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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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Thursday, March 09, 2006

On Not Playing God: Something Always Difficult for Evangelicalized People

In Chapter 14 of "The Gospel in a Pluralist Society," Lesslie Newbigin examines the position held by some—“the strictly exclusivist view”—“that all who do not accept Jesus as Lord and Savior are eternally lost” [1989:173]. Newbigin gives several reasons why this position is difficult for him to accept. First, if this were true, it would be obligatory and permissible to use any means available, including modern forms of brainwashing, to rescue people from perdition. And, since God alone knows the human heart, how are we to judge whether a given individual has the requisite faith to be considered one of the redeemed? If the strictly exclusivist view is in fact true, then determining this issue is surpassingly vital. This need to know would lead to all sorts of faith tests, socially selected visible criteria which satisfy our need for certitude. Historical experience demonstrates that such criteria prove to be overly narrow and ultimately oppressive. “We are bound to become judges of what God alone knows” (1989:173).

Newbigin’s cogent observation is huge in its implications and relevance. The entire Messianic Jewish movement and almost all evangelicalism lives in the conceptual quicksand he here describes. Perhaps a case in point will drive the point home.

Years ago, in San Francisco, it was my honor to know an extraordinary Jewish lady named Hazel. I knew her when she was in her seventies until her late eighties, when she died. Hazel was intelligent, witty, and the most gifted and “anointed” personal evangelist I have ever known. She had an intimacy with God that was uncanny, and was readily responsive to His leading, which almost always led to life-changing encounters with all sorts of people in all sorts of settings.

Hazel was in her forties when she came to Yeshua-faith. Her mother had been a Yeshua believer before her, but Hazel would have none of it. However, one night she went to visit the church where her mother was a member, and as Hazel told me, “Honey, that night the Lord got me!” It is hard to describe exactly what happened, but that night, unexpectedly, everything came together for her, and she had her own personal Damascus road experience.

When she arrived home that night and reported on matters to her sister, she inquired, “Did you walk forward at a meeting?” When Hazel responded in the negative, her sister dismissed the entire event saying, “Well, then, you’re not saved!” (For those unfamiliar with fundamentalist jargon, being "saved" means having entered into a living relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ).

It is easy for us to see how naïve and narrow-minded Hazel’s sister was. And more than forty-five years of winsome relationship with God and service to the cause of Yeshua proved that she was as wrong as wrong could be in her dismissal of the validity of Hazel’s experience. But before clucking our tongues over Hazel's sister, we must acknowledge that such naïve cultural selectivity is widespread in our own circles to this day.

For example, as Newbigin hints in his treatment, many confidently affirm that only those who “pray to receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior” have any claim on the eternal life He came to provide. And Newbigin is entirely right in his perception that the need for such a faith test is driven by a certain combination of evangelical anxiety combined with a craving for certitude. However, this shibboleth is certainly invalid when one considers that the kind of spiritual transaction here described was introduced to the Church by Charles Finney who flourished in the first quarter of the 19th century. Before then, as far as we know, no one in history “prayed to receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior.” I know my statement concerning Finney sounds like heresy to many. However, besides having done some research on the matter myself, I have checked out my opinion with a world class Church historian from the Free Church tradition who validated my suspicions.

Some, bonded permanently to their pet metaphors, would then say that no one was saved between the time of the apostles and Charles Finney. If this seems hyperbolic, let me just report a conversation I once had with a prominent Jewish mission leader who held that pretty much no one was saved from the time of the Apostles to the advent of Martin Luther. In his case, it was having a correct doctrine of the atonement that saves us. This salvation by having right doctrine and by not having wrong doctrine is rampant among us. It is for this reason that there are many who cannot affirm that Mother Theresa of Calcutta is in heaven, because she believed some things about the Virgin Mary which they hold to be in error. How interesting that for such people, this preoccupation with what they view to be Mother Theresa's wrong beliefs eclipses an appreication of her right beliefs as validated by a glorious life. Behind this doubt is the assumption that people are saved or lost according to the orthodoxy of their theology.

I am one of those benighted souls who prefers to believe that we are saved not by passing a theology test but rather by the faithfulness of Yeshua the Messiah, and that it is simply not given us to know how God applies and supplies the benefits of Messiah’s work in each individual case.

A.W. Tozer was certainly a conservative Christian voice in his day, and something of a prophetic one at that. Agreeing with the position defended here, he too decried the tendency to make absolutes out of time-bound culturally selected metaphors. In the first chapter of his classic, “The Pursuit of God,” he speaks of modern evangelical naivete in these words:

Everything is made to center upon the initial act of "accepting" Christ (a term, incidentally, which is not found in the Bible) and we are not expected thereafter to crave any further revelation of God to our souls. We have been snared in the coils of a spurious logic which insists that if we have found Him we need no more seek Him. This is set before us as the last word in orthodoxy, and it is taken for granted that no Bible-taught Christian ever believed otherwise. Thus the whole testimony of the worshipping, seeking, singing Church on that subject is crisply set aside. The experiential heart- theology of a grand army of fragrant saints is rejected in favor of a smug interpretation of Scripture which would certainly have sounded strange to an Augustine, a Rutherford or a Brainerd.

For Tozer, the mark of a relationship with God is not a crisis experience of “accepting Christ” or “praying to receive Jesus as your personal Savior.” He dismisses such as not even being found in the Bible. Rather, for him, the mark of a relationship with God is the individual’s ongoing pursuit of the Holy One. In the early 1960’s I heard James Packer speak at an InterVarsity Christian Fellowship meeting in New York City. I can remember as if it were yesterday when he said, “Don’t ask me to believe that a person who walks forward at a meeting and never prays is a Christian.” For Packer the mark of a relationship with God was an ongoing communicative relationship. And how God makes sinful people from his enemies into lovers of God is hidden in the counsels of eternity. Isn’t it time we admitted the horrible truth that there are some questions for which we do not know the answers? Or is it better to manufacture answers and to cobble together certitude rather than face the chill wind of unknowing?

I am not arguing here against “praying to receive Jesus as your personal Savior.” Rather, I am arguing against making this a shibboleth by which we infallibly separate the living from the dead, and against the horrid practice of labeling as spiritually suspect, dangerous, or lost, anyone who fails to uphold this metaphor to be inviolable and essential to the faith once delivered to the saints.

This issue becomes much more complicated when we are dealing with a Jewish context. After all, Jews, and here let's restrict ourselves to seriously religious Jews, are not pagans, not devotees of idols, but the covenant people of God, whose gifts and calling are irrevocable, a people seeking to serve the one True and Living God. To glibly opine that of theological necessity all of these are irretrievably lost until and unless they "pray to receive Jesus as Lord and Savior" and that those who don't agree with this verdict are theologically dangerous seems at best to be a trifle hasty, don't you think? Certainly, even the evidence presented in this brief posting, and the opinions of acknowledged thought leaders in the Christian world, as here quoted, should give us pause. But pausing does not come easily to us. Certitude beckons, and few can resist its siren call. And after all, the mailing list loves and even insists on certitude, doesn't it?

Isn't it likely, indeed, hasn't it been demonstrated, that those who insist that only those who "pray to receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior" have any hope of eternal life, are clinging to a position which is not the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Instead of such bumper sticker religion, shouldn't we instead return to leaving the final verdict on such matters up to the One who does all things well (Mark 7:37), the Judge of all the earth who always does what is right (Gen 18:25), and to the faithfulness of Yeshua the Messiah, and not convert into absolutes our own pet metaphors and boundary markers? Shouldn't we leave up to Him and not to ourselves the full and final tally of the census of the redeemed?

(On the subject of the faithfulness of Messiah, Richard B. Hays suggests that most English translations misinterpret “pistis christou” as being “faith in Christ,” when Paul intends “the faithfulness of Christ.” It is not our faith in Him which is the source of our salvation: in such a case, it is we who become the saviors. It is His faithfulness to His Father, to us, and to His calling as our Redeemer and Savior that is the basis of our hope. (On the subject of Christ’s faithfulness rather than our faith in Him being the heart of the Pauline emphasis see Richard B. Hays, “The Faith of Jesus Christ: An Investigation of the Narrative Substructure of Galatians 3:1-4:11” [1983]).

At 3/09/2006 2:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


THANK YOU for saying something that SORELY needs to be said! However, I fear some will take it too far in the other direction and say that faith in Yeshua is not needed: i.e. simple sincerity is enough to please G-d. I have always believed that G-d is the SOLE and FINAL arbiter of who is and is not "saved". Would that we could be content to leave that job to Him.


At 3/09/2006 6:28 PM, Blogger Tracey said...

I almost don't know where to begin in making a comment. Your post is so full of important statements; things I've thought and believed for a long time, but don't often say.

I have always believed that it was soley up to G-d to decide who was heaven bound and who was not. Also, it is amazing to me how much of what is now considered Christianity has no roots in the early church, but was introduced much later. Unfortunately, people hear it from the pulpits, swallow it whole without examining where it came from and it becomes hard-as-rock doctrine and dogma.

I'm enjoying these posts and it is comforting to know that I am not the only one thinking these things!

At 3/11/2006 4:12 PM, Anonymous marty carmack said...

AMEN! How I wish the amen could be in red and in 26 size. Marty

At 3/11/2006 9:31 PM, Blogger Teknigram said...

Great stuff as usual. The world needs to hear this.

At 3/12/2006 2:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps at the root of the problem is the meaning of the word, "saved."

I can only go on my own experiences in being confronted by pamphleteers or door bell ringers, but it seems that the focus is on some place of destination. Saved=heaven. Lost=hell. Of course heaven and hell aren't described exactly, just heaven is the ultimate best and hell is the ultimate worst, maybe really hot.
To me this kind of motivation denies any sense of real relationship. Hell, one doesn't need a relationship, all one needs is a reservation made by someone else. Sort of like this at the Gate:

"Hello, may I help you?" St. Peter queries.

"Yes, I have a reservation."

"What name?"

"Martin Brickner."

"Sorry, I don't have anyone by that name. When did you make your reservation?"

"Oh, Jesus made it for me."

"Hang on a second, I'll call for Jesus."

A few minutes later, Jesus appears.

"I'm sorry, Martin, but I don't know you."

And then it gets interesting. Perhaps if one is in a relationship (marked not only by prayer, as Packer posits) but mitzvot, echoing Jesus' own words, "If you love me you will do my commandments."

If the term "saved" can be substituted for something that carries with it more meaning, we could get somewhere. But in the meantime, we must contend with those who play God. In my thinking, it is those who try to convict others of sin who are playing God (by assuming the role of the Ruach HaKodesh), rather than worrying about their own relationship with God and caring for others.

Enough rambling. Great post, enlightened thinking.

At 3/15/2006 5:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So take Passover for example. One had the choice to put the blood of the lamb or goat or not. It wasn't dogma. It was a command from G-d. Those that followed G-d's command, the death angel passed over. Those who failed, the first born died in the house and among the animals. This separated G-d's people from those who weren't like a shepherd separates sheet from the goats.

At the same time the faithful were delivered from slavery to walk into the newness of life the unfaithful were punished for there unbelief.

There were only two camps. No one was exempt.

Please notice that Newbigin's first assumption did not hold any water. Moses didn't have to brainwash anyone. The people made their own decision knowing they would personally have to answer to G-d. How has this changed?

If being an exclusivist is bad, then you can argue that with Him. Just remember that a loud cry went up as the final crushing blow came down on the "tollerent of another way" for their disobedience.

While the slaves had been freed, freedom didn't mean they immediately receive the Promised Land.

Standing before Mt. Sinai, a perimeter was established. How many could run up to where G-d was and live? Was it decided by a popular vote or was G-d able to communicate directly to His people? Do you call G-d “overly narrow and ultimately oppressive” because animals that crossed the line died because the humans failed to stop them?

So in Moses' day, do you think the Israelites called those guarding the perimeter the same names as in this post?

Of the millions that left, only 2 lived to own any of the Promised land. And the Promised land was full of trials and tests.

So do you call Joshua overly narrow when Israel stoned the family disobeyed G-d’s command as God commanded. Or Samuel oppressive when he ran Agag through with a sword? Will we put all actions on the table for examination or just the ones that are popular?

One has to know that there are two perspectives being talked about here: community and individual. Among the Jewish faithful in David’s day, there was a community price to pay if an individual failed to keep the Sabbath, dress a certain way, wear their hair a certain way, and eat a certain way. Can you imagine what an outcry there would be if what passes today as Judaism today was attempted when David first sat on the throne? Do you believe they would be open to the current ideas?

So when a Christian asks, “have you prayed to receive Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior,” have the grace to try to bridge the gap and befriend them. After all, Joshua saying, “Choose this day to serve the Lord” during an assembly and alter calls sound very similar.

Following G-d is a decision that requires faith and can usually be identified as a specific point in time. Faith is not something a person is born with as the first testament testifies.

At 3/20/2006 6:02 PM, Blogger Stuart Dauermann said...

To our friend Anonymous,

I am not arguing that God does not establish sharp lines of differentiation in many contexts in His Word, nor do I say that being an exclusivist is "bad." I am arguing that we too often and repeatedly establish our own lines of demarcation and give them the force of Holy Writ. I demonstrate that clearly in my posting, and also demonstrate how acknowledged conservative icons agree. Your list of white/black incidents in Scripture does nothing to refute my point, and in fact, is not to the point at all.

I am not arguing for a squishy, anything goes theology. I am arguing for humility and the courage to say the three magic words rarely heard among religious people: "I don't know."

One of my favorite Bible passages in Deut 29:29 "The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the revealed things belong to us and to our children forever, to observe all the words of this law." We have clear responsibilities outlined in Scripture, but there are matters which are "secret things" known only to God. We need to work on knowing which is which, and especially, on not banging people over the head with our preferred viewpoints and culturally selected tests of fellowship.

I will be called a heretic for saying this by people with a need to prove they are better people than I, impress their mailing lists, or win approval from their cabals of tongue-clucking friends. I wish them well in all things great and small. And may they enjoy themselves.

At 3/25/2006 5:46 PM, Blogger Teknigram said...

I love it I love it I love it I love it!!!!


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