Postmissionary Messianic Jewish Outreach
Missionary statesman and missiologist Lesslie Newbigin suggests we think of mission as “an action in which the Holy Spirit does new things, and brings into being new obedience.”1 This dynamic insight challenges those who name the name of Yeshua to ask what new thing the Holy Spirit is doing today and what new obedience he is seeking to engender in the church, the Messianic Jewish movement, and the Jewish people. These questions are especially pressing considering indications that we are living in changing, even eschatological times.
It is the thesis of this article that thejuxtaposition of changing times and altered perspectives regarding the purposes of God for the Jewish people and the church call for the Messianic Jewish remnant of Israel to reconceive and redefine the mission task in keeping with a post-missionary, non-supersessionist paradigm. Consider the following:
- We are living at a time of pivotal change for the Jewish People and the church. In keeping with the thrust of prophecy and the apostolic writings, especially Rom 9-11, it seems clear that we are at least approaching, if not already in, the time of transition when God’s own agenda will increasingly focus upon a final renewal of the descendants of Jacob (the fullness of Israel) with significant implications for the church and its pursuit of the Great Commission (the fullness of the nations/gentiles). This begs for adjustments from both the church and the Messianic Jewish remnant in order to be faithful to our respective roles in facilitating the consummation of all things.
- This eschatological renewal of the Jewish people should not be regarded as the projection of some overheated apocalyptic fantasy, but rather as the expected and historically demonstrable outworking of God’s election and covenantal purposes.
- For the Messianic Jewish remnant, this turning of the wheel of God’s dealings resulting in a new redemptive focus upon the Jewish people necessitates a postmissionary Messianic Jewish missiology. While the underpinnings of this paradigm have been set forth in Mark Kinzer’s Postmissionary Messianic Judaism: Redefining Christian Engagement With the Jewish People, this article explores the missiological implications of the paradigm, especially as it effects Messianic Judaism’s relationship with the wider Jewish world (inreach), the nations, and the church (outreach).2
- I am proposing that the Messianic Jewish remnant is called to be a sign, a demonstration and a catalyst of God’s consummating purposes for the descendants of Jacob. This in turn necessitates examining what those consummating purposes are, resulting in a reconfigured definition of Messianic Jewish mission.
- Classical supersessionism favors a concept of the eternal state wherein ethnicity is no longer a factor, and all of humankind is conceived of as disembodied individuals, fixated, awestruck, and wonder focused on the throne of God. This is termed “Spiritual Vision Eschatology.” In contrast to this, the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm favors a non-supersessionist missiology linked to a New Creation Eschatology informed by ample biblical data representing the eternal state as the peoples of the earth, gathered as peoples, tongues, tribes and nations in their ethnic specificity, glorifying God not as disembodied spirits but as glorified, resurrected humanity, united in the worship of God, yet bearing forever the characteristics of their creational differentiation in the context of a renewed creation. This has worldview implications both for the church and for the Messianic Jewish community.
- The Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm helps us to see how missions to the Jews has long been skewed due to supersessionist assumptions, even where supersessionism has been formally disavowed. This calls for a reexamination and repudiation of practices and perspectives tainted by supersessionism, and a reconfigured concept of mission in keeping with a postmissionary, non-super-sessionist paradigm hastening the consummation of all things.
- Adopting such a paradigm leads to a productive revivification and reconfiguration of modern missiological thought which will result in renewed vigor in pursuit of the Great Commission and a paradigm shift in situating the mission enterprise within a better understanding of the broader agenda of God.
Although most people agree that the Jewish people will experience a spiritual renewal, a major eschatological revival, in the latter days, few have asked, “What shape will this renewal take?” This is the major question to be explored in this article. I am advocating a paradigm shift: a fundamental change in viewpoint that generates new questions and new answers. It also results in the expiration of formerly prevailing paradigms. This paradigm shift includes fundamental changes in perspective in what we mean by effective Messianic Jewish outreach.
Older Expiring Paradigms
Changing times bring a change in paradigms. And with a change in paradigms comes the expiration of those formerly in effect. Among these expiring paradigms of the standard Jewish missions approach is the one that conceives of outreach as primarily a matter of making the sale, or closing the deal. In our evangelicalized culture, we are too wedded to a sales model of outreach. We make our pitch to the person to whom we are “witnessing,” sometimes referred to as the “contact.” We know we have closed the “sale” when the “contact” prays to “accept Messiah as their personal savior.” Forgive me, but this sounds too much like a person buying a car and signing on the dotted line.
Another inadequate concept of outreach sees it primarily in terms of increasing the size of our congregational population. Outreach then becomes not so much a matter of sales, as a matter of advertising. This model is similar to various communications approaches to “witnessing.” Here again the emphasis is on numbers, on statistics, on the bottom line.
Confrontational approaches are hardly more satisfactory. These seem to vitiate the very nature of the kingdom message, robbing it of its relational spirit. Such approaches are overly message-centered while too often tending to treat respectful and real relationships as secondary or purely utilitarian. I remember a woman telling me that she could always expect a phone call from “her missionary” on Thursday night, because Friday was the day when statistical reports had to be reported to mission officials. This kind of utilitarian approach, which cares about the message, while treating the recipients as a means to other ends, is far from satisfactory. We recognize that this kind of approach does violence to the deeply relational nature of the God, who is altogether good, and His good news. This too is an approach that is expiring, and deservedly so.
All of these approaches are inadequate because they are products of our Western market mentality; they are not transcendent but limited cultural artifacts. Ought not one to question as well standard approaches to Jewish evangelism which treat as axiomatic Judaism’s assumed spiritual bankruptcy and inability to meet the spiritual needs of its adherents and which postulate the certain and universal perdition of all Jews who fail to accept the evangelist’s message? Even on purely pragmatic grounds, predicating one’s gospel “pitch” on selling one’s contact on the inadequacy of the Jewish religious heritage will at best, severely limit one’s potential audience to those prepared to so disparage their ancestral faith. And, among other problems with the “find heaven/avoid hell approach” is the fact that such an approach is not once demonstrated in the practice of the apostles preaching to their Jewish peers.
Changing the Paradigm
Is there a better paradigm for effective Messianic Jewish outreach that does greater justice to Scripture’s foundations for an understanding of Messianic Jewish outreach in these times of eschatological change?
Most certainly there is. At the very least we need a new definition of Messianic Jewish outreach such as this one: Messianic Jewish outreach is the remnant of Israel being what it should be and doing what it should do with respect to God’s consummating purposes for the descendants of Jacob .
We Messianic Jews are used to thinking of ourselves as the remnant of Israel. It is perhaps better to term ourselves the Messianic Jewish remnant, since, for us, as for Elijah, the full composition of the remnant is hidden from view. Despite much remnant rhetoric in our circles, little if any attention has been paid to the responsibilities of the Messianic Jewish remnant. Those responsibilities include at least the following:
- The Messianic Jewish remnant is supposed to serve as a sign that God has a continuing purpose for the Jewish people.
- The Messianic Jewish remnant is supposed to be a demonstration of that purpose: a sort of “preview of coming attractions.”
- The Messianic Jewish remnant is supposed to be a catalyst assisting greater Israel toward that divine purpose.3
God’s Consummating Purposes for the Descendents of Jacob
What does Scripture say about God’s consummating purposes for the descendants of Jacob? Repeatedly and often Scripture portrays God’s ultimate purpose for Israel in terms of a national return to covenant faithfulness as manifest in Torah obedience. Frequently, this return to covenant faithfulness is linked to the return of our people to the land. One text among many where the eschatological scenario for the Jewish people is sketched out for us is the 30th chapter of Deuteronomy. Notice the repeated linkage of return to the Lord, return to the land, and return to the law, that is, to Torah obedience.
Now it shall come to pass, when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the LORD your God drives you, and you return to the LORD your God and obey His voice, according to all that I command you today, you and your children, with all your heart and with all your soul, that the LORD your God will bring you back from captivity, and have compassion on you, and gather you again from all the nations where the LORD your God has scattered you. . . And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live . . . And you will again obey the voice of the LORD and do all His commandments which I command you today. The LORD your God will make you abound in all the work of your hand. . . if you obey the voice of the LORD your God, to keep His commandments and His statutes which are written in this Book of the Law, and if you turn to the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.
Another example is the very familiar and central Messianic Jewish text, Jeremiah 31:31 ff., where again, renewal of the people is expressed in a return to Torah obedience:
The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt-a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
Perhaps the strongest prophetic text on this end-time return to the Lord, to the land, and to the law, is found in Ezek 36, beginning at verse 24. This text reads like a checklist of Jewish eschatology:
For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land . (Regathering: Most Messianic Jews are prepared to say “Amen” to this: Hallelujah, we believe in the regathering of our people to the land). Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols . (Renewal: We are likewise prepared to say “Amen” to this national spiritual renewal as well). I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh . (We say “Hallelujah” to this as well: national regeneration . . . a new heart of stone instead of a heart of flesh).
But then things get “difficult,”at least for some of us wedded to an old and expiring paradigm, such as many in the Jewish mission culture:
I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them . (Here is where many apply their brakes. But is it not clear that this return to the Lord, this return to the land, is evidenced and accompanied by a return to the commandments God gave to our people? This is all signed, sealed, and delivered through an “inclusio,” a verse ending this section which echoes what was said at the beginning of the section). Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be My people, and I will be your God . Nothing could be clearer: return to the Lord, return to the land and return to the law of God are all joined in Scripture.
In the Newer Testament, Rom 11 further explores aspects of the purpose for the descendants of Jacob. Romans 9-11 ends in a doxology of astonishment. Paul is astonished at the surprising outworking of God’s consummating purposes. Who would have guessed that the people of Israel would turn down their Messiah when God sent him? And who would have guessed that the nations of the world would come to a living relationship with the God of Israel without having to become Jews first? And who would have guessed that at the end of history, God would bring the Jewish people back to himself in covenant faithfulness through this same Messiah. This return would include Jews returning to God in the context of Jewish life, in the power of the Spirit, and through the very same Messiah through whom the nations of the world turned to this same God, while for their part, not having been required to embrace Jewish life. How astounding! How miraculous! How unexpectedly and uniquely the work of God!
Is it not clear that this is what is astonishing the apostle? Or do we imagine that the best God can pull off at the end of history, when “all Israel will be saved,” is that massive numbers of Jews will become Baptists, Pentecostals, or Presbyterians? To just ask the question is to answer it. We must remember that in Rom 9-11, Paul is contrasting Israel and the nations as aggregates. He is not speaking of Gentile and Jewish individuals, but of these respective groups, the same dyad as is found throughout Scripture: Israel and the nations.
God’s final act toward the Jews will be directed to us as a people. He will bring the Jewish people to covenant faithfulness to himself through the one despised by the nation (Isa 49; Zech 12; Isa 53). I believe at the end of history God will make two great facts crystal clear, despite the widespread denial that has historically prevailed. Yeshua, whom Isaiah refers to as “the one despised by the nation,” the one “despised and rejected by men,” will be demonstrated to be everlastingly God’s beloved one;and Israel, the nation so long despised by the nations, will be demonstrated to be God’s beloved, his chosen people. Therefore, as part of the remnant of Israel, the outreach responsibility of the Messianic Jewish remnant includes the following:
- Our outreach is accomplished as we serve as a sign that God has a continuing purpose for the Jews, a consummating purpose of a national turning to renewed covenant faithfulness in obedience to Torah in the power of the Spirit through Yeshua the Messiah.
- Our outreach is accomplished as we verify communally that we are a demonstration of that purpose, an anticipation, a preview of that covenant faithfulness that will one day be true of all Israel: a return to Torah-life in the power of the Holy Spirit and to the honor of Yeshua the Messiah
- Our outreach is accomplished as we catalyze and assist greater Israel toward that divine purpose.
What Difference Will It Make?
If this analysis of Scripture is true, what will be the results for how we pursue outreach?
First, outreach will no longer be adversarial and confrontational. We will commend all religious Jewish efforts toward Torah-based covenant faithfulness. We will seek to assist and applaud all efforts by religious Jews to honor God in the context of Torah.4
Second, we ourselves will form communities committed to this kind of Torah-based covenant faithfulness, for we could not be faithful to our remnant responsibility unless we served as a sign, demonstration and catalyst of this kind of faithfulness with respect to God’s consummating purpose for all Israel. Surely our Torah faithfulness would have its own unique aspects due to the impact of Yeshua and the Apostolic Writings on our halacha, our honoring of Yeshua, and our experience of the Spirit. Yet, we would live lives in continuity with historic Jewish practice and precedent.
Third, our mission to the wider religious Jewish world would be to advocate faith in Yeshua and the power of the Spirit as the divine means toward their own greater covenant faithfulness. This moves outreach beyond simply individual soul salvation. We would be seeking to take the wider Jewish religious world further in the direction in which they are already heading-in the power of the Spirit and through Yeshua the Messiah.
Fourth, in addition to affirming and yet further catalyzing and challenging religious Jews, our ministry to secularized Jews would be very strong: to call them back to the God of our ancestors and the ways of our ancestors, and a call back to Jewish community through Yeshua the Messiah in the power of the Spirit.
Fifth, the support of church people for our efforts would involve their applauding us for being fully Jewish in practice and in community rather than wooing us to be more like themselves. They would realize that moving deeper into Jewish life is our divine destiny and our remnant responsibility.
Sixth, we would be returning to a communal concept of outreach rather than an individualistic one. Our communities, living in covenant faithfulness, would be missional magnets.
Why is the Postmissionary Messianic Jewish Outreach Paradigm Important?
This paradigm is important for the following reasons:
- It better aligns Messianic Jewish outreach with the revealed purposes of God for the Jewish people.
- It is an antidote to culturally determined and limited sales-oriented approaches to the task such as closing the sale, confronting the avoidant, and filling the pews.
- It instantly neutralizes the adversarial posture that we have inherited from generations past which ill-serves the greater purposes of God.
- It articulates a call to the Jewish people to a return to covenant faithfulness that we must heed ourselves.
- It challenges us to expand and reevaluate the role of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our congregations, “And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances” (Ezek 36:27). Contrary to those whose reflex is to polarize the life of the Spirit and commandment-keeping, the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm calls for a return to that biblical perspective which sees the life of the Spirit and command-ment-keeping as coordinate.
- It provides an enduring theological framework for vigorously supporting and participating in Aliyah for others and ourselves. We would see Aliyah, and support of our people in the land, as hastening the end through accommodating ourselves to the foreordained shape of the consummation.
- It provides better, transcendent motivations for our outreach: obedience to God, responsiveness to the times, and a zeal for God’s honor, rather than questionable motivations more commonly used in the Jewish missions world. As mentioned earlier, one looks in vain in apostolic preaching for even one instance of a gospel appeal to Jews based upon “find heaven, avoid hell.” However, this approach is a test of orthodoxy among purveyors of the standard Jewish missions paradigm. We must also abandon the habit of basing our gospel presentation to the Jewish people on their own alleged “neediness” and “spiritual bankruptcy.” This habit of disparagement and discounting of Jewish sancta and piety is foreign to the ethos of the Newer Testament and is the bitter legacy of early-church anti-Judaism. Can you imagine a Jewish missions newsletter with this banner headline about religious Jews: “They earnestly serve God night and day,” (Acts 26:7)? Hardly! Instead of basing our evangelism of Jewish people on their alleged spiritual poverty and categorical perdition, let us instead base it on this one splendid fact: The Messiah has come, and he is coming again . His name is Yeshua, and he is the best possible good news for Israel and the nations . And let us heed the advice of none other than the great missiologist Johannes Verkuyl, who names as three primary motivations for mission: the doxological motive (in our terms, kiddush Hashem, the sanctification of God’s Name); the eschatological motive (in our terms, acharit hayamim, the end of days), involving pursuit of that fullness suitable to the consummation; and obedience to the divine command (in our terms, avodat Hashem, service/obedience to God). These are the very motivations Yeshua taught us to make our own when he said, “Hallowed be Thy Name” (kiddush Hashem), “Thy Kingdom come” (acharit hayamim-the eschatological motive), and “Thy will be done” (avodat Hashem– service/obedience to God).5These motivations would seem to be not less but more than those commonly driving the Jewish missions enterprise in our day, and form the firm foundation of postmissionary Messianic Jewish outreach, which is not anti-missionary, and thus opposing older paradigms, but postmissionary, calling for a transcending of paradigms proving to be outmoded and inadequate in favor of more robust motivations better suited to the times. And finally,
- It is important because it addresses the greatest obstacle to effectiveness in Messianic Jewish outreach.
The greatest obstacle to effectiveness in Messianic Jewish outreach is the widespread assimilation of Jewish Yeshua-believers. Even the secular Jewish community has a right to assume that when the Messiah comes, he will make Jewish people into better Jews. When the perceived effect of faith in Yeshua is that Jewish Yeshuabelievers become assimilated and indifferent to Jewish life and community, the Jewish community has a right to say: “Don’t be ridiculous! Put your Bibles away and don’t waste your time trying to convince us! What kind of a Messiah makes goyim out of Jews?” This objection has all the logic in the world behind it. But our own return to Jewish covenant faithfulness, which is the will of God for the Messianic Jewish remnant and for all Israel, has the added benefit of rendering this objection null and void.
Some protest that most Jews today are not religiously observant, and that we ought therefore to abandon such a vision of Torah-true Messianic Judaism in favor of one more marketable to today’s secular Jews. The answer to this objection is manifold.6 First, we are not engaged in sales, but in prophetic faithfulness. We are not simply called to sell what will sell but to speak in his name. Second, we ought not forget that the Jesus revolution of the late 1960s and early 1970s came during the era of “Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll,” a time manifestly ill-suited to a young people’s revival. And yet, that is what we had. Therefore, in accordance with the promise of the prophetic word and the precedent of the Spirit’s action, how can we not anticipate and seek to be a sign, demonstration, and catalyst of a renewal of covenant faithfulness among our people Israel, hastening the consummation of all things? Is it not clear that we are being called to sacrificial faithfulness to this kind of vision, grounded as it is in the Scriptures?
The following choices remain for the church and for the Messianic Jewish movement:
- To affirm older paradigms by failing to adopt a new one, thus consigning our efforts to being anachronistic and ineffective, thus being agents of Jewish assimilation and communal dissolution, or
- To assist Jewish people in pursuing covenant faithfulness, advocating faith in Yeshua the Messiah and the power of the Spirit as the divine means toward that end.
Moses reminded us, “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses . . . therefore choose life.” The challenge to the church and to the Messianic Jewish world is to make choices that are life-giving to the covenant community of Jacob. And the challenge to the Messianic Jewish remnant is to see ourselves not as a missionary movement of emissaries from another context coming to the Jewish community with a new, even life-saving message, but rather, through Yeshua the Messiah and in the power of the Spirit, to see ourselves as a prophetic movement, from within our own context calling our own people as well as ourselves to return to the Lord, to return to the land, and to return to that covenant faithfulness, which yet remains the divinely-chosen indicator both of our love for the one we claim to honor and of that eschatological renewal long awaited by prophets, apostles, and faithful Israel. “Cause us to return to you O Lord, and we shall return, renew our days as of old” (Lam 5:21).
- Newbigin, Lesslie Newbigin, The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 139.
- In keeping with the editorial decisions of the Kesher editors, this article refers to missional activity toward the Jewish people as outreach . However, Mark Kinzer prefers to refer to such action as inreach, to distinguish it from that term describing our mission to the church, for which he reserves the term outreach . To these terms I would add a third, para-mission, which names our enthusiastic support of the church in her outreach to the nations, yet without losing focus on our primary and eschatological call to our own people as the Messianic Jewish Remnant.
- This breakdown of the responsibilities of the remnant is based on Dan G. Johnson, “The Structure and Meaning of Romans 11,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 46(1), 1984: 91-103. Herein he demonstrates that Scripture presents two different modalities of remnant identity, one being survivors of a time of judgment, the second being, as here, the seed from which God’s continuing purposes will be realized, serving as a sign, demonstration and catalyst of those purposes. In addition to tracing these divergent uses of the term in the writings of Isaiah and Romans, he points out how the verb form used in Gen 7:23, “only Noach was left (vayisha’er ach noach), along with those who were with him in the ark,” is related to the noun sh’erit (remnant). Just as Noach, his family, and the animals in the ark were a sign of God’s continuing purpose for the earth, so is the remnant meant to be a sign, demonstration and catalyst of God’s continuing purposes for Israel.
- Some wrongly imagine that the perspective being advocated here envisions making all Messianic Jews into Orthodox Jews. Hardly! What is advocated is a covenantally faithful observant Messianic Judaism, and not all observant Jews are Orthodox. In view of our loyalty to the teachings of Yeshua and the apostolic writings, as we awaken to the responsibility to be covenantally faithful, and thus observant, our community will have to do much work exploring issues of continuity and discontinuity concerning our practice and that of the wider Jewish community of which we are a part. We will need to engage in a responsible and ongoing halachic project appropriate to our continuity with the Jewish tradition and our unique perspective as Messianic Jews. The Torah of God is no straight jacket, and I would be ecstatic to live as part of a broad community serving as a foretaste, a sign, a demonstration, and a catalyst of that observant Messianic Judaism which is our prophetic destiny and missional responsibility. May it come speedily and soon!
- Verkuyl, Johannes. Contemporary Missiology: An Introduction. Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1978:164-167.
- Mark Kinzer handily addresses this issue, summarizing his exegesis of texts from Matthew, Luke-Acts and Paul, in his “Rejoinder to Responses to Postmissionary Messianic Judaism” in the Winter/ Spring 2006 issue of Kesher: A Journal of Messianic Judaism, (20), 2006:58-62, responding to a critique on this point by Mitch Glaser.
Stuart Dauermann, Ph.D., is rabbi at Ahavat Zion Messianic Synagogue in Beverly Hills. He is past chairperson and a continuing member of the Theology Committee of the UMJC. Since 1990, he has taught in Fuller Seminary’s School of Intercultural Studies in Messianic Jewish Studies. He directs the Spiritual Life Track of the Messianic Jewish Theological Institute (MJTI).He serves as president of Hashivenu, a Messianic Jewish think-tank, and is currently working on a book more broadly exploring matters covered in this article.