Posts Tagged 'book and audio tape reviews'
Category: Issues Volume 13 Number 01
Published on Wednesday, 06 July 2011 00:00
Written by Jews for Jesus
Generation J by Lisa Schiffman. Harper San Francisco, (1999) US $18.00
I hadn't a clue about what it meant to be a Jew. I was lost, a Jew without a path." And so begins 35-year-old Lisa Schiffman's search. It's a search for identity, for meaning, for answers. Generation J is an attempt to sort through the confusion of being part of a generation that is willing neither to make a full return to Judaism nor to abandon its Jewish persona completely. Of being in a generation whose parents either followed religious traditions by rote or rejected them altogether. Of being a third-generation American Jew who's uncomfortable with and suspicious of any kind of organized religion, particularly her own.
In an autobiography that reads like anthropological field notes [she is a social anthropologist by training], Schiffman presents a hodgepodge of stories offering the reader snapshots of Jewish life and thought. She begins with a very vulnerable and personal narrative about interfaith marriage. Schiffman was committed to having a Jew officiate at the wedding when she married her fiance, Michael, a lapsed Unitarian. Several rabbis turned them down because they wouldn't agree to have a "Jewish home." Finally, a cantor who moonlights as both an opera singer and an actor performed their wedding ceremony.
Schiffman writes that she's still seeking validation for her marriage from the Jewish community. She interviews a Reform rabbi from New York who performs weddings for gay couples but refuses to marry a mixed faith couple. Told by the rabbi that her husband would have to embrace a Jewish life and the Jewish community (that he'd have to set a seder table, take their kids to Hebrew school, stand by her side while she lights Shabbat candles), she's incredulous. Schiffman knows that she is Jewish, but she has never done those things.
Questions form the backbone of this book. What does it mean to have a Jewish home? Is Judaism a religion, a culture or a race? I know I'm Jewish, but how do I know that? What does it mean to look "too Jewish?" Or not Jewish enough? Is it possible to be Jewish alone and separate from the Jewish community?
In each narrative, Schiffman asks good questions but admits to a lack of adequate answers. There is no doubt that it was for very personal reasons that she wrote this book. Schiffman is a searcher and she wants to find spiritual answers. Her questions are an attempt to sort through the confusion of the religious netherworld of American secular Judaism.
In Schiffman's definition of Judaism, we are a "dark and hairy people" who practice a "strange, argumentative, incomprehensible religion." Yet she's still inexplicably drawn to a world she hasn't experienced -- blessings over the Torah, fasting on Yom Kippur, payos and long skirts. For her, being Jewish is about being conflicted, about never being certain who you are and where you're going and what that means. It's about having an identity crisis.
This book chronicles more than the author's own exploration into the meaning of Judaism. It offers a picture into the spiritual quandary of secular Jews today within the larger Christian culture. Schiffman grew up in the largely non-Jewish town of Levittown, New York. She described the place of her birth as "home to one of the largest crosses in the Western hemisphere." She recalls a childhood incident when "Christian friends invited me to church." After standing and sitting more times than she can count, Schiffman partakes of the Catholic communion wafer and waits for a "Christlike feeling to arise" in her. It doesn't. She ponders why and then goes on.
Perhaps the most important question is the one that Schiffman failed to ask in 166 pages: Can you really find your Jewish identity apart from God?
She muses, "If Christianity's message was Follow your heart, Judaism's was Follow the directions."
"Jews, however," she says, "never follow directions without asking why.In spite of our mandate to follow the directions, millions of Jews 'the unaffiliated, secular, atheist indifferent or simply confused' are lost."
Like many in this post-assimilation generation, she looks everywhere for answers, for a solution to that lostness, with one exception -- God, the only real source for answers.
In a recent interview, Schiffman was asked, if she could add a postscript to the book, what it would be. Her answer was, "You can create your own path through religion. And if there is another book, that would be the beginning of the next one, something like, 'P.S., I'm still doing it, piecing the route together.'"1
Perhaps she should look to another book 'the Bible' it has already pieced that route together for Lisa and the rest of us.
1Danielle Svetcov, Generation J (San Francisco Examiner Magazine, 12/12/99) p. 32
Category: Havurah Volume 08 Number 04
Published on Wednesday, 06 July 2011 20:12
Written by Rich Robinson
Mark S. Kinzer, Postmissionary Messianic Judaism: Redefining Christian Engagement with the Jewish People. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2005.
In this book, Mark Kinzer is writing largely to the church, asking Christians to consider a radical new vision of the relationship between the church and Israel. Kinzer is concerned with the problem of supersessionism—the view that the church has replaced Israel in the purposes and plan of God and is now heir to the covenants and promises. He reasons that if we reject supersessionism, we are left with the question of how the church and Israel can both be God's people. Kinzer's own answer to this question unveils a theology that is profoundly defective and indeed, unbiblical.
First, a quick survey of the contents: Chapter 1 is an introduction to principles of interpretation, while the next two chapters demonstrate how the New Testament affirms continued Jewish practice on the part of the apostles and the early believers, as well as the ongoing place of the Jewish people in God's purposes. Chapters 2-3 are the best part of the book. One might contest Kinzer's interpretations of several passages, but on the whole he paints a correct picture of the New Testament as a book that is positive towards the Jewish people. However, one problem does surface that influences all else: the assumption that the practices of the apostles should remain normative for us today, and that those who question this are supersessionist in their thinking.
With the fourth chapter, Kinzer begins to propose his new ecclesiology" (doctrine of God's people ). He presents a series of if-then statements, paraphrased as follows:
(1) if Israel still plays a role in the purposes of God, then the people of Israel—and especially the remnant of Jewish believers—must live according to the distinct Jewish practices that identify Israel (i.e. the practice of the apostles and early believers)
(2) if Jews are to observe Jewish practices, then they must do so corporately (since Israel is a nation, not just individuals)
(3) if they are to do so corporately, then there must be a distinct Jewish subcommunity within the "ekklesia" with its own congregations and community (because how else can Jews live in a way that identifies them corporately as Jews?).
Each statement is open to question—but it is typical of the book's approach that questionable conclusions serve as the basis for further conclusions.
However, there is more. After covering a history of supersessionism in Chapter 5, there comes (in Chapters 6-7) what many will see as the most radical departure the book makes from biblical theology, Kinzer asks what we should make of the past 2,000 years of Jewish traditions. He concludes that Israel's "no" to Y'shua is really a "hidden participation in the obedience of Israel's Messiah" (p. 225). He believes that though Israel has rejected Y'shua , he (Y'shua) "continues to live among them—though in a hidden, obscure fashion" (p. 233). Some readers will find Kinzer himself rather "hidden and obscure" in this section. But as he unpacks it, what he is really saying is that Jewish tradition is God's way for the Jewish people at this time: "a divinely sanctioned religious tradition appointed for the purpose of preserving the Jewish people…" (p. 258).
Furthermore, Kinzer tells us that the New Testament upholds the validity of oral tradition, and he argues that according to the Bible, the entire people of Israel can confer halakhic authority. He goes on to say that since the entire Jewish people recognized rabbinic tradition by the early Middle Ages, that tradition actually carries more weight than the traditions of the Pharisees in the first century. Though Kinzer is not saying that the Oral Law is divinely inspired, he is saying that it is God's intended way for the Jewish people and His means of preserving them, and that indeed, to live as a Jew therefore means living according to this rabbinic tradition.
The final two chapters give a history of Jewish missions and messianic Judaism and then Kinzer lays out practical steps the Church should take to advance his ideas.
So much for the summary. Kinzer's book is the most sophisticated theological treatment from the messianic movement in recent years. It is stimulating, generally clearly written, and in the earlier chapters particularly, there is a great deal of thoughtful and valuable material on the practices of early Jewish believers and the New Testament's high view of the place of Israel in the purposes of God.
The book is so full of serious problems, however, as to make this an unsatisfactory and indeed unbiblical solution to the problem of supersessionism.
The first problem is that Kinzer's starting point for addressing supersessionism is that of contemporary, non-evangelical scholars for whom Judaism is as "valid" as Christianity and missions to Jews are inappropriate. As Kinzer points out, we all approach the Bible from our own presuppositions and we have to take those into account. The presupposition of this book however, is that the only coherent alternative to supersessionism is one based on prevailing Jewish and non-Jewish post-Holocaust scholars. This is evident in his initial description of what non-supersessionism entails: that "the Jewish people remain in covenant with God, with their own distinct calling and way of life intact despite their apparent communal reject of Yeshua's divine mediation." (p. 12). He begins with this description, and unpacks it according to the prevailing mainstream, post-Holocaust, theological agenda.
The second problem, and one of the most crucial, is that many of the exegetical arguments cannot bear the weight brought to bear on them. I will give two examples. Kinzer tells us (pp. 92-95) that the Book of Hebrews indicates that only certain parts of the Mosaic Law have been "changed" by the death of Y'shua: namely, the laws pertaining to the Temple, priesthood and sacrifices. All the other commandments that can be, and were, continued without the Temple remain. (He mentions particularly circumcision, Sabbath, and dietary laws). But he does not explain how the Law, being an integral part of one covenant, can be broken up as he proposes. If it cannot, that invalidates his argument; if it can, the door is open to "changes" in other aspects of the Law. Surprisingly, Kinzer doesn't treat Hebrews 8, which speaks of the covenant in a more comprehensive way.
A second exegetical example: Kinzer's treatment of Galatians 2:7-10 (pp. 160-165), in which Paul states that he is the apostle of the uncircumcision, and Peter is the apostle of the circumcision. Kinzer equates this with two distinct spheres of activity and community, leading to the conclusion that Jewish and non-Jewish believers should have their own separate congregations and communities. Actually, the case can be made that both Paul and the others evangelized both Jews and Gentiles, and that the churches Paul founded often consisted of both Jews and Gentiles (which fact Kinzer allows for, but doesn't take sufficient account of.) There is a great deal more that can be said about this, but the point is, Kinzer's conclusions here outrun the biblical evidence.
The third criticism is that Kinzer's conclusions ignore large swaths of biblical material, including:
(1) The nature and effect of sin. Kinzer would, of course, admit that Jews sin just as everyone else does. But there is no discussion at all of the effects of sin on religious systems (Judaism included). There is no discussion of Romans 1-3, which speaks to the subject of sin among Jews and Gentiles alike. And if we are saying that Israel is still in the covenant, one wonders where the discussion of covenant curses (and blessings) comes in—a discussion that is surely relevant even for those who believe passionately in the present purposes of Israel in the plan of God. Whether or not God has used rabbinic tradition to preserve the Jewish people, as Kinzer argues, does not determine whether that tradition should be challenged or contradicted. One supposes that God has used Buddhism to preserve the Thai people and African tribal religions to preserve the Zulus, but that does not mean that God looks with favor on those religious systems. In God's common grace He uses many things to preserve society; but simultaneously there is the prophetic call to repentance. Which brings us to:
(2) The entire prophetic aspect within the Old Testament itself. The prophets were, so to speak, "divine pests"; a continual voice from within Israel itself challenging the nation to turn back to God. One wants to know if Kinzer thinks that the Northern Kingdom's "no" to the divinely ordained worship in Jerusalem somehow reflected Yahweh's "yes" to that kingdom as He remained "hidden" in their midst.
(3) The missionary activity of Paul and the other apostles, not only among Gentile but also among Jews. Kinzer does not like the term "missionary" which he defines as a message brought from outside, rather than from within. That is clearly not the biblical meaning of "mission," but terminology aside, the apostles did proclaim Jesus as the only way of salvation among both Jews and Gentiles. Therefore we need to ask: If Kinzer believes that the apostolic practice of observantly keeping the Law is normative for all time, why does he not believe the same for the apostolic practice of mission? And while Kinzer rejects the missionary impulse as coming from "outside" Israel, did not the prophets bring an "other" word to Israel from God the Wholly Other who only condescended to dwell among Israel?
(4) A biblical theology of covenants. It is interesting that Kinzer only speaks of "the" covenant by which he (and most other modern theologians) mean the Sinai covenant. No discussion is offered of the relationship between the Abrahamic, Sinai, and New covenants. Surely one direction of overcoming supersessionism without concluding that all is well in the Jewish community, is to consider the differences in the covenants with Moses and with Abraham.
Other criticisms can be offered: (1) Kinzer largely ignores the contributions of evangelical scholars towards non-supersessionism—which he has a responsibility to do, since he apparently accepts evangelical theology regarding the person of Y'shua and the nature of God; (2) his terminology is often vague when he uses words like "validity" (which can mean anything from Kinzer's "it's fine, it's God's way, hands-off"—to "offering respect," which even a supersessionist could agree to); (3) Kinzer's view of the ekklesia effectively ignores the tens of thousands of Jewish believers who are in churches. They do not integrate well into his theology, even though he makes mention of them in his final few chapters.
What then does Kinzer suggest are the obligations of (predominantly Gentile) churches? He suggests three (pp. 308-309):
(1) "foster respect for Judaism and the Jewish people," particularly, he says, in the light of Chapter 6 of his book: that is, Judaism as God's ordained way for the Jewish people. Translation: Judaism is God's way for the Jews, therefore it is not to be challenged as a belief-and-behavior system in any way, nor is the church to conduct missionary work among the Jews.
(2) "urge Jews in its [the church's] midst to fulfill their covenantal responsibilities and live as observant Jews." Kinzer recognizes that there are tens of thousands of Jewish believers currently in churches with more to come. His recommendation is that ideally, churches should encourage such believers to align with healthy local messianic congregations, where such congregations exist. But, he acknowledges, there may actually be no way for Jewish believers in churches to fulfill their obligations to live Jewishly—a less than ideal, but nevertheless realistic, situation, he says. For Kinzer, the Jewish obligations include living in community with other Jews and according to rabbinic tradition. Thus, by his definition of living Jewishly, it would be impossible for Jewish believers to live in a fully Jewish manner apart from a messianic congregation.
(3) "Dialogue…with the Messianic Jewish movement" and "encourage development in a postmissionary direction." Translation: encourage messianic Jews to stop "missionary" work and live according to rabbinic tradition.
This three-pronged program is not something most Jewish believers, nor evangelical Bible scholars, would consider to reflect faithfulness to the Scripture. To be sure, supersessionism, especially where it has led to anti-Semitism, has been a blot on the church (though also left out of discussion is the possibility that someone can sincerely believe that the Church has replaced Israel, and yet foster a genuine love for Jews). That so many scholars across the theological spectrum are continuing to rediscover the Jewishness of Y'shua and the positive views of the Jewish people as portrayed in the New Testament is welcome indeed.
However, that is not enough for Kinzer. Towards the end, he summarizes his program along the lines of five principles:
- the perpetual validity of God's covenant with the Jewish people;
- the perpetual validity of the Jewish way of life rooted in the Torah, as the enduring sign and instrument of that covenant;
- the validity of Jewish religious tradition as the historical embodiment of the Jewish way of life rooted in the Torah;
- the bilateral constitution of the ekklesia, consisting of distinct but united Jewish and Gentile expressions of Yeshua-faith;
- the ecumenical imperative of the ekklesia, which entails bringing the redeemed nations of the world into solidarity with the people of Israel in anticipation of Israel's—and the world's—final redemption.
All of these could be interpreted in a wide variety of ways ("validity" is a notoriously ambiguous word!); it takes the entire book to unpack what Kinzer really means by them. As he does so, he surveys the history of Jewish missions, Hebrew Christians, and Messianic Jews and concludes that to date, no messianic movement has embodied all of his principles. For him, that is a deficiency; others will have another opinion.
Once the vagueness in terminology is unpacked, it's quite clear what Kinzer's proposals mean. They would not only put an end to any proclamation of the Good News among the Jewish people but would proclaim that salvation, or divine acceptance, is readily available to all Jews through Y'shua regardless of what they believe or don't believe about Y'shua. This kind of theology has been applied to world religions in general, so that some believe Y'shua saves Hindus, Buddhists, etc. through their religion. Kinzer may not articulate things quite that way, but he is close. Is this what the "mature Messianic Judaism" has come to? We hope not.
Postmissionary Messianic Judaism reminds us of critical issues that the Messianic movement has not dealt with in sufficient theological depth and should continue to address: issues of why Jewishness is important; how it is to be lived out and transmitted; how Israel and the Church relate to one another. But Kinzer's final result is nothing more than modern theological trends that are influenced more by ecumenism and inclusivism than by biblical theology. Jewish and Gentile believers alike would be better served by voices that reject the bad fruits of supersessionism while simultaneously affirming the need for proclaiming the Good News to Jews and Gentiles—and in the context of a body of Jewish and Gentile believers that is far more unified in actual practice than Kinzer allows for. What is needed now are those messianic Jewish voices that can address these theological issues in a more biblical manner.
I predict that this book will be warmly received among the ecumenical, dialogue-minded set and thoroughly critiqued by evangelicals who understand its full implications. My concern would be for those, whether in the messianic movement or in the evangelical church, who may eagerly agree with the call for "validity," seeing it as a simple affirmation of the Jewish people and Jewish believers, without understanding the full weight of Kinzer's thinking.
Indeed, there are some lively times ahead for the messianic movement.
Stan Telchin—in his usual pastorly fashion—is responding to what he sees as unhealthy trends within the Messianic movement. In his new book, he gently lays out the problems together with biblical reflections on what it means for all believers to be "one new man."
Beginning with a list of thought questions on pages 23-25, Telchin covers his purposes in writing before offering a history of Christian anti-Semitism as one factor that led to the rise of "Messianic Judaism."
Telchin accurately distills some trends within the Messianic movement: (1) the insistence of some that the single most important way for expressing one's Jewish identity is to join a Messianic congregation (pp. 55-56); (2) the problem of seeking acceptance from the larger Jewish community and how that informs one's views of identity and practice (p. 63); (3) the problem—and it is a problem, given the movement's stated objectives—of why there are so many non-Jews in Messianic congregations and so few Jewish believers (ch. 6); (4) the loss of emphasis on reaching Jewish people with the gospel (pp. 99-100).
Telchin goes on to study biblical passages relating to "one new man" and concludes with an exhortation to beware of dividing our hearts between God and anything else.
Some have reacted with an unseemly defensiveness to this book. But if they're one of those congregations whom Telchin says he is not addressing, why be defensive? And if they represent those to whom his remarks are addressed, why not take them under advisement and respond with equal grace? After all, the subtitle of the book is "A Loving Call to Unity." And it's a timely one, as well.