In my first post on this topic, I noted that I have been reading some blog conversations about movements amongst post-evangelical Christians. A number of movements have grown up in the last decade from evangelical Christianity to something deeper and more meaningful. Read all about it here:
I would like to read similar, honest conversations about similar movements in Judaism: alternate minyans, havurot, contemporary synagogues (that are not copying dull megachurches), and so on. Anyone know some good blog conversations going on discussing strengths and weaknesses of synagogue renewal movements?
As I’ve reflected on the post-evangelical talk, it occurred to me that these three main movements have sought a richer Christianity in three different ways:
The Ancient-Future Worship movement is seeking depth through liturgical worship. It’s a big step up from the vanilla, as-devoid-as-possible-of-anything-but-simple-emotion worship of popular evangelicalism.
The emerging/emergent/missional movement is seeking depth through action and involvement in repairing the world. The emphasis is on the life of Jesus, his active work of healing and serving people. It’s a big step up from the get-them-saved-and-giving-to-the-church style of popular evangelicalism.
The Neo-Reformed movement is seeking depth through rich theology. While I’m not a fan of determinism (a major plank of the Calvinist platform), I must say there is quite a bit more depth when Christian teachers will cite Augustine, Anselm, and Calvin (okay, I guess Luther said some good things too, though I really have a distaste for Luther that makes me closed to hearing anything he says). It’s a big step up from the try-to-be-as-minimal-in-theology-as-possible-so-we-can-all-get-along style of popular evangelicalism.
Lessons in Liturgy for Messianic Judaism
We already have a rich liturgical tradition, the richest, in my opinion.
Sadly, many Messianic congregations are not on board. I was recently at a concert at a major Messianic congregation and the leader had a team come out and lead havdallah — while it was still Shabbat! Not only did they break Shabbat with their bizarre choice to have havdallah before sundown, but they stumbled through the prayers as if they were new to the ceremony.
Many people, over a decade ago and you’d think they’d be over it by now, brought evangelical Christian disdain for liturgy with them into Messianic groups. Arguments like “their just mouthing words” have not yet passed beyond the pale, tragically. People have not grasped the incredible junction between heaven and earth that opens up when you fill your mind with hundreds of scriptural and well-written phrases and especially when you can do so together as community before the Presence of God. The ones mouthing the words emptily are perhaps new and do not yet get it or could be any person on a bad day unable to find intention and concentration.
Messianic Jews and those interested in Jewish liturgy from a Christian perspective have a number of resources. Obviously the great prayer books produced by Artscroll and Koren publishers are a resource. There are prayer books for Conservative and Reform synagogues, but the notes and layout of Artscroll and Koren prayer books make them a far more common choice for Messianic Jews.
Yet there are other resources from a Messianic Jewish perspective as well. Vine of David is producing a complete Messianic Siddur. Pre-release sections have been used recently at the UMJC Conference in Seattle. Their approach is complete in its inclusion of the traditional material and integrates additions from the New Testament without interrupting the flow. And over at the “Just Jewish” blog, Ovadia is writing posts about liturgy (see the first one here: http://orgadol.wordpress.com/2010/08/11/the-messianic-liturgy-introduction/).
Lessons in Action-Halachah for Messianic Judaism
There is already a rich, traditional source of world-changing ethics in Judaism.
Yet we have something to add here, as Messianic Jews. Yeshua has heightened the ethic of the Torah with his own unique teaching, the priorities he gives to justice and mercy versus ritual, and a number of specific aims he passed down to his movement which focus ethics on healing the world.
The Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council (ourrabbis.org) will perhaps one day take up the task of developing a specific set of halachic teachings for Messianic Jews related to bringing about the qualities of the kingdom of God here and now. The MJRC is still rather new and many other issues of identity and practice are needed more quickly. This kind of work would benefit from the collaborating minds of the council’s many rabbis.
What should our halachah be for tzedaka (giving to those in need, to charities, etc.)? For treatment of people we run across (a friend was recently cross with me for not being helpful to a stranger and made me fell guilty, rightly so)? What should be our regular halachic practice for relationships and commitments to each other in the congregation? For making the world a better place? We need Messianic mussar (literature promiting character and righteous deeds).
We need to explore how Yeshua shapes and makes more specific the existing commands of Torah and practices of Jewish ethics. I think we could say that Yeshua intensifies the ethical mitzvot.
Lessons in Theology for Messianic Judaism
Theology is an area of weakness for Judaism. Ideas about God’s nature have varied with different currents in philosophy and different pressures on the Jewish community.
For example, pressure from Karaites combined with examples from the philosophers produced the concept of a distant, uninvolved God in the work of Maimonides and before him (I’m no expert, so don’t kill me if I’m wrong) Saadia Gaon. Many streams of Jewish literature have communicated a very different idea, of a God whose Presence in the world is tangible. The Shechinah, the Kavod, the Memra, the Merchavah, the Sefirot are all Jewish ideas of divine immanence.
As Messianic Jews, we can agree that theology is too important to be vague about. We can appreciate Jewish philosophers such as Michael Wyschogrod and Abraham Joshua Heschel who seek to make theology more central to Judaism.
We draw from the Christian and Jewish well when it comes to theology. We have many resources in both areas.
In our own movement, we have Mark Kinzer (Postmisisonary Messianic Judaism and a new book coming out late this year) to look to as an example of theological excellence which is in no way divorced from devotional passion. We have a good start from Richard Harvey (Mapping Messianic Jewish Theology) with more to come. We have the excellent work of Christian theologian R. Kendall Soulen to help us. We have the benefit of the New Perspective on Paul and other recent trends in our favor theologically.
We also have the depths of rabbinic literature to plumb. Rabbi Carl Kinbar at the Midrash Etc. blog is providing a solid education. Go back and read his early posts. Enroll in the school of Midrash. Find Rabbi Kinbar’s blog here (and start at the beginning, please): http://www.midrashetc.com/
Post-evangelical Christianity is showing us that renewal comes through the richness of what God already provides. Richer worship, action, and theology promise to strengthen our movement . . . if we pursue them.
Evangelical Christians in large numbers have left the building and entered new ones. They have changed their churches into places of Ancient-Future worship. They have emerged into centers of action and service seeking to better the world according to the vision of the kingdom Yeshua taught us. They have deepened theologically with a new appreciation for the church fathers and the Reformers.
Let’s not make the same mistakes as evangelicalism in the past. Let’s appropriate what we already have and be rich in Jewish worship, a halachah of ethical transformation, and a theology building on Judaism and Christianity.