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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 30, 2006

On Being a Post Post-Enlightenment Messianic Judaism

It seems clear that no one is willing, in the last resort, to accept a total relativism about culture. All of us judge some elements of a culture to be good and some bad. The question is whether these judgments arise from the gospel itself or from the cultural presuppositions of the person who makes the judgment. And, if one replies that they ought to be made only on the basis of the gospel itself, the reply must be that there is no such thing as a gospel which is not already culturally shaped (Newbigin, "The Gospel in a Pluralist Society," 1989:186).

Demonstrating his breadth of missions knowledge, Newbigin gives excellent examples of this contention, chiefly the example of missionary revulsion at the Indian caste system. He suggests that this revulsion was grounded in the missionaries’ post-Enlightenment convictions.

One is bound to ask . . . whether these ‘enlightened’ missionaries did not, perhaps, communicate an atomic individualism which was farther from the biblical picture than the strongly cohesive, albeit narrowly exclusive texture of the traditional society . . . a kind of individualism which failed to do justice to elements of value in the tradition, namely the sense of mutual responsibility for the extended family (186-187).

He said a mouthful. His observations are certainly apt in regards to the Messianic Jewish condition at the beginning of the 21st century.

For example, as proponents of the Standard Jewish Missions Paradigm, Jews for Jesus has denounced those of us advocating the mandatory nature of the commandments of Torah, holding forth instead for freedom of conscience in these matters—free church, post-Enlightenment individualism. So it is that they say in one of their publications:

Some Messianic Jews are teaching that it is incumbent on all Jewish believers to observe the Law of Moses and to worship exclusively in Messianic congregations. They would agree that we are saved by grace through faith in Messiah Jesus. However, they would add that Jewish believers who want to fulfill their destiny as Messianic Jews must continue to be a part of the Jewish community, which means living a "Torah-observant" lifestyle. . . . There is nothing wrong with celebrating the biblical feasts, or following certain rabbinical traditions, but we can do so only to the extent that we do not contradict the clear teaching of the Scriptures, both Old and New Testament. And part of that New Testament teaching is that, in Messiah, we are fully free to practice these things or not as a matter of choice and conscience (“An Open Letter to the Family of Jewish Believers in Jesus Part II by David Brickner, July 1, 2005”, found on line March 23, 2006, at http://www.jewsforjesus.org/publications/newsletter/2005_07/openletter2).

Notice how he says “there is nothing wrong with celebrating the biblical feasts, or following certain rabbinical traditions.” What he omits is the entire corpus and texture of covenantal life, and the embarrassing overabundance of Scriptural evidence for the mandatory nature and enduring status of God’s commandments, statutes and ordinances for the descendants of Jacob. And, in terms of our present discussion, what is most fascinating is his axiomatic advocacy of the freedom “to practice these things or not” as “a matter of choice and conscience.” This sounds more like Rene Descartes and Immanuel Kant than Moses the Lawgiver—or Yeshua the Messiah, for that matter. But such is the invisible pull of culture.

The Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm is an eschatologically driven movement. Scripture makes clear in more than one instance that there are certain truths which will only become apparent when their time has come (Jeremiah 23:20; 30:24; Daniel 12:4). We believe that such is the case with the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm. It is becoming abundantly clear that this kind of Enlightenment-driven apologia for the primacy of individual choice and the acceptability of cultural assimilation must, in the fullness of time, give way to the foreordained renewal of covenant faithfulness among all the house of Israel of which Scripture speaks so unambiguously (See Deuteronomy 30; Jeremiah 30-33; Ezekiel 36-37). It is time for us to be as shocked by defenses of the optional character of God’s commandments as Rev. Brickner is by those who trumpet the mandatory nature of the commandments given Israel by the Living God. This paradigm is doomed to obsolescence. We are all being overtaken by the future and must catch up with it. And we must proceed beyond this pervasive post-Enlightenment mindset, becoming post post-Enlightenment.

Newbigin then discusses how the entire conversation about gospel and culture entails a misconception--that culture is the corporate aspect of life in its varied social relationships, and the gospel is a matter of individual response and soul salvation. “The gospel has been reduced to a matter of individual belief and conduct as though this could be separated from the shared life of society” (188). He insists that the gospel is something that changes the entire life of a community. When the gospel is seen as purely a matter of individual salvation along with “a wholesale rejection and condemnation of traditional culture, the result has been . . . a superficial Christianity with no deep roots and then—later—a reaction to an uncritical and sentimental attachment to everything in the discarded culture” (188-189).

He goes on to illustrate from the experience of a missionary friend who was surprised that some devout and committed African Christians he knew reverted to traditionally African ways of thinking and decision-making. He didn’t realize that although these people’s souls may have now been Christian, their hearts, lives, minds, bodies and personalities are still traditional African [189].

“There is not and cannot be a gospel which is not culturally embodied”
(189). This is because the gospel comes to and transforms not only the individual but also his/her social context and behavior within it.

This brings me to a point I have made for years. Once cannot pray as a generic human being. One may pray in a Jewish way, or in a non-Jewish way, but there is no third choice. I have long contended that Messianic Jewish congregants ought to choose ways of prayer and of living that reinforce and develop their own connectedness to the Jewish people and culture. To not pray as a Jew is to pray as a non-Jew, and how we pray, as well as how we eat, dress, marry and nurture our children, etc., shapes who we are and what will become of the next generation. As I mention in my article, “Do You See What I See?” there is no such thing as a generic Savior. The Messiah is not the Son-of-Man-Without-a-Country, but he is rather the Son of David, bone of Jewish bone, flesh of Jewish flesh, the One in whom all the promises of God to the Jewish people and to the nations are “Yea and Amen,” and the One in whom Jewish particularity is validated and Israel’s glory manifest.

Newbigin’s discussion concerning the evolution of self awareness among evangelized peoples is instructive for us in the Messianic Jewish Movement at this stage in our history.

The first converts reproduce faithfully the forms of Christian life and worship which the missionaries brought. This is not always or only because of pressure by the missionaries; the new thing is often welcomed just because it is new, for there are always in any society both conservatives who cherish the old traditions and radicals who question them. Later, when there has been time for deep study of the Bible in their own language, the new Christians—or more probably their children and grandchildren—will begin to look critically at the forms of Christianity which they have received and begin to make distinctions which the missionaries could not make between what is proper to the gospel according to the Scriptures and what is simply part of the traditional culture of the missionaries [1989:190].

In the early 1960’s, when I became a Yeshua-believer, it was assumed that Jews who did so became Hebrew Christians, and that our primary spiritual home would be a church of some sort. There were also para-Church entities which provided a venue for us to relate to each other as Jews, chief among these, the Hebrew Christian Alliance. In addition, Jewish mission stations sought to keep the embers of Jewish identity warm although not hot. Nevertheless, our patterns of association, of piety and of faith were essentially conservative Protestant. We were emphatically Christians of the Jewish kind, and our Jewish identities where never to be allowed to eclipse our primary identification with the Church world. This adherence to the Church world as spiritually, even if not ethnically, our primary community of reference, and adhering to these boundaries was regarded as a matter of spiritual integrity and orthodoxy.

When I inhabited a different paradigm, and vice versa, I was one of the founders of Jews for Jesus, which was, in its beginnings, considered radical in its call for forthrightly Jewish self-identification. Indeed, many in the mission establishment looked at Jews for Jesus as silly at best. After all, we didn’t dress, groom, nor act like respectable Christians! Still, the primary shift embodied in the Jews for Jesus phenomenon was more a matter of style and approach rather than of core identity. Jews for Jesus staff workers were all required to be members of local “ Bible-believing churches,” which generally meant free-church conservative evangelical churches. We were Christians of Jewish background who were reclaiming the right to identity as Jews and to communicate as Jews to other Jews.

The Messianic Jewish congregational movement went a step still further, in that the founders wanted to form congregations to foster the intergenerational transmission of Jewish identity to their children and grandchildren. Although “outreach” (evangelism) was not out of the equation, the Messianic Jewish Congregational Movement was formed not as an evangelistic strategy so much as out of a need for Messianic Jews to cohere communally, and to transmit a cohesive identity to coming generations. However, it is significant that the statement of faith of the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations was patterned after that of the National Association of Evangelicals. This was because we needed to validate our authenticity by a Christian canon of measurement, and to win approval in from the Christian world.
It must be remembered of course, that none of these transitions was sudden and unanimous. Some people were prophetic figures and change agents, others were early adaptors, others came along later, at their own pace, and some not at all.

The Hashivenu group, a Messianic Jewish think tank founded in 1997, constitutes a conceptual fore runner of the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm. In its core principles, Hashivenu went a step further than the foregoing. One can see in these priniciples a move beyond what formerly prevailed. Here are the principles:

1. Messianic Judaism is a Judaism, and not a cosmetically altered “Jewish-style” version of what is extant in the wider Christian community.

2. God’s particular relationship with Israel is expressed in the Torah, God’s unique covenant with the Jewish people.

3. Yeshua is the fullness of Torah.

4. The Jewish people are “us” not “them.”

5. The richness of the Rabbinic tradition is a valuable part of our heritage as Jewish people.

6. Because all people are created in the image of God, how we treat them is a reflection of our respect and love for Him; therefore, true piety cannot exist apart from human decency.

7. Maturation requires a humble openness to new ideas within the context of firmly held convictions.

In the context of our present discussion, of these principles, certainly the first five are a step beyond the self-definition that formerly prevailed, and serve to indicate a deeper rootedness and commonality with wider Israel than formerly prevailing paradigms.

In light of Newbigin’s treatment, the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm, and its foregleaming, Hashivenu, involves a certain coming of age for Messianic Jewish believers, out from under being a sort of colony of Christendom, toward being an indigenous movement of Yeshua believers of, for and amidst wider Israel.

What follows is an imperfect and inexact parallel, because what is happening through the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm involves theologizing from above and a response to certain eschatological signs and influences, rather than simply being theologizing from below, that is, motivated by on the ground contextual factors. However, this illustration is helpful nonetheless. It concerns a woman I met in the early 1960’s who had been a Protestant missionary in Equador, and then did the unthinkable: she voluntarily came off the mission field. In the denomination with which she served, such an action was akin to apostasy. But she was convinced that “it was time that we turned the Church over to the nationals.”

The same is true of Messianic Judaism at this time in our history—it is time we came into our own. And it time that we claimed our own as our own—fully embracing the Jewish people, the Jewish heritage, and the Jewish destiny, in service to and fellowship with Yeshua, the King of the Jews.

At 3/30/2006 9:00 AM, Blogger Tracey said...

Although the title of my post below uses the term "Jewish Christian" I am in the midst of finding some term or title that accurately defines where I am at spiritually. I am finding it difficult because some titles are connected to organizations that I don't necessarily agree with. I suppose I'm closer to Messianic Judaism in practice. I agree with you on most points and believe Yeshua was extremely clear on His stance on Torah and observance. I would appreciate it if you would honor me by reading the post below and tell me what you think.


At 3/30/2006 1:23 PM, Anonymous Chayamindle said...

I, along with I'm sure many of your other reading mishpochah, am so appreciate & grateful to you for investing your time,& gedult,to enrich and and edify us with your brilliant and spiritually & intellectually enlightening posts.
Similar to you Stuart, I go "way back" having "been there, done (or at least seen) that" on my Yeshua-believing journey. But all along, my neshoma yearned for, and my mind's eye envisioned a genuine Torah-true messianic Jewish expression that did not require validation by any of the fundamentals of rubber-stamped Christian theology.
Where theological commonalities and similarites in our respective faith communities do exist, they must be the result of honest discovery and respectful prayerful interaction with the Biblical and rabbinic writings of our Jewish heritage-- not buying and swallowing a pre-digested evangelical doctrinal package.

To this point have you been able to engage in meaningful dialogue with some in mainstream Jewish leadership, (rabbinic, academic, communal,etc. anywhere along the continuum, or is it still a little too early in paradigm development?
Please comment.
Thank you so much.

At 3/30/2006 8:58 PM, Blogger Israel Benjamin said...

Dr. Dauermann,

The activity on your postings has been most enlightening. My hope is that this post will build on the other posts, and be post post-enlightening!

Your response to a commenter regarding the limitations of the bulletin board medium was spot on. Might I add that some of your posts are of the "think tank" variety, some are addressed to your particular congregation allowing a larger audience to listen in, and some reflect your interactions with a Christian scholar's work. There is so much of interest in each of your posts that by necessity those commenting must either select a topic, make general observations, or take issue. Perhaps your experiences has led you to default to reading comments as taking issue when that does not appear to be the case.

This is your blog and you are in the position of educating a potentially vast,worldwide audience as to an emerging religious movement. You are at your best when you exhibit patience with those who interact with you.

The value of the immediate post is in its placing your emerging movement in a proper context. In it you are directly interacting with Jews for Jesus and other messianic congregations that are not as rigorous as your group seeks to be. By rigorous, I mean to say that they bandy about the term "Jewish" without taking on any responsibility to be part of, or represent, the larger Jewish community.

A few points:

1) You say your movement is eschatologically driven, meaning that sooner or later the truth of what you are presenting will be shown to be true. This seems to cut to the heart of your critics who dismiss you out of hand.

2) You stress covenantal faithfulness among all the house of Israel as a non-optional. One could spend many a post discussing the extent and nature of what that faithfulness entails, but the key point is that you identify as part of the house of Israel. You do seem to have some guidelines as to who is acceptable for membership in your congregation as reflected in your membership requirements. Does this mean that membership in your group (open to Jews and gentiles) automatically admits everyone in your group to the house of Israel?

3) You observe that the gospel changes the entire life of a community. The author with whom you are interacting gives illustrations of closed communities, often with strong centralized leadership. In the Jewish context this might be reflected in the older shtetl existence. But in technologically advanced secular based societies, the gospel has developed beyond that point. For example, in the roots of American culture the gospel (as expressed in Christianity) was foundational. Such thought is embedded in America's founding documents, but not explicitly stated.
Your new religious expression seems to be seeking to capture something of the old whilst existing in the new. Have you given thought to the principles you are going to use to identify and interact with these various factors?

4) You say that one may pray in a Jewish way or a non-Jewish way, there is no third choice. I apologize for smiling when I read this. You recently took a commenter to task for thinking in binary terms.
On a more serious note, have you decided on what particular Jewish way you are going to adopt? Within Judaism there are varieties of ways, from davening as a Hasid seeking pure kavannah, to reciting prayers in rapid succession as a matter of duty to the community, to some modern attempts to incorporate meditation. Perhaps you see a common thread in all of these that stand apart from all other forms of worship in whatever context.

5) Your seven principles deserve comment. Principles 2, 4, 5, 6, and 7, would be fully acceptable to Jewish communities. Your principle #2 is a tightly packed sentence combining God, Torah, and Israel. That one principle is fleshed out in the Reform movement. Principle 3 sets you apart from all other Jewish communities. Principle 1 seeks to define your group as a Judaism. Some of your commenters have sought to interact on this point. This principle doesn't define what constitutes a Judaism, it simply decrees that by your decree your movement is a Judaism.
Have you interacted on the presuppositions of this principle in any place on your website? I would like the opportunity to learn more. A critique could be made that just as you seek to define who is acceptable for your particular community, the larger Jewish community can de facto agree that you are unacceptable for inclusion in their community. No doubt you have addressed the seeming contradictions in your thinking, and I would like to pursue your thinking on these matters.

6) I have a question regarding your purpose. Do you envision your group as having a divine calling to both church and synagogue and want to fulfill your calling no matter what the other communities think of what you are doing? Do you seek to fulfill your calling as you understand it without necessarily interacting with church or synagogue (other than addressing certain shortcomings in your postings here)?
I think some of this is reflected in comments regarding your goal. You said that you were exiting Egypt and headed toward Sinai and Torah. That metaphor can bring to mind differing ideas. This post did a good job in sketching out your personal reality (Egypt) from which you are coming. Does everyone in your group share a common reality? Are you at a point where you can describe what Sinai and Torah means to you? What is the concrete vision of your group, or is it still in process? How much of your vision is theoritical (think tank) and how much practical (communal leadership)?

Thank you in advance. IB

At 3/31/2006 6:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Professor Dauermann,

Thank you for this post. In it you answer, and, dare I say, confirm almost every question or point I raised in my earlier posts.

The "messianic Judaism" of which you speak had its roots firmly within Christianity. Even the messianic churches had their origin in the church, but peeled off in order to nurture their Jewish identity yet hold on to their "firmly held convictions." Those convictions are of a theological nature and matched the convictions of Protestant Christianity. Without a doubt you continue to hold to those theological convictions. If you disagree with those protestant theological convictions, which ones don't you affirm?

I am interested in discussing the motivating forces behind your group's particular expression. By motivating forces, I am trying to address the issues you termed "above" and "below." On the above side, you see God at work. Your specific take on this has to do with what will happen eschatalogically. Am I right that this refers to your belief that Jesus is going to return? If I am right, then it seems to me that the grid you are using to interpret your actions and other events in reference to that event.

The from below issues have to do with your group's interactions with other church groups as well as what interactions you would like to have with Jewish groups. Is that correct?

Some observations:

1) You are taking your "above" conclusions based upon presuppositions regarding Christian writings, and from personal experiences. An outsider such as myself might explain your "above" considerations as God stirring up your Jewish soul and calling you home. As long as we are able to respect each other and not try to convince each other that one is wrong and the other right, there is no reason we can't get along on a personal basis.

2) Your "below" considerations somewhat follow from the alternate explanation I have given above. If God is stirring your Jewish soul, then you would feel an unease in church as well as want to nurture your children in Jewish traditions.

I'm afraid your former group, Jews for Jesus, reflects the predominance of evangelical thought and colors how effective you will be in interacting with Jewish groups. Part of the firm convictions the evangelical group is to proselytize. That is so embedded it will be almost impossible to have people in your group not attempt conversion (though you may prefer to call it "sharing the good news" or "yeshua-faith" et. al.). Such "sharing" is always framed in terms of your caring for "the lost" but such caring prevents us from trusting you fully. We will always think you've this as an agenda. (When I use the term "you" I mean the collective you, not you personally. An unfortunate limitation of the English language can compound this medium.)

As long as your church tradition calls for conversion attempts as a prime goal, and you state that in your group this is not primary, won't you receive criticism and most likely be rejected in all your efforts by the evangelical church? There is just too much in Christian writings, history, and tradition to have them accept what you are doing. I think you are aware of the anti-Judaism in the Christian scriptures. No doubt you read these texts with a forgiving eye, but the church of which you seek to maintain ties does not.

I see what a tough road you have to hoe. No wonder you must feel always on the defensive. The beauty of this internet format is that you don't have to engage in defense. You can ignore whom you want and interact with whom you want. In your interactions this particular post is most helpful. You explain the basics. I have expressed what I think is your goal: maintain being part of the church and be part of recognizable Jewish community. (Or am I wrong and the second part is to be an example of being Yeshua-faithers who follow Jewish traditions?) I have pointed out my conclusions that there are almost insurmountable problems that make your task exhausting.

Again, thank you.

At 3/31/2006 11:17 AM, Blogger Stuart Dauermann said...

Dear Anonymous,

Well, as shabbat approaches, I will not have time to deal with your letter artfully. So here is my dashed off response.

First, I am afraid that despite whatever education and equipment I may possess, I will not be able to convince you to regard me or my collegues as being "in Jewish space." The fact that my letter confirms your perception of who we are comes as no surprise, and I lack the ability to persuade you otherwise. I of course accord you the freedom to believe as you will about us. We can both live with that, I am sure.

You say, "The "messianic Judaism" of which you speak had its roots firmly within Christianity." I have not denied this, my friend. Rather, I am saying that all of us are people in process, and my friends and I believe we are in a divinely ordained, eschatological process not only of reclaiming our Jewish identities, calling and destiny, but also of serving these. We are reconfiguring our Messianic Jewish identities. We are not ashamed of where we have been, nor of who we are. The only question that should concern us, or you, for that matter, is "Who are we now and where are we going?"

As for our "firmly held convictions." yes, some of them are very rooted in Protestant assumptions. But there are new ones as well, newly claimed by us although not new to Judaism, which betoken a newness that bears more recognition. All of us are people in process, as I have said before, and I think that one can only perceive the process if one ceases fixating on origins.

Pardon the comparison: our ancestor Abraham came from Ur of the Chaldees, which was dedicated to the worship of Nannar the Moon Goddess. Our tradition tells us that his father was an idol-maker. That these facts are true does not disqualify his spiritual path or contriibution.

Similarly, the floor plan for the Temple in Jerusalem was laid out by Phoeniician artisans. and is strongly modeled on the floor plan of pagan temples. This does nothing to invalidate the Temple as the meeting place of the holy people with their Holy God.

In short, the argument from origins is usually specious and can too easily be used to both invalidate and misperceive the flow of developments.

As for which Protestant convictions I do not affirm, I don't think in these terms, so cannot readily give you an answer. I am too busy pursuing my destiny and serving a movement of destiny to focus on other people's faith and my exceptions to it! I will say that our sense of canonical narrative is different, of the role of Israel and Torah for Jews, and much more. You see, we are Jews, and as such there are all kinds of issues and assumptions that are different from Protestantism. I would not know where to begin.

As for our eschatological views, they are much bigger than the return of Yeshua! When I referred to our eschatological views, what i had in focus is God's future for Israel, his renewing of Israel in the Land, in Torah, and in relationship with Himself, etc. I do believe that Yeshua is returning, and that He has a role in all of this. However, our paradigm is not the kind of standard Christian pre-millenialism that many Hebrew Christians have claimed as their own for many years. Our perspective is larger, incorporating the return of Messiah, or course, but also considering questions the older paradigms ignored, such as the return of Israel to Torah obedience as a sign of spiritual renewal at the end of days.

No, ours is not a "Left Behind" popular end-times scenario kind of movement. Again, this is not to deny that Yeshua is returning, nor that we eagerly await this. But our focus is not simply there, but on building the kind fo communities that embody how Scripture represents the Jewish people ending up. See Ezekiel 36-37, and especially Ezekiel 37:24, for example.

Again, I must take exception to your language, when you say: "The from below issues have to do with your group's interactions with other church groups." Gently I would remind you, we are not a church group. The issue of "from below factors" entails everyting growing from pragmatic, environmental and situational concerns. It is a category much broader than the ones you named.

I of course concur with the thrust of your first observation, that there is ample ground for people like myself to be invited to the table of Jewish communal concern and action.

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.

We also believe that God is stirring up our Jewish soul, but do not agree that this means abandoning our Yeshua-faith. However, we are certainly reframing that faith and the lifestyle and communal setting and implications of that faith. My postings all illustrate this, don't they?

I am afraid you have too monolithic a view of the Christian world, Rabbi Anonymous. There is a breadth of viewpoints and perspectives, and, in many circles a reassessment and redefining, which your comments toward the end of your letter ignore.

On another point, we do not proselytize. As you may already know, by the way, Jews invented proselytism. and the term originially applied to converts to Judaism! What we do do is try to live out our faith, to be true to who we are. We have no intention of being offensive in doing so. But some people use taking offense as a means of attitude control and boundary setting--"If you do that, I will be very offended!" In other words, we try and do all we can to avoid being offensive. But this is no guarantee that others will not be offended!

More later. Must drive a teen-aged daughter!

Shabbat Shalom.


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