Sunday, 16 April 2017

Judaism is not Jewish, by Baruch Maoz

Baruch Maoz, Judaism is not Jewish: A Friendly Critique of the Messianic Movement, 2003 Christian Focus

That really is a poor choice of title. Questioning the identity of an oppressed people is crassly insensitive. This is not at all what Maoz is trying to do, but the title of the book implies it. I suspect this provocative (and tasteless) title was chosen by the publisher rather than Maoz. Title aside, this book provides what the author, Jewish Christian Baruch Maoz describes as a 'friendly critique' of the Messianic Jewish movement. I would suggest this is actually a harsh criticism, rather than a friendly critique. Maoz believes that the Messianic Jewish movement has fallen short in it's obsession with maintaining a Jewish identity and has lost sight of its Christian identity. He believes that the emphasis of the Messianic movement on the Torah, the law of the Old Testament has led to a return of the Galatian error. He does clarify at the beginning that his critique does not apply to most Messianic congregations in Israel (where the author has ministered). This is unsurprising as being in a thoroughly Jewish culture, Messianic Jews in Israel have no insecurity about their Jewishness. However, he warns that the aberrations of American Messianic Judaism are being imported to Israel.

As well as critiquing the theology of the Messianic movement, our author also makes some practical observations about the reality of its congregations. He points out that they are overwhelmingly attended by Gentile Christians. The Messianic movement, he says, has been hugely unsuccessful at evangelizing Jews and most Jewish converts to Christianity have nothing to do with it. He suggests this is in large part down to Messianic congregations offering a bizarre, mutilated and inauthentic for of Jewish worship. He observes that the dancing and flag waving in Messianic assemblies would be unheard of in a Jewish synagogue. He makes the interesting observation that Messianic Judaism often attracts Gentiles with a tenuous claim to Jewish ancestry. I met somebody like that once. He claimed that his family were descended from Jews in Scotland who had converted to Christianity. He thus began calling himself a Messianic Jew. Later he renounced Jesus Christ and decided he wanted to convert to Orthodox Judaism.

Baruch Maoz's writing style is rather irritating. He tends to repeat himself a lot and labour each point with as many words as possible. In general he writes as though he were preaching a sermon, which is probably not the right tone for such a book as this. I think he makes many good points. Much of the Messianic Jewish movement is very problematic in it's emphasis on the Torah and it's emphasis on Jewishness at the expense of a trans-cultural Christian identity. Yet his critique is very much grounded in the traditional Reformed reading of Paul. This interpretation reads Paul and Judaism in the light of the Augustinian-Pelagian controversy. Maoz makes no reference to alternative readings of Paul or Judaism, such as NT Wright's 'New Perspective' and EP Sanders work on Palestianian Judaism. While those ideas have their only problems, treating Paul and ancient Judaism as if their message is uncontested is somewhat disingenuous. It is interesting to consider whether Messianic Judaism and it's use of the Torah might be seen differently in the light of contemporary readings of Paul.

Baruch Maoz says at one point that the Gospel will be victorious and triumphant. While he does not state his eschatological views, his optimism suggests that he is Postmillennial. That is a viewpoint I would very much commend.

I must admit, thinking about the rather naive, romantic Judeophilia and Pro-Israelism of the Messianic Movement rather makes me feel a bit nostalgic for upbringing in the Charismatic movement which tended to like all that stuff.

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