Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Review of Rudolph's and Willitts' Introduction to Messianic Judaism

Introduction to Messianic Judaism: Its Ecclesial Contextand Biblical Foundations. Edited by David J. Rudolph and Joel Willitts. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013, 335 pp., $26.99. 

David Rudolph and Joel Willitts have put together an important collection of essays addressing a contemporary religious movement (Messianic Judaism) that many are unaware of and a contemporary hermeneutical shift (post-supersessionism) that is beginning to take hold in some quarters of the biblical studies world. The book begins, after an important introduction by Rudolph, with 13 essays written by self-identified Messianic Jews and then 14 essays written by several leading NT scholars and theologians. It concludes with an extensive summary of each essay written by Willitts and an integrative conclusion pointing out the contemporary significance with regard to the book’s topic. This volume brings together authors who share a general outlook with regard to the continuing covenantal identity for Jews and represents an excellent model of cross-communal dialogue. The highly recommended book would be useful as a supplemental text in New Testament and theology courses, especially graduate seminars focused on ecclesiology and hermeneutics. It is written at a scholarly but accessible level and the short chapters keep the arguments moving forward while directing the reader to locations for more extensive coverage of the topic being discussed.  

It would be unwise to cover all 28 chapters in this brief review and Willitts’ chapter already does this. So, I will focus my comments on four chapters from each part, those that highlight several issues I found particularly probative, especially since I write and research from a similar post-supersessionist perspective. In chapter 1, Rudolph defines what he means by Messianic Judaism, “we are referring to a religious tradition in which Jews have claimed to follow Yeshua (Jesus) as the Messiah of Israel while continuing to live within the orbit of Judaism” (p. 21). This distinguishes the approach put forth in Part 1 from those who align more closely with Messianic Judaism as a sub-group identity within Protestant Evangelicalism. Rudolph notes that Jewish followers of Jesus continued for the first four centuries of our era and only disappeared under the threat of Constantine's sword and canon law (p. 25). It emerged again during the 18th century and continues today in rather diverse expressions. The diversity evident among Messianic Jews is expressed in several important ways, e.g., Stuart Dauermann’s essay on “Messianic Jewish Outreach” is indicative of a critical debate over evangelism or, as Dauermann prefers, the not-synonymous-term “outreach” (p. 94). Outreach does proclaim that Jesus is the Messiah but the social implications of this message go beyond the individualistic discourse often associated with evangelism. It finds itself more closely aligned with the wider Jewish community in the way discipleship is expressed. The most intriguing aspect of Dauermann’s essay is the idea that gentile and Jewish repentance differs (p. 95). This insight is very important and sets a framework for a Torah-informed repentance that is oftentimes overlooked (see Rom 2:12; p. 96).  

Another area in which diversity is expressed is found in Mark Kinzer’s essay, one whose influence is found throughout the first part of this book. Kinzer’s concern is the liminal state Messianic Jews find themselves with regard to Evangelical Protestantism on the one hand and the wider Jewish community on the other. His essay describes the way Hashivenu and the UMJC have sought to carve out a place for Messianic Judaism within the contemporary expressions of Judaism. This is clearly a hotly debated but intriguing development. Most of the debates relate to “the evangelical theological tenets of biblical and soteriological exclusivism” (p. 128). Kinzer’s broader influence has been felt in the publication of Postmissionary Messianic Judaism, the term “postmissionary” was chosen to make an ecclesial point: “Messianic Jews are not called to be representatives of the Christian community operating within another religious community (i.e., the Jewish people) but to be fully part of the Jewish world in both religious and national terms. In fact, they are to represent the Jewish community in relation to the Church, rather than the reverse” (p. 132). What Kinzer’s work does is to allow the church to think through the social implications of what it means to be part of the commonwealth of Israel (Eph 2:12). While the debates over a more inclusivist soteriology will undoubtedly continue, Kinzer’s “bilateral ecclesiology” should not be lost in the discussion for the way the church could relate to the Jewish people (p. 137). One final area of diversity should be noted, Daniel Juster’s essay brings to the fore the debates over the way Messianic Jews relate to the broader gentile Christian world. Here the debates over supersessionism and the sordid history of anti-Judaism create significant communal tensions. The idea of one body of Messiah that is expressed in two different ways is crucial for the continuation of “unity with distinction? (pp. 137, 142). This is seen as Jews are encouraged to continue to relate to God as Jews and, with the exception of the “One Law” movement, gentiles are encouraged to relate to God as gentiles, all in a relationship of “interdependence” and “mutual blessing” (p. 142; see further on this Tucker, Remain in Your Calling, pp. 115-35).  

In Part 2 the essays focus on the church and Messianic Judaism. I will highlight four of these essays, all of which are crucial for the development of a post-supersessionist approach to the NT. William S.Campbell’s essay “The Relationship between Israel and the Church” provides a post-supersessionist reading of Romans 9-11. This programmatic essay provides several interpretive trajectories for future scholars thinking about issues of supersessionism. For example, Campbell in reflecting on the purpose of Romans and the interdependence between gentiles and Jews in Christ concludes that “Israel is not merely a historical antecedent to the church, and the church has not replaced, and cannot displace, her in the divine purpose. Israel belongs to the present and future of the church and not merely to her inception” (p. 204). Anders Runesson’s essay “Paul’s Rule in All the Ekklēsiai” discusses 1 Cor 7:17-24 and argues that this passage provides scholars with a potential center for Paul’s theologizing. Runesson understands Paul’s rule to include the view that “socioethnic differences between the two groups [Jews and gentiles] ‘in Christ’” was expected by Paul and that the way each obeyed God’s commandments will look different based on this pattern of thought (p. 218). Also, Runesson is undoubtedly correct in noting that the use of ekklēsia by Paul should be understand as pointing to the idea that the Pauline movement was still within the broader synagogue community at this point (rather than disconnected from it) (p. 220). 

Justin Hardin’s essay addresses whether Gal 3:28 and Ephesians 2:14-18 should be understood to indicate that Paul sought to collapse ethnicity. He concludes, with regard to Gal 3:28 that Paul does not seek to obliterate ethnic identities: “On the contrary in this verse Paul announced the glorious universal reality that through faith in the Messiah, there is equality as children of Abraham across ethnic (as well as gender and social) boundaries” (pp. 228-29). In a similar way, Eph 2:14-18 does not erase ethnicity in the creation of the “one new humanity”; rather, it is a metaphor of “oneness” used by Paul to address the nature of the peace given in Christ (p. 231). Thus, those who claim that Paul develops a “race-less people” have overstated their position (p. 232). The idea that existing identities continue in Christ is a theme that is developed in Campbell, Runesson, and Hardin; however, Joel Willitts’ essay develops this further and in a way that provides an eschatological rationale for the continuation of ethnicity in Christ. Willitts researches Revelation 19-22 from a Jewish context (e.g., the bride imagery and Isaiah) and concludes that the New Heavens and New Earth are patterned on a Davidic city. Thus, Israel’s identity is never superseded and that “John teaches that Israel’s distinctive role in God’s administration of creation continues eternally” (p. 253). This interpretive approach provides a challenge to aspects of both amillennialism and premillenialism. Israel’s distinctive purposes are never supplanted (p. 246). 

Rudolph and Willitts are to be commended for putting together such a substantial volume. This book deserves wide attention from scholars, pastors, seminary students, and obviously those within the Messianic Jewish movement. It provides insights into the religious diversity evident in our contemporary context as well as alerting the reader to the emergence of a new paradigm for New Testament interpretation, i.e., post-supersessionism.