but with a Christian goal and Christian presuppositions regarding what is holy writ, Jesus, etc.

Where is the error in seeing your new paradigm as anything other than form over substance? The form of your paradigm seeks to be Jewish-like, but the substance is fully Christian.

There is nothing wrong here. You make it clear you are not trying to pull us out of our communities. From this I see your pool of potential adherents either belong to other non-Jewish communities, don't belong to any community at all, and might not even be thinking religiously at all.

From a Jewish standpoint if you are able to bring the light to one who is unaware, you are doing a mitzvah. I do not begrudge you that or your efforts. I am trying to figure out what this is all about, and maybe my categories are somewhat limited. You may well be successful in creating a new category that in time will become generally accepted. But can we at least agree that given the presuppositions upon which the current Jewish/Christian categories exist, theologically at least you fall outside the Jewish and are firmly in the Christian?

At 3/29/2006 5:47 AM, Blogger Stuart Dauermann said...

You said, “I apologize for causing you to react so strongly to my language. I see that you are trying to create a "third rail" as it were, one not of Judaism and not of Christianity. You are free to do this of course, but do you expect to convince traditional Jews to see this as anything other than Christianity?”

If you think that reaction was strong, you should see the one I didn’t include!! No problem. As for creating "a third rail," and "expecting “to convince traditional Jews to see this as anything other than Christianity,” I am afraid you misunderstand again because you are projecting onto us an old paradigm. The things we are writing about and thinking about are not a matter of “marketing” or “repackaging," God forbid: they are are for us a matter truths we are discovering, discussing and serving with a sense of responsibility to God! What you and other traditional Jews do with what we share must remain for you, as for us, a matter of conscience and intellectual integrity. Of course we seek to explain these things and discuss them, but this is for us, as for others promulgating new paradigms in whatever field of endeavor, a matter of testing out our hypotheses in the marketplace of ideas, and also a matter or responsibility. We are responsible to share what we are discovering, but this is not “market driven.” The drive-train is anchored much higher up than that!

You say, “Let us look at the evidence and show me where I am going wrong.” Why would I want to do that? I am not here to show you you are wrong! [See the above paragraph].

You then proceed to list ways in which Judaism and Christianity are commonly contrasted. Of course, in speaking of anything, if one wants to focus on ways things are commonly contrasted, one is going to reinforce, guess what, a sense that these two things are different. For some people this is a defense mechanism, a kind of ideological xenophobia: we protect ourselves from the “other” by emphasizing their otherness. It is a form of bounded set thinkiing which focuses on and reinforces the boundaries, the sense of who is in and who is out.

Also, you again do what I lamented in my last posting—you seek to position yourself as a proponent of Judaism, and me as a proponent of Christianity, which is not what I am. Rather, I am a proponent of a particular brand of Messianic Judaism which views the Jewish community as our primary community of reference [not true of Christians, of course], and which views Torah obedience as an enduring responsibility of Jewish covenant fidelity [not true of Christians, of course], which views Israel to be the foundational people of God, rather than the former people of God [not true of almost any Christians, of course], views Yeshua of Nazareth to be the Son of David, and thus the One in whom all the promises of God to the Jewish people are to be fulfilled [not true of Christians in the sense that not one of the classic Christian confessions of faith names the Messiah as the Son of David, but only as the generic Son of Man], etc., [and it is a big et cetera!].

It is no surprise then, that if you focus on differences you will reinforce the sense of their centrality, intractability, and mutual exclusiveness. And it is also not surprising if your insistence on positioning my position as another repackaging of Christianity results in a correspondence which seems unduly adversarial. In this regard, I would suggest that you and our readers examine the Dabru Emet documents for a model of more irenic thinking which, in focusing on what Christians and Jews hold in common, actually discovers commonality. I guess, one finds what one looks for. But more than that, when one focuses on boundaries, one risks losing the common center.

What you fail to grasp, which is not at all surprising, since this emphasis is newly discovered and only very recently being discussed, is that we view Judaism and Christianity to be two communities which are living in schism, a schism that God intends to see healed. This will require us going back and discovering where and how the schism occurred, and how, where, and why polarized and in some cases erroneous positions where adopted, reinforced and promulgated. We do not think at all of one community swallowing the other, but of the two being reconciled. And Messianic Judaism rightly conceived and rightly lived is the link, the joining point between the two, with its own discrete identity, characteristics, and calling, uniquely manifesting an affinity with historic Judaism and with the Christian world, but yet being a sort of tertium quid.

Forgive me if I do not point by point deal with the contrasts you list. Better people than I have dealt with these old questions ad infinitum, and they are grounded in a kind of polarized thinking that misconstrues the very nature of what is being presented. Suffice it to say that in our theological formulations, we of the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm seek and discover within the Jewish tradition materials, metaphors, ways of thinking, which help us articulate our theological convictions and process in a unique manner, yet which do not compromise or alter the truths we seek to explore, discuss and serve. To deal with your boundary-reinforcing questions point for point only perpetuates the false assumption that our paradigm is only same old stuff in new garments. Not true.

I commend to you and to our readers Mark Kinzer’s excellent and ground-breaking book, “Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism: Redefining Christian Engagement With the Church.” It will help all with eyes to see to recognize that we are discussing something far newer and more dynamic than the attempt at repackaging which you misattribute to us.

I hope this helps you. Shalom.

At 3/29/2006 6:06 AM, Blogger Stuart Dauermann said...

Whoops! Of course I misnamed Mark Kinzer's excellent book. The correct title is, "Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism: Redefining Christian Engagement with the Jewish People." Sorry. And, shalom again!

At 3/29/2006 7:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Again I apologize for coming across as adversarial. I find myself in the awkward position of being put on the defensive no matter what I say.
As an example, when I said that you don't seem like others seeking to convert us to Christianity, I was comparing you to groups such as Jews for Jesus who are particularly annoying and offensive. Your response was to take this comment negatively rather than positively intended, then raise a racist specter by using an African-American example. Talk about feeding fires.

I also find myself strangely cornered. Rather than look at the issues I am seeking to raise, I feel as if the issue has become me. Please don't take this the wrong way, but your argumentative, ad hominem style reminds me more of Christian disputation than a Jewish oriented meeting of the minds.

I commend your efforts to bridge the gap between Christians and Jews. I too am involved in such efforts, but on issues of social justice, mercy, etc. Deep within our tradition we realize we don't always understand the ways of God and theological disputation generally creates heat not light. Am I wrong in seeing your efforts mainly focused in the theological arena? If they are not, I do invite you to the communal table where Christians and Jews are seeking to unite on the matters such as I have mentioned without any overarching theological agenda.

Thank you for interacting with my posts. I find your willingness to interact, even if it is not exactly the manner in which I would wish, very kind of you.


At 3/29/2006 10:39 AM, Blogger Stuart Dauermann said...

Dear Respected Rabbi Anonymous,

I think what we are encountering here are the inevitable consequences of the e-mail modality. We are both left to guess one another's affect and intent, and appear to be each misconstruing motives, and misunderstanding each other right and left.

I as well apologize for coming across as adversarial. This is no more my intent than it is yours. I too find myself on the defensive, and find that my own direct statements are not acknowledged or interacted with but instead are followed with other questions. This could again be due to the limitations of the medium, but should not forestall our continued communications.

As for ad hominem attacks, I have felt that sharp edge more than once in our communications, most recently in your comparing my approach to that of protagonists in a Medieval diisputation!! So if you feel wrongly accused, misconstrued, and misrepresented, I know exactly how you feel. If we knew each other better personally, or had some face to face contact, much of this would be cleared up. But such is not the case.

I could go down your recent comment point by point and demonstrate how I have been on the receiving end of exactly the mishandling your decry in your posting, but why bother? Let's just continue communicating, accepting the vexatious limitations of the medium.

And please, don't attribute to me an ad hominem style . . . We both have been dealing with other categorically rather than truly interpersonally. Neither of us is wearing the white kippah.

I am heartened by your invitation "to the communal table where Christians and Jews are seeking to unite on the matters such as I have mentioned without any overarching theological agenda."

We Messianic Jews have almost always been excluded from such endeavors. If you have the clout to see that sorry state of affairs reverse, my friends and I would welcome the opportunity to cooperate in matters of common cause. I have written to this effect on this blog, and I meant what I said.

Make a proposal.

And please, take no offense at what I have said to you here and formerly. We are imperfect people using an imperfect medium.

Likewise, b'shalom.

At 3/30/2006 2:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Before the important ideas under discussion drown in a sea of testosterone, I would like to voice another perspective, if I may. For several reasons, I think it important to address at face value the four questions posed by “Respected Rabbi anonymous”. Let me first say that while, as a Jew, I do not call myself a Messianic Jew, my thinking is, in many ways, in line with that of Professor Dauermann.

1) A Jew need not necessarily embrace the New Testament as “sacred scripture” to accept as truth ideas put forth by the Messianic Jewish paradigm, for example,

2) that Jesus was somehow a divine manifestation (see the man of B’reishit 18) or that he might also be the messiah, albeit one whose work has not been completed.

3) I do not seek to proselytize anyone. I do, however, hope to live my life in a way that inspires others to care about God. It bothers me that Mah Jong is always well attended but we can’t get a minyan. Without teshuvah I don’t have much of a community.

4) When I first encountered “Messianic Judaism” I found the whole paradigm so disorienting, neither Christianity nor “traditional” Rabbinic Judaism, that it took me a long time to stop thinking of things as “one or the other”. I do not see it as “a third rail”. Rather, I see it as an effort on the part of individual Jews whose lives have been experientially “touched” by Hashem, albeit through the Christian message, to approach this encounter with intellectual honesty, swimming upstream in the river of their cherished heritage.


At 4/02/2006 8:51 AM, Blogger Stuart Dauermann said...

Dear Appreciated Deborah,

You said, “A Jew need not necessarily embrace the New Testament as 'sacred scripture' to accept as truth ideas put forth by the Messianic Jewish paradigm, for example.”

This is of course true. There are many Jews who would not agree with us on that issue, but who agree with us on at least some if not all aspects of our position.

Further, you indicated as a point of agreement “that Jesus was somehow a divine manifestation (see the man of B’reishit 18) or that he might also be the messiah, albeit one whose work has not been completed.”

These words “somehow a divine manifestation” are interesting. It has long puzzled me that people can go to rhetorical war even over minute differences in how they give expression to debates about the nature and being of the Holy One. Should it not be clear that when discussing the essential being of God, we are more out of our depth than at any other time in our intellectual lives, and that it behooves us to be humble and diffident in our expressions?

For example, people making arguments for or against Trinitarian thinking often employ puerile arguments [a man spoke to me yesterday of the Trinity being like an egg—shell, white, yoke. Others discuss the mathematical absurdity of God being three yet one, as if simple discussions of arithmetic settle the issue in discussing the essential nature of the one who is Infinite in every aspect of His being. I suppose such metaphors might have limited rhetorical usefulness, but it seems to me that getting worked up to the extent of flaring nostrils, or being strident with one another in such discussions, ought to, at the very least, be tempered by a profound humility and awe—we are talking here about the intrinsic nature of the Holy One, and ought to do so while on our faces before the throne of heaven.

Norwegian scholar Oskar Skarsaune is an expert on the earliest history of Christianity, and especially of how Yeshua faith was expressed and lived out among Jews. He has written compellingly to this issue in his small monograph, “Incarnation: Myth of Fact,” demonstrating how the earliest discussions of Yeshua’s nature were not, as commonly imagined, simply attempts to market Yeshua to the Greco Roman world. For example, he indicates that by then, the idea that God or the gods would assume human flesh was looked upon as pitiable fairy-tales by Greco-Roman society. This was not way to market matters to the pagans! Rather, in encountering Yeshua, the apostles found themselves confronted with something so utterly unique that they were somewhat at a loss to find language to describe it. In doinig so, they borrowed from the vocabulary of Jewish Wisdom discussion. Skarsaune points out that the eariest creeds were actually defenses of a Jewish Wisdom Christology against Hellenisitc attack, precisely the opposite of how people imagine the earliest discussions to have been configured.

Mark Kinzer has done groundbreaking work in finding ways to reverently discuss the nature of the Holy One and issues of Christology that are high rather than low Christology, and deeply oriented toward centuries of Jewish religious discussion. We do not have to sound like Athanasius to honor the One of whom we speak!

Be that as it may, it certainly behooves us to be humble, diffident, and to speak in hushed tones when we opine about how to discuss the intrinsic nature of the Holy One. Certainly, wrangling and sloganeering is out of place when the place where we are standing is such holy ground.

You said, “I do not seek to proselytize anyone. I do, however, hope to live my life in a way that inspires others to care about God. It bothers me that Mah Jong is always well attended but we can’t get a minyan. Without teshuvah I don’t have much of a community.

You are a rare person. You state your dilemma with the economy of an elegant haiku.

Your final paragraph about your first encounter with Messianic Judaism is likewise penetrating. You signed off, “Respectully,” and everything you wrote underscores that respect. In return, I want to say that I respect you, your position, and your powers of articulation. I would love to meet your some time. Kein y’hi ratzon.


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