Mapping Messianic Jewish Theology
One of the most exciting but contentious developments in the Church during the last forty years has been the birth and growth of what has become known as the Messianic Movement. Most Jewish people view Jews who believe in Jesus with disdain because, as they see it, a “Jewish Christian” is the religious equivalent of a kosher pig. Gentile Christians are divided in their opinions about the movement.
Some regard it as divisive and dangerous, and view with suspicion anyone or anything “messianic” while others, for a variety of reasons, are enthusiastically in favour of “Messianic Judaism”.
Some Gentile observers view the movement narrowly, charging Messianic Jews with re-erecting “the middle wall of partition” that is abolished in Christ. Others view it as a broad spectrum and are more generous in their attitude to their Jewish brothers and sisters. Whether you see the movement as a blessing or bane, it cannot be ignored. More and more Jewish believers, even those who are members of mainline churches, identify themselves as “Messianic Jews” rather than “Hebrew Christians” or “Jewish Christians”.
Richard Harvey is Academic Dean and Tutor in Hebrew Bible and Jewish Studies at All Nations College. As one of the foremost scholars within the Messianic Movement, he is eminently suited and equipped to write this survey of the theology of the movement, the first volume of a projected series of “Studies in Messianic Jewish Theology” of which he is the editor.
Harvey’s definition of the Messianic Movement is broad. He surveys the theologies of a range of Messianic Jewish thinkers from Baruch Maoz, whose position is Reformed and Calvinistic, to the boldly daring Mark Kinzer who seeks to synthesize Conservative Jewish and post-liberal Barthian theologies.
Chapters one and two are the most demanding, inasmuch as a lot of the jargon and terminology will be incomprehensible to non-academics. In those chapters, Harvey assesses previous studies and surveys of the Messianic Movement by Jewish, Christian and Messianic Jewish writers.
The survey proper focuses on four key areas: God, the Messiah, Torah and the future of Israel. Harvey does not define; he surveys. He concludes, for example, that the majority of Messianic believers subscribe to the doctrine of the Trinity and recognise the Messiah as divine.
His survey of attitudes to Torah, the Law is by far the longest section of the book, and understandably so. If the purpose, place and function of the law of Moses in the life of the believer remains a contentious issue within the largely Gentile Church, we should expect it to be no less of an issue among Jewish believers. With scrupulous fairness, Harvey carefully presents the range of attitudes to Torah in both theory and practice from Messianic Jews such as Baruch Maoz and Arnold Fruchtenbaum, who believe the Torah is now obsolete, to those who advocate its continuing validity for both faith and practice. What is quite clear from the survey, however, is that no branch of the Messianic Movement advocates the keeping of Torah without some degree of modification.
As would be expected, the vast majority of Messianic Jews support the state of Israel and believe in a glorious future for the nation. Most, but by no means all, identify with various Premillennial or Dispensationalist schools of prophetic understanding because they appear to be the most Israel-friendly.
Richard Harvey is to be congratulated for producing this landmark volume. For theologians, missiologists, ministers and students of theology, this masterly survey of Messianic Jewish thought is an indispensable necessity. The book should also be on the shelves of everyone who has any interest in the current move of God among the Jewish people.