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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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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Some Thoughts on Reading Darrell Guder (Part Two) - On the Messianic Jewish Movement, Evangelism, and Israel as God's "Good News People"

This posting is part of a continuing series of interaction with a book I am currently reading, "The Continuing Conversion of the Church," by Darrell Guder , a warm and highly competent missiologist, now Academic Dean at Princeton Seminary. My writing here is not by way of formal essays, as much as reflections as part of an ongoing process

Guder extensively explores what is meant by the gospel. Much that he says is instructive for the Messianic Jewish movement, either by way of agreement or by way of contrast.

He reminds us that the gospel is first of all “the gospel of God,” “the good news of God.” He sees the gospel as a message of God’s goodness, “a goodness which God has made known, has revealed, and which defines God’s purposes” (29). And because of Israel’s history with God, the gospel of Christ/Messiah is not the first good news of God they have encountered: “God’s people have experienced this goodness; it has been Israel’s gospel from the call of Abraham onward. . . . Through the particular encounter of God with Israel, the good news that God is loving and purposeful enters into human history and becomes knowable” (29). I would certainly add to this, that Israel’s good news has also always been that God is Redeemer. Therefore, using a bracket, I would modify one of Guder’s cogent statements as follows: “Jesus’ coming and his message are good news, as it has always been good news when God [comes to rescue his people and] makes God’s self and purposes known” (30).

Due to its pervasive supersessionist world-view, missiology in general fails to note how Israel’s experience with God is a proleptic foretaste of the gospel. Coining the term “crypto-supersessionism” might be of help here, which term means “supersessionist presuppositions functioning at a subconscious world-view level which, while unacknowledged, become evident in their effects.” Such crypto-supersessionism is evident even in dispensationalist Jewish mission circles where supersessionism per se is flatly rejected. Even in these circles, crypto-supersessionism is known by its fruits: anti-rabbinism, anti-nomianism, and anti-Judaism. Due to such assumptions, both the Jewish missions culture and the church fail to take due note of Israel’s repeated and continuing experiences with “the gospel of God,” when God has come to rescue his people and make himself and his purposes known. These experiences are proleptic, that is, they anticipate the greater good news that comes through and with Yeshua the Messiah.

This connection between Israel’s prior and ongoing experience with God and the gospel of Yeshua the Messiah requires that all conceive of the gospel presented to the Jewish people as “more of the same (that Israel has known) and much more than that.” This viewpoint highlights the tension between continuity and discontinuity, between oldness and newness, that must be maintained if we would rightly testify to the works of God.

Once one grasps this principle, this paradigm of continuity/discontinuity, oldness/newness, “more of the same and much more than that," becomes apparent in Scripture.

For example, when God calls Moses in Exodus 3, especially verses 5-10, and as expanded in Exodus 6:1-9, he establishes that this good news, this gospel, is both what they have experienced before (I am the LORD [who] appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty (3:2-3), and yet something new, (“but by my name the LORD I did not make myself known to them”) (3:3b). And see the passage in chapter six, how it also highlights oldness and newness, and how very much this too is gospel, the good news of redemption for Israel, couched in the context of promise fulfillment:

1 But the LORD said to Moses, "Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh; for with a strong hand he will send them out, yea, with a strong hand he will drive them out of his land." 2 And God said to Moses, "I am the LORD. 3 I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by my name the LORD I did not make myself known to them. 4 I also established my covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land in which they dwelt as sojourners. 5 Moreover I have heard the groaning of the people of Israel whom the Egyptians hold in bondage and I have remembered my covenant. 6 Say therefore to the people of Israel, 'I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment, 7 and I will take you for my people, and I will be your God; and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. 8 And I will bring you into the land which I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; I will give it to you for a possession. I am the LORD.'" 9 Moses spoke thus to the people of Israel; but they did not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and their cruel bondage.

Of many other passages that could be cited, Isaiah 63:7ff., so beautiful, it breaks the heart, speaks perhaps most poignantly of the continuity of God’s past mercies as a ground of hope for deliverance now.

7 I will recount the steadfast love of the LORD, the praises of the LORD, according to all that the LORD has granted us, and the great goodness to the house of Israel which he has granted them according to his mercy, according to the abundance of his steadfast love. 8 For he said, Surely they are my people, sons who will not deal falsely; and he became their Savior. 9 In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old. 10 But they rebelled and grieved his holy Spirit; therefore he turned to be their enemy, and himself fought against them. 11 Then he remembered the days of old, of Moses his servant. Where is he who brought up out of the sea the shepherds of his flock? Where is he who put in the midst of them his holy Spirit, 12 who caused his glorious arm to go at the right hand of Moses, who divided the waters before them to make for himself an everlasting name, 13 who led them through the depths? Like a horse in the desert, they did not stumble. 14 Like cattle that go down into the valley, the Spirit of the LORD gave them rest. So thou didst lead thy people, to make for thyself a glorious name.

15 Look down from heaven and see, from thy holy and glorious habitation. Where are thy zeal and thy might? The yearning of thy heart and thy compassion are withheld from me. 16 For thou art our Father, though Abraham does not know us and Israel does not acknowledge us; thou, O LORD, art our Father, our Redeemer from of old is thy name. 17 O LORD, why dost thou make us err from thy ways and harden our heart, so that we fear thee not? Return for the sake of thy servants, the tribes of thy heritage. 18 Thy holy people possessed thy sanctuary a little while; our adversaries have trodden it down. 19 We have become like those over whom thou hast never ruled, like those who are not called by thy name.

The language contrasts the light of God’s steadfast love, his hesed, and the darkness of Israel’s turning away, spoken of here in such relational terms—“Surely they are my people, sons who will not deal falsely; and he became their Savior” (v. 8). Notice the echoes of the Exodus here, and of the language and the message of Moses’ call, “In all their affliction he was afflicted . . . in his pity he redeemed them . . he lifted them and carried them all the days of old” (See also Psalms 105-106).

The Isaiah passage speaks of continuity and discontinuity, of (incipient) promise and fulfillment, of the mercies of the past, the troubles of the present, and the hope of new good news from God. Past, present, future, all intermingle in this paean of praise to Israel’s God. After reviewing God’s history with Israel and theirs with Him (vv. 7-10), the passage speaks in verses 11 to 14 of how later deliverances were grounded in the precedent mercies of God in the Exodus and wilderness wanderings. This again echoes the rhythm of God’s dealings, continuity/discontinuity, oldness/newness, more of the same and much more than that. Then, in verses 15-19, the prophet applies this pattern to the current dilemma of God’s people, using language intermingling past and present, toward the hopes of a new redeemed future.

All of this calls for a dramatic redrawing of the approach long favored by the Jewish missions culture and the church whereby the Older Testament is seen primarily as prophetically predicting the realities of which the Newer Testament speaks. Such an approach is crypto-supersessionist when and where it assumes that the Older Testament is but a preparation for the Newer. It relegates the people of the Older Testament, and by extension the Jewish people throughout time, to the status of preparation but not the status of participation. Without disparaging Messianic prophecy as a phenomenon, I suggest that the patterns of Scripture and the texture of God’s dealings mandate that we also see the Older Testament as more of the same that the church knows as the gospel, “the good news of God.” Against the background of a religious culture which has become habituated in seeing the Jewish people as fundamentally lost, without hope, and without God in the world, (terms Paul properly applied to pagans), the church, the Jewish missions culture, and Messianic Judaism must learn to see Jewish people as “God’s good news people,” that people who have repeatedly experienced, remembered, and anticipated “the good news of God.” In fact, if the Jewish people were not God's good news people, there would be no good news from God for the rest of the world!

Am I saying that we therefore ought not to “bother the Jewish people with our Jesus?” Emphatically, No! Do we have anything new, important and crucial to say to the Jewish world? Emphatically, Yes! But in all our saying, we must deeply know that the Jewish people are “the good news people.” It is the habit of the church and missions culture to view Jews as bad news people. According to this construct, all Jews are necessarily going to hell, except those few who believe in Jesus—that’s bad news; the Jews have a leadership that fails to lead them toward God, and seeks to prevent their finding His embrace through Yeshua the Messiah—also bad news; their religion is one of fruitless legalism and rule-keeping devoid of the power of the Spirit and relational reality which is only possible through Yeshua the Messiah—bad news for the Jews again. The church, especially the conservative church, and the missions culture, seem decidedly negative about the Jewish people’s spiritual prospects and spiritual experience. This theme plays like a tape loop in the actions and theologizing of supersessionist and crypto-supersessionist Christianity. Missing from this message is the awareness that the Jews have long acquaintance with good news from God. As mentioned earlier in my adaptation from Guder, “Jesus’ coming and his message are good news, as it has always been good news when God [comes to rescue his people and] make God’s self and purposes known” (30). And this is good news for the Jewish people, not merely “as well,” but actually, God’s good news first for the Jews, for the Jews have always been God’s good news people, and the bearers of that good news for the rest of the world.

When we present the gospel of Yeshua the Messiah to Jews, we ought to highlight the continuity of this gospel not simply with Jewish prophecy, but with Jewish communal experience throughout time and to the present day. For example, is not the founding of the Modern State of Israel, the regathering of Jews from the four corners of the earth, and related matters good news from God? Of course it is!

In this regard, it is proper to insert just one word in the song of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist: "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people [again], and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all who hate us; to perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant, the oath which he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all the days of our life" (Luke 1:68-74).

In Yeshua the Messiah the God of Israel has kept his promise to his people, and not to them alone. It is best that we consider these mercies as an occasion when God has done it again, and has outdone himself. It is a Dayenu experience! God did this, then this, then that, then this, but now he has outdone himself yet again.

The good news of Yeshua is not the first good news from God that the Jewish people ever heard. Rather, this is more of the same and yet, much more than that!

And more to come on this subject.