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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

"Introduction to Messianic Judaism"

TITLE: Introduction to Messianic Judaism: Its Ecclesial Context and Biblical Foundations
AUTHOR: David Rudolph and Joel Willitts, (editors).
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 2013, (336 pages).

This anthology of essays is written by top scholars, theologians, evangelicals and messianic Jews, with a singular purpose: giving readers a "portal" into the movement of early Jewish believers from the first century to the present age. We all know about the Jewish heritage of Jesus, and the importance of the Old Testament to the New Testament Church. Society has often hyphenated Judaism and Christianity into a singular word: "Judea-Christian." Messianic Jews are people who are Jews by heritage, and Christians by professed faith. What better way to introduce Messianic Judaism than the invite Messianic Jews to write about it. As general editors, David Rudolph and Joel Willitts bring together 27 articles from 26 theologians, scholars, Jews, evangelicals, most of them coming from North America, Europe, and Israel. In this book, the editors attempt to find a link between the early Jewish pioneers more than a hundred years ago to the current 21st Century Messianic Jewish community. The project is one way to help Gentile Christians appreciate the "epistemological" aspect of Messianic Judaism by digging into the roots of early Christianity from Jewish eyes. It also helps one to understand the "ecclesiological" link between Judaism and the modern Church, and how the Church is one with both Jews and Gentiles together. Other reasons include a desire to cultivate a dialogical relationship between Jews and Christians through praying for one another, sharing the gospel, encouraging one another to work together, ministry work, and dialogue. The "Christological" aspect is also studied simply because Jesus himself was a Jew.

Part One comprises articles written by recognized leaders in the Messianic Jewish community. This is the contribution from the Jewish perspective. David Rudolph surveys the history of Messianic Judaism from the first four hundred years in the Common Era (CE or AD) and the 18th Century, to the modern age, focusing on the Matthean community and the Jerusalem community. Rudolph and Klayman look at the distinctiveness of Messianic synagogues from the main synagogues, through their centrality of Yeshua, the use of the New Testament, the presence of Gentiles among the worshipers, and how both Jews and Gentiles work together to build the synagogue. Klayman also writes on the manner of worship and prayer in these congregations that are distinctively Jewish, and yet Christian. Carl Kinbar looks at the interpretation of Scripture, as well as the interpretation of it. There are interesting insights about how Messianic Jews see Scripture less from a technical biblical scholarship angle, but more from the context of an "interpretive tradition" that is soaked with history and tradition. Russ Resnik brings together Jewish ethics and Jesus' teachings to reveal how God is manifested in the working out of good works. Stuart Dauermann shows us that outreach is also very much alive and vibrant in Jewish communities. While missional methods vary according to contexts, the heart of the structure is similar: covenantal participation of past, present, and future, together in a common gathering place. We also learn about how Jewish outreach is different from Christian evangelism. For example, while Christians tend toward "personal evangelism," Jewish outreach prefers the community invitation method, where those who are far out, are invited to draw near. Rachel Wolf makes a contribution on the place of women who have become identified with pioneer work as well as integrating a cultural identity.  Akiva Cohen tells the inside story of Messianic Jews in Israel, their return to Israel, and their relationships with the fragile Middle East climate among Palestinians, Israelis, and others. Mitch Glaser shares about some national organizations that attempt to preserve commitment to Israel, assimilation matters, involvement among Jews, Torah observance and tradition, as well as their vision for the future generations. Mark Kinzer looks at how Messianic Jews relate with the rest of the Jewish world in both directions. He tackles the difficult task of understanding which party is more influential, the evangelical community on the Messianic Jews, or vice versa. Daniel Juster tries to bridge understanding between Gentile Christians and Messianic Jewish community through appreciating how histories shape the way they are. The affirmations in the article help to bring some basis for common identity and understanding. Jennifer Rosner then offers her thoughts about how dialogues can be encouraged between Jews, Christians, and Messianic Jews. She is optimistic that Messianic Jews can be a potent force for building bridges among Jews and Christians.

Part Two contains a wealth of knowledge from Christian leaders which forms the contribution from the Christian perspective. We read of Daniel Harrington's description of Matthew's version of the community of believers. After all, Matthew is most Jewish of all the gospels, and is also written primarily for a Jewish audience. Harrington proposes that it is Jesus that brings all things together. Darrell Bock gives his take on the unity of Luke-Acts, claiming that the church is the New Israel. Richard Bauckham examines early participation of Gentiles into Jewish communities, and how the early apostles help to bring them into the fold. Craig Keener argues for the need for both communities to be inter-dependent so that they can mutually bless each other. William Campbell writes about Israel and the Church both theologically and dialogically. Scott Hafemann sees a huge redemption motif in the relationship between Israel and Gentiles, using the book of Romans for his theological base. Justin Hardin reflects on what it means to be one in Christ while Todd Wilson takes a look at something that the Jews hold strongly: the Law. Others like renowned New Testament theologian such as Markus Bockmuehl looks at the gospels, the Son of David, and the genealogical records in order to make sense of the lineage of Jesus in the light of Christian faith today.

What is lacking for depth in any one individual topic, is more than compensated by the breadth of coverage of Messianic Judaism matters. The articles are relatively short, and resemble more like brief papers given at conferences rather than full-blown treatises. David Rudolph sets the framework with an introduction that gives readers an idea what to expect. I appreciate Joel Willitts's patient summary of each essay, giving apt and pithy statements to describe the main points of each contribution. Both of them offer their personal encounters with Jews, Christians, as well as Messianic Jews, and have given the Church, the Christian community as well as Messianic Jews, deeper insights not only on the different backgrounds of both Judaism and Christianity, but also the common heritage of being one in Christ. They have arranged the essays intelligently, moving from historical past to the contemporary era, touching on a rich tradition and describing how the tradition has evolved with the times. For the second part of the book, they have carefully compiled the essays and placed them with rough theological themes such as biblical theology, ecclesiology, soteriology, Christology, eschatology. The book appears to be a convergence of two worlds in two ways. Firstly, there are more similarities than differences between Judaism and Christianity. This is most evident in the Person of Christ from whom all blessings flow, all covenants are fulfilled, and all identities grafted into one. Secondly, there is also a meeting of like-minded people, whose interests converge not only in their areas of study, but also in the friendships that they have cultivated over the years. Willitts's concluding chapter weaves together the many positive strands of Jewish-Christian dialogues and areas of agreement. Perhaps the biggest value that I find beneficial for both Christians and Messianic Jews is the way Willitts has answered the question of "What does Introduction to Messianic Judaism has to say to us?" There is unity of faith. There is a faithful reading of the Scriptures according to tradition. There is a strong ecclesiological emphasis that respects the traditions of Judaism as well as the tenets of evangelicalism. There is a necessary reminder that Christians do not grow out of a vacuum of faith. Just like Jesus who was born into a Jewish world, and ministers in a Jewish environment, so we need to be sensitive to the common heritage. Indeed, this book will be a positive resource to bring about greater understanding between Jewish people and Christians, providing platforms for cooperation and teamwork, in a world that has increasingly become secular and materialistic. If there be any partnership, let the focal point be the common covenant in God. Let the focal person be Jesus Christ.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5


This book is provided to me free by Zondervan Academic and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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