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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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Saturday, March 25, 2006

Newbigin and the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm: More Missiological Comparisons and Contrasts

In Chapter Fourteen of "The Gospel in a Pluralist Society" (1989), Lesslie Newbigin examines what would be the implications of taking honoring and glorifying God for His work in Messiah Yeshua as our foundational motivation for mission. This concern is what proponents of the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm would term "Kiddush Hashem." Newbigin suggests four immediate implications of making this motivation our own. These implications are excellent for informing the substructure of a Messianic Jewish agenda for engagement with the wider Jewish world, and beyond.

However, I would counsel my readers to realize that despite our affinity for Newbigin's thinking, proponents of the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm are by no means rubber stamp ratifiers of Newbigin's views point for point. There are both affinities and differences. In evaluating and responding to this post about Newbigin, as well as previous ones, it is crucial to keep this in mind.

His four points are as follows.

(1) “We shall expect, look for, and welcome all the signs of the grace of God at work in the lives of those who do not know Jesus as Lord” [180]. This suggests part of the paradigm shift taking place in the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm as contrasted with the Standard Jewish Missions Model. As I have said repeatedly elsewhere, the Standard Jewish Missions Paradigm seeks to minimize or negate any spiritual value of Jewish life and practice apart from explicit faith in Yeshua the Messiah. Although it is not politically correct for such persons to forthrightly say so, many adherents of the Standard Jewish Missions Paradigm make the negation of Jewish piety apart from Yeshua faith to be a non-negotiable mark of Christian doctrinal fidelity and missiological integrity.

Diametrically contrasting with this, the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm not only sees the signs of God’s grace in the Jewish religious world, we also see this to be the fruit of Yeshua’s unseen and unacknowledged Presence in the midst of historic Jewish life and community. In a significant modification of Newbigin's statement, we call the Messianic Jewish Movement to expect, look for, and welcome all the signs of the grace of God at work in the midst of the Jewish community, both now and historically.

(2) “The Christian will be eager to cooperate with people of all faiths and ideologies in all projects which are in line with the Christian’s understanding of God’s purpose in history” [181]. If this is a valid summons to “cooperate with people of all faiths” on matters of common cause, then it is, especially for Messianic Jews, but also for Christians, most certainly true in dealing with the wider Jewish community: we should be eager to cooperate with members of the wider Jewish world in matters of common concern.

This should be an obvious desideratum. Yet, for proponents of the Standard Jewish Missions Paradigm, the prospect of cooperation with those they term "the unsaved Jewish community" is surrounded by posted signs, warning of a minefield to be avoided at all costs. For example, in a March 2006 e-mail newsletter, Jews for Jesus Executive Director David Brickner says this:

It is understandable that evangelical leaders want to develop friendships with Jewish community leaders. I don't mean to impugn their motives. Nevertheless, while Christian leaders may simply be interested in collegial relations with their Jewish counterparts, Jewish community leaders have a definite agenda. They hope to use their relationships with evangelical ministers to persuade them that forthright evangelism to the Jewish people is at the very least offensive and unnecessary and at most, harmful [“Jokes, Jerry Falwell and The Jerusalem Post" By David Brickner, Executive Director, in Jews For Jesus Realtime March 15, 2006 Volume 33].

This pervasive dogma of suspicion toward Jewish community leaders, and avoidance of any cooperative efforts with them, has no place in the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm. For one, following Rev. Brickner's logic, the Jewish community should avoid missionaries and mission-minded Messianic Jewish and Christians, because of their evangelistic intent, just as he counsels Christian leaders to avoid hob-nobbing with Jewish community leaders who seek to thwart that intent. Accepting this paradigm will only consign all to a "choose up sides and build your wall high" kind of intercommunal relationship. Doesn't sound very productive, does it?

By contrast, and in keeping with the irenic insights of Bishop Newbigin, we recognize an enormous commonality with the wider Jewish community, and recognize deep and broad areas of common concern and agreement. We would expect that our Yeshua-faith would be respected, or at least our right to hold to that faith respected, by Jewish community leaders with whom we labor in cooperative ventures, just as they have a right to expect that we would respect their right to not believe as we do. Yet, these guidelines do not and must not in any manner forestall cooperation and mutual trust within the context of engagement in matters of common concern. As the core principles of Hashivenu state, “The Jewish people are ‘us,’ not ‘them.’”

3. Newbigin comments further.
It is precisely in this kind of shared commitment to the business of the world that the context for true dialogue is provided. As we work together with people of other commitments we shall discover the places where our ways must separate. Here is where real dialogue may begin. It is real dialogue about real issues. It is not just a sharing of religious experience, though it may include this. At heart it will be a dialogue about the meaning and goal of the human story. If we are doing what we ought to be doing . . .the dialogue will be initiated by our partners, not by outselves. And, once again, the dialogue will not be about who is going to be saved. It will be about the question, "What is the meaning and goal of this common human story in which we all . . are participants?” [181-182].

Yes, indeed. True dialogue and appropriate witness can only happen where there is at least a semblance of intimacy, relationship, and mutual respect. These can grow between Messianic Jews and the wider Jewish community as we involve ourselves in issues of common concern. Within the compass of such relationships, we will develop a natural awareness of and curiosity concerning the areas in which we differ, and the trust and respect necessary to discuss them openly.

As for the dialogue being “initiated by our partners, not by ourselves,” as counterintuitive as this might be, my experience proves this to be true. When Jewish people see us as clearly Yeshua’s Messianic Jewish people yet not acting in accordance with their stereotypes and expectations of us, but rather in a manner demonstrating respectful wholehearted engagement with Jewish community issues and sancta, this engenders curiosity and openness. And if Newbigin’s construct of working with people with other faiths leads to “a dialogue about the meaning and goal of the human story . . . in which we are all participants” for Messianic Jews working with members of the wider Jewish community, this dialogue will involve our proposing the meaning and goal of the Jewish story in which we, and the wider Jewish community are co-participants, a story in which we contend Yeshua plays a decisive and hitherto unrecognized role. This takes us into the heart of what Mark Kinzer calls the "inner mission" of the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm.

Part of the glory of the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm is that even in cases where members of the wider Jewish community are not, for now, open to our explicit testimony about Yeshua, or even hostile to it, our cooperative efforts with them in matters of common concern provide an implicit testimony and are a good in themselves as they advance the progress of righteousness, societal well-being and tikkun olam. Furthermore, as we Messianic Jews do what we ought to do with respect to and in concert with the wider Jewish community, demonstrating and catalyzing Jewish covenant faithfulness in the midst of the earth, we advance God’s purposes and glory in the world and in the midst of Israel. As part of the Remnant, this is our calling.

(4) Newbigin states that what we as Yeshua believers uniquely have to contribute is “the telling of the story, the story of Jesus, the story of the Bible.” Of course, this latter statement is controversial in Jewish space, because the mainstream Jewish reading of the Bible does not see Jesus as its center or culmination. Nevertheless, we Messianic Jews must tell the story of the Bible from the vantage point of our Yeshua faith, and develop a canonical narrative which demonstrates the presence of Yeshua in the Jewish story, and our own presence in the midst of Jewish life. As Newbigin points out, in the telling of our story, we have no control, nor should we take credit for who accepts the message. “This will always be a mysterious work of the Spirit, often in ways which no third party will ever understand” [182], This is certainly true, and we must consistently resist the urge to systematize or regularize the ways in which the Spirit works. We must pray, tell the story, and live in concert with it: the rest is up to God.

Newbigin closes his chapter by positioning himself with respect to certain hot-button words which are often thrown at those of us who adhere to the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm. His discussion is useful for our purposes as well.

On exclusivism: “The position which I have outlined is exclusivist in the sense that it affirms the unique truth of the revelation of Jesus Christ, but it is not exculsivist in the sense of denying the possibility of the salvation of the non-Christian” [182]. Similarly, some who wish to attack proponents of the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm mislabel us as “dual covenant.” We have denied this in print and made unambiguosly clear our own rejection of the dual covenant approach, yet, the accusations will persist as long as they serve the polemical purposes of some. So it must be said yet again, "Our position is emphatically not a dual covenant position, and we deny the validity of the dual covenant perspective." We do believe that Yeshua of Nazareth is the Way, the Truth and the Life and that no one comes to the Father but by Him. But this does not mean that we claim to know how that access is divinely mediated to every individual.

On inclusivism he states, “It [his position] is inclusivist in the sense that it refuses to limit the saving grace of God to the members of the Christian Church, but it rejects the inclusivism which regards the non-Christian religions as vehicles of salvation” [182]. Similarly, we do not believe that all religions are created equal, all being different paths up the same mountain. On the other hand, we do hold Judaism to be in a different and altogether unique category from say, Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism. In the words of John Howard Yoder, "Judaism is a non-non-Christian religion."

On pluralism. Newbigin states that his position is "pluralist in the sense of acknowledging the gracious work of God in all human beings, but it rejects a pluralism which denies the uniqueness and decisiveness of what God has done in Jesus Christ. . . . As a human race, we are on a journey and we need to know the road. It is not true that all roads lead to the top of the same mountain. There are roads which lead over the precipice. In Christ we have been shown the road. We cannot treat that knowlede as a private matter for ourselves” [182-183].

We of the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm would concur with this, and if anything, are more restrictive, in that we see Judaism and Christianity as separated out from all other religious systems. Furthermore, we see ourselves as Yeshua-believing Jewish communities within the Remnant of Israel and the Church from among the nations together constituting the one ekklesia—the people of God.

However, this is not to say that people of other cultures and communions have no light about God nor that they should be treated with anything but courtesy and respect. God has not left himself without a witness, and is at work in other cultures even apart from and prior to the efforts of missionaries.

I am mindful of a story told at the School of Intercultural Studies, of a missionary who worked amidst an African people group. Members of the latter told him, "You missionaries think that your brought God to us. God was already here. He brought you to us."

Like the priests of Malachi's time, we are always in danger of thinking we have God in a box. We are ever imagining we have Him domesticated and reserved for our team. We need to hear the words of the prophet, as did they:

Your own eyes shall see this, and you shall say, "Great is the Lord beyond the borders of Israel!" . . . for I am a great King, says the Lord of hosts, and my name is reverenced among the nations.

And is He not also great beyond the provincial boundaries of the Standard Jewish Missions Paradigm?

At 3/26/2006 11:47 AM, Blogger yochanan said...

As always an insightful piece. It appears Newbigin will join people like Soulen who are from the Gentile Christian world that unbenownst to them play a role in the development of Messianic Jewish thinking, outsiders that speak in a similiar voice to the Messianic Jewish world.

I think that it is sad that we have to keep denying the "dual covenant" label, but I guess this is a necessity in light of the efforts of those to seek to prop up the outdated Missions pararadigm.

I continue to look forward to your engagement with Newbigin and the continued fleshing out of the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm.

At 3/26/2006 8:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Keep up the good work, Stuart. Your writing continues to inform and encourage.

At 3/27/2006 12:12 AM, Anonymous andrew jones said...

great to see people getting more milage out of newbigin. i have been reading his earlier stuff (1950's) recently in relation to the emerging-missional church scene.

At 3/27/2006 10:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So Brickner warns of Jewish leaders having an agenda?
As if he doesn't?
On the one hand Rosen writes of building relationships as the normal mode of evangelism, and on the other Brickner eschews relationship building with Jewish leaders on account of their having an agenda.
I suppose if Jewish leaders weren't doing their dastardly deeds in keeping Jewish people from the truth, there wouldn't be a black hatted villain for Brickner's black and white world.

At 3/31/2006 3:26 PM, Anonymous David Brickner said...

you didn't fairly report my position in your blog. You and anonymous attempt to demonize me to make some point and leave yourselves sound pc. In fact, I am all for engaging with Jewish community leaders. Perhaps you saw the Jewish Journal article this week where Klinghoffer takes a swipe at me. That comes as a part of a lengthy back and forth dialogue I am having with David. I am also for Christian leaders engaging with Jewish community leaders. It would have been fair for you to quote the following from the article you referenced in order to acurately reflect my true sentiment: "I recognize that not all Christian organizations are called to witness specifically to Jews. And of course there can be opportunities for Jews and Christians to join together over other issues of concern such as supporting Israel or helping the poor. But no Christian should ever be put in a position to keep quiet about Jesus and the salvation that is found only through faith in Him."
Do you take issue with that Stuart?
David Brickner

At 4/01/2006 10:51 PM, Blogger Stuart Dauermann said...

I am grateful that David Brickner pointed out that I needed to read further along in the lengthy e-letter from which I quoted, to find material which indeed blunted the sharp edge I had attributed to him. I stand corrected on that matter. I should have read more carefully.

However, I did not “attempt to demonize (him) to make some point and leave (myself) sounding pc.” If Mr Brickner’s reading on my motives was courtesy of some psychic, I suggest he get his money back. No such motives were in play!

As for his question concerning being quiet about Jesus, here is what I said on the matter on this blog in responding earlier to another comment by a religious Jew:

“I hear and appreciate you in your statement concerning Jewish communal unease about Messianic Jews evangelizing, and about this being our agenda. Of course, everyone has an agenda. Part of your agenda, I would guess, is to woo me and people like me away from the world of Yeshua-faith and toward the kind of Orthodoxy you espouse. Knowing this to be your agenda should not provent me from interacting with you. provided you are not assaultive and manipulative in discharging your concern. Similarly, Jewish Yeshua believers should be accorded the same freedom to have an agenda provided they behave within proper boundaries. In fact there are some Jewish community leaders who already see things this way.”

David says that “no Christian should ever be put in a position to keep quite [quiet] about Jesus and the salvation that is found only in Him.” However, David knows that there are some situations when silence is indicated. For example, Jews for Jesus forbids its workers to share their faith with minors under the age of 18 unless they have parental permission in writing. Does this mean that JFJ workers are waffling on their spiritual priorities? No. it does not. Similarly, we of the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm recognize that there is “a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.” We might choose to be quiet about our Yeshua-faith in certain circumstances and times, but only the mean-spirited would attribute this to a failure of nerve or abandonment of principle, no more than JFJ’s refusal to present it’s faith to minors indicates an abandonment of principle. In fact, our refusal to proclaim our Yeshua-faith in certain contexts is precisely a manifestation of the kind of principled living that honors God.

As for whether we believe that salvation is found only by those who have faith in Yeshua, this lays claim to a level of knowledge denied to us. Although we believe that no one comes to the Father except through Him, it is not given to us to know how God will mediate that access to each and every individual who ever lived. This is a matter we choose to leave up to God.


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