Ten Years after the Publication of Mark Kinzer’s seminal work Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism, the work has received significant attention from the National (as in USA, I suppose) Professors of Hebrew in a special session dedicated to the cause at the 2015 Society of Biblical Literature annual meeting in Atlanta.
In a packed out room and to a hushed crowd of scholars, four speakers and their mediator Zev Garber took up the themes raised by Kinzer thoughtfully, respectfully and from a variety of perspectives. David Rudolph, a recent Cambridge graduate, rabbi and faculty member of the Messianic Jewish Theological Institute began by outlining the premises of PMMJ. Underscoring the fact that PMMJ did not (understandably) receive a rapturous welcome from Jewish Missions upon its publications he was able to note that some of the objections (most notably regarding its Soteriology) raised were later addressed. One of these occasions for clarification was at the Borough Park Symposium. In fact, PMMJ has had a significant effect since its publication. In 2005 the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations adopted a statement on the Messianic Jewish Movement (MJM) incorporating much of Kinzer’s perspective. PMMJ has also irreversibly raised the level of theological discourse within the MJM and among those who write about it. Further, PMMJ has given the MJM something to share with the world at large.
Now David and Mark are friends of course, and the purpose of having David summarise Mark’s work was no doubt partly due to a concern that his work not be dismissed out of hand or held to unfair criticism.
The second respondent however, Peter Ochs, in dealing with PMMJ made salient and helpful observations regarding PMMJ’s interpretation of Scripture. Noting that Kinzer puts exegesis at the forefront of his argument, he showed that Kinzer is selective in choosing interpretations that forward his thesis. Going by memory, I recollect Kinzer explicitly touching on this in PMMJ, pointing out (for example) that if an interpretation of Scripture leads to demonstrably bad results it must be wrong. I.e. if one’s interpretation leads one to commit genocide against the Jews as for some Nazis, then it should be rejected. Pleasantly for a Messianic Jew, Ochs used ‘Yeshua’ rather than the possibly derogative ‘Yeshu’.
Ochs was followed by R. Kendall Soulen who referred to arguments made by Michael Wyschogrod that if a Jew believes in Yeshua he or she is still obligated to keep Torah – God’s covenant with Israel. Soulen argued that Christianity is obligated to see this possibility that Jews should remain in every way Jews upon faith in Yeshua. Looking at the Church fathers, Soulen documented the shift in theology that over a few short centuries made this unacceptable to the Church. For further reading Soulen suggested an articleby Bruce Marshall in a festschrift for John Levinson.
Zev Farber’s (Not Garber, as in the convener of the session) presentation marked a notable shift in tone. His honest and straightforward approach began with a side note: In seminary a bunch of boys could easily spend months discussing laws regarding menstruation and permissible sexual positions, but as soon as a passage on Jesus came up there was a lot of nudge nudge, wink wink…. Jews are very uncomfortable with Jesus. In fact, Farber asserted, the core issue is not really about the Truth, but ‘identity politics’ necessitates rejection of Yeshua. Indeed, ‘to flirt with Jesus is a form of moral adultery’. And ‘as long as Messianic Judaism is a bridge to Christianity it will remain squarely outside Judaism.’ No one was questioning Farber’s rabbinic bona fides after that. My feeling was that this is what I would expect from someone charged with the task of preserving Judaism and the Jewish people. But a response to Farber requires a discussion beyond the scope of this blog.
Finally Mark Kinzer had his chance to respond. Kinzer thoughtfully took a long-term view. He hopes that within 100 or 200 years there might be a change in the church that would allow Jewish Believers in Yeshua to really live as Jews ‘if the church would honour that boundary’.
Mark – do we really have to wait for that?