Review of Messianic Judaism by David Stern

Messianic Judaism: A Modern Movement with an Ancient PastMessianic Judaism: A Modern Movement with an Ancient Past by David H. Stern

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Stern has presented us with a vigorous and readable defense of Messianic Jewish thought. His differentiation between Israeli and American branches are appreciated. His sensitivity to the historical progression of Hebrew Christianity (with was instrumental to the foundation the Diocese of Jerusalem, of which I am a member) is also laudable.

The book has a number of typos and misspellings, which is odd since it is itself an edited and expanded version of an earlier book.

The main drawback of this book is his handling of biblical material. He spends a good amount of time countering replacement theology, which claims that the Church replaced ethnic Israel after the advent of Messiah as the covenant people of God. In this, he fails to deal with the more nuanced and (I think) compelling scholarship which proposes a fulfillment theology. He also rejects the interpretation that Jesus having fulfilled the Torah means it is no longer in effect. But that is to ignore another interpretation, which understands Jesus’ words as meaning that his ministry and his privileging of the prerogatives of the Kingdom of God over the Law of God (ie, healing on Shabbat) is what fulfills the Torah, in that the most profound reality of Torah is only brought out and completed and made full within the ethical and eschatological contours of the Kingdom life which Jesus taught. Such an interpretation would then see the Torah in the light of the Kingdom kerygma coming to fruition and pointing beyond itself–and beyond ethnic Israel to a reality open to ethnic Israel but larger than it. Whatever ethnic Israel was and is, it was and is only insofar as that earlier Israel inheres with the one, true Israel–Yeshua/Jesus. Matthew understood this well when he radically reappropriated Hosea’s historical recollection, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

Nor does he given an account of why he feels justified in connecting the secular State of Israel, proclaimed in 1948, with the Davidic Kingdom of Judah. He proposes that non-Jews should have rights ‘in the Land’ but not ‘to the Land’. But what if they owned the land for centuries and have the legal documents to prove it? The ethical issues related to occupation are very demanding, and the author barely touches on them. Nor does he specify what exactly the borders of ‘the Land’ are. These are pressing issues since Yeshua/Jesus had a great deal to say about justice and nothing to say about Jews politically controlling Palestine.

The author’s appeal to Arab Christians and Messianic Jews to listen to each other and learn from each other is laudable and appreciated. But his simultaneous zeal for Messianic Jews making Aliya (migration to Israel) is a bit difficult to square with that. What if, upon listening to Arab brothers and sisters, they come to realize that they don’t believe the Land really belongs to Jews, and the ‘right of return’ is unethical?

There is a battle going on right now for the hearts and minds of American and European evangelicals, without whom the continued existence of the State of Israel would be considerably more difficult. This book is a credible attempt to win them over, while also speaking to Messianic Jews about their own issues and problems and suggest constructive way froward for them, while also trying to convince non-Messianic Jews that Messianic Jews really are Jews. Regarding the first goal, I do not think most of his arguments succeed. Regarding the latter two, as someone who is a mere Messianic Gentile, it is not for me to say.

D A Miller
Nazareth Seminary
Nazareth, Israel

View all my reviews

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Author: duanemiller

I was born in Montana and grew up in Colorado and Puebla (in Mexico). I completed a BA in philosophy at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) and then an MA in theology at St Mary's University (also in San Antonio). Later life took me to Jordan where my wife and I studied Arabic, to Israel where I helped found a seminary, and to Scotland for doctoral work, among other places. I live in Madrid now where I teach and minister. I'm highly interested in the interactions of Islam, Christianity and secularism in modern contexts. My main areas of research for my PhD in divinity were religious conversion from Islam to Christianity, contextual theology, and the shari'a's treatment of apostates. I've also published research on global Anglicanism and the history of Anglican mission in the Ottoman Empire. I've had the pleasure of teaching in many places over the years: from Costa Rica to Turkey, and Kenya to Tunisia. I am at-large lecturer and researcher in Muslim-Christian relations at The Christian Institute of Islamic Studies (www.tciis.org), and deacon at the Cathedral Church of the Redeemer in Madrid, Spain. Visit my blog (duanemiller.wordpress.com) or academia.edu page for more information or to have me speak at your church, university or seminary.

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