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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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Friday, January 26, 2007

Seeds, Weeds, and Walking the High Wire: The Remnant (Pt. 1)

I identify the Messianic Jewish Movement as part of the Messianic Jewish Remnant of Israel. It will help to first differentiate between two uses of the term. Dan Johnson demonstrates that Scripture presents two different modalities of remnant identity, one being survivors of a time of judgment, the other being the seed from which God’s continuing purposes will be realized. He points out how the verb form used in Gn 7:23, “only Noach was left (vayisha’er akh noakh), along with those who were with him in the ark,” is related to the noun sh’erit (remnant). This is the first appearance of the verb in Scripture. Just as Noach/Noah, his family, and the animals in the ark were a sign of God’s continuing purpose for the earth, and instruments for its realization, so the eschatological remnant of Israel discussed in Romans 9-11 is meant to be a sign, demonstration and catalyst of God’s continuing purposes for the Jewish people.

The survivors of judgment motif is evident in Romans 9:27:

“And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, ‘Though the number of the children of Israel were like the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved.’” This in turn references Isaiah 10:22, a word of temporary judgment: “For though your people Israel were like the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will return. Destruction is decreed, overflowing with righteousness.”

The other use of “remnant,” as a seed sign of hope, is apparent in Isaiah 11:10-16.

10 On that day the root of Yishai, which stands as a banner for the peoples - the Goyim will seek him out, and the place where he rests will be glorious. 11 On that day Adonai will raise his hand again, a second time, to reclaim the remnant of his people who remain from Ashur, Egypt, Patros, Ethiopia, 'Eilam, Shin'ar, Hamat and the islands in the sea. 12 He will hoist a banner for the Goyim, assemble the dispersed of Isra'el, and gather the scattered of Y'hudah from the four corners of the earth. 13 Efrayim's jealousy will cease - those who harass Y'hudah will be cut off, Efrayim will stop envying Y'hudah, and Y'hudah will stop provoking Efrayim. 14 They will swoop down on the flank of the P'lishtim to the west. Together they will pillage the people to the east - they will put out their hand over Edom and Mo'av, and the people of 'Amon will obey them. 15 ADONAI will dry up the gulf of the Egyptian Sea. He will shake his hand over the [Euphrates] River to bring a scorching wind, dividing it into seven streams and enabling people to cross dryshod. 16 There will be a highway for the remnant of his people who are still left from Ashur, just as there was for Isra'el when he came out from the land of Egypt.

This seed nature of the remnant is also evident in Isaiah 37:31-33.

Meanwhile, the remnant of the house of Y'hudah that has escaped will again take root downward and bear fruit upward; 32 for a remnant will go out from Yerushalayim, those escaping will go out from Mount Tziyon. The zeal of ADONAI-Tzva'ot will accomplish this.' 33 "Therefore this is what ADONAI says concerning the king of Ashur: "' (check number of “)He will not come to this city or even shoot an arrow there; he will not confront it with a shield or erect earthworks against it.”

Although here, as in Isaiah 11, the term remnant denotes survivors of judgment, the second theme of the remnant as a seed of hope is evident. John Paul Heil demonstrates how Romans 9-11 focuses on this second usage of the term "remnant," and how the Apostle uses the term as a sign of hope even in Romans 9:27-29, normally viewed as a judgment text.

Heil shows that standard translations of Romans 9:27-29 obscure the strong note of hope in Paul’s language, and fail to heed intertextual voices. Contrary to those who see the text as a judgment text, Heil views Romans 9:27-29 as foreshadowing the climactic note of victory, “and so all Israel will be saved,” in Romans 11:26. After meticulous exegesis, he offers this translation of Rom 9:27-29, revealing Paul’s use of remnant as a sign of hope:

But Isaiah cries out on behalf of (not “concerning”) Israel (= still unbelieving Israel, not those from the Jews (9:24) who believe in Christ): “If the number of the sons of Israel be (not ‘were’) as the sand of the sea (which they will be in accord with God’s word of promise in Gen 16:13; 22:17; 28:14; 32:121), surely, at least (not ‘only’) a remnant will be saved! For definitely deciding a word (that Israel will be as numerous as the sand of the sea), the Lord will accomplish (it) on the earth” (Isa 10:22-23; 28:22b; Hos 2:1a). And as Isaiah had foretold (and still foretells), “If the Lord Sabaoth had not left for us (= the unbelieving majority of Israel) a seed (= a remnant who will believe and be saved), we would have become like Sodom and we would have been made like Gomorrah” (Isa 1:9).

Heil highlights what is often missed, that the remant is a sign of hope concerning the Divine purpose for the rest of Israel. This remnant is not simply the residue left after a time of judgment, nor a sign there are others who comprise the remnant as well, but rather, this remnant is the earnest of God’s continuing purposes for Israel as a whole.

Following both Johnson and Heil, I use the term remnant to indicate that communal seed of hope which is meant to serve as a sign, demonstration, and catalyst of God’s gracious purpose for all Israel. Serving as this sign, demonstration, and catalyst is the job description of the Messianic Jewish Remnant.

We may differentiate between a variety of Jewish remnants. What might be termed the General Jewish Remnant, fully known only to God, is his sum-total Jewish Remnant in the earth, objects of His grace, and precious in His sight—comprised of those who are explicitly Yeshua believers, and others whom God judges to be faithful Israel. This includes those who have gone before, and those who will come after us. The Messianic Jewish Remnant is the body of Yeshua-believing Messianic Jews within that group seeking, however imperfectly, to live in continuity with Jewish life and community. Not all Jewish believers are part of the Messianic Jewish Remnant in this sense, although all are part of the General Jewish Remnant. I reserve the term “Messianic Jewish Remnant” for those Jewish Yeshua-believers seeking to live in continuity with Jewish life and community.

Other Jewish Yeshua-believers, living assimilated Jewish lives in churches,are also part of the General Jewish Remant, with the likely exception of those Jewish people who seek to obscure or deny their Jewish identity. But we ought not say that the Messianic Jewish Remnant plus other Jewish Yeshua believers is the sum total of the General Jewish Remnant. My caution is due to Yeshua’s warnings that many who are first will be last, and the last first, and to God’s warning to Elijah as repeated by Paul, that the true extent of the remnant is greater than we can know.

Therefore, claiming remnant status does not entitle us to deny that status to others known only to God. To insist on doing so is to repeat the error for which God chastised Elijah.

Some write more extensively on remnant theology, discussing matters such as the role of the remnant in the Millennium, the role of the 144,00, and related issues. These are not my concerns. My concern is a missiological one: to address the responsibilities of the Messianic Jewish Remnant now, especially regarding our relationship with rest of the Jewish world.

But that will follow in future postings.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Seeds, Weeds, and Walking the High Wire: The Weed of Anti-Rabbinism

A third, closely related weed, is anti-rabbinism—opposition to “the rabbis” as a class. The way the term “the rabbis” has been used in Messianic Jewish circles, although less widely than formerly, demonstrates a polemical disdain fit only to be uprooted and discarded. A quick search of one Jewish mission website using the search term “religion of the rabbis” turned up quotes such as the following:

When I talk about being a Jew, I'm talking about something that is different from the religion of the rabbis. I'll be quick to tell you that I do not follow the Jewish religion.

You might be surprised that the Jewish Bible, the T'nach, does not mention rabbis. According to Scripture, the priesthood was to be in charge. What is now considered "traditional Judaism" began at the Council of Yavneh, when a group of rabbis met and made certain decisions in light of the destruction of the Temple and the growth of Christianity. What decisions they made, we can only surmise. But after Yavneh, rabbis were in control of the religion.

Regardless of the degree to which one agrees or disagrees with the author’s historical reconstruction, we find here an appalling categorical hostility toward Judaism, toward the rabbis, and their religion. Can the rabbis be wrong? Certainly! Has the rabbinical establishment been almost entirely opposed to Jewish Yeshua-faith? Surely! But should we therefore distrust all rabbis and all rabbinic writings as has commonly been the case in our thinking, discussion and polemical rhetoric? Must we consider the rabbis and their teachings to be guilty until proven innocent? Should we consider all of them to be seducers and enemies of Yeshua-faith, to be avoided by all who would exercise due caution? Must we assume, as some have stated of us, that those seeking irenic relationships with rabbis do so only to pander for approval, prepared to sell out the gospel as a means to that end? In the service of truth, I cannot go there. In fact, this weed nauseates me.

This antipathy to “the rabbis” extends beyond distrust to disdain. A typical mission publication states, “Unfortunately, most rabbis have accepted the role of an apologist for Judaism, rather than a spiritual authority who can aid in or inspire a true encounter with God.” Will you join me in finding this comment presumptuous? How do we know the motivations of “most rabbis?” Where do we sign up for a dose of such omniscience concerning the motivations of the majority of an entire class of people? I submit that what we are hearing are echoes of Justin Martyr and the Adversos Judaeos tradition.

We ought not comfort ourselves that these are someone else’s statements, not our own. Axiomatic suspicion of and distancing from the rabbis and their religion lingers in the air like a stench of a corpse only recently removed from the room. Things are better among us, but not well--not yet.

As another case in point, consider our respected friend Dr. Michael L. Brown. One of his recent blog postings includes ample evidence of the weeds of categorical anti-Judaim and anti-rabbinism persisting in our ranks. For example, he states that he has “come to the conclusion that rabbinic traditions have little or no place in our private lives or public services.” Brown continues, “While it is one thing to follow the rabbinic calendar as a matter of convenience, it is another thing entirely to pray the prayers of the rabbis or utilize their varied religious expressions and methods.” He asks, “How can we pray the prayers of men whose very faith presupposes that Yeshua is not the Messiah?” These positions will sound very familiar to most of us in the Messianic Movement, because this viewpoint is not his alone.

I am asking all of us to reconsider our attttudes and to spread the word: “The rabbis” should not be used as an epithet of scorn. We need to recognize and repudiate the tradition of anti-Judaism and anti-rabbinism as weeds, not wheat. Uproot them.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Seeds, Weeds and Walking the High Wire: The Weed of Antinomianism

This posting is the fourth part of a series on where the Messianic Jewish Movement needs to be heading and why.

Sowing and growing the seeds of zikkaron/anamnesis and prolepsis is no uncontested operation. There are always weeds. I will name four. The weed of antinomianism is the first.

For more than thirty years, in Jewish Yeshua-believer circles, Arnold Fruchtenbaum has held a unique position as a tightly organized and highly focused Bible teacher. Although his audience among us is less than it once was, the spores of his perspective on Torah observance continue to sprout stubborn weeds throughout our Big Tent. I have chosen him because he is an especially focused example of the matter I am addressing. However, nothing I say should regarded as indicative of disrespect. I like Arnold Fruchtenbaum, and respect him. However, his views are problemmatical.

Fruchtenbaum says that the authority of the Mosaic Law has been annulled with the death of Messiah.

The Law is a unit comprised of 613 commandments, and all of it has been invalidated. There is no commandment that has continued beyond the cross of Christ. . . . It has completely ceased to function as an authority over individuals. Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum. Hebrew Christianity: Its Theology, History, and Philosophy. Seventh Printing. (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries Press, 1995), 86.

He teaches that although there are those who may choose to obey some aspect, or even many aspects, of the Torah, as a badge of Jewish identity or means of identity preservation and inter-generational transmission, such actions must only be treated as matters of personal preference, and never regarded as either obligations or communal norms. For Fruchtenbaum and the Dispensationalism he champions, Torah obedience no longer has mandatory force. The one exception he allows is for those commandments required by Newer Testament teaching, by what he terms “the Law of Christ.”

It is right that we respect Fruchtenbaum and others like him who have worked hard and served well. However, spores spread by his brand of Dispensational theology posit the nullification of the Torah of Moses as a mandated standard of Jewish practice, and transplant personal volition and New Covenant standards in the place formerly occupied by Jewish life. We might even consider this a form of neo-Marcionism, under which the expired, defunct, and impotent Older Testamental statues, ordinances, and commandments of God are replaced by a more “enlightened” canon, the Law of Messiah.

If we are only under the Law of Messiah, in what ways, beyond simply familial nostalgia and genetic markers, are we, our calling, and our legacy, actually, rather than simply theoretically, different from other Yeshua believers? This perspective converts our covenantal Jewish identity into a genetic claim nurtured by nostalgia and collections of memorabilia, sustained by periodic get-togethers with other Jews.

Adherents to such a perspective are exiles from ongoing Jewish life and community, consigned to remember Zion by the waters of a strange theological Babylon, But how can we sing the songs of Zion in such a foreign land, exiled from the life of Torah, our spiritual homeland, and from the community to which we are joined by covenant?

Living under the Newer Covenant Law of Messiah, while treating the life of Torah obedience as “nice if that’s your style,” substitutes the cut glass of nostalgia for the bright diamond of Jewish covenantal life and community. Abandoning Israel’s call to covenant faithfulness dooms the Messianic Jewish Remnant to irrelevance. Instead, we condemn our families, our congregations, and our entire Movement to eventual assimilation, while nullifying our capacity to assist wider Israel in achieving and fulfilling its foreordained destiny and to walk in that faithfulness to which Hashem calls them--and us as well.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Seeds, Weeds, and Walking the Highwire: More on Zikkaron/Anamnesis

This posting is the third part of a series on where the Messianic Jewish Movement needs to be heading and why.

The Holy Past is Present as Catalytic Memory: Our Holy Calendar
Brevard Childs, whom we consulted in our earlier postings, reminds us as well that honoring our holy calendar is crucial to remembering the saving acts of God. We cannot bypass our responsibility to honor the events of our holy calendar and their attendant covenant obligations through recourse to personal choice or the liberty of the Spirit. When our calendar confronts us with God’s saving acts and our history with him, the Spirit gives us liberty to do only one of two things: we may desecrate the holy day or honor it. No third option is possible.

Providing an example, he states, “The festival of unleavened bread serves as a reminder to future generations of Yahweh’s law. . . . Israel does not remember festivals, but observes them in order to remember [the saving acts of God and their attendant obligations].” The purpose of honoring our holy calendar through ritual observance goes far beyond maintaining a sense of Jewish identity, or differentiating our identity from that of the Church. The purpose of ritual observance is to remember and honor our covenant pledge, the binding oath of the children of Jacob.

The Holy Past is Present as Catalytic Memory: Once-for-All, Yet Once Again

These redemptive events of the Older Testament shared a genuine chronology. They appeared in history at a given moment, which entry can be dated. There is a once-for-all character to these events in the sense that they never repeated themselves in the same fashion. Yet this does not exhaust the biblical concept. These determinative events are by no means static; they function merely as a beginning (Childs, 83).

The Messianic Movement cannot and must not devolve into a religious equivalent of “The Society for Creative Anachronism,” which is “an international organization dedicated to researching and re-creating the arts and skills of pre-17th-century Europe.” We are not called to return to past glories. We must have a living relationship with the holy Jewish past shaped by who and where we are now in the flow of history. As Childs reminds us, “Each successive generation rewrites the past in terms of her own experience with the God who meets his people through the tradition. . . . These successive layers cannot be seen as subjective accretions covering the ‘real event.’ The remembered event [in the now] is equally a valid witness to Israel’s encounter with God as the first witness (Childs, 89).

We see new facets of the past as we grapple with the Holy One in the present, using the template of the past as a framework for self-understanding. When we encounter the story of the Exodus, we grapple with the God who redeemed us just as truly as did the Exodus generation. Our response now to the record of his saving mercies is as real and as consequential as was theirs, and the consequences of careless disregard, no less significant. We are as culpable for ingratitude as were they. “Today, if you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”

The Holy Past is Present as Catalytic Memory: With Judicial Power

“Each generation of Israel, living in a concrete situation within history, was challenged by God to obedient response through the medium of her tradition. Not a mere subjective reflection, but in the biblical category, a real event as a moment of redemptive time from the past initiated a genuine encounter in the present” (Childs, 83-84). The events of Israel’s redemption were such significant realizations in history of divine redemptive intervention, that together with the rituals, rites, and commandments they entail, they have the authority to assess each successive generation of Israel, including ours. Our response to these events, rites, rituals and obligations, is our response to God, for which we are accountable.

The Haggadah, echoing the Talmud, agrees. It reminds us, “In every generation a man is bound to regard himself as though he personally had gone forth from Egypt. (cf. TB Pesachim). Torah tells us of Passover, "'This will be a day for you to remember [v’haya hayom hazzeh lachem l’zikkaron].” The LXX translates zikkaron as “anamnesis.” It is also the term used in the Newer Covenant underlying the phrase, “Do this in remembrance of me.”

The holy past is no mere collection of data to be recalled, but a continuing reality to be honored or desecrated. As a zikkaron, a holy memorial, the redemption from Egypt is so authoritatively present with us at the seder, that a cavalier attitude toward the event marks as “The Wicked Son,” unworthy of redemption, anyone who fails to accord it due respect. In zikkaron or anamnesis, the holy past is present with power, assessing our response.

This is a new perspective for some of us and surely for most of our Movement. It makes us wriggle with discomfort because it contravenes our axiomatic commitment to autonomy. We reflexively think ourselves to only be responsible when we choose to be so. The Bible, and our tradition disagrees; hence the discomfort.

That anamnesis has intrusive and unavoidable authority to judge our response is proven in Paul’s discussion of the Lord’s Table. In First Corinthians 11, he states that those who fail to discern the reality present among them in the zikkaron/anamnesis, who drink the Lord’s cup and eat the bread in an unworthy manner, desecrate the body and blood of the Lord and eat and drink judgment upon themselves. He makes this point unambiguous when be states “This is why many among you are weak and sick, and some have died.”

Because of this numinous power of zikkaron/anemesis, honoring the holy Jewish past and the holy Jewish future as re-presented in the liturgy, ritual, and calendar of our people must become a lived reality in our movement. Our only other option is to dishonor God and to trifle with his holy saving acts. I think it no exaggeration to say that failure to properly honor our holy past, present as zikkaron/anamnesis, is just as truly an act of desecration as was the failure of the Corinthians to honor body and blood of Messiah present in their midst in the bread and the wine.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Seeds, Weeds and Walking the High Wire: Prolepsis and Zikkaron/Anamnesis

This posting is the second part of a series on where the Messianic Jewish Movement needs to be heading and why.

“Prolepsis” is a Greek term that has passed into English usage because there is no suitable English equivalent. It refers to “the representation or assumption of a future act or development as being presently existing or accomplished.” Prolepsis names the future as dynamically present to shape and empower present thinking and conduct.

We must become a proleptic movement. As a community of covenant responsibility, God is calling us to focus on an idealized Jewish future, theologically and canonically developed in Scripture, clarified in communal discussion, and enshrined in our sacred calendar, liturgy, and ritual life. This idealized future is our destiny. It must live within us, and we must live for it. Because the Holy One holds us responsible to be signs, demonstrations and catalysts of this proleptic future, we must become a community in which the future has arrived. This is our first mustard seed idea. Its significance will becomes clearer as we discuss its companion.

A Second Mustard Seed Idea: Zikkaron/Anamnesis

Our second mustard seed comes from the other end of the same pod. It focuses on our relationship to the past rather than our relationship to the future.

The Hashivenu motto, “Bring us back to you, Hashem, and we shall return; renew our days as of old,” was the seed of the Hashivenu vision. Proponents of the Hashivenu perspective have long known that contemporary Messianic Jewish renewal requires we reconnect with the holy Jewish past.

For a few years I have been maturing in my understanding of what this means. Now I see how this seminal idea is rooted in the biblical understanding of remembrance, as expressed in such terms as the Older Testamental zikkaron, and its Newer Testamental equivalent, anamnesis. I see as well that we will never comprehend who we are called to be and what we are called to do until we understand what the Bible means by “memory”—zikkaron, or anamnesis.

In 1962, Brevard Childs wrote Memory and Tradition in Israel, a monograph on the nuances of how the Older Testament uses words from the zkr word group, words related to remembrance. A number of his insights help clarify the Hashivenu vision and demonstrate why the mustard seed of memory is a non-negotiable imperative if we would embody Israel’s destiny. Childs helps us understand how, in God’s design, the past is present among us, holding us accountable, transforming us, and propelling us forward.

The Holy Past is Present as Catalytic Memory: Obedience

Childs says, “Present Israel stands in an analogous situation with the people of the Exodus. Israel is still being tested [as to whether we will demonstrate by our obedience that we remember the saving acts of God and our covenantal obligations].” (Childs, 50-51). Typically, we are commanded to do “this” because God did “that.” A failure to obey is a failure to remember both what God has done, and the response he demands. Zikkaron-memory is more than mere recalling. Such memory entails honoring God’s redemptive mercies by embracing covenant obligations.

Childs reminds us, “As in the past, Israel‘s history continues to be God’s forcing his people to decide between life and death.” We choose life by obedience, death by disobedience. “Memory plays a central role in making Israel constantly aware of the nature of God’s benevolent acts as well as of her own covenantal pledge.” [Childs, op. cit., 51]. The keyword here is “pledge.” Israel cannot fulfill its destiny nor honor its legacy apart from honoring this pledge. And if we are part of the Messianic Jewish Remnant of Israel, this must be is true for our Union as well.

More to come. More on zikkaron.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Seeds, Weeds, and Walking the High Wire: Discerning the Times

This posting is part of of a series on where the Messianic Jewish Movement needs to be heading and why.

Yeshua taught "The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed." In every generation, God gives his servants mustard seed ideas with divine power to transform the landscape. In this extended series we will be examining two such seeds. Our job will then be to plant and tend them, while God gives the increase. We will also examine some "weeds" which hinder their growth, and then consider how these two seeds constitute moorings for a high wire which we must walk in faithfulness to God.

David Stern points us toward one mustard seed in his translation of Messianic Jews (Hebrews) 11:22: “By trusting, Yosef, near the end of his life, remembered about the Exodus of the people of Isra'el and gave instructions about what to do with his bones” [Heb 11:22, emphasis added]. Reflect for a moment. Joseph lived long before Moses, before any Hebrews were enslaved, centuries before the Exodus. How is it, then, that he “remembered about the Exodus?” This can only mean that he remembered what God had prophesied to his ancestor Abraham centuries earlier:

Know this for certain: your descendants will be foreigners in a land that is not theirs. They will be slaves and held in oppression there four hundred years. But I will also judge that nation, the one that makes them slaves. Afterwards, they will leave with many possessions. As for you, you will join your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. Only in the fourth generation will your descendants come back here, because only then will the Emori be ripe for punishment (Genesis 15).

On the basis of the prophetic word, Joseph remembered in advance the destiny of his people, coordinating plans and actions around a confident vision of things to come. Focused, united, and vigorous, we must also devise and accomplish strategic plans, anticipating and facilitating the foreordained destiny of Jacob’s children.

Ours is a kairos moment, a doorway of opportunity. Missiologists call this “adventus”—a time of divine in-breaking. We need to hear Paul addressing not others, but us, speaking not long ago, but now, chiding us: “You know at what point of history we stand; so it is high time for you to rouse yourselves from sleep; for the final deliverance is nearer than when we first came to trust.”

Do we know at what point of history we stand? Surely we cannot act for the progress of the Kingdom unless we discern the times in which we live. Like arrows finding their target, the Apostle’s words strike home to our hearts: “It is high time for us to rouse ourselves from sleep.” We must allow ourselves to wake up and then awaken many others to the challenges facing us in changing times. May everyone hear the Bridegroom’s voice!

We are being called to go beyond following the lead of our ancestors Joseph and Abraham. We must go beyond making preparations for anticipated end-time events. Such talk would be nothing new. For centuries, prophecy conferences and prophetic scenarios have defined, refined, and proclaimed prophetic scenarios. Messianic Judaism must go beyond such prophetic fascinations, furors, and fixations to meet the challenge of shaping proleptic communities and institutions embodying and serving Israel’s destiny.

Serving this destiny requires that we understand three key terms: prolepsis, zikkaron and anamnesis. These describe two reference points that plot out the pathway of faithfulness to our calling.

In our next posting, we will speak about prolepsis.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Eight Tent Pegs Fastening Abraham's Tent: The Perpetuity of Israel's Election

While it is common to call the Jewish people “The Chosen People,” opinions differ as to how long and under what conditions that chosenness endures.

Jewish tradition comments about the Tent of Abraham, where he received the three visitors in Genesis 18. We are told that his tent was open on all four sides (Genesis Rabbah 48:9). This allowed Abraham to let any passing stranger know that s/he was a potential guest. Also, Abraham could see people in all directions. He could then go out from his tent and offer them food, drink and a place to rest. Thus Abraham is the human paradigm of hospitality to strangers.

Through Yeshua the Messiah, strangers from the nations have come into Abraham’s Tent. So it is that Walter Kaiser renders Genesis 9:27, "God will enlarge Japhet, But He will dwell [v'yishkon] in the tents of Shem." God would would dwell, would be present, in the tents of Shem, from whom would come Abram, in whom all the families of the earth would be blessed.

Does God still dwell in Abraham’s tent, among the Jewish people? Did the coming of Yeshua of Nazareth render Abraham’s tent primarily a place for Gentile guests, and only contingently and secondarily still a place for the Jews, the seed of Abraham and Sarah? Did these guests replace the descendants of Abraham and Sarah?

I want to suggest eight reasons why the Jewish people still dwell with God inside Abraham's Tent, and why the others from among the nations have not displaced the descendants of Jacob, who can then only return to the tent in Yeshua's name. These eight reasons are eight tent pegs fastening Abraham’s tent as a dwelling place for the children of Abraham and Sarah, and not only them, establishing the continuing and unique election of the Jewish people as a people.

1.The promises to the patriarchs/matriarichs to bless Abraham’s physical seed. See for example Genesis 17:19; 21:12; 28:13. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are all promised that their seed after them will be guarded and blessed by God. As Paul will say later, "they are beloved for the sake of the fathers."

2. God’s oath to Abraham, on the occasion of the binding of Isaac - Genesis 22. Hebrews 6:18 reminds us that a promise is one thing, an oath, another. God has not only promised the continuing election of the descendants of Abraham and Sarh--he has sworn it. God's oath to Abraham is later successfully invoked by Moses as the grounds whereby God repents of his intention to judge Israel at the time of the Golden Calf (Exodus 32:7-14).

3. God’s promise that his faithfulness to Israel will endure as long as the fixed order of the sun, moon, stars, and sea (Jer 31:35-36).

4. God’s faithfulness is not only as steadfast as the creation itself, but is in fact even more abiding. ‘for the mountains may move and the hills be shaken, but my loyalty shall never move from you, nor my covenant of friendship be shaken—said the Lord, who takes you back in love (Isa 54:10).

5. A fifth tent-peg, links the perpetuity of God’s promise, and thus of Israel’s election, to God’s own person: “But because I, ADONAI, do not change, you sons of Ya'akov will not be destroyed.”

6. “Isaiah 66:22 records the divine promise to preserve Israel’s ‘descendants and name’ in like manner to his preservation of the new heavens and the new earth, thus extending Israel’s secure election beyond this creation into the eschaton.

7. The economy of mutual blessing, the seventh tent peg. Israel’s election is secure because of its irreplaceable role in the consummation of all things. R. Kendall Soulen reminds us that:

Biblical ontology takes the form of an economy of mutual blessing, in which God summons the households of creation to receive God’s blessing in the company of an other. Because it belongs to the glory of the biblical God to love the human family in a human way, in the fullness of its corporeality and completeness, God’s economy of mutual blessing exhibits a certain order or taxis [linear arrangement], a taxis summarized by a first-century Jew in the phrase, ‘to the Jew first and also to the Greek’ (Rom 1:16)

In sum, the goal of God’s work as Consummator is that future reign of shalom in which the economy of difference and mutual dependence initiated by God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah is fulfilled in a way that brings fullness of life to Israel, to the nations, and to all creation [Soulen, R. Kendall, The God of Israel and Christian Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996), 121, 131].

8. Yeshua is the eighth tent peg, of a different kind—the tent peg of the seed of Abraham, and from the tribe of Judah, upon whom all else hangs (Zechariah 10:4). As such, he is the guarantee of the consummation of all of God’s purposes for both Israel and the nations. The only other choice is to imagine that with the coming of Jesus, the ultimate seed of Abraham and Sarah, the Jewish people were categorically evicted from Abraham’s tent unless and until they acknowledged Jesus as Messiah. Some, such as N.T. Wright, believe this to be so. But this seems to overstate and misstate the view of Scripture, which sees even Jewish hardening toward the gospel as part of God’s saving purposes. And of course, Paul is at pains to protest that God is not through with the Jewish people. If all the promises of God are "Yes" in Yeshua, this will most certainly include the promises--and oaths--made to the Jewish people!

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Book Review - Michael Wyschogrod: "The Body of Faith: God and the People Israel"

Wyschogrod, Michael, The Body of Faith: God and the People Israel (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1996).

Wyschogrod is a Modern Orthodox Jewish scholar-philosopher, born in Germany, who taught at Baruch College, at the University of Houston, and at a number of other institutions in the USA and abroad. He is perhaps the closest the Jewish community has to a biblical theologian, and for this reason, is more accessible to Christian readers than most.

He holds for the priority of election as a category that must be recovered by the Jewish community. He sees the entire seed of Abraham and Sarah as elect and as one, despite ideological variations and differences. All Jews as obliged to live out the meaning of their election through maintining Jewish communal coheshion and intergenerational survival. Despite denials and avoidance of all kinds, Jews are meant to live lives of Torah faithfulness as a context and manifestation of authentic relationship with the Living God. He sees the Jews as “the abode of the divine presence in the world. It is the carnal anchor that God has sunk into the soil of creation” (256). As such, Jewish survival and fulfillment of its communal mission is important not simply to the Jews, but to the entire world—for God has chosen to make Hiself one with this people, and to join His name to theirs.

Chapter 1, “A Partial Knowledge,” discusses the eclipsed role of philosophy in Judaism, and he deals with Jewish revelation as being a “dark knowledge,” because it awaits an apocalyptic and therefore discontinuous future consummation. Chapter 2 continues the discussion of philosophy, and how the Christian theological tradition has embraced a philosophical approach alien to Jewish epistemology. Christian theology and philosophy abstracts principles, while Jewish revelation and experience are in the nature of story. The Christian and Jewish worlds contrast both epistemologically and existentially. Israel’s election is communal and corporeal, and this people coheres as an extended family rather than in ideological mutuality. “The foundation of Judaism is the family identity of the Jewish people as the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob . . . the seed of Abraham elected through descent from Abraham, This is the crux of the mystery of Israel’s election” (57).

Chapter 3 , “The Personality of God,” further confronts the divide between the Jewish and biblical revelation of God and that of philosophical theology. God is seen as a character in the great story in which Israel plays a central role. He is a person who, by creating a real world of real actors, and by becoming part of the story, freely takes on a certain vulnerability. This God is diametrically opposite to the static Prime Mover of the philosophical theological tradition, whether Christian or Maimonidean.

Chapter 4, “Created Being,” is even more philosophical than the foregoing, and examines the relationship between being and God. “The chapter argues that nonbeing is the necessary corollary of being and that nonbeing, expressed in action, is violence” (xxxv). It also considers the issues of being, non-being, and existence, and how these pertain to thought about and the reality of God.

Chapter 5, “Ethics and Jewish Existence,” considers the issue of the nature and purpose of law, especially God’s law. Again, philosophical theology is seen as concerned with generalities and overarching principles, while Judaism concerns itself with particulars. Here he also discusses how God’s specific-incident based law can be rightly applied to new circumstances in such a manner as to conform to the Lawgiver’s desires. The Jewish people and the reality of God are seen to be prior and other than principles and philosophy. The reality that is Israel partakes of the unassailable otherness of existence itself: “God appears in history as the God of Israel and there can therefore be no thought about God that is not also thought about Israel” (175).

Chapter 6, “The Unrealized,” speaks of the apocalyptic again, and contrasts a minimalist and a maximalist messianism. The former postulates a conservative and somewhat rigid and fearful continuity between the Torah Judaism of today and the eschaton, while the latter recognizes that in the nature of the case, the saving acts of God bring in unforeseen newness. He advocates for a Judaism open to the future, one that preserves the Jewish people, faithfully awaiting a surprising consummation.

For its scope, clarity, and brilliance, The Body of Faith stands alone, a tour de force that welcomes us into the mind and soul of a great man and profound thinker who, in Abraham and like Abraham, stands before God. Bold and courageous, he confronts comfortable assumptions, Jewish and Gentile, secular and religious. He challenges the Jewish world to live out the meaning of its corporeal election, and the Christian world to recognize that its supersessionism is not only inappropriate, but that any dismissal of the continuing election of Israel removes God from the world.

Wyschogrod’s language is unfailingly careful and precise. His voice is authoritative without self-aggrandizement. He comes across as a humble man, who, out of his service to the truth, has had to speak prophetically to communities that may not like what they hear. While some books must be reread because they are obscure, this one warrants rereading because Wyschogrod calls us to greater depth and breadth than we are accustomed to. The book merits a hadran: a final word which says, "hadran alach--we shall return to you." Like a classical Jewish text, this one warrants repeated, even perpetual study.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Abraham's Obedience and Messianic Judaism

To be followers of God in the train of Abraham is essentially to be persons who recognize ourselves to have been commanded and who obey. This contrasts with the pop-Christian reflex which sees Abraham as essentially a person who believes, and which imagines “belief” as being prior to and separate from action. Contrary to the adamant opinions of some, this will not do. Faith and action are inseparable. Although they can be separated in thought, that is, although we can discuss faith and action as two separate rational categories, they are not and cannot be separated in life, because such “faith,” apart from works is dead. It is inert, lifeless, and really not faith at all.

In the Bible, Abraham is essentially the man who obeys, and his belief (Genesis 15:1-6) derives its significance in how it supports and illustrates his obedience. This sense is at war with postmodern Messianic Judaism where we tend to see ourselves as those who know, those who understand, who are enlightened in some manner—who have faith. But it is too easy for such “believers” to see obedience as “nice but secondary.” This is not only not Judaism: it is not true to the Bible, nor is it true to Truth and the One who is the True and Living God.

The Bible sees Abraham first and foremost as one who obeyed God. Indeed, God’s first words to him are not words of explanation or comfy relational chit-chat, but rather words of command: “Get up, get out, get going.” If we as a Messianic Jewish Movement would be children of Abraham in fact and not just in name, then we too must become reflexively obedient. This will require a Holy Spirit revolution freeing us from the reflexes of post-Enlightenment postmodernism.

In “The Body of Faith,” Michael Wyschogrod comments helpfully “Israel replied 'We will do and we will hear’ when it heard God’s demands. Only obedience responds to the word of God as demand, so that a proper hearing can only come after the doing” (173). I add that only reflexive obedience honors God for who He is: anything less is to reduce God to an equal--or less, which is idolatry. Only obedience honors God.

This is why kashrut and shabbat observance are crucial—because they treat God as central. What we do with our mouths and with our time are entirely his business because he is God, and if we balk at this "intrusion" into "our lives," we are demonstrating we just don't get it--we don't really understand who God is, who we are, and what are the rules of the game. When we presume to differ, or to “take matters under consideration,” we become those who use and abuse God’s name without treating him as God. God commands. Only our explicit obedience demonstrates that we understand who he is and who we are.

Na’aseh v’nishmah always go together. We might translate the terms, “We will do, and by so doing, we will demonstrate that we understand who you are and who we are."

Do we?

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

A Belated Hanukkah Message (Also Good for New Year's Resolutions!)

The only light we have to give is reflected light.

We are like the moon, not like the sun. The sun has light in itself, the moon has not light but what it reflects. But that reflection can be absolutely beautiful.

Not only that, one cannot look at the sun, but can look at the moon.

Similarly, people cannot look directly at God, who is the ultimate light—but they can look at us. And we can only be lights if we reflect the light of God.

How shall we do this? In honor of the eight days of Hanukkkah, I suggest eight ways. And these are good avenues to pursue throughout this New Year.

1. We reflect the light of God when we spend time in seeking His face—we with unveiled faces . . .

2. We reflect the light of God when we spend time in His word, not simply looking for information or arguments to explain this or that, but looking at the word as a place where we meet with God, He with us, and where we meet his authority and directions for our lives.

3. We reflect the light of God when we spend time in God[s precence seeking to understand the excellency of Messiah. What was he like? What impact did he have on people who really got to know Him?

4. We reflect when we cultivate a right perspective—“if that light in you be darkness, how great is the darkness!”

5. We reflect the light of God when we become people who expose the unfruitful works of darkness instead of cooperating with them.

6. We become people of light when we show others the right way to walk, and how to avoid the dangers around them.

7. We reflect the light when we live under the rule of God. It is not enough to have warm fuzzy feeling about God or about ourselves, or even to be “nice people.”

8. To be a light requires work—it is neither easy, nor is it automatic. Most of all it calls for something utterly foreign to the spirit of the age: self-denial. When people deny themselves, their desires, and appetites in order to do the right thing, the light is blinding.

Come house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord. Happy New Year!

Do Jews Need The Gospel, Should We Proclaim It To Them, and If So, Why?

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God—this includes all Jews. And religious Jews would have no difficulty admitting this.

I know myself to be a man of unclean lips who needs to be touched with the coal from off of God’s sacrificial altar in order to be cleansed. I know myself to be a person totally dependent upon the redemption which is in Messiah Yeshua.

But I did not always know myself to be a Jew with covenant obligations.

Certainly pagans need to repent. Certainly adherents to idolatrous religions need to repent. Certainly Jews need to repent. But we also need to ask in each case the following question: “Repent for what?” Biblically, the answer to this question is different for Jews than for non-Jews.

Some, new to the paradigm shifts I advocate, imagine that I am weak on the teaching of repentance for Jews. Not true! On the contrary, I think I am more disquieted about Jewish sin than most people in our movement. I am calling for a deeper repentance for all Israel and for all of the Messianic Jewish Movement than that we have inherited from the Hebrew Christian/Jewish Missions culture, a deeper repentance than generally inhabits the heart of Messianic Judaism as I have encountered it.

R. Kendall Soulen helps us with this clarifying statement:

According to the biblical witness, God’s work as Consummator takes enduring shape in the history that unfolds between the Lord, Israel, and the nations. Accordingly, human sin is never merely the sin of the creature against the Creator-Consummator. Human sin is also always the sin of Jew and Gentile, of Israel and the nations.” (R. Kendall Soulen, The God of Israel and Christian Theology. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996:153).

The sins of the Messianic Jewish Movement and of the Jewish people are far more dire and extensive than simply the record of individual human failings. Biblically, these sins include, and indeed are foundationally, our failure communally, familially, and individually to live in covenant faithfulness to the God of Israel.

Do we and all Jews need the atonement Yeshua provides? YES, by all means YES! But for reasons deeper than we have heretofore realized and proclaimed. We, the seed of Abraham and Sarah, whose ancestors, standing at the foot of Sinai, said “na’aseh v’nishmah—we will do and we will hear/obey—all that the Lord has spoken we will do”—must repent of our general, continual and pervasive neglect of the covenant obligations to which they implicated us and of which God spoke of all the way back to Genesis 18:16-29 and 26:1-5, much less at the Holy Mount.

All of the seed of Abraham in the Messianic Jewish Movement, and all of Israel, needs the atonement Yeshua provides not simply because we are individual sinners who need to be saved by grace. We need His atonement and we need to repent because we are covenant breakers and because every day we as individuals, families, congregations, as a Union, and as a wider Messianic Jewish community fail to live in manifest Torah-based covenant faithfulness, we break the word of our ancestors to which we ourselves are honor-bound (Deut 29:9-15), and we rob God of glory (see Deuteronomy 4:4-8; Jeremiah 35:1-19).

We as a movement need to repent of covenant unfaithfulness—and this means not simply asking for forgiveness, but also returning to the faithfulness we have for so long neglected. This is a message that is alien to almost the entire Jewish missions movement. But can we say that this is a message that Messianic Judaism has, not in theory but in practice, unambiguously affirmed? I think not.

Of the seventeen sermons in Acts, nine are given to Jewish audiences [ten if you include Paul’s word to Herod Agrippa]. Repeatedly the context of repentance there is NOT repentance from individual sin, not seeking atonement and forgiveness for being sinners who need to be saved by grace, but more precisely, the need to find forgiveness for having been so out of touch with who God is and what He is up to in the world, that the community was complicit in the death of Messiah, rejecting Him who God had raised from the dead, rejecting the Messiah whom God had sent, as they had they prophets before Him. And in these sermons, the language of covenant is also invoked, so that, for example, Peter could say in Acts 3:25: “you are heirs of the prophets and of the covenant God made with your fathers.” Stephen as well combines these two factors when he says in Acts seven. “You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him— you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it.”

Do we see it? The sins of Israel, and of the Messianic Movement, from which we need to repent, are twofold, as is our responsibility. We are responsible to love, honor and obey: To love the Lord our God by honoring the Messiah whom He sent, and obeying the covenant he made with our ancestors.

We Messianic Jews misunderstand and misrepresent the New Covenant call for Jewish repentance because we tend to construe it in individualistic terms, thinking and preaching that “Jewish people need to repent because they are individually sinners before a holy God.: There is truth in that statement, but that is far less than, and even OTHER than the New Covenant’s perspective. Rather, as Soulen so brilliantly notes, in the Bible, “Human sin is . . . always the sin of Jew and Gentile, of Israel and the nations, against the Lord, the God of Israel.”

We need to repent because we have sinned as Jews, because we have been covenantally unfaithful to the God of Israel, in addition to what we have already repented of, our dishonoring the God of our ancestors in rejecting the Messiah whom he sent.

What should we do when we meet Jews who are endeavoring to be covenantally faithful. Should we call them to embrace the Messiah whom God sent? Absolutely! But we should also commend and applaud them for their pursuit of Jewish faithfulness. This is not generally the way we go about things! Not only are religious Jews doing what they should be doing: They are doing what we should be doing.

We must overcome the Second Century reflex of commending the gospel by downgrading Judaism. Rather, we should be telling them about Yeshua because we have been commanded to do so and because he IS the Messiah whom God sent, and it is a sin, yes, but more than that, a scandal and insult to the Holy One when Jews fail to welcome him.

I also suggest that we need to jettison couching our message in an avoid-hell find-heaven mode. Even though this approach is a non-negotiable for the Jewish missions movement and for many if not for most in the UMJC, it is not once demonstrated in the sermons of the apostles, and increasingly, the wider missions world has come to see that the emphasis is not biblical, and is effective in varying degrees depending upon contextual factors.

Last month I spoke at a well-known national mission training center. The last question I was asked concerned what I would say to a hasidic Jewish man my questioner had met at an airport. Here is what I would say: “Sir, if Yeshua is not the Messiah, then you had better make absolutely certain. For if He is, and you do not embrace him, then you dishonor the God of your ancestors.”

Jews should believe in Jesus. Jews should also be communally covenantally faithful. Anything less, is sin. But that includes the Messianic Jewish Movement.

Are we in the Messianic Jewish Movement ready to repent of our own covenantal neglect and covenantal ambivalence? I suspect that the answers in our movement are uneven. For many of us, the answer is “Yes! But how?” But it cannot be denied that there are also some who will say, “I don’t see things that way—we are not under the law,” or perhaps, “Not entirely,” or, “Are you trying to make us all Orthodox?” or perhaps, “Please explain further.”

By all means, let us preach Yeshua to all the people of Israel. But not because of their special neediness, which has often been predicated on the alleged futility of the Jewish way of life, but because He IS the Messiah whom God sent in fulfillment of his promise, whom God raised from the dead, whom our leaders rejected, but whom Israel is called to receive.

I think it better that we concentrate on why Jews OUGHT to believe in Yeshua rather than why they NEED to believe in Yeshua. The latter approach tends to focus on proving to the Jewish person their own neediness, sinfulness, and the inadequacy of their religious commitments. I submit that this approach is reflexive in the approach to Jews we learned from the missions culture, and that it needs to be forsaken as both ineffective and inaccurate. I prefer the other approach, of stressing why Jews ought to believe in Yeshua, because it focuses instead on Yeshua’s credentials and on why God-honoring Jews should welcome him.

We must urge the Jewish community to repent wherever we find that these“heirs of the prophets and of the covenant God made with our fathers,” are guilty of:

(1) rejecting the Messiah sent from God, and

(2) failing to obey the Law sent from God.

This call to repentance is enduring and vital. But it is a call directed not simply to the wider Jewish community, but also to all of us in the Messianic Jewish Movement, to our leaders, to our Union, and to our entire ambivalent context, “who received the Law as delivered by angels but did not obey it.”

It is time to welcome the Messiah whom He sent. But it is also time to glorify God through communal covenant obedience.

Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!