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Postmissionary Messianic Judaism and Its Implications for Christian-Jewish Engagement
Missio Dei’s standard copyright does not apply to this article. Used by permission. All rights to this material are reserved. Material is not to be reproduced, scanned, copied, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without written permission from Baker Publishing Group ().
This article is an adaptation of material from Postmissionary Messianic Judaism: Redefining Christian Engagement with the Jewish People.1 There is a common and long-standing assumption that the Jewish and Christian faiths represent two separate religions. From the platform of Messianic Judaism, it is argued that they are actually one people and one religion but a people and a religion that is inherently twofold in nature. The New Testament consistently assumes that Jews who accept Jesus as the Messiah and become his disciples will remain Jewish and continue actively and faithfully to observe the Torah. Assuming that this continues to be the call for Jewish disciples today, Christians should not seek to be missionaries to Jews in the sense of trying to persuade them to come out of Judaism in order to follow Jesus. Rather, they should affirm and embrace their distinctly Jewish identity. Of course, Scripture is also clear that Gentiles who accept Jesus do not need to become Jewish, a position that is clearly embraced today but was still in question in the first century. In short, God’s eternal plan is for Jewish disciples to remain Jewish and Gentile disciples to remain Gentile and together, in mutual fulfillment, to form two complementary sides of the people of God. In fact, the assumption that Judaism and Christianity are two separate religions, which developed in the decades after the writing of the New Testament, is tragically mistaken and represents the first major schism, or division, in church history. Therefore, Jewish-Christian relationships represent a starting point for promoting unity and reconciliation among God’s people.
Religious etiquette in the mainline Christian churches—as in the Jewish world—prescribes that Messianic Judaism is not a suitable topic for serious conversation. This is as true for theologians and clergy as for those in the pews. Most presume that Christianity and Judaism are two separate religions, historically related but now independent and self-contained. Therefore, Messianic Judaism—the attempt of Jewish Yeshua-believers to sustain their Jewish identity and religious expression as intrinsic to and required by their faith in Yeshua2—can only be a syncretistic system that disrespects two great religious traditions.
If, instead of entering the Presbyterian or Methodist sanctuary, one crosses the street and visits the local Pentecostal or Baptist congregation, one discovers that Messianic Judaism is no longer a forbidden subject. Some will likely voice critical or wary opinions, but religious etiquette does not prohibit the view that Messianic Jews are (or can be) good “Christians” who are merely pioneering new methods of Jewish evangelism.3
As a Messianic Jewish leader, I wish to challenge both of these perspectives. As a result, mainline and evangelical Christians will likely find my thesis equally unsettling. I run the risk of provoking the one and alienating the other. But I am convinced that the potential gain is worth the risk.
Postmissionary Messianic Judaism & Non-Supersessionist Ecclesiology
Despite its title, this is not mainly an article about Messianic Judaism. Instead, it is an article about the ekklesia—the community of those who believe in Yeshua the Messiah—and its relationship to the Jewish people. It is an article about supersessionism, and the ecclesiological implications of its repudiation. Supersessionism teaches that the ekklesia replaces the Jewish people as the elect community in covenant with God, in whom the divine presence resides and through whom the divine purpose is realized in the world.4 According to this traditional Christian view, the church is the New and Spiritual Israel, fulfilling the role formerly occupied by “carnal” Israel. In the decades since the Holocaust, many Christians have repudiated this teaching. However, it would appear that few have learned to read the New Testament in a non-supersessionist manner. Even fewer seem to have considered the ecclesiological implications of their new stance.
Christian communal identity is founded on two critical convictions: (1) the mediation of Yeshua in all of God’s creative, revelatory, reconciling, and redemptive activity, and (2) the church’s participation through Yeshua in Israel’s covenantal privileges. These two convictions are embodied in the church’s two-fold biblical canon. They constitute non-negotiable beliefs located at the core of the church’s existence. Nevertheless, the repudiation of supersessionism raises serious questions about these two convictions. If the Jewish people remain in covenant with God, with their own distinct calling and way of life intact despite their apparent communal rejection of Yeshua’s divine mediation, how can the church convincingly hold either of these two critical convictions?
It is difficult to squeeze these two convictions into a non-supersessionist ecclesiological framework. To alter the metaphor slightly, the church’s two central convictions and the repudiation of supersessionism are like three puzzle pieces that do not fit together. I contend that a fourth piece is required in order to complete the puzzle: a postmissionary form of Messianic Judaism. This is why I assert that this article is not mainly about Messianic Judaism. While I am arguing for the legitimacy and importance of Messianic Judaism, my wider thesis is that the church’s own identity—and not just the identity of Messianic Jews—is at stake in the discussion.
Unfortunately, the contemporary Messianic Jewish movement as a whole, despite enormous diversity, is not able to provide this fourth puzzle piece. Most of those who would call themselves Messianic Jews participate in Messianic Jewish congregations, but one also finds them in the church world. Many Messianic Jews seek to observe the laws of the Torah (i.e., the Pentateuch), whereas others treat these laws as national customs that are valuable but optional. What do all those who call themselves “Messianic Jews” have in common? All Messianic Jews believe that Yeshua of Nazareth is Israel’s Messiah, and that faith in Yeshua establishes rather than undermines their Jewish identity. However, no consensus exists as to what this faith in Yeshua means for their relationship to the church, or what this Jewish identity means for their relationship to the Jewish community and tradition.
As stated above, the form of Messianic Judaism that I believe is able to supply the missing fourth puzzle piece is postmissionary in character. What do I mean by this term? The word missionary evokes negative reactions from many at the beginning of the twenty-first century. It is often associated with a colonial mentality, a condescending patriarchal orientation that evades the challenges inherent in any authentic encounter with the “other.” However valid such concerns may be, this article is not an attack on the missionary endeavor in general and in every context. Instead, my argument that Messianic Judaism should assume a postmissionary form focuses on the specific and unique relationship between Yeshua (and his ekklesia), the Jewish people, and the Jewish way of life.
I employ the term postmissionary to capture at least three aspects of the type of Messianic Judaism that is needed for the emergence of an integrated, faithful, non-supersessionist ecclesiology. First, postmissionary Messianic Judaism summons Messianic Jews to live an observant Jewish life as an act of covenant fidelity rather than missionary expediency. In the early twentieth century Leopold Cohn, founder of the American Board of Missions to the Jews, was unconventional among Hebrew Christian missionaries in his continued commitment to Jewish practice. According to his son, however, his motive for this commitment was purely evangelistic:
He followed the method introduced by Paul, ‘To the Jew I became as a Jew’. Pork he would not touch, and it was not allowed at any time in our home. . . . The Mosaic law was adhered to. . . . The reason for my father’s dietetic asceticism was not that he felt himself under the law of Moses, but that by this method he was able to win Jews to Christ who could not have been won otherwise.5
A century later, some missionary-minded Messianic Jews approach Jewish practice in much the same way. If they could be convinced that Messianic Judaism was an ineffective evangelistic strategy, they would set it aside and search for something more effective. This is the type of Messianic Judaism which Jewish theologian Michael Wyschogrod chastises:
What I find painful are messianic Jewish congregations which adopt Jewish symbols and practices to attract Jews but are not committed in principle to Torah observance. These groups use Jewish symbols and practices to make the transition of Jews to gentile Christianity easier. Their aim is Jewish integration into a Christianity that does not demand sustained Jewish Torah observance indefinitely.6
Postmissionary Messianic Jews agree with Wyschogrod. Their congregations are “committed in principle to Torah observance” and “demand [it] . . . indefinitely.” The motivation is covenant fidelity, not missionary expediency.7
Second, postmissionary Messianic Judaism embraces the Jewish people and its religious tradition, and discovers God and Messiah in the midst of Israel. Messianic Jews with this orientation discern the hidden sanctifying reality of Yeshua already residing at the center of Jewish life and religious tradition. They understand their inner mission as the call to be a visible sign of this hidden messianic presence. Postmissionary Messianic Judaism does bear witness, but not to a reality external to Jewish communal life. It testifies to a reality already internal to Jewish life, existing independent of its witness, but manifested and confirmed through its witness. It believes that the mysterious messianic reality at the heart of Israel’s life will one day be acknowledged by the community as a whole, and that this acknowledgement—set within the context of a national movement of revived fidelity to the ancestral covenant—will prepare the way for the final redemption. Because it discovers God and Yeshua within the Jewish people and its tradition, postmissionary Messianic Judaism feels at home in the Jewish world.
In contrast, many other Messianic Jews treat post-biblical Jewish history, customs, and institutions with wariness or even disdain. They see even devout Jews who do not believe in Yeshua as lacking a life-giving relationship with God; only by accepting Yeshua as Israel’s Messiah can Jews draw near to God, and experience God’s saving power. These Messianic Jews never truly feel at home in the Jewish world, for they consider it a domain bereft of Yeshua’s sanctifying presence.
Third, postmissionary Messianic Judaism serves the (Gentile) Christian church by linking it to the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, thereby confirming its identity as a multinational extension of the people of Israel.8 While postmissionary Messianic Judaism’s inner mission consists of bearing witness to Yeshua’s presence within the Jewish people, its outer mission directs it to the church, before whom it testifies to God’s enduring love for the family chosen in the beginning to be God’s covenant partner. The church thereby participates in Israel’s riches without displacing Israel. In the process the church setting can become a second home—a “home away from home”—for Messianic Jews.
In contrast, many Messianic Jews find their primary home in the Christian church – the only setting where they recognize the presence of Yeshua. They feel away from home when among the Jewish people, who do not accept Yeshua. Therefore, their outer mission is to bring Jews to faith in Yeshua, so that the Jewish people can also become “home.” Whereas postmissionary Messianic Jews seek to represent the Jewish people to the church, Messianic Jews with a missionary focus make their primary concern representing the church’s concerns and beliefs to the Jewish community. A missionary-oriented Messianic Judaism has been a significant obstacle in the relationship between the church and the Jewish people. Postmissionary Messianic Judaism can serve as the missing link that binds the church and the Jewish people, so that the Christian church becomes a multinational extension of the Jewish people and its messianically renewed covenantal relationship with God.9
In summary, the form of Messianic Judaism required for an integrated, faithful, non-supersessionist ecclesiology is postmissionary in three senses: (1) it treats Jewish observance as a matter of covenant fidelity rather than missionary expediency; (2) it is at home in the Jewish world, and its inner mission consists of bearing witness to Yeshua’s continued presence among his people; (3) its outer mission consists of linking the church of the nations to Israel, so that the church can become a multinational extension of Israel and its messianically renewed covenantal relationship with God. The third aspect of its postmissionary character is dependent on the first two. Messianic Judaism can only perform its necessary ecclesiological role if it is an embodiment of Jewish covenant fidelity at home in the Jewish world. The church of the nations can only become an extension of Israel if its Messianic Jewish partner is deeply rooted in Jewish soil.
Postmissionary Messianic Judaism is the missing piece that completes the puzzle. With such a piece in place, the Christian church can affirm Yeshua’s universal mediation in a non-supersessionist manner, since its postmissionary Messianic Jewish partner enables it to recognize Yeshua’s mysterious presence throughout Jewish history. Israel’s covenant endures, the church draws nourishment from its Jewish root, yet Yeshua remains the Messiah and Lord for both Jews and Gentiles. The Christian church can now affirm its own identity as an extension of Israel in a non-supersessionist manner, since its connection to the Jewish heritage has become a concrete sociological reality rather than a spiritual abstraction. Postmissionary Messianic Judaism bears witness to the enduring importance of the Jewish people and its way of life for the identity of the Christian church, and likewise bears witness to the enduring importance of Yeshua’s mediation for the identity of the Jewish people.
In arguing that ecclesiology demands authentic engagement with the Jewish people and its religious tradition, I am urging that we rethink our presuppositions regarding the relationship between Christianity and Judaism, the church and Israel, Christians and Jews. The terms themselves express an underlying conceptual framework that envisions two separate religions, two separate communities practicing the two separate religions, and the members of those two separate communities. It is time to challenge the notion that Christianity and Judaism are two separate religions.10 We should heed the advice offered by Karl Barth a half-century ago: “The Church must live with the Synagogue, not, as fools say in their hearts, as with another religion or confession, but as the root from which it has itself sprung.”11 Some Christian thinkers are beginning to catch up with Barth. Thus, Richard John Neuhaus writes, “It is misleading, I believe, to speak of two peoples of God, or of two covenants, never mind to speak of two religions.”12 In reality, we are dealing with one people and one religion, but it is a people and a religion that is inherently twofold in nature. Sadly, what should have been an enriching differentiation became a bitter schism.
Healing the Schism: A Restored Jewish Ekklesia
In the fuller argument in my book Postmissionary Messianic Judaism, I argue for the truth of three interrelated propositions. First, the New Testament—read canonically and theologically in the light of history—teaches that Israel’s covenant, way of life, and religious tradition have enduring validity and importance, even when Israel proves unwilling or unable to explicitly recognize its Messiah. Second, the failure of the Gentile ekklesia to receive and confirm this truth contributed decisively to the rupture between the ekklesia and the Jewish people—a rupture that constitutes a debilitating schism in the heart of the people of God. Third, this schism was manifested first in the rejection of the validity and importance of the Jewish ekklesia and of its integration within the wider Jewish world, and the healing of this schism requires the restoration of such an ekklesia. The restoration of the Jewish ekklesia would link the Gentile ekklesia to Israel, and enable it to legitimately identify with Israel’s history and destiny without succumbing to supersessionism. The restoration of the Jewish ekklesia would also enable the Jewish people to appreciate Yeshua-faith as an indigenous Jewish reality, extending the reign of Israel’s God among the nations.
What would such a restored Jewish ekklesia look like? In the book, I assess Hebrew Christianity and Messianic Judaism according to five basic ecclesiological principles: upholding God’s election of the Jewish people, affirming Jewish practice, honoring Jewish tradition, taking its place as part of a bilateral ekklesia, and maintaining an ecumenical vision for the relationship between the Jewish people as a whole and the twofold ekklesia. These principles provide markers for identifying the sort of Jewish ekklesia whose presence can facilitate the healing of the schism.
As a postmissionary reality, the restored Jewish ekklesia will take its stand as part of the Jewish people. In its definition of Messianic Judaism, the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations (UMJC) emphasizes the need to “place a priority on integration with the wider Jewish world.”13 This has far-reaching implications. The traditional Hebrew Christian model, which, as seen above, is essentially missionary in orientation, involves a ranking of one’s social identities, so that one’s core identity as part of the missionary body defines one’s attitude towards the other groups one also identifies with. Employing the nineteenth century distinction between religion and nationality, the Hebrew Christian’s core identity is religious (i.e., the “Christian” faith, held in common with other Christians), whereas his or her secondary identity is national (i.e., membership in the Jewish people). The Hebrew Christian attitude toward the Jewish people (the secondary grouping) is thus defined by its “Christian” convictions. For the restored Jewish ekklesia, on the other hand, Jewish identity will be both religious and national. Furthermore, it will find Yeshua himself within Judaism and the Jewish people. Therefore, its Judaism and its loyalty to the Jewish people will not compete with its Yeshua-faith and its loyalty to the Gentile ekklesia. The radical, unqualified identification of Jewish Yeshua-believers with the Jewish people and its religious tradition may trouble some Christians when they first encounter it. However, if they truly renounce supersessionism and recognize the ecclesiological implications of claiming a part in Israel’s heritage, they will embrace the new relationship with the Jewish people made possible for them by the reconstituted Jewish ekklesia, and rejoice in it.
At the same time, the Jewish ekklesia will, as the UMJC definition states, “bear witness to Yeshua within the people of Israel.” The Jewish ekklesia will not hide its light under a bushel. Its Yeshua-faith and its Judaism are not two separate realities, but one integrated whole. Its Yeshua-faith will affect every dimension of its life, including its participation in the wider Jewish world. However, its witness to Yeshua will be rendered in a postmissionary mode. Its postmissionary mode of bearing witness has three crucial features. First, the Jewish ekklesia will realize that it must first receive the testimony borne by the wider Jewish community to the God of Israel before it is fit to bear its own witness. It must hear before it can speak. It must learn before it can teach. What it receives, hears, and learns will affect the substance—and not just the form—of what it gives, says, and teaches. Second, the Jewish ekklesia bears witness to the One already present in Israel’s midst. It does not need to make him present; it only needs to point other Jews to his intimate proximity. The Jewish ekklesia bears witness to the One who sums up Israel’s true identity and destiny, who lives within Israel and directs its way, who constitutes the hidden center of its tradition and way of life. In the words of Joseph Rabinowitz, it bears witness to “Yeshua Achinu”—Yeshua our Brother, who, like Joseph, rules over the Gentiles while providing for the welfare of his own family who do not recognize him. For the Jewish ekklesia, all Judaism is Messianic Judaism, because all Judaism is Messiah’s Judaism. Third, the Jewish ekklesia bears witness discreetly, sensitively, and with restraint. It is always aware of the painful wounds of the past, and seeks to bear witness to Yeshua in a way that brings him honor from among his own.
As a postmissionary body, the Jewish ekklesia will also stretch out its hands to the Gentile ekklesia, and bring it into a structured ecclesial relationship to the Jewish people. It brings the church to Israel, rather than bringing Israel to the church. Yet, by bringing the church to Israel, it also brings Israel to the church. It represents Israel to the church, i.e., the church of the nations. In doing so, it bears witness to the church and the world of the reconciling power of Yeshua’s atoning sacrifice, and becomes a present sign of the future redemption. As the UMJC definition states, the Jewish and Gentile ekklesiai together constitute “a community of Jews and Gentiles who in their ongoing distinction and mutual blessing anticipate the shalom of the world to come.”
The restoration of the Jewish ekklesia, and a progressive healing of the schism between the church and the Jewish people, would have enormous consequences for the life of the ekklesia. The letter to the Ephesians speaks of the relationship between Jews and Gentiles in Messiah as the archetype of the reconciliation that Yeshua brings to the world. Tragically, the Christian era brought intensified hostility rather than peace to Jewish-Gentile relations. This called into question from the outset the Christian claim to a mission of universal reconciliation. The restoration of the Jewish ekklesia would provide the Christian church with an opportunity for repentance and a renewal of its vocation in the world.
The restoration of the Jewish ekklesia would contribute to the healing of other schisms that have wounded the Christian church over the centuries. George Lindbeck has summoned the church to view itself in an Israel-like way—as a people, rather than as a voluntary organization ordered around a set of common beliefs.14 Lindbeck contends that such an identity would better enable the church to maintain a differentiated unity. In the world of American Protestantism such an identity would also counter the rampant individualism that undermines ecclesial community and prevents Christians from even recognizing schism as an evil. But how can the Christian church develop an Israel-like identity without falling into supersessionism? I have argued here that this can only occur through the restoration of the Jewish ekklesia.
The restoration of the Jewish ekklesia would provide the church with an essential resource for combating the dualism that has been its continual temptation through the centuries. Irving Greenberg sees this dualism as a consequence of Christian alienation from Judaism:
Each religion paid a price in dismissing the other. Christianity skewed toward dualism, minimizing the religious significance of carnal matters, the law, and the body.15
To the constant Jewish critique that the world was manifestly unredeemed (therefore, Jesus could be no true redeemer), Christianity responded by spiritualizing redemption (and dismissing Judaism as a “carnal” religion). The conjunction of anti-halakhic thinking and the dismissal of biology (Christians are children of Abraham in the spirit) encouraged an otherworldly focus and reinforced a dualism that often pitted the soul against the body and the flesh against the spirit. Rootedness in the land also was spiritualized away; no land was sacred, and only the heavenly Jerusalem really mattered.16
While its core message of the incarnation militates against such dualism, the Christian church has struggled to work out the implications of this message. Too often the spirit, the abstract ideal, and the universal have overwhelmed the body, concrete reality, and ethnocultural particularity. The fleshly presence of a Jewish ekklesia would serve as a constant reminder that God’s redemptive purpose entails the consummation and not the destruction of the created order.
That the Christian church needs the Jewish ekklesia to work out the non-dualistic implications of the incarnation supports a point more fully explored in my book: the church cannot adequately understand the meaning of the incarnation without grasping the ongoing significance of Yeshua’s Jewish identity.17 To grasp the ongoing significance of Yeshua’s Jewish identity, the church must realize the ongoing significance of the Jewish people. To realize the ongoing significance of the Jewish people, the church needs to have a living covenantal bond to the Jewish people—a bond established by the restoration of the Jewish ekklesia. The church serves a resurrected Jew whose glorification perfected rather than annulled his Jewishness. To appreciate that Jewishness, the Gentile church needs an earthly and corporate Jewish companion.
The Gentile church likewise needs such an earthly and corporate Jewish companion in order adequately to hear, understand, and respond to the Word of God in Scripture. Traditional Jewish and Christian teaching affirms the need for participation in the people of God in order to rightly receive the Word of God. If that people is twofold in nature, then Jews and Christians need to hear and study Scripture together. This is already happening in academia—but too often such “inter-faith” study presumes the perpetual separation of the two communities, and entails the bracketing of religious convictions in order to meet on “neutral” turf. To hear the Word of God properly, Jews and Christians must study together as one differentiated community. This requires the restoration of the Jewish ekklesia.
In sum, the restoration of the Jewish ekklesia promises a renewal of the Christian church’s reading of Scripture, understanding of the incarnation and its non-dualistic implications, and actualization of the church’s own identity and vocation. The ekklesia of the nations has much to gain from the restoration of the ekklesia of the circumcision.
The schism between the Jewish people and the ekklesia can be healed without coming to full agreement over Yeshua’s messianic identity. The New Testament implies that disagreement over Yeshua’s identity will continue till the end of the age, but it does not predict a schism with the same longevity. This is why John Howard Yoder can say of the schism, “It did not have to be.”18 “Schism” refers to the division of these two groups into separate religious communities. It also implies the enmity that has historically transpired between them—but the enmity can be overcome, as it has in twenty-first century America, and the schism remain. The healing of the schism means the establishing of a structured ecclesial relationship. This can occur if the church adopts a bilateral ecclesiology in solidarity with Israel that affirms Israel’s covenant, Torah, and religious tradition. While this is a necessary condition of the healing, it is not sufficient. Full healing of the schism will only occur when the wider Jewish community accepts the Jewish ekklesia as a legitimate participant in Jewish communal life.
I have argued that the Christian church and the Jewish people together constitute the one people of God, and, in a sense, the one Body of Messiah. The schism in the heart of this people has damaged each side, and resulted among Christians in a truncated vision of its own identity and the identity of its Messiah. To rediscover its own “catholicity,” the church must rediscover Israel, and its relationship to Israel.
In speaking of the schism between the Western and Eastern churches, John Paul II has stated that each church now breathes with only one lung. This is an apt metaphor, especially if we extend it by seeing the “air” breathed by the church as the Spirit of God. With only one functioning lung, the church’s capacity to receive and impart the Spirit is restricted. This metaphor is even more applicable to the primal schism that wounded the ekklesia in its infancy. The church must come home to Israel, if it would again breathe freely and deeply.
Mark S. Kinzer (PhD, University of Michigan) is a leading theologian of Messianic Judaism. He is Senior Scholar and President Emeritus of Messianic Jewish Theological Institute and Rabbi of Congregation Zera Avraham in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Mark chairs the Faith and Halakhic Standards Committee of the Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council, and is the author of Postmissionary Messianic Judaism (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2005) and Israel’s Messiah and the People of God (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2011). He is a leading authority on Messianic Jewish-Roman Catholic relations, and has participated in the Messianic Jewish-Roman Catholic Dialogue Group since its inception in 2000.
Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics. Edited by G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance. Translated by G. W. Bromiley. 5 vols. New York: T&T Clark, 1961.
Cohn-Sherbok, Dan. Messianic Judaism. New York: Cassell, 2000
Greenberg, Irving. For the Sake of Heaven and Earth: The New Encounter between Judaism and Christianity. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2004.
Jenson, Robert W. “Toward a Christian Theology of Israel.” Pro Ecclesia 9, no.1 (Winter 2000): 43–56.
Kinzer, Mark S. Postmissionary Messianic Judaism: Redefining Christian Engagement with the Jewish People. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2005.
Lindbeck, George A. “The Church as Israel: Ecclesiology and Ecumenism.” In Jews and Christians: People of God, edited by Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson, 78–94. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003.
________. The Church in a Postliberal Age. Edited by James J. Buckley. Radical Traditions. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002.
Neuhaus, Richard John. “Salvation Is from the Jews.” In Jews and Christians: People of God, edited by Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson, 65–77. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003.
Soulen, R. Kendall. The God of Israel and Christian Theology. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996.
Wyschogrod, Michael. “Response to the Respondents.” Modern Theology 11, no. 2 (April 1995): 229–41.
Yoder, John Howard. The Jewish-Christian Schism Revisited. Edited by Michael G. Cartwright and Peter Ochs. Radical Traditions. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003.
1 Mark S. Kinzer, Postmissionary Messianic Judaism: Redefining Christian Engagement with the Jewish People (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2005). Missio Dei ’s standard copyright does not apply to this article. Used by permission. All rights to this material are reserved. Material is not to be reproduced, scanned, copied, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without written permission from Baker Publishing Group ( ).
2 This is an informal definition of Messianic Judaism that has the advantage of encompassing most of those who would identify themselves as participants within it.
3 There are a few in both the mainline and evangelical churches who support Messianic Judaism because their reading of the New Testament has convinced them that Jewish Yeshua-believers should maintain their covenantal responsibilities as Jews. Messianic Jews are sincerely grateful for such visionary friends.
4 R. Kendall Soulen, The God of Israel and Christian Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996), distinguishes three types of supersessionism: (1) Punitive supersessionism (“God abrogates God’s covenant with Israel . . . on account of Israel’s rejection of Christ” ); (2) Economic supersessionism (As in punitive supersessionism, “Everything that characterized the economy of salvation in its Israelite form becomes obsolete and is replaced by its ecclesial equivalent”; however, in contrast to punitive supersessionism, “Israel is transient not because it happens to be sinful but because Israel’s essential role in the economy of redemption is to prepare for salvation in its spiritual and universal form” ); and (3) Structural supersessionism (the deepest level of supersessionism, this form entails a way of construing the underlying narrative of Christian doctrine such that “God’s history with Israel plays a role that is ultimately indecisive for shaping the . . . narrative’s overarching plot” ). Soulen contends that many Christians have renounced economic and punitive supersessionism, but have not yet grappled with the implications this must have for their overall theological framework.
5 Dan Cohn-Sherbok, Messianic Judaism (New York: Cassell, 2000), 40–41.
6 Michael Wyschogrod, “Response to the Respondents,” Modern Theology 11, no. 2 (April 1995): 237.
7 This does not mean that pragmatic concerns play no role in determining the shape of postmissionary Messianic Jewish observance. All Jews take such concerns seriously in the ordering of their religious practice. It also does not mean that postmissionary Messianic Jews lack an appreciation for the practical benefits of Jewish observance. My point here deals solely with what is considered by practitioners to be the most important reason for adopting such practice.
8 “If through Christianity hundreds of millions of people have entered into relationship with the God of Israel, Christianity must be, in some important sense, an extension of Judaism. . . . The God of Israel is not separable from the people of Israel. It follows that to be in relationship with the God of Israel is to be in relationship with the people of Israel.” Richard John Neuhaus, “Salvation Is from the Jews,” in Jews and Christians: People of God, ed. Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 68.
9 As noted above, the Messianic Jewish movement is very diverse. I do not mean to suggest in this article that the movement as a whole can be divided into two distinct parties, the missionaries and the post-missionaries. Instead, my intention is to describe clearly what I mean by postmissionary Messianic Judaism, and to contrast it with some forms of Messianic Judaism that take a markedly different approach. Upon reading this section, it is possible that many Messianic Jews will not identify completely with either of the approaches I have described.
10 In his recent volume, Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004), Daniel Boyarin argues that Christianity invented the category of “religion,” in part to clearly distinguish itself from the Jewish people and Judaism. While Christianity defined itself and Judaism as two rival religions, the Judaism that emerged from the Babylonian Talmud does not separate “faith” from “ethnicity, nationality, language, and shared history” (8). Boyarin contends that “the difference between Christianity and Judaism is not so much a difference between two religions as a difference between a religion and an entity that refuses to be one” (8; see also 214–20, 224–25). (Boyarin views early “Judaeo-Christianity” as a seamless network of communities that was gradually carved into two rival blocks by Christian and rabbinic authorities. The invention of the category of “religion” was one of the tools used to do the carving.) In Postmissionary Messianic Judaism, I speak about the Jewish people as a “religious community” embodying a “religious tradition.” By the use of these terms I am not implying that Judaism is merely a “religion,” but instead recognizing that the beliefs and practices that we commonly associate with “religion” have shaped Jewish identity and communal life through the centuries.
11 Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, ed. G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance, trans. G. W. Bromiley, vol. 4, part 3.2 (New York: T&T Clark, 1961), 878. Barth here uses the term “Synagogue” to refer to the Jewish people as an organized community with a distinct religious tradition. The term so used is problematic for many reasons, and will not be employed in my argument.
12 Neuhaus, 68. Robert Jenson writes in similar fashion: “The Church can regard neither the religion of old Israel nor Judaism as an ‘other religion;’ and that holds even if Judaism cannot return the recognition.” Robert W. Jenson, “Toward Christian Theology of Israel,” Pro Ecclesia 9, no.1 (Winter 2000): 43.
13 For more information on the UMJC and its definition of Messianic Judaism, see ibid., 291, 299–302.
14 George A. Lindbeck, The Church in a Postliberal Age, ed. James J. Buckley, Radical Traditions (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 1–10; George A. Lindbeck, “The Church as Israel: Ecclesiology and Ecumenism,” in Jews and Christians, 78–94.
15 Irving Greenberg, For the Sake of Heaven and Earth: The New Encounter between Judaism and Christianity (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2004), 44.
16 Ibid., 223. Greenberg also describes the price Judaism paid for dismissing Christianity—but that is material for another thesis. I am writing this article for Christians, and am therefore focusing only on its side of the schism.
17 See Postmissionary Messianic Judaism, ch. 6.
18 John Howard Yoder, The Jewish-Christian Schism Revisited, ed. Michael G. Cartwright and Peter Ochs, Radical Traditions (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 43–66.