When I received an invitation to attend the 30-year anniversary celebration and graduation ceremony of the Israel College of the Bible in Netanya featuring an address by the president of Dallas Theological Seminary, it raised some questions.
Could the Israel College of the Bible not find a qualified Israeli professor, academic or scholar to address the graduates and their families? And why does a Hebrew-speaking Israeli college invite someone from the bastion of American Evangelical Christianity as their main speaker?
The reason this piqued my interest is that I was there 30 years ago when the college started. I was part of a small group of Israelis who had begun following the Messiah Yeshua and wanted to study the scriptures more seriously to grow in our faith. We were also in the process of forming local Hebrew-speaking congregations around the country and sought to integrate our newfound faith and make it relevant in our Jewish, Israeli cultural setting. Since the only background we had of New Testament faith was the Christian Church, it was thrilling for us to begin thinking about how we might forge our own, local, Jewish-oriented perspective on following the Messiah Yeshua (Jesus). All of this involved processing our unique relationship as Jews to the Torah, the Land of Israel, and the Church.
A big part of those initial efforts was invested in studying the Hebrew roots of our newfound faith. We refused to call ourselves “Christians,” preferring instead the term “Messianic Jews” with the conviction that this was a unique opportunity to restore something that had been lost to the Church, and that it was our responsibility to provide a clear and living demonstration of Yeshua in Hebrew, relevant and recognizable to our people.
Preserving and studying our Jewish heritage, to my mind at least, was just one way of gaining a better understanding of the Messiah and his role in the world that so much of the Church had rejected or ignored. We also believed that we could have something to contribute to a Church that had missed much of its own rich heritage in ignoring thousands of years of Jewish history with the God of Israel.
The best way to understand the college’s decision to invite an American professor from a prestigious Evangelical institution to address their historic celebration in Israel is perhaps as one of my colleagues suggested: “The Messianics are just not ready to take on the role of shedding light on the gospel. This is upside down.” What he means is that instead of restoring some of the Jewish heritage back to the Church, we are still looking to the Church to define our theology, culture, and practice. After 30 years, the Israel College of the Bible surely understands the message it would send to have a local, Hebrew-speaking Jew address the campus at this critical juncture.
While there has been a movement of mainstream Judaism in recent years to “reclaim” Yeshua as a Jew (see links below), too many Messianic Jews, who should be leading that effort, are instead turning to an “American” Jesus, or an American theological viewpoint on Messiah.
Why local Messianic Jews are so enthralled davka with American Evangelicalism is another matter of concern. There are so many other streams of Christianity around the world that might be considered more thoughtful, academically-oriented, and culturally diverse that could prove even more beneficial to the development of Messianic Judaism in Israel, if coexistence is important to the local Messianic community. Aspects of American Evangelicalism often tend towards a closed system of culturally-monotone and fundamentalist style of Christianity. Why Jewish Israeli believers should choose to exclusively follow that path given the rich and deep heritage of our own Jewish history remains a mystery to me.
Some have suggested that there are financial reasons for this attraction to American Christianity. While I imagine that can play a part, I also know from experience that the faith of most Israeli Messianics runs a lot deeper than that. Many of us were forced to give up our families, friends and jobs to follow Yeshua. Back in those days, we joyfully embraced these hardships and the financial losses as nothing compared to the pearl of great price we had discovered. For the most part, Messianic Jews have been a group of highly-motivated Yeshua-followers who fervently love the Messiah. They are passionate about their faith and even in the face of persecution and rejection by our own people remain committed to the Messiah with fiery devotion.
Finances aside, it is hard to fathom this tight-knit coalition between Israeli Messianics and Evangelical Christians that carries with it a comprehensive theology and worldview foreign to the people of Israel and the Middle East. Surely this is a price far too high to pay for the historic opportunity to open a window for our people to reassess their Messiah by developing an indigenous, Hebrew-based, Jewish-oriented theological expression and practice of Messianic faith.
For more on this see:
- Americanism Among Israeli Messianic Jews.
- Is the Future of Messianics Jewish?
- The Ongoing Jewish Reclamation of Jesus
- Putting Jesus Back in the Synagogue
- The Jewish Gospel
- Orthodox Jewish Rabbis Bring Jesus Home