Saturday, July 21, 2007

An Answer to, Part 4

The purpose of this article is to defend Messianic Judaism against what I believe to be an unfair and unscriptural attack. While this of necessity requires a certain amount of “counter-attack,” I will try to keep the focus on the arguments rather than the person, though some comments about Vicki’s general tendencies in her writings are necessary.

Promoters of Hebrew Roots

It’s significant that in this section, Vicki has isolated a handful of individuals of, frankly, little contribution to the Messianic movement as a whole. She does not even bring up David H. Stern, whose Messianic Jewish Manifesto and Complete Jewish Bible and Commentary are standard reading in many or most Messianic congregations; in fact, while modern Messianic Judaism has no singular leader or founder (unlike, for example, the Lutherans, Presbyterians, or Methodists), David Stern would come closer to qualifying than almost anyone else.

Nor does she mention D. Thomas Lancaster or Tim Hegg of First Fruits of Zion, Michael L. Brown (Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus), Kevin Howard and Marvin Rosenthal (The Feasts of the Lord), Mark Kinzer (Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism), or any other well-known, published authors in the Messianic movement. Admittedly, some of these (like FFOZ) may have come to the forefront after she wrote her initial article, but Stern, for example preceded her website by fifteen and seven years, respectively.

(A correction: I originally referred to Mark Nanos here as being Messianic; he is not, but rather is a Reform Jew who believes that the misrepresentation of Paul's view has been extremely harmful to the Jewish people--and he's right. My apologies to him for the accidental misrepresentation on my part.)

Vicki shows little understanding of the diversity within the Messianic and Hebrew Roots movement—to start, she continually groups them together when they should be regarded as interrelated, but separate groups. For another, she takes several distinct congregations, takes diverse statements from their leaders, and jumbles them together into a caricature of what “mainline” Messianic Judaism (if there is such a thing) truly believes.

For example, she has no cognizance of the fact that the role that the Talmud, if any, should play in Messianic Judaism is an ongoing and healthy debate. Avi ben Mordecai, as a Jew of Orthodox background living in Israel, believes that the Talmud should be kept. There is a whole community of Messianic Jews living in Israel (warning: YouTube link) who disagree with him—and far more living outside of the Land. In fact, he himself says at the beginning of the quote she has selected, “I am not a proponent of the ‘Jewish Roots’ or ‘Hebraic Roots’ movement as you or they define the terms”! How then are his opinions on the matter of halakhah relevant to a discussion of a group that he himself admits not belonging to? That’d be like me quoting a Catholic about Mary to discredit an Evangelical denomination!

Vicki quotes several sources as “leaders” of the Messianic movement; where she got the idea that these were leaders accepted by the movement as a whole is not stated. She has failed to notice that each of these three has distinct points-of-view which are at least partially incompatible with the others: Avi ben Mordecai would be unlikely to accept Dean Cozzens as a prophet, for example. Nor would Cozzens or Rowland accept ben Mordecai’s belief that we should keep the whole Oral Torah—not to mention ben Mordecai’s denial of being a part of the Hebrew Roots or Messianic movements at all!

What we are seeing here is that Vicki does not know how to properly discern between differing sub-groups of a movement. By differing between such groups and then discerning the common denominators between them, one can develop a core set of beliefs that characterize a movement as a whole, and then present a criticism of those. In the case of the Messianic/Hebrew Roots movement, one could legitimately criticize the following beliefs, which I defend on HebrewRoot:

  • A need to understand the Jewish origins of the Scriptures and to read them in that light rather than in a Greek/Western light
  • The validity in keeping the Torah for the believer in Messiah today
  • Keeping the Feasts of the Lord
  • A belief that we are grafted into Israel’s branch without replacing the natural branches
  • A predominantly premillennial eschatology

If one were doing a critique of the Messianic portion of the movement, one could add the following:

  • Keeping of much (not all) Jewish tradition as a legitimate expression of our faith in Messiah
  • Referencing the Talmud and other Judaica for history and commentary (though in fact many Christian commentators do this, such as Edersheim, Keil & Delitzsch, and Lightfoot)

However, the following beliefs are held only by some groups within the Hebrew Roots/Messianic movement (many would say the fringe elements):

  • A Pentecostal belief in the Spiritual gifts – in this case, my own congregation does believe in the Spiritual gifts as continuing today, but we do not derive any theology from extra-Biblical prophecies, nor do we claim to speak for all Messianics in this matter
  • A belief in the divine origin of the Oral Torah
  • Kabbalistic teaching – I don’t actually know any Messianic congregation which promotes studying Kabbalah, though I suppose there are probably a few somewhere
  • The Sacred Name belief – on why “Jehovah” is not the correct transliteration, see here and here.

By failing to understand the different “flavors” of Messianism, or to acknowledge that the movement as a whole does not have a single leader or group of leaders, Vicki has mischaracterized mainline Messianic belief. By suggesting that we dispute the inspiration of the NT, she has again mischaracterized mainline Messianic belief. While she does raise some valid questions (though not questions without answers, as my own page and this blog demonstrate), she has not done enough research to know what the Messianic response to her arguments are in order to counter them.

In short, Vicki has either not done her homework or has not done so with a researcher’s discernment, and in the process has (inadvertently, we hope) slandered a large (over a million and counting) group of people.



Bryan Z. said...

You might also want to check out the article from this past Friday on the website called Pyromaniacs. The article is titled "Is Messianic Judaism a Good Idea?" You can see the post at here.

I would love to see some more good responses and show them and their readership that Messianic Judaism is a good idea, and that their picture of use is not the correct picture of who we are.

Blessing to you,

Michael Bugg said...

Thanks, Bryan. I'm reading the article and working on a response now.