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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, February 16, 2007

On Celebrating the Otherness of Others

The following is an article I wrote for the SEMI, the weekly newsletter at Fuller Seminary, from which I graduated, and where I have on occasion taught as an Adjunct in the area of Jewish Studies. It was a requested article for an issue on cultural diversity.

Except for those very rare missionaries who so devote themselves to the well-being of another people as to become fully one with them in more than sentiment, becoming fully and permanently citizens of the receptor culture, almost all of us, at least this side of the Parousia, remain outsiders to the cultural matrices of others. We can be knowledgeable outsiders, we can be welcome outsiders, we can be assimilated outsiders, but will remain outsiders.

And this is not bad—it is simply an unavoidable truth, To assume otherwise is to grossly underestimate and miss the fact that “culture” names not something one has, but rather who one is. To miss that fact would be like being a man who appreciates women presuming to say that he fully understands women and sees things as a woman does, feels things as a woman does—experiencing and living out of a woman’s sense of being. To speak thus is to be a fool. A man will always in some sense be an outsider to a woman’s sense of being, and a woman to a man’s. This does not mean one should not seek to grow in understanding of the “other.” But it does mean that one ought to respect and affirm the otherness of others even when one affirms their equality. Equal does not mean the same.

Amidst the cultural diversity at Fuller, we need to learn to respect the otherness of others. We must be careful to not resent the strong sense of commonality individuals will have with others in their people-groups, which is likely to make us sense our own otherness. We must also realize how little we really grasp of the otherness of others. We ought not to imagine and demand that they translate for our consumption what it truly means to be who they are and who their people group knows itself to be. Some things can never be translated, nor even reduced to language.

We need to not project upon persons from other cultures some facile fantasy that “After all, we are all just the same under the skin.” Not so! The current war in Iraq demonstrates how naïve the U.S. Government was, not recognizing that Shi’ites and Sunnis see even each other as outsiders, and regard Western “liberators” and the Western way of life as the foulest of intrusions. We are not all the same, nor will we ever be such.

This goes against the grain the prevailing Christian theological paradigm, a viewpoint evident since the Epistle to Diognetus’ portrayal of Christians as a third race. This prevailing theological worldview assumes that heavenly realities transcend and dissolve cultural distinctives and particularities. What we once were makes no difference: now we are Christians, and all Christians are the same. Is that really true? I think not!

Such fantasies are rooted in a spiritual vision eschatology that conceives of the eternal state as a static transcendent and disembodied beatific vision, a view foundational to a post-Augustinian Christendom. Such a vision imagines eternity as a place where we shuck off our cultural particularity, or, if you prefer, transcend it. I advocate replacing this viewpoint with a New Creation eschatology that anticipates the resurrection of a multi-peopled humanity in all of its rich cultural diversity and particularity.

At Fuller, we have an “eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth - to every nation and tribe and language and people” (Rev 14:6). The trick is to balance our concern about this universal gospel with the particularity of cultural identity both here and around the world. The trick for us is to hold fast to the universal gospel that binds us together, while recognizing that the other-culture sisters and brothers to whom we are bound in this life are always going to be “other” to us, and we to them.

Let’s learn to live together with “others” in all their otherness and in the bond of peace, and let us do it here. Let us learn to truly celebrate, rather than seeking to transcend or worse, ignore, how different we all are. And let’s always give to others the room and permission to be different. After all, isn’t that what they accord to us?