As a career missionary, I read the title of Mark Kinzer’s new book, Postmissionary Messianic Judaism, with some consternation. After all, he seems to be indicating that my job is obsolete! However, Kinzer has made it clear in conversation that the title of the book was not intended to be disrespectful to the Jewish missions community. In fact, Kinzer believes that the modern Messianic movement owes a debt of gratitude to the recent work of Jewish missions.
Kinzer is to be congratulated for formulating a coherent and consistent understanding of Messianic Judaism in this book. I am sure it will provoke many in the church and the Messianic Jewish community to rethink the relationships between Yeshua, the Jewish people, and the church.
AN OVERVIEW: PLANKS IN THE PLATFORM
I see this book as a platform for the future of Messianic Judaism. In some ways, Kinzer’s book echoes the Pittsburgh Platform of 1885 which defined a path for Reform Judaism. By viewing his presentation in this way, some “planks” of the platform may be accepted without subscribing to his entire theological system.
Kinzer’s platform has been well articulated in this journal, so I will not summarize it. However, I do want to comment briefly on a few of its more critical planks.
THE ONGOING OBLIGATION OF MESSIANIC JEWS TO THE TORAH
One of the key planks in Kinzer’s platform is his belief that Messianic Jews are obligated to keep the Torah. Kinzer’s argument is not rooted in reasons of salvation or sanctification. Rather Kinzer believes that the Torah was given by God to the Jewish people to tell them how to live. Therefore, Messianic Jews should keep the Torah as a simple act of obedience.
Kinzer argues that Messianic Jews lived Torah-observant lives during the New Testament period. As such, he believes that Jewish believers today should follow that precedent. However, the hermeneutical method Kinzer uses to arrive at this conclusion is overly simplistic.
Jewish believers in the New Testament period did lead Torah observant lives, as that was the typical Jewish lifestyle of the day. This does not mean that this lifestyle choice was consciously made for theological reasons. Rather, their Torah observance was probably motivated by anthropological reasons, meaning that their example is not determinative for this issue.
It also concerns me that Kinzer does not comment on significant passages relating to the law such as Rom 7:1-6, Matt 5:17-18, Rom 10:4 and Gal 3. Further, he does not discuss the teaching of the book of Hebrews, especially Heb 10:1-5. The lack of discussion on these passages weakens his presentation.
I agree with Kinzer that the remnant should be visible, but Torah observance is not the only way to make us visible as Messianic Jews. Many within the Messianic Jewish and Jewish missions communities believe that the Abrahamic covenant (Gen 12:1-3) is a more foundational covenant. This covenant emphasizes our peoplehood, our relationship with the land and with God, and our vocational destiny as a light to the nations.
As such, I found it curious that Kinzer spent little time discussing the relationship of Messianic Jews to the land of Israel. Are we to believe that Messianic Jews who immigrate to Israel are falling short because they are not Torah observant?
I would suggest that Kinzer expand his understanding of Messianic Jewish identity to include a more nationalistic and socio-religious perspective; one that emphasizes a sense of fidelity to the people, the land, and the God of Israel. Such a view would not necessarily diminish the role of the Torah in our lives, but would avoid the mistake of making Torah observance the defining factor in Jewish or Messianic Jewish life and community.
JEWISH TRADITION AND DIVINE AUTHORITY
Though I lack the space to fully explore Kinzer’s view of rabbinic authority, I want to comment on his view of Jewish tradition and divine authority. He does an excellent job of weaving together Old and New Testament passages that develop the idea of solidarity between Israel and Jesus. However, the implications of Kinzer’s view are questionable.
Kinzer concludes from this solidarity that, historically, Yeshua has been “within” Israel (the Jewish community) and yet unrecognized. This is quite a theological leap. From this concept, Kinzer asserts that Yeshua’s unfailing presence in Israel mystically anointed the development of rabbinic Judaism, rendering it authoritative for Messianic Jews. This, too, is a theological stretch.
The primary passage Kinzer uses to support his argument is Matt 23:1-3. However, there are many passages in the New Testament where Jesus warns believers to beware of the rabbis’ teaching. To build a theology of obedience upon these questionable grounds is not only risky, but fails to maintain objectivity.
Certainly, various theologians have treated rabbinic Judaism in a harsh and negative way, and we should avoid repeating their mistakes. I believe it is possible to appreciate, study and benefit from rabbinic Judaism without accepting the entire rabbinic system as authoritative.
THE SALVATION OF JEWISH PEOPLE WITHOUT THE CONSCIOUS ACCEPTANCE OF YESHUA
Another plank in Kinzer’s platform seems to allow for the possible exception to the generally accepted basis for salvation: a conscious recognition of Yeshua as the Messiah of Israel. My assessment is drawn from his argumentation in chapter eight detailing the Jewish no to Yeshua as a yes to God. Though the basis for such a person’s salvation would still be the atoning death of Yeshua, Kinzer’s views on this important issue are not clear. As such, I would challenge the author to offer a more explicit explanation of his views on this very important matter, giving those of us who are critiquing his work more guidance in our analysis.
KINZER’S UNDERSTANDING OF EVANGELISM
I am most concerned about the plank in Kinzer’s platform that relates to Jewish evangelism. Kinzer’s post-missionary theology logically leads him to characterize proactive evangelism as inappropriate, unnecessary and somewhat counterproductive. I believe Kinzer is correct to address the ways in which evangelistic tactics have alienated Messianic Jews and evangelicals from the Jewish community. Those in Jewish missions need to take a sober look at our evangelistic work and the response of the Jewish community in order to measure our effectiveness.
Ultimately, Kinzer’s idea of how best to witness to Jewish people is similar to the traditional position of the mainline Jewish community. He recommends a more passive approach to evangelism, suggesting that the way we live as Jews, under the Torah, would in itself form the nexus of Messianic testimony to the Jewish community.
Kinzer’s position would effectively call upon believers to live faithful lives as their primary, and perhaps only, means of witness. We would no longer need to send “missionaries” to the Jewish people (or the Gentiles), encourage personal witnessing, or congregation-based evangelism programs.
While I agree that the believer’s best witness is his own faithfulness and love for others (John 17:20-24), the New Testament scriptures do speak of more proactive and direct evangelistic efforts. Kinzer does not discuss passages such as Matt 28:19-20, Acts 1:8, or even Rom 1:16. These are clear statements of Scripture regarding the nature of our witness.
The early Messianic Jews not only lived as Jews but also proclaimed the gospel. The sermons of Peter and Stephen are replete with appeals to repent and be saved. In addition, this early remnant took the gospel to Gentiles decidedly and intentionally, crossing cultures and language barriers to do so. The book of Acts and each of the missionary journeys of Paul must be viewed as a proactive evangelistic strategy to reach both Jews and Gentiles.
It is my suspicion that Kinzer is reacting against methods of evangelism that have alienated Jewish believers from the larger Jewish community, and rightfully so. Our modes of evangelism should be sensitive, loving, and ultimately more effective, not, as Kinzer suggests, eliminated entirely.
THE FUTURE OF MESSIANIC JUDAISM
Kinzer is correct in urging Jewish believers to take a new look at themselves. Though Kinzer is primarily writing to the church, I know that Kinzer’s book will challenge Messianic Jews like myself to rethink our understanding of who we are as Jews in the Messiah Yeshua. In addition, those of us who work in Jewish missions also need to reflect on our relationship to the Jewish community. Let me illustrate a few of the challenges Kinzer provides.
We cannot simply use Jewish observance or tradition as a way to appear more Jewish.
Kinzer makes it clear that Messianic Jews have a biblical obligation to be a visible part of the remnant. Though I have a different understanding of the covenantal basis by which a Jewish believer should continue to visibly identify, I agree with the principle.
For example, Jewish holidays provide a wonderful setting in which to present the Gospel to Jewish people. However, simply using the holidays for the purpose of preaching the Gospel will not encourage Messianic Jews to better appreciate their Jewish identity or fulfill their covenantal responsibility as part of the remnant (Rom 11:5).
Unfortunately, some people would characterize those who celebrate the Jewish holidays as a means of evangelistic outreach as dishonest, “luring in” unsuspecting Jewish people. This is a harsh judgment upon those who usually have a great love for Jewish people and want to reach them for the Messiah. Still, the Jewish believer who merely utilizes the holidays or Jewish tradition for the sake of evangelism is not going far enough. I am thankful to Kinzer for pointing this out through his book.
Jewish believers, especially those in the Jewish missions community, must be sensitive to and resist the temptation to present the Jewish community to the church in a negative light.
Books such as A. Lukyn Williams’ response to Faith Strengthened (by Isaac Ben Abraham of Troki), though brilliant, exemplify a type of Jewish missions literature that is especially negative toward the Jewish people. Every time a Jewish mission reports an incident where the Jewish community has been hostile towards Jewish believers and Jewish evangelism, the chasm between Messianic Jews and the rest of the Jewish community is widened.
A few years ago, I wrote just such an article, prompting a call from my friend Stuart Dauermann. He asked me to review what I had written and consider whether I was adding to the prejudices of some of our gentile Christian readers. I understood his point and have used this as a guide to my conscience ever since.
Messianic Jews and the Jewish missions community in particular should re-evaluate and seek to improve their relationship with the non-messianic Jewish community.
Kinzer is right to remind Messianic Jews to see themselves as part of the Jewish community and behave accordingly. There is no excuse to not be involved with the Jewish community wherever we can. As Messianic Jews, we must build better bridges with the larger Jewish community.
Let me illustrate. Every year in New York City there is a march down Fifth Avenue on Israel Independence Day. For years, I have viewed this as a witnessing opportunity rather than a way to identify with my people. This type of mentality must change. We are Jews and should rally for Israel regardless of the opportunity to have a direct gospel testimony. I find it questionable to overtly witness at an event sponsored by the Jewish community, unless asserting our messianic faith fits within the context of the event.
More positively, my wife and I attended a 9/11 memorial service at a synagogue on the Lower East Side. As I walked into this service, I immediately came face to face with my neighbor, a Reform rabbi who has never spoken to me in the 15 years I have lived next door to him! My participation in this service proved to be a more powerful witness than I could ever have engineered through a direct evangelistic strategy.
The Jewish missions community needs to start thinking as insiders rather than outsiders, and I believe this will empower our ministries to our people.
TOWARD THE FUTURE
There are many other areas where this thoughtful and provocative book has challenged me. Though I cannot accept Kinzer’s entire platform, he has offered us many valuable planks that warrant our consideration. I recommend that a theological consultation, focusing on the issues raised by Kinzer in this book, should be held in the near future for Messianic Jews of various stripes. The time has come for us to unite as members of the Jewish community; a remnant with a responsibility to the God who calls us his chosen people.
Mitch Glaser, Ph.D., is president of Chosen People Ministries.