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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, December 14, 2006

A Word About Worldview and Supersessionism

Cultural Anthropology’s discussion of worldview helps us understand why abandoning supersessionism must revolutionize mission, and will do so at a rate of speed and efficiency dependent upon our level of awareness, willingness and cooperation.

Worldview may be defined as "the central assumptions, concepts and premises which are shared by a particular group of people and upon which they base their activities"[Paul Hiebert and R. Daniel Shaw, The Power and the Glory (Pasadena, CA: 1993), 63].

Because worldview assumptions are subconscious and therefore unquestioned, they are powerful, pervasive and determinative of the behaviors, perceptions, evaluations, decisions and actions of members of any given social group, culture or subculture. Worldview assumptions are the “of courses” of a social group, culture or subculture. When someone questions or points out a worldview assumption to members of a given group, the members of the group will respond reflexively, “Of course! That’s the way things are! Anyone knows that!”

Supersessionism, a pervasive, powerful, determinative and often subconscious Christian worldview assumption, shapes the theologizing, imagining, strategizing and expectations of the Church in the following ways in varying degrees:

• The Church assumes its own spiritual hegemony, centrality and finality.
• The Church assumes that Israel has been unseated and itself installed as the present elect people of God.
• The Church assumes that the Jewish people is now just like any other nation/people group.
• The Church assumes that moral and ethical failures of the modern Israeli government disprove and negate any divine authority to their territorial claims in the region.
• The Church assumes that Jews must become Christians if they would become the people of God.
• The Church assumes that the Jewish way of life, Torah-based covenant faithfulness, is both futile and expired as a God-honoring path of faithfulness.
• The Church assumes that its program eventuates in the Kingdom of God, equating the mission of the Church with the mission of God (formerly, some equated the Church with the Kingdom of God, but this is dwindling viewpoint today).
• The Church assumes that the unity of the people of God necessitates the hegemony of the Church: that the terms people of God and Church are synonymous.
• The Church assumes that the Great Commission is not only Yeshua’s final marching orders to the people of God, but also God’s last, definitive, and comprehensive missional directive.

In varying degrees, thinkers in various wings of the Church have called into question each of these assumptions. These people are early awakeners who have made these assumptions conscious and begun to question them. Still, because supersessionism is one of the Church’s worldview assumptions, these statements are a true reflection of widespread Christian attitudes, expectations and thinking.

But when supersessionism is repudiated as being based on faulty premises, it becomes clear that all of these statements are assumptions, not axiomatic truths. All of them are presumptuous. And all of them are wrong.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Review of Robert Wuthnow's "Growing Up Religious: Christians and Jews and Their Journeys of Faith"

Robert Wuthnow. Growing Up Religious: Christians and Jews and Their Journeys of Faith. Beacon Press; New Ed edition (March 10, 2000)

Robert Wuthnow is Gerald R. Andlinger Professor of Social Sciences and Director of the Center for the Study of American Religion at Princeton University, a well respected and published sociologist of religion with over ten books published. In this one he examines and compares how Jews and Christians experience spirituality in the context of their families of origin, He focuses on the factors fostering inter-generational persistence or erosion of religious commitment.

Wuthnow compares the experiences of people in three broad contexts In Part I, "The Sacred at Home," he considers the home--"Family Rituals [Chapter 1], Home for the Holidays [Chapter 2], and Generations of the Spirit [Chapter 3]. In Part II, Going to Services, he considers the impact of communities and houses of worship: Houses of Worship [Chapter 4], The Ties That Bind [Chapter 5], Learning to be a Leader [Chapter 6]. In Part III, Moving Away, he considers what happens when the subjects moved away from home: Points of Departure, Chapter 7], Remembering the Past [Chapter 8], and The Move to Spiritual Practice [Chapter 9].

Finally, in Part !V, E Pluribus Unum, he considers how these diverse communities in America can live together in productivity and peace: Bridging Diversity [chapter 10], and Seeing with Four Eyes, [Chapter 11].

The book was written to discover the nature of the new winds blowing in the spirituality of Americans. As one friend of his put it, "The one thing I am sure of...is that things are changing profoundly--and the clergy don't have a clue that it's even happening" [xi]. He gathered data through a variety of national surveys and interviews, with respondents ultimately numbering two hundred: 107 woment and 93 men, intentionally very diverse in religious background and practice. Forty three of the respondents were not Judaeo Christian in their outlook.

Wuthnow represents his purposes as follows:

My aim is to recapture what it has meant for a significant proportion of the American public to have grown up religious. I am interested in how people conceive of their religious upbringing, and in understanding what seems memorable and significant to them, more than I am in abstract theories of religious socialization. My methodology has been to ask ordinary people to talk at length about their experiences and memories and to encourage them to tell the stories they use to make sense of their spiritual journeys.

Effective religious socialization comes about through embedded practices that is, through specific, deliberate religious activities that are firmly intertwined with the daily habits of family routines, of eating and sleeping, of having conversations, of adorning the spaces in which people live, of celebrating the holidays, and of being part of a community. Compared with these practices, the formal teachings of relgious leaders often pale in significance. Yet when such practices are preetn, formal teachings also become more important.
The past is not static. It is a remembered past and thus one that people are continually revising, making sense of, and reinterpreting. Many people of course hae little in their childhood to remember about religioun. But those who grew up in a religious household continue to have a very substantial impact on the Character of American religion [xxxi-xxxii].

Personal journeys play a significant role in his research, as this is a common and contemporaneously appropriate way of examining religious character-formation and the trajectories of people's lives.

His emphasis is upon "the particularity of religious traditions, paying special attention to the distinctive local practices that encouraged people to fee that is was special to be growing up Jewish or Irish Catholic, or to take pride in being African American Baptists or Asian American Presbyterians" [197]. Despite such pride in one's own way of religious life, pluralism and respect for others is possible so long as people see their way as best for themselves rather than best for all. "Loyalties are thus local, imbedded in th customs of one's family and community, and their localism is evident to participants even at an early age" [197]. He also discusses how his respondents are able to live pacifically with other religions due to a deep pluralistic mindset, something which is uncomfortable to me but seems endemic to the post-modern age. Closely related but more palpable is his discussion of multi-culturalism which he rightly distinguishes from old-line Liberalism [219-220].

In the final chapter, his discussion of fundamentalism and how its adherents regard themselves and are regarded by others is fascinating. While pointing out the stridency of fundamentalist rhetoric, the commitment to holding to and advocating a superior truth, the insularity and tendency to reject the wider culture, Wuthnow points out how popular and media portrayals of fundamentalists are biased and inaccurate. He sees a wider divergence among fundmentalists than is usually noted. In reference to all his respondents and the groups they represent, he neatly parses the inner gyroscopes and ways and means such persons navigate between the own strong convictions and commitments and their ability to both respect and understand others.

Finally he comes to the summation statement that "spirituality has been a significant feature of the American past and that it remains so for many people, albeit in different versions than those of their parents and grandparents. Spirituality has ben most effecive in shaping the values of children when it has been practiced at home as well [as] in formal organizations. In the past, people practiced spirituality at home under the most diverse (and adverse) conditions. The lesson from this history should be that spirituality is likely to survive as a feature of American childhood--if parents and grandparents are committed to its importance" [235-236].

This very readable book is a must-read for all concerned with effectively and faithfully transmitting their religious heritage from generation to generation, or seeking to understand the genesis of their own religious convictions or lack of same. Wuthnow is perhaps America's premier sociologist of religion. Read this book and find out why the title is well-deserved.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Truly, the Lord is Present in This Place

(The following is a sermon on Parashat Vayetze presented December 2, 2006 at Ahavat Zion Messianic Synagogue, Beverly Hills, California. It concerns the strange ways of God, and how our stereotypical expectations may sometimes blind us to His presence).

Genesis 28:10 Jacob left Beer-sheba, and set out for Haran. 11 He came upon a certain place and stopped there for the night, for the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of that place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. 12 He had a dream; a stairway was set on the ground and its top reached to the sky, and angels of God were going up and down on it. 13 And the Lord was standing beside him and He said, "I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac: the ground on which you are lying I will assign to you and to your offspring. 14 Your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you and your descendants. 15 Remember, I am with you: I will protect you wherever you go and will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you." 16 Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, "Surely the Lord is present in this place, and I did not know it!" 17 Shaken, he said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the abode of God, and that is the gateway to heaven."

Whether consciously or not, many people, perhaps most people, have a well-established idea of the kinds of things God does and doesn’t do. They imagine they know the ways he acts and doesn’t act, and the things he approves and would never approve. Such people are quick to say “O God would never do that.” They are also the kinds of people who are quick to bail out on God because he didn’t do what they expected Him to do.

In such cases, the problem usually is not with God—the problem is with people’s expectations. People have flimsy, plastic hand-made models for how God is supposed to act, and when He doesn’t do that, instead of getting angry with themselves for constructing a false model of God, they get mad at God for not measuring up to their misconception. The Bible has a word for such misconceptions: they are called “idols,” and all of us are natural born idolaters.

Have you ever heard someone say “I could never believe in a God who would_________” Or, “God would never_______” How do we harmonize such statements with some of the outlandish things God is reported to have done in the Bible: telling the Israelites to wipe out the Canaanites, or impregnating a teenaged virgin named Mary, or sending lying spirits to deceive the idolatrous King of Israel [1 Kings 22]. Yet, God did these things and more. Yet people have their favorite images of God, they have their plastic preferences. Because people have such a plastic and predictable model of God, they risk missing out on the subtleties of His Presence.

I find a reminder of this reality here in this passage: "Surely the Lord is present in this place, and I did not know it!"

I have a few thoughts to consider with you today, and they are all related.

The first is this: Are there habits of thinking, doing and perceiving that have caused or do cause you to you fail to notice what God is up to in your life?

The second is this: Have there been situations, even recent situations, when you realized in retrospect that God was in a situation and you did not know it at the time?

Rabbi Yaakov Haber speaks relevantly to these issues in his commentary on this parasha found on the web at http://www.ou.org/torah/haber/thoughts/5760/vayetze60.htm

He points out how we “sometimes fall asleep on hallowed ground.” As examples, he speaks of the Chatam Sofer (Rabbi Moses Schreiber, 18th-19th cenury Chief Rabbi of Bratislava) who chided those who sleep through shabbat, and mentions as well the importance of spouses not missing those special moments of real holy connection—of truly listening and to and caring for one another, and for their children. He also mentions as well a sign he saw in Jerusalem shul which says, “If you talk during davening, when will you daven?” The point is, one comes to synaogogue to seek and serve the Holy One—don’t miss the moment. Truly, the Lord is in this place . . . but do you know it?

The third is this: What habits of thinking, doing, and perceiving might we develop to help us take more careful notice of the activity of God in and around us?

The fourth is this: Do you have a low vision of yourself, or are you perhaps so angry at your lot in life, that you assume that God is not at work in your life, or through your life? Do you think that God works through others but not through you? Then consider this poem by John Henry Cardinal Newman. It could change your perspective. And if it does, it just might change your life.


God has created me
to do Him some definite service.
He has committed some work to me
which He has not committed to another

I may never know it in this life
but I shall be told it in the next

A bond of connection between persons
He has not created me for naught
I shall do good -- I shall do His work
I shall be an angel of peace
A preacher of truth in my own place
while not intending it
if I do but keep his commandments

whatever I am, I can never be thrown away
if I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him
in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him
if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him

He knows what he is about
He may take away my friends
He may throw me among strangers
He may make me feel desolate
make my spirits sink
hide my future from me – still


John Henry Cardinal Newman

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Having a Fear-Not Faith

(This is a sermon for Parashat Toldot, presented November 25, 2006 at Ahavat Zion Messianic Synagogue, Beverly Hills, California. It concerns the most frequently repeated command in the Bible, and wny all of us would do well to obey it).

The command, ‘Fear not” or “Be not afraid” is the most frequently repeated command in both the Hebrew Bible and the B’rith Chadasha. It is found 122 times in the Hebrew Bible and another couple of hundred times in the B’rith Chadasha.

“Fear Not” can be a potent message of hope. Karol Wojtyla, who would later be Pope John Paul II, while a university professor in Krakow, urged his students living under Communism: "Do not be afraid" and they were enabled to maintain their Christian faith and resist Communist indoctrination. When he became Archbishop of Krakow, he proclaimed: "Do not be afraid!" and strengthened the Polish people to maintain their lives of faithfulness under the Communists.

When he was elevated as Pope, in his first sermon at his inaugural mass on Oct. 22, 1978, he proclaimed to the whole world, "Do not be afraid!" He reprised that sermon in his historic speech in 1979 when he spoke to the striking shipyard workers in Gdansk, Poland, urging: "Do not be afraid," strengthening the Solidarity Movement that had so much to do with unseating Communism in Poland.

He knew that more than anything else, the Polish people were in danger of being controlled by the fear of retaliation, fear of an uncertain future. He called upon all to instead be controlled by confidence in God: by faith, not fear.

“Fear not” is a message we need to hear over and over again. Even people who bury their heads in the sand, cannot escape the reality that we are living in a fearful times.

I have never been more pessimistic and concerned about the world political scene than I am now. How about you? I have never been more apprehensive about a coming presidential election than I am now. How about you? I have never been more concerned about the mounting threats to Israel as I see Lebanon falling under terrorist rule, and Iran forming a coalition with Syria. How about you? I have never been more concerned that politically-motivated and foreign-directed violence will again visit our shores than I am now. How about you?

Health issues threaten us too. People in our congregation have been diagnosed with cancer, and some of us react by drawing our coats about us more tightly, doing what we can to make sure we don’t catch their “cooties,” whatever that might mean to us. To people preoccupied with their health, or their lack of it, the message comes again, “Fear not.”

Some of us are financially fearful. I have tax woes, I have children who need educational monies I cannot provide. And I know I am not alone. I need to hear the message from above, “Fear not.”

I know I am not alone when gnawing fears come knocking on my door as unannounced, unwelcome visitors when I least want to hear from them.

Frankin Delano Roosevelt was right, “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself,” because if we succumb to fear, we will be controlled by it, and we will become immobilized, easy victims.

God tells us He is with us,

1 But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. 2 When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. 3 For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you. 4 Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life. 5 Fear not, for I am with you [Isa 43].

As Psalm 23 says it, “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.”
Of course, that is the secret of a fear-not faith: the knowledge that a good, caring and omnipotent God is with us, at our side, and on our side, if we are on His.

It is interesting that the Bible includes both the command to not be afraid and the command to be afraid. These come together in Luke 12, where we read this:

4 "My friends, I tell you: don't fear those who kill the body but then have nothing more they can do. 5 I will show you whom to fear: fear him who after killing you has authority to throw you into Gei-Hinnom! Yes, I tell you, this is the one to fear! 6 Aren't sparrows sold for next to nothing, five for two small coins? And not one of them has been forgotten by God. 7 Why, every hair on your head has been counted! Don't be afraid, you are worth more than many sparrows.

The fear we are speaking of here is apprehensiveness, it is anxiety. It is phobia, the kind of fear that can control our lives. Yeshua is telling us to not be controlled by our fear of people, because there is a limit to what they can do to us. Instead, we are to be controlled by our fear of God—He is the one we are to fear, and here I believe the meaning is fearing His judgment, fearing His displeasure, fearing displeasing Him either because of your love for Him or our dread of His chastening rod.

The Luke passage closes with this word of encouragement, “Don't be afraid, you are worth more than many sparrows.” We ought not to be controlled by anxiety about our well-being either. God will look out for us. We are of more value than many sparrows.

When we have a fear-not faith we will always remember, and always remind ourselves, that in every situation, God is greater than the things we fear. This is the key. Corrie ten Boom, that Dutch Christian heroine who saved Jews from the Nazis, said it this way: “There is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still.” She knew the secret of a fear-not faith.

One sign that we have this kind of faith, this kind of hope, is that despite all that life might hand us, we will know what it is to rest in the Lord—to put things into His hands and relax, even if only a little.

The riddle for all of us is this. To what kinds of people does God give the admonition, “Do not be afraid” or “Fear not”? The answer is, to people who are already God-fearing. To people who are flippant with God, who repeatedly play games with Him, who have no respect or proper fear of Him, the message is a different one. And that message is “Fear Him.” That is why we read in the Book of Proverbs, “reishit chokhma yir’at Adonai”---“the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.”

The Book of Revelation, Chapter 12, says this:

6 And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, 7 Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters.

That’s good advice for us too—to walk in the fear of God, willing to displease people in order to please Him, yet knowing that the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear Him, As Yeshua told his disciples, recorded later in Luke, Chapter 12,

22I tell you, don't worry about your life -- what you will eat or drink; or about your body -- what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing. 24 Think about the ravens! They neither plant nor harvest, they have neither storerooms nor barns, yet God feeds them. You are worth much more than the birds! 25 Can any of you by worrying add an hour to his life? 26 If you can't do a little thing like that, why worry about the rest? 27 Think about the wild irises, and how they grow. They neither work nor spin thread; yet, I tell you, not even Shlomo in all his glory was clothed as beautifully as one of these. 28 If this is how God clothes grass, which is alive in the field today and thrown in the oven tomorrow, how much more will he clothe you! What little trust you have! 29 "In other words, don't strive after what you will eat and what you will drink -- don't be anxious. 30 For all the pagan nations in the world set their hearts on these things. Your Father knows that you need them too. 31 Rather, seek his Kingdom; and these things will be given to you as well. 32 Have no fear, little flock, for your Father has resolved to give you the Kingdom!

Fear not. Be not afraid.

And if you do not fear God, if you are what the Bible therefore calls “a fool,” then, the best advice is this: “Fear Him.”

May all of us walk in the fear of God, and, as often as necessary, may we hear Him saying to our hearts, “Fear not.”