Restoring the Jewishness of the Gospel: A message for Christians David H. Stern.
Jewish New Testament Publications. 1990. 89 pp. $10.63. paper Word Count: 1997
Review by Samuel K. Tigah, Grand Canyon University, Oregon, AZ
Below is a review of Restoring the Jewishness of the Gospel: A message for Christians by David Stern written by Samuel Tigah. Stern boldly challenges Christians to return to the Jewish roots of the gospel as a critical step toward evangelizing Jewish people and fulfilling the great commission of Jesus Christ. Deliberating on the dismal schism between Christianity and the Jewish people, the antisemitic attitude of Christendom toward Jews, the Jewishness of Jesus Christ, and the Christian gospel Stern finally laid down his argument for Tikkun Olam. Stern believed that it is through the collaborative efforts of Messianic Jews and the Church to repair the world that Israel will be saved and so fulfill the blessing of Abraham and the evangelization of the world. Chapter one deliberated on the missiological need for contextualizing the gospel into various cultures neglecting the Jewish culture in which the Holy Spirit initially presented the gospel. Chapter two was a theological analysis of changes that could occur when the church restores the gospel to its Jewish roots. Chapter three is an apologetic discussion of the need to prioritize the restoration of the Jewishness of the gospel and chapter four describes the blessings that follow the restoration.
Keywords: Missions, theology, church, Messianic Judaism, Antisemitism
Restoring the Jewishness of the Gospel: A message for Christians
Stern boldly challenged Christians to return to the Jewish roots of the gospel as a critical step toward evangelizing Jewish people and fulfilling the great commission of Jesus Christ. Deliberating on the dismal schism between Christianity and the Jewish people, the antisemitic attitude of Christendom toward Jews, the Jewishness of Jesus Christ, and the Christian gospel Stern finally laid down his argument for Tikkun Olam – repairing the world. Stern believes that it is through the collaborative efforts of Messianic Jews and the Church to repair the world that Israel will be saved and so fulfill the blessing of Abraham and the proclamation of the gospel to the ends of the earth. The author used historical facts from church history, the doctrinal teachings of Christendom, the Holocaust, scriptural references, and the Messianic Judaism movement to make the argument that restoring the Jewishness of the gospel is critical to reaching the Jewish people and the unreached world for Christ. This book is unique in its challenge of reaching out to Jews in repentance, love, and the correct presentation of the gospel from its Jewish roots as a critical thrust to fulling the mission of the church. Stern is a Messianic Jew with a Master of Divinity in theology and a Ph.D. in Economics. He has authored several books including the New Testament Commentary and Messianic Judaism. The book under review is an excerpt of Messianic Judaism.
The main thrust of Stern’s message to Christians is that “unless the Church does everything in her power to restore that Jewishness, she lacks a key component of the gospel. In consequence, she cannot fulfill the Great Commission properly, and Jewish people cannot be the right kind of ‘light to the nations’” (ix). The book contains 89 pages divided into four chapters. Chapter one deliberated on the missiological need for contextualizing the gospel into various cultures neglecting the Jewish culture in which the Holy Spirit initially presented the gospel. Chapter two was a theological analysis of changes that could happen when the church restores the gospel to its Jewish roots. Chapter three was an apologetic discussion of the need to prioritize the restoration of the Jewishness of the gospel and chapter four describes the blessings that follow the restoration.
In chapter one, Stern expounded on the missional mandate of Jesus Christ to make disciples of all nations which necessitated the separation of the gospel from its cultural context. This process led to the first council of the church in Jerusalem to determine how to present the gospel to Gentile nations. Peter, Paul, James and the leadership of the church met and agreed that Gentile converts would not have to practice unnecessary Jewish traditions that do not count toward salvation. Therefore, Paul contextualized the Jewish gospel to the gentile culture which later became known as Christianity. However, history showed that not all missionaries applied the principle of cross-cultural evangelism. The gospel was most times mixed with culture, requiring converts to abandon their culture, and become aliens to it. This reviewer was an eyewitness to this cultural phenomenon of evangelism and its influence in Ghana, West Africa. Among other restrictions, American missionaries forbade their converts from chewing kola nuts which was a social practice among the people. Missionaries did not allow converts to dance or use traditional drums during worship. These enculturation process stalled many locals from converting to Christianity. Stern illustrated how the enculturation of the gospel with western traditions became the standard practice of the Gentile church. Gentile churches required Jewish converts to adopt an alien culture and give up everything Jewish. The following excerpt is a renouncement Jewish converts had to make before becoming members of the church at Constantinople.
“I renounce all customs, rites, legalisms, unleavened breads and sacrifices of lambs of the Hebrews, and all other feasts of the Hebrews, sacrifices, prayers, aspersions, purifications, sanctifications and propitiations, and fasts, and new moons, and Sabbaths, and superstitions, and hymns, and chants and observances and synagogues, and the food and drink of the Hebrews; in one word, I renounce absolutely everything Jewish, … and if afterwards I shall wish to deny and return to Jewish superstition, or shall be found eating with Jews, or feasting with them… then let the trembling of Cain and the leprosy of Gehazi cleave to me…”(4).
After several centuries of the imposition of western culture to missions’ work, modern missiologists begun to rethink missional theology. They developed the concept of contextualization, which was a return to the first-century missionary concept of the Messianic church. Missiologists produced three broad classifications of cultural barriers to evangelism that the church must address in contextualizing the gospel:
Type 1 Evangelism – sharing the gospel within one’s own culture.
Type II Evangelism – sharing the gospel with nearby people of different culture.
Type III Evangelism – sharing the gospel cross-culturally with language barriers.
Each of these types of evangelism needed different models of contextualization. According to the author, none of the contextualization concepts described above can apply to Jewish evangelism because the gospel is Jewish. The church must, therefore, restore the Jewishness of the gospel for it to be relevant to the Jewish culture. Stern advocated for a
Type IV Evangelism – communicating the gospel in its original context to the Jews.
Chapter two of the book is a theological analysis of the doctrines of Jewish relationship with the church. Christian theologians have followed two false doctrines in explaining the relationships between Israel and the church – replacement and dispensational theologies. Further analysis showed that the separation between the church and the Jewish people for the past 1500 years was a terrible mistake. This malady calls for Tikkun Olam – repairing the broken world which Jewish tradition believe will hasten the advent of the Messiah (2 Peter 3:12). Stern proposed an Olive Tree Theology based on Romans 9 – 11 to explain that Israel is an olive tree whose branches God has cut off because of unbelief. Gentile believers are wild olive branches whom God grafted in His mercy into the trunk whose roots are the patriarchs. Therefore, though God rejected the Jews as a people, He did not reject Israel as the chosen nation – the trunk of the Olive tree. Under the Abrahamic covenant, Israel is a chosen nation par excellence based on promises that are irrevocable.
In chapter three, Stern moved back to an apologetical discussion of the Jewish-Christian relationship. Christianity has its roots in Judaism and the Jewish people. Jews wrote the New Testament, and it was Jews who brought the gospel to the gentile nations. Stern claimed that much of the New Testament writings are incomprehensible without Jewish interpretation. Christianity being Jewish means that Jews can best assimilate it. That is what Paul meant by saying that the gospel is first to the Jew (Romans 1:16). Stern explained that interpreting the new testament with a gentile mindset instead of its Jewish background is a form of antisemitism. Theologians must correct this by seeking to understand the Jewish roots of the gospel. Furthermore, the church must repent of its part in the Holocaust, seeking forgiveness from the Jews without expecting it. Finally, Christians should bring the gospel to the Jews because without it the Jews are destined for eternal destruction. True disciples of Christ were known for their love of neighbors, and while seeking no vengeance, they prayed for their persecutors (Acts 7:60; Luke 10:27, Matthew 5:44, NKJV). However, when the church became institutionalized and merged with state empires, pagan practices, and humanistic philosophies infiltrated the church and wrought all kinds of evil including hatred for Jews – they were tares sown by the enemy among the wheat. Nevertheless, the true church must accept the responsibility of seeking peace with the Jewish people through repentance, love, reconciliation, and Tikkun Olam, – repairing the world through collaboration with Messianic Jews and the Jewish gospel under the power of the Holy Spirit.
In chapter four Stern invokes the blessing of Abraham according to Genesis 12:3 on the church, upon restoring the Jewishness of the gospel to its true context. By showing God’s mercy to Jewish people, Christians will provoke the Jews to jealousy who will then return to their Messiah and so shall all Israel be saved. Stern concluded his thesis by recognizing the increasing appreciation of the Jewish roots of the church and their growing love for Jews.
Juster (2011) commended Stern for his writings on Messianic Judaism. However, Juster criticized Stern’s tone of writing as being too favorable toward rabbinic Judaism (see Juster, D. Jewish roots: a foundation of biblical theology. Destiny Image Publishers. 2011). Fritz (2013) disputed Stern’s concept of the priority of the gospel to the Jews. However, Fritz advocated that since Jews are among the unreached people groups, they can be considered a priority in that context (See Fritz, A. X. To the Jew first or to the Jew at last? Romans 1: 16c and Jewish Missional Priority in Dialogue with Jews for Jesus. Wipf and Stock Publishers. 2013). It is a shame that Christendom has treated the recipients of God’s word, the brethren of Christ according to the flesh, the nation most blessed of God and through whom God promised to bless the world with such disdain, hatred, and atrocity. It is heartwarming, though, that the church is learning about this atrocity and growing numbers of Christians are seeking to make peace with the Jews. It is the view of this reviewer that the church can only accomplish Christ’s prophetic message in Matthew 24:14 by going back to Jerusalem where it all began. This reviewer agrees with Stern that the church today needs to embrace Messianic Judaism and collaborate with them to repair the world – Tikkun Olam. It means going back to the Jewish-roots of the gospel and interpreting it under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit to the Jews while contextualizing it to all unreached nations (Acts 1:8; Romans 1:16; Matthew 28:19.20 NKJV). The reviewer recommends this book for missiologists, missional churches, church leaders and all mission-minded believers of the faith who are interested in church planting, Jewish ministries, and world evangelization.