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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.

All Contents ©2004-2007 Stuart Dauermann - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Kal V'Chomer and the Assumptions of the Standard Jewish Missions Paradigm

In Chapter 14 of "The Gospel in a Pluralist Society" (1989), Lesslie Newbigin discuss how every missionary knows that his/her communication with the receptor culture involves utilizing terms for God, and other spiritual matters, from the receptor culture. This confirms a prior commonality/common humanity with the non-Christian receptor culture, thus refuting the assumption that the receptor culture begins at zero, and only the missionary brings anything of spiritual moment to the table. There is never a total discontinuity. Newbigin says: “And anyone who has had intimate friendship with a devout Hindu or Muslim would find it impossible to believe that the experience of God of which his friend speaks is simply illusion or fraud” [1989:174].

This brings up something else somewhat unique to the Messianic Jewish context. In my missionary experience, the intra-group assumption was that Jewish people without Yeshua faith had neither relationship with nor actual experience with God, unless that experience was a lure from God drawing them to Yeshua faith. Indeed, for some who seek to “witness” to Jews, negating the spiritual experience or faith of the Jewish person without Yeshua-faith is essential, lest we somehow give the impression that they do not need Yeshua. [The latter is a red herring, by the way].

This negation is especially incongruous when dealing with serious religious Jews. Propoents of the Standard Jewish Missions Paradigm are in effect saying their Judaism, their attempt to honor their irrevocable calling, and their avid pursuit of what they know to be Israel’s covenant responsibilities within the context of obedience to the demands of Torah, are without value and without substance, and that these seriously religious Jews are basically having a dialogue only with themselves, their communities, and their tradition—but certainly not with God. They are perceived to be dead in their trespasses and sins, without hope, and without God in the world, terms that Paul uses of pagans separated from the Commonwealth of Israel!

In this connection I am always mindful of Acts 10 and the story of Cornelius, a Roman Centurion and a (Gentile) God-fearer, who “gave alms generously to the poor and prayed constantly to God [10:2]. Here we find two markers of Jewish piety: ts’dakkah and tefillah alms-giving and prayer. When the angel of God appears to him, he tells Cornelius that his prayers and alms have ascended as a memorial before God [10:4]. Clearly, Cornelius is not yet a Yeshua believer, although he would soon become one. Indeed, at that point in the Acts account, he had not yet even heard the gospel. Yet he lived a disciplined spiritual life within the canons of Jewish piety [apart from circumcision, and therefore, covenant membership] and had a reputation in heaven. This is certainly not nothing! He is clearly not yet a Yeshua believer. That will happen the next day. But he is not a spiritual zero. And we must remind ourselves that the same must certainly be true in our day of religious Jews who themselves seek to honor the God of our ancestors and his covenant with our people.

To use an extreme example, how can we have any room in our thinking for the idea that Abraham Joshua Heschel had no relationship with God because he had no faith in Yeshua the Messiah? Do you not all see how dogmatic adherence to certain expiring missionary syllogisms results in monstrous thinking as if chopping our way through the Garden of Eden with a dull machete?

The Jewish mission enterprise, and the Christian world in general, with some exceptions, has been poisoned by the bitter root of anti-Judaism, planted in the second century by such as Justin Martyr, the Epistle to Barnabas, and St. Ignatius of Antioch’s letters to the Magnesians and the Philadelphians. One of the results of this is a lack of theological imagination, generosity, or flexibility when it comes to thinking about the Jewish people.

Jewish culture readily uses a reasoning approach called “kal v’chomer,” from the lesser to the greater. If something is true in a lesser situation, it is more certainly so in a related greater situation. Yeshua and the Apostles, Jews all, used this form of argument frequently. In the parable of the persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8), Yeshua argues that if an unjust human judge will grant justice to a persistent petitioner, then how much more will God, the altogether Righteous Judge, be responsive to the prayers of his people. Or, in Luke 11, “If you, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” Paul says in Romans 11:24: “For if you [Gentiles] have been cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these [Jewish] natural branches be grafted back into their own olive tree?” And there are many more examples.

Using this well-attested approach then, I would ask this question: If heaven values the piety of a Gentile Centurion who is embracing Jewish piety out of regard for the God of Israel, how much more must God value the piety of religious Jews who embrace Jewish piety out of regard for the God of Israel and out of respect for their own covenant responsibilities? But, perhaps without exception, proponents of the Standard Jewish Missions Paradigm will have none of this. Why? Because of the ingrained tradition of anti-Judaism.

And again, kal v’chomer, if Newbigin can argue for respectful commonality between committed Christians and religious Hindus and Muslims, how much more should committed Christians and Messianic Jews find and celebrate respectful commonality with religious Jews who seek to honor the True and Living God and the covenant He made with our ancestors?

Those of us advocating the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm live very much in this space. Not everyone will join with us. Some will stand back, fearful of new attitudes and paradigms, at least at first. They may join with us later. Others will cluck their tongues and gather together in commiserating cabals exclaiming, “Ain’t it awful?” However, our minds are made up, we have set our faces like flint, and we know that we will not be put to shame (Isa 50:7).

Some questions for some of my readers:

(1) Looking through the gospels, where else do you find Yeshua using the kal v’khomer form of reasoning?

(2) Have you been taught to distrust “reasoning” altogether, as being somehow “unspiritual?”

(3) Is it possible to think about the things of God without reasoning?

(4) How might you respond to someone who says, “I don’t bother with ‘reasoning’ or anything worldly like that. I just go to the Word.’” [Hint: how do people decide which part of the “Word” they go to, and doesn’t that involve reasoning?]

(5) What light does this text shed upon the issues we are considering here? “Brethren, do not be children in your thinking; be babes in evil, but in thinking be mature” (1 Cor 14:20).

(6) What is the difference between being childish and child-like? Which does Scripture applaud, and why?

(7) In the Romans 11:24 passage quoted in this article, what is the basis for Paul’s assurance that it is more likely that broken off Jewish branches will be grafted into the Olive Tree? In other words, in his thinking, why are Jews more “naturals” for being engrafted? In your experience, would proponents of the Standard Jewish Missions Paradigm heartily agree, of would they be cautious about this? Why?

(8) Where else does Paul use the kal v’chomer line of argument?

At 3/23/2006 9:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Apology accepted. Please give me the benefit of the doubt of not being an enemy, ok? I much prefer focusing on substance rather than being rapped over form.

I do have some comments on this post. There is no doubt an extra burdern placed on you and your group. You have the latent anti-judaism extant in Christian scripture that causes some to exclude you from acceptable missions practices used in other situations.

But it isn't all attributable to anti-judaism. In right wing christianity it isn't just jews who don't stand a chance, it is anybody. Isn't it built into the order of salvation? Isn't it reflected in hymns? Isn't it the driving force of evangelism? If God's mercy may extend to those who've never heard the gospel, what imperative exists? If God can save those who haven't heard, why risk their "salvation" (=ticket to "heaven") by bringing the good news to them. Nope, without Jesus, no hope. To quote from my favorite source of theology, bumper stickers: No Jesus, No Hope, Know Jesus, Know Hope. That applies to everybody.

As to Heschel, those who hold to Jesus or Bust theology, either have to say he is lost (the position you pointed out), or he was a closet believer in Jesus like Nicodemus (might have been?).

The standard (really it is only a modern development) Jewish missions paradigm builds on standard fundamentalist theology. Throw in literalist rules for understanding the bible, and you get a mandate to reach the Jews. Get Gentiles to feel guilt about not doing what their bible says to do, thus creating a need. Then follow the mission mandate of filling a need, by serving the church rather than God! The Jewish mission agency will do what the church members should do, all it takes is financial support. Anyone to date draw a parallel to the selling of indulgences?

Bottom line for me: You are sincere. Gentiles in churches are sincere. Some individual missionaries in Jewish mission agencies are sincere. And the originators of the modern Jewish mission paradigm (as well as the founder of the modern Jewish congregational movement) are less than sincere.

I think you'll strengthen your argument by backing off the extreme examples (in a way when you do this, you are making the same mistake the extremists do, aren't you?). You are at your best when making your point, giving examples from the bible, and posing questions.

Keep up the good work. You don't get this kind of perspective in Torah studies or Bible studies.


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