What Does "Introduction to Messianic Judaism" Have to Say to Us? An Excerpt from David Rudolph's and Joel Willitts's New Book
If you're like most American Gentile Christians, you probably don't fully grasp the significance of Messianic Judaism for the American Church—not to mention what Messianic Judaism is in the first place! In fact, you'd be hard pressed to find many American Gentile pastors who could define and explain the significance of Messianic Judaism. Which is why a new book by David Rudolph and Joel Willitts is so important.
In their comprehensive new book Introduction to Messianic Judaism, Rudolph and Willitts provide pastors, scholars, students, and other interested Christians a collection of articles by both Messianic Jews and Gentile Christians. This new resource offers a thorough examination of the ecclesial context and biblical foundations of the Messianic Jewish movement.
To give you a taste, here is an excerpt from the concluding chapter:
Mark is an intelligent guy without formal theological training. He is a mature Christian and intellectually curious. Mark asked me what I was writing and I mentioned this book. He had heard of Messianic Judaism before, but like most Gentile Christians he knew nothing about it. So I began to describe what the book was about. After giving Mark the big picture, he asked the million-dollar question, “So what is its significance for our church?” Mark’s “our church” is my church; it is a large seeker sensitive suburban Chicago upper-middle-class church full of Gentile Christians.
What does Introduction to Messianic Judaism have to say to us? What a great question.
This is what I told Mark: First, this book informs the church of a modern move of God’s Spirit of which it is largely ignorant. Learning about the Messianic Jewish community should result in resounding praise and glory to the God of Israel for “making good his promises” to his people (Rom 15:8 CJB).
Second, Introduction to Messianic Judaism introduces a post-supersessionist reading of the New Testament. Most Christians naturally read the Bible in a supersessionist way. Such an approach is largely unintentional for most. It is the by-product of uncritical assumptions concerning what the Scriptures teach about the Jewish people. Introduction to Messianic Judaism offers a new paradigm for reading the Bible, one that is more consistent with its message of the fulfillment of Israel’s story in the story of Jesus, Israel’s Messiah.
Third, Introduction to Messianic Judaism presents a robust ecclesiology that strengthens evangelical Christian ministry by reimagining church planting and mission. An Israel-centered reading of the Bible makes room for a New Testament ecclesiology that celebrates diversity, fights cultural hegemony, and supports diverse ethnic expressions of faith in Jesus, whether they be Jewish or Gentile (one of the over sixteen thousand ethnic people groups among the nations).
This is of particular concern for Jewish believers in Jesus because Jewish ethnicity is wrapped up with God-given markers of identity like circumcision, food laws, and Sabbath observance, practices that the Gentile Christian church, from the patristic period, stigmatized because of the belief that these practices had been set aside with the coming of Christ and replaced with a new Christian identity. By making normative this perspective in church teaching and practice, Gentile Christian leaders ensured that there would no longer be an ethnic representation of Jews in the body of Messiah — a most egregious irony since the Messiah lived as a Torah-observant Jew. The church cannot champion a message of ethnic diversity while at the same time maintaining a theological perspective that strips God-given ethnic boundary markers of identity from Jewish people who follow Jesus.
Fourth, the book reminds Gentile Christians of the Jewish roots of their Christian faith. It reminds us that, in the language of Paul’s olive tree analogy (Rom 11:17 – 21), we are not the root of the tree, but “wild shoots” that in God’s kindness have been “grafted” in. The more we appreciate the Jewishness of our confession that Jesus is Lord and Messiah, the truer we will represent Israel’s God to the world and the more authentic we will be as the people of Messiah in our unique historical and cultural contexts.
Finally, Introduction to Messianic Judaism helps to inform Christians about how they can help meet the communal and individual needs of Jewish people who believe in Jesus. This book makes the argument that Jews who find themselves in Gentile Christian churches should be encouraged to maintain their Jewish identity and lifestyle in keeping with their calling from God. While Jewish identity and lifestyle can take shape in a variety of ways, Christian leaders should view it as their pastoral responsibility to help Jewish believers in Jesus remain Jews and become better Jews.
So, to answer Mark’s question, Introduction to Messianic Judaism offers our church an opportunity to grow and be stretched in the areas of worship, hermeneutics, mission, Christian identity, and spiritual formation. It is our hope that the relationship David and I share, which resulted in the fruit of this book, will inspire other “Jew and Gentile” partnerships for the sake of Messiah and the gospel of the kingdom. (317-319)
Introduction to Messianic Judaism: Its Ecclesial Context and Biblical Foundations
by David Rudolph and Joel Willitts
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