In 1965, Nostra Aetate, the Roman Catholic statement on relationships with non-Christian faiths, declared that “the Jews should not be spoken of as rejected or accursed as if this followed from Holy Scripture.” On the fiftieth anniversary of Nostra Aetate, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks noted, “Today as a result, Jews and Catholics meet not as enemies but as cherished and respected friends.” More broadly, the peaceful and growing dialogue between Jewish and Christian scholars and religious leaders is a hallmark of the post-war religious world.
One of the factors that has made the dialogue possible is that both sides agree on a main point of distinction between them, which is whether or not to affirm Yeshua ha-Notzri, Jesus of Nazareth, as Israel’s promised Messiah. For most of the dialogue participants, this point of difference is the boundary, the “good fence” that allows Jews and Christians to be good neighbors. Dialogue is growing, but it seems to have this limit, perhaps self-imposed: many, probably most, on both sides agree that the person of Yeshua is the dividing point between them.
Thus, David Novak, an active participant in the dialogue, writes, “One cannot live as a Jew and a Christian simultaneously,” a claim that he expressed more fully in a 1999 lecture: “The best way to God, the one that ought not be exchanged for something less, is either by the Torah and the Jewish tradition or by Christ and the Church. The choice is unavoidable. One cannot accept Christ and still be part of the normative Jewish community; one cannot live by Torah and still be part of the Church.”
Messianic Jews, of course, deny that Novak’s choice is unavoidable. They not only insist on straddling this fence, but also celebrate their redrawing of boundaries. The Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations, for example, “envisions Messianic Judaism as a movement of Jewish congregations and groups committed to Yeshua the Messiah that embrace the covenantal responsibility of Jewish life and identity rooted in Torah, expressed in tradition, and renewed and applied in the context of the New Covenant.” In other words, the organization envisions a religious community that is both fully Jewish and fully committed to Yeshua as Messiah.
The established Jewish and Christian dialogue partners tend to question the legitimacy of self-declared Messianic Jews and have largely excluded them from the dialogue. From their perspective, it would seem doubtful whether Messianic Jews can make good neighbors because they ignore the good fence. Jews and Christians can dialogue, but they must remain distinct in their views about Yeshua as Messiah and, Novak points out, about the practice of Torah. Two recent books by Messianic Jewish scholars point to ways past this unbridgeable distinction, and in doing so provide a powerful apologetic for a Messianic Judaism that is faithful both to Yeshua as the promised Messiah and to the unique calling of the Jewish people. In addition, both books present a bracing challenge to today’s Messianic Jewish community, and both are essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the significance and direction of this community.
In Healing the Schism: Barth, Rosenzweig, and the New Jewish-Christian Encounter, Jen Rosner writes about a “new Jewish-Christian encounter” that goes beyond “merely . . . sharing across mutually agreed upon communal and doctrinal boundaries [such as the one articulated by Novak]; in many ways, it is a fundamental redrawing of these historically entrenched boundaries.” Throughout Healing the Schism, Rosner explores the theological foundations and credibility for such redrawing, and in doing so strengthens the validity of Messianic Judaism as a Yeshua-affirming community within the wider Jewish community.
In Converging Destinies: Jews, Christians, and the Mission of God, Rabbi Stuart Dauermann provides a model for redrawing the boundaries based on mission rather than theological exploration (although Dauermann provides a solid theological footing for his model). He sees the missions of the church and of Israel as ultimately converging. Yeshua of Nazareth, instead of being the boundary-marker in dialogue, will ultimately be the one to resolve the estrangement between Judaism and Christianity. “[T]he mission of each group is to present to their respective audiences a vision of who Jesus is.” The destination of Jewish-Christian dialogue and reconciliation according to Dauermann is shared mission, or better, complementary missions in shared submission to the God of Israel through Messiah Yeshua.
In comparing the two books it could be said that Rosner’s focus is more present-day while Dauermann’s is future, although both books have implications for the present and the future. Rosner defends the present reality of a Jewish remnant of Messiah Yeshua living alongside both the church and the Jewish people, and Dauermann articulates a vision of the future in which the church and the Jewish people as a whole serve the mission of God through Messiah Yeshua.
Rosner opens by tracing four “seismic events” in recent history that have prepared the way for new models of relationship between Christianity and Judaism:
• The demise of the Christendom paradigm, “in which the church was positioned as the spiritual sponsor of Western civilization,” according to Scott Bader-Saye.
• The Holocaust, described by Bader-Saye as “the systematic attempt by a ‘Christian nation’ to eradicate the Jews.”
• Creation of the modern state of Israel, with the attendant “theological significance of this political event.”
• Finally, the emergence of the Messianic Jewish movement, whose adherents “refuse to accept a mutually exclusive construal of these two religious traditions, and [whose] communities tangibly embody this posture.”
In her conclusion Rosner writes, “These key events, the magnitude of which cannot be overestimated, frame not only my particular reflections but also a new chapter in Jewish-Christian relations more broadly.”
This “new chapter” includes a Messianic Jewish community that embodies loyalty both to Jewish life and tradition and to Messiah Yeshua. But the question remains whether such dual loyalty is true to Scripture and to interpretations and applications of Scripture sustained by both the Jewish and Christian communities for millennia. In response to this question Rosner explores “the christological and ecclesiological revisions that have accompanied and provoked” this new understanding. She examines the thinking of several key Jewish and Christian thinkers who are exploring ways past the either-or divide, posing this question, based on the work of Catholic theologian Bruce Marshall, of each one: “To what extent does his or her thought affirm (or contribute to the affirmation of) both the universal, ecclesially mediated saving mission of Christ [the christological issue] and the irrevocable election of the Jewish people, which necessarily includes the ongoing practice of Judaism [the ecclesiological issue]?”
This framing question provides a solid foundation for the entire book, and Rosner builds upon it with great thoroughness and clarity. Three components of this foundation are especially worthy of note:
1. It’s a “both-and” framework, in contrast with the normative “either-or” position that has shaped Jewish-Christian dialogue in the past. It affirms both the universal saving mission of Messiah Yeshua and the irrevocable election of the Jewish people.
2. It insists on a high Christology, with Yeshua’s messianic status and role as universal. This precludes the sort of two-covenant approach based on the work of Jewish theologian Franz Rosenzweig, whom Rosner explores in her second chapter, which affirms Jesus as Messiah for the gentiles but not for the Jews. The both-and framework encompasses Messiah Yeshua’s saving mission for all humankind.
3. It affirms that Jewish election necessarily includes continuing Jewish practice, including Jewish practice among those professing faith in Messiah. As Bruce Marshall, the source for Rosner’s framing question cited above, writes,
The irrevocable election of the Jewish people evidently requires the permanence of their religion. . . . In permanently electing Israel, it seems that God has also permanently willed the practice of Judaism.
The question that Healing the Schism addresses is whether this sort of both-and Messianic Jewish identity, which affirms both a high Christology and ongoing Jewish practice, can withstand careful theological reflection, and be sustained in real life. As we’ll see, Rosner puts forth Mark Kinzer’s Messianic Jewish theology as a major step toward reconciling high Christology and ongoing Jewish practice, a theology that she believes must still be proven in the real life of Messianic Jewish congregations.
Converging Destinies considers the Jewish-Christian relationship from the perspective of missio dei, the mission of God, which Dauermann defines simply as “what God is up to in the world.” He claims that both Israel as a people and the church have a mission, or more accurately that both have a part in the mission of God and that participation in this mission is the destiny of each. Eventually, in Messiah Yeshua, Israel and the church will come together to fulfill the mission—hence the title Converging Destinies.
On the way to this convergence, Dauermann claims, God’s unique love for Israel remains constant. Accordingly, Converging Destinies opens with a thorough presentation of the meaning of Israel’s election, drawing on contemporary Christian as well as Jewish thinking to dismantle Christian supersessionism (“replacement theology”). Dauermann argues against the widespread Christian portrayal of Israel as chosen to be a means to an end, that is, to bring forth the Messiah and the plan of redemption, and then fade away. Rather, Israel is chosen out of God’s unique and inexplicable love. Hence, Israel and the church are meant to be partners, to “help each other to discern and serve the missio dei, hastening the consummation of all things.” Dauermann warns however, “This can only happen if and as the church repudiates supersessionism’s self-congratulation, speaking words of sincere repentance affirming Israel as first in God’s heart, and because of this, still his means of blessing to those who will bless and not curse them (Gen 12:3; Nu 23:8; 24:1–9).”
In his second chapter, Dauermann treats “Western Christian Theologizing as a Skewed Tradition.” He takes on contemporary Protestant luminaries like the late John R.W. Stott and N.T. Wright, claiming that their work lines up with traditional Christian supersessionism. Dauermann charges this doctrine with presenting another Jesus, another people of God, and another consummation than the Jesus, people of God, and consummation portrayed in Scripture. This chapter, like the rest of the book, however, is not anti-Christian per se. Dauermann cites numerous contemporary Christian writers, most notably Douglas Harink, to support and defend his critique of supersessionism.
In the next chapter, “Jewish Missiological Perspectives and the Christian Other,” Dauermann discusses Jewish concepts of mission. Many readers will find this chapter surprising, because it traces a positive sense of mission, and even at times of proselytizing, within Jewish tradition. This sense of mission includes outreach in some form to the “Christian other.” In support of this idea, Dauermann cites The Kuzari, by twelfth-century poet Yehudah HaLevi, who “sees all religions after the giving of the law at Sinai as part of the process of all humanity coming toward and into the truth of Judaism.” Judaism and Christianity, then, have missions to each other, but Dauermann emphasizes that they also have missions with each other. This is the core meaning of “converging destinies,” as Dauermann suggests in his Prologue:
[T]he progress of the mission of God, what God is up to in the world, necessarily involves Israel and the church coming out from the marginality to which each has consigned the other so as to discover and to serve converging destinies in the mission of God.
Referring to both the church and the Messianic Jewish community, Dauermann writes,
[T]he mission to which God calls us is far broader than delivering a message. It is also an invitation to engage with him in “uniting all things in Christ,” bringing nearer that day when the wolf will lie down with the lamb, embodying and hastening that unity between Israel and the church currently existing in a state of schism destined to be healed. Anything that hastens or foreshadows that healing is part of God’s mission for all concerned. . . . Mission together is part of our converging destinies.
Converging Destinies, then, is more than a title, but a new eschatological paradigm, a compelling picture of the goal of the age in which we live.
Despite their different emphases, Healing the Breach and Converging Destinies have much in common, as they explore new models for understanding the relationship between the church and the Jewish people. One commonality is that both draw heavily upon the work of Messianic Jewish theologian Mark Kinzer, and seek to build upon it.
Rosner’s chapter on Mark Kinzer is the culmination of her analysis of current theologians in light of Marshall’s question: To what extent does his or her thought affirm both the universal, ecclesially mediated saving mission of Christ and the irrevocable election of the Jewish people, which necessarily includes the ongoing practice of Judaism? She highlights “[p]erhaps the most novel aspect of Kinzer’s thought,” which is “relevant to providing a workable answer to Marshall’s question,” namely that Kinzer provides the theological grounding for a “Torah-observant Messianic Judaism [which] allows us to simultaneously affirm the universal applicability of Christ’s mission and call to discipleship without undermining or eclipsing Israel’s unique covenantal vocation.” This Torah-observant Messianic Judaism rests on “the capstone of [Kinzer’s] entire theological system,” which he terms “bilateral ecclesiology in solidarity with Israel.”
This bilateral ecclesiology captures the idea that Jewish Yeshua-followers, who are members of the ekklesia by virtue of their trust in Yeshua, also remain part of the people Israel, loyal to “those traditional Jewish practices that identify the Jewish people as a distinct community chosen and loved by God.” Since gentile Yeshua-followers need not adopt Jewish practice, the ekklesia comprises two sub-groups, Jewish and gentile, joined together through their union with Messiah Yeshua. Rosner believes that Kinzer’s bilateral model requires more discussion and development, but is uniquely capable of honoring both Jewish and Christian core convictions, affirming “the universal applicability of Christ’s mission and call to discipleship without undermining or eclipsing Israel’s unique covenantal vocation.” This model opens up an entire level of the “new Jewish-Christian encounter,” which is the subject of Healing the Breach.
Rosner details ways in which Kinzer’s model needs further development, and Dauermann provides one specific avenue of development. Chapter eight of Converging Destinies is subtitled, “Bilateral Ecclesiology and Postsupersessionist Missiology as Inseparable Jewels.” Dauermann affirms and builds upon Kinzer’s work, but also finds in it a “flaw”—its failure “to clearly define and explore a postsupersessionist missiology compatible with his bilateral ecclesiology.” Dauermann believes that this flaw has contributed to the misunderstanding of Kinzer’s work within significant segments of the Messianic Jewish community. In response he claims that Kinzer does not intend “postmissionary” to be construed as “non-missional,” and cites Kinzer’s own words to that effect: “In a strictly theological sense, neither Israel nor the Christian church can cease to be ‘missionary’ without losing its own identity.” The Messianic Jewish community can repudiate the sort of mission that views Jews as inherently lost and estranged from God’s purposes and that comes from outside the Jewish world to rescue them. But the Messianic Jewish community can embrace a mission for Messiah Yeshua within Israel. Postmissionary is not post-mission. Dauermann builds upon Kinzer’s work to support his model of converging destinies, in which Jews and Christians are united in pursuit of the mission of God.
In her conclusion, Rosner cites the proposal of Bruce Marshall “that perhaps the church’s faith in Christ and Israel’s observance of Torah point to one and the same eschatological telos and await one and the same coming Messiah.” This proposal seems to glimpse the converging destinies envisioned by Dauermann. Rosner responds, “However, this option seems problematic because it erects and relies upon a certain barrier between Israel and the church.” It’s not altogether clear what this “certain barrier” is, but I believe it’s the idea that separation between Israel and the church remains in place until the eschatological telos and the arrival of the “one and the same coming Messiah.” In contrast, Rosner sees Kinzer’s version of Messianic Judaism as a concrete, present-tense expression of the new Jewish-Christian encounter, which affirms simultaneously the core values of both Judaism and Christianity. This vision gives rise to the unavoidable challenge with which Rosner concludes:
If the kinds of communities that Kinzer is advocating prove somehow unsustainable, this will be a direct reflection upon the theological paradigm undergirding both those communities. However, if such communities continue to grow and thrive, perhaps this will be an additional sign that Messianic Judaism does indeed have a unique and significant contribution to make.
Dauermann’s conclusion—and challenge—reflect the passion that suffuses his whole book. Throughout the book Dauermann engages with often-complex theological material, but never hides his own deep convictions. This quality keeps the book readable and relevant, especially in its call for renewed Messianic Jewish outreach to all Israel, or “inreach,” as he puts it. Dauermann develops his “postsupersessionist missiology” with great thoroughness and theological acumen, but never allows it to become dry and abstract. Instead, he builds toward a compelling challenge:
Can we who name the name of Yeshua in faith and love justify being ambivalent or lax in responding to his tears and anguish over that people whom he especially loves, as expressed in his cry, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem. . . . How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not?” No, our concerns will resonate with his, and his longing will be ours to see that this people might say with fullness of heart, “Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord.”
In his concluding chapter Dauermann reinforces this challenge with “keywords, key concepts, and key practices” that will make his paradigm “stand up and walk.”These recommendations to the Messianic Jewish community include: seeing itself as a prophetic movement within the wider Jewish world rather than a mission movement; seeking opportunities for partnership with the wider Jewish world in “matters of common concern” ; affirming “the church from among the nations and its missionary mandate” to the gentiles, while pursuing its own mission within Israel; and renewal of prayer and biblical study in light of the converging destinies model.
Converging Destinies envisions a future when the destinies of Israel and the ekklesia converge. Along with Healing the Breach, it also pictures a present in which that convergence is embodied in a Messianic Jewish community loyal to Israel and its way of life and to Yeshua as the promised and divine Messiah of Israel.
1 https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2015/10/nostra-aetate-fifty-years-on, accessed 11/13/17.
2 Cited in Jennifer M. Rosner, Healing the Schism: Barth, Rosenzweig, and the New Jewish-Christian Encounter (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015), 43.
3 David Novak, “Edith Stein: Apostate Saint” (https://www.firstthings.com/article/1999/10/edith-stein-apostate-saint) accessed 8/15/17.
4 http://www.umjc.org/core-values/defining-messianic-judaism/, accessed 8/15/17.
5 Rosner, 31.
6 Stuart Dauermann, Converging Destinies: Jews, Christians, and the Mission of God (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2017).
7 Dauermann, 83.
8 Rosner, 2–3
9 Ibid., 293.
10 Ibid., 4. Emphasis added.
11 Ibid., 11.
12 Ibid., 9–10, citing Bruce Marshall, “Elder Brothers: John Paul II’s Teaching on the Jewish People as a Question to the Church,” in John Paul II and the Jewish People: A Jewish-Christian Dialogue, ed. David G. Dalin and Matthew Levering (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008), 113–129.
13 Dauermann, 5.
14 Ibid. 44.
15 Ibid., 57f.
16 Ibid., 68. Dauermann continues with an extended citation of Rabbi Ya’akov Emden (1697-1776), calling on Christians to “observe that which was commanded to you by your first teachers,” and support the Jews in their loyal observance of the Torah. Emden concludes this passage, “the Gentile who does not observe the 613 commandments, but supports it, is considered among the blessed.”
17 Ibid., 5.
18 Ibid., 125–126.
19 Rosner, 284.
20 Ibid., 277.
21 Ibid., citing Mark Kinzer, Post-missionary Messianic Judaism: Redefining Christian Engagement with the Jewish People (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2005), 151.
22 Ibid., 284–85.
23 Dauermann, 191.
24 Ibid., 197, citing Kinzer, “Rejoinder to Responses to Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism,” which appeared in the journal Kesher, specifics not provided.
25 Rosner, 296.
26 Ibid., 296–297.
27 Ibid., 300.
28 Dauermann, 199–206.
29 Ibid., 205–206, referencing Matt. 23:37–39.
30 Ibid., 242ff.