A Debate in the American Jewish Community

In May of this year, Rabbi Norman Lamm, the Chancellor of Yeshiva University in New York, predicted the demise of the Conservative and Reform movements. As quoted in the Jerusalem Post, here is Lamm's statement.

"With a heavy heart we will soon say kaddish on the Reform and Conservative movements." According to Lamm the reason for this coming demise is the loss of real convictions foundational to Judaism.

The following week Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, the executive vice president of the Conservative Movement's Rabbinical Assembly, sought to rebut Rabbi Lamm, pointing to some programs in Conservative Judaism that are vibrant and successful. However, Rabbi Schonfeld was surely "whistling in the dark." The overwhelming statistics show that in attendance, education, intermarriage, assimilation, and Jewish practice, Conservative and Reform Judaism are in decline.

Declining Numbers in American Churches

These phenomena are similar in the Church world. A few years ago Dean Kelly wrote a significant volume entitled Why Conservative Churches are Growing. He could have called it Why Liberal Churches are Shrinking. Since that time we have seen liberalizing tendencies in conservative churches and where such tendencies are significant, these churches are also shrinking. For example, denominations such as the Presbyterian mainline have only two fifths of the membership of just thirty years ago and the Episcopal Church has lost two thirds of its membership over the same period.

Evangelical Churches are facing similar difficulties. The loss of youth is so alarming that Josh McDowell asks if we are witnessing the last Christian generation in America. I note, on the other hand, that Orthodox Judaism is growing. Can we learn something from the Orthodox Jews today?

Liberalizing Tendencies: What and How?

There are two types of liberalizing tendencies: The influence of modern liberal scholarship and the driving desire to be relevant to the culture. In the latter case, the leader seeks to tailor his message and organization to what he thinks people desire. The harder road of the cross and discipleship is abandoned for an easier pop psychology message of positive thinking that makes people feel good. Entertainment takes the place of real challenge. This draws people for a season but loses the next generation. Orthodox Judaism is more committed to making disciples than Western Christianity. They have real convictions. Is this what we should learn from them?

The liberalizing tendency that comes from scholarship influences individuals to question the truths they once held. For example, in the light of the vast complexity of life, and the different claims of world religions, can we really believe that "No man comes to the Father" but by Yeshua? Or in the light of Biblical critical scholarship, can we really trust the Bible and claim that all the texts in the Bible teach the truth when interpreted according to the intent of the author? Can we really know the intent of the author? To some scholars, there seem to be conflicting and incoherent orientations from one part of the Bible to another. In addition, the scholarly world - where accreditation comes from peer review - is attuned to what is culturally acceptable. Sociology is influencing the scholarly world to the extent that some think that conservative convictions are too narrow and no longer credible. This was my experience as an upperclassman and in early graduate school studies.

Liberalizing Evangelicals now ask if the historic standards precluding divorce and remarriage or homosexual relationships are too rigid. Conversely, Orthodox Judaism largely rejects scholarship and anything that undermines the inerrancy of the Bible and strongly resists the draw of the surrounding culture.

The Delusion Factor

From such doubt and then reorientation, individuals create a new more liberal theology. On the basis of these conclusions, not recognizing the profound cultural and sociological influences upon them, they now believe that this new orientation will be more effective in gaining adherents than the former conservative orientation.

Yet strangely, the expected growing number of adherents, at least from the uncommitted unbelievers, never materializes. Liberal theologies in Christianity and in Judaism generally do not draw in the uncommitted; rather they convert the converted to a more liberal view. The liberalizing Christian, and today we can say the liberalizing Messianic Jew, believes that their new orientation will be more effective, but the years grind on and that greater effectiveness does not take place. They think, maybe over time it will start to happen; if we just have more convocations, read more scholarly papers, and have more high level courses; certainly we will see success. It is to no avail.

The delusion comes from not facing this one fact: People will generally not commit themselves deeply to something unless they believe that doing so is momentous, and based on real convictions of truth that will bring lasting positive gain. It is very difficult for liberalizing people in the theological world to convince the uncommitted that their project is worth their time and energy. This has been proven again and again for the last century, and yet liberalizing people are in denial over this fact. They themselves cannot fully believe, and so they think that a movement of people like themselves - none of whom can fully believe in the ancient paths - will be successful. The quest for such a movement is a quest for self validation.

Conservative Theology is Most Credible

After years of studying the philosophy of religion and critical approaches to the Bible, I came to a firm conviction that the trustworthiness of the Bible was reasonable, based on solid evidence, and alone would provide a place to stand. It is like building a house upon a rock. Thank God for the professors who refused to compromise.

This conviction is based on receiving the teaching on scripture by Yeshua and the Apostles as paramount. On that biblical basis we know that Yeshua is the way, the truth and the life, that He is Deity, and that the moral teachings of the Bible are absolute. Our natural sense can sometimes show us right and wrong, but we need to be bolstered by revelation from God in order not to waiver under cultural pressures.

When society influences people to accept gay marriage and alternative life styles, the Bible gives us a sure place on which to stand. I know that our Jewish movement for Yeshua can only attain lasting growth when we have confidence in the Word of God, are filled with the Spirit and see His miraculous confirmations as we proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom.

By Daniel Juster

Dan Juster leads the overall ministry Tikkun International. Donate to Tikkun International.

Let us know what you think - why not comment to this article. The authors of these articles are often involved in intense ministry and are thus unable to respond to most comments. As is normal with print and online magazines, Tikkun reserves the right to publish only those comments we feel are edifying in tone and content.
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08:40 08Jul09 HJK -
What can I say? Amen! And thank you for taking a stand for truth. And yes, dear postmodernists, there is such a thing as absolute truth: it's all over the Bible.
The Reform and Conservative movements are shrinking. Perhaps liberal theology is so open minded that the brain is falling out? Messianic Judaism needs to stand for something, which is the Good News, redemption through faith/trust in Messiah Yeshua alone, a personal relationship with a living and triune G-d, and Torah observance, justice, loving-kindness, pursue of peace, glorifying Hashem.
Liberal theology is chillul Hashem, the exact opposite of Messianic Judaism.

09:59 08Jul09 Robert -
I thought by now [after 2000years] the word "church" would not even be read in/on a paper of the Jewish minded.

10:15 08Jul09 Bob Brunette -
This article rings so very evident and true, but so few are willing to see. It seems that half the probem we Evangelicals have is overcoming our denial - much like an alcoholic. Until the problem has been faced in sober reality, in light of the Scriptures, His Holy Word, then probably not much will change but rather grow increasingly worse, until this wayward lifestyle comes to its fatefull end, perhaps then the Mercy of Yeshua will make sense.

10:45 08Jul09 Timothy -
You wrote about the trustworthiness of the Bible, which is nice theory, but I am not sure if it is so practical for most Christians who have no knowledge of the original languages. Personally I have full confidence in the Aleppo Codex of the Hebrew Bible (which unfortunately is incomplete) and also accept the Leningrad codex as a reasonably reliable source. However, I have no confidence in Christian translations of the Bible, nor do I think we should consider them the inerrant, trustworthy word of God. The sad truth is that the vast majority of Christians or Messianic Jews who insist on the trustworthiness of the Bible are actually reading TRANSLATIONS of the Bible which are not really trustworthy. As for the New Testament, with all the infinite textual variants, what should be considered the true Word of God? When you talk about having "confidence in the Word of God," do you mean every single word in the Hebrew and Greek texts or the overall message?

  -- Dr Juster replies: The issue of the trustworthiness of the Bible is expressed in the following propositions.

  1. The original autographs from the inspired writings are fully trustworthy;
  2. We have sufficient copies that our Hebrew and Greek texts today are at a very high trustworthiness, even as trustworthy as we could really need or desire;
  3. The translations are of various quality so no translation is fully trustworthy. It is best to compare them. However, good translations are reasonably trustworthy.

11:03 08Jul09 Mary Drakeford -
Jesus was adament when He SAID,"Things impossible with man is possible with HIM". I have learned from supernatural experiences, this to be true. I just retired from the Montgomery County school system. When I was called out in 1992 I was sent to my mission field, The Montgomery county school system. God has used me as a result of my complete submission to HIM. Just like the scripture states, I was predestinated, called out and sent. Jesus said, "Many are called but few are chosen." Those who are chosen for such a time as these will do, go, and be just what HE wants and not what we want. This requires GOD's spirit having HIS perfect way through us. I say that because it requires supernatural strength in Christ and not in ourselves. When Christ makes HIMself known to HIS called out servants it's as if HIS desire, will and being has now become ours. Nothing else matter, not even life itself. This gives us one focus in life and that is to commplete the will of HE who called and sent us.
Today people are using the world's wisdom instead of GOD's. Too many pastors preach what they don't believe therefore without power. JESUS IS the ONLY way and apart from this there is no other way to the Father. Jesus never said it was going to be easy. It wasn't easy for HIM therefore it isn't for us.
Jesus said there was going to be a great falling away. Too many pastors today are building their own kingdoms while GOD's kingdom is nowhere to be found in their hearts and teaching.
Jesus said, "Don't weep for me but weep for you and your children." This is what I am seeing nightly on the news. There is nothing new under the sun. We must pray for our leaders and that His Kingdom comes in everyone's hearts while we still have time.

12:00 08Jul09 John -
Is it possible that there is a karaite revival on the horizon?

  -- Dr Juster replies: The Karaites seem quite small. Yet we constantly meet people in Israel who want to credit the Bible but question Rabbinic authority. Who knows?

14:31 08Jul09 Pelham -
Reading "The Delusional Factor", my mind filled in some different words applicable to America's political scene: The liberalizing American politicians believe that their new orientation of stimulus economy will be more effective, but the months grind on and that greater effectiveness does not take place. They think, maybe over time it will start to happen; if we just have more legislation, more regulations, and have more high level government programs and another stimulus package; certainly we will see success. It is to no avail.

15:13 08Jul09 Paula Stern -
Thank you for defining this problem so beautifully.
I have a vision to see teens and college students equipped to be a light on campuses across America. My oldest son is a college pastor and has proposed a symposium/workshop for this purpose, please pray that God's will would be done. I also believe that we need to have Christian Apologists that have come out of urban culture to truly equip our young people for this end time harvest.

  -- Dr Juster replies: These are good visions and we hope that you succeed in a great way.

21:29 08Jul09 Benny Teh -
I agree with you totally. We need prople like you to speak out the Truth in love. I don't know where the world is heading now in light of the Scripture - permitting same sex marriages and excepting same sex de-facto relationship, even here in Australia. May God have mercy upon those countries who compromise His Word.

11:25 09Jul09 anonymous -
You mention Messianic Judaism, but that really does not have a concrete and clear understanding either. With the two most visible entities of Messianic Jewish identity, one group (MJAA) moving to a rather liberal acceptance of Jewish custom and practice because of gentile influences, and the other (UMJC) attempting to maintain some relevance to those Judaic custom and practices, yet attempting to be faithful to Yeshua as the central theme. I believe there is more religion involved in both groups in their effort to be what their constituents (or Rabbinic leaders?) want them to be. This has sadly made the focus on what "we" are than who Yeshua is and the fullness of the gospel. I am personally very saddened by all this, and frustrated with our seeming inability to be united in our purpose and making Messianic Judaism a true movement that is "turning the world upside down" for Yeshua.

  -- Dr Juster replies: Messianic Judaism, which in my preferred theological term should be New Covenant Judaism, is a term that covers a vast variety of tradition and non-tradition, and different ways to apply Torah. I can only say that we are doing our best to get this right. While in Tikkun there are various levels of appropriating tradition, we seek to be guided by principles. Generally, the centrality of Yeshua and the place and power of the Spirit should permeate our preaching, teaching and worship. Then with a renewed mind we can affirm what is good in Jewish tradition. But if we put the cart before the horse, or Rabbinic identity before clarity on our identity in Yeshua, we will become askew. I think that is what is troubling you.

20:43 15Jul09 Art & Debbi Hammond -
Thank you, thank you for boldly declaring the TRUTH!!! Yeshua is the only WAY, the TRUTH and the LIFE and no one comes to the Father except through HIM!! It is sad to see how far Believers have gone from the truth ... so they can be more "effective". The only way to be effective is to live as Yeshua lived ... walking in the Spirit and doing what the Father told Him to do.

Also in this issue of the newsletter:

Eitan Shishkoff: Wrestling With Tisha B'Av
Marty Shoub: A Voice For Those Who Cannot Speak
Developments on the Highway