book review

A Book Review By Invitation

My recent post/review of Boaz Michael’s Tent of David has really fostered some good discussion. Probably one of the longest and best discussion thread on any post on this blog. At times it has been spirited, but peace and grace have been the general tenor. Thank you!!

Leaders in the discussion have been bloggers James Pyles of “My Morning Meditations” and Ruth of Sojourning With Jews. Both are friends I have gotten to know over the last year in the blogosphere and though we do not see eye to eye on all things Messianic, we all desire truth and enjoy the pursuit thereof. Each of us has publicly wrestled with thoughts and understandings as we search the Scriptures (though I envy both for being more open with their hearts than I have been…).

-Pete Rambo
“You are invited….”
natsab.com

Hebrew Roots (HR) blogger Pete Rambo has issued a challenge to me (Ruth had to back out) to read one or more leading HR books (since Pete and I have already discussed Boaz’s book Tent of David: Healing the Vision of the Messianic Gentile in the comments section of his review) and to “co-review” the book, he with his perspective on his blog and me on mine.

Pete generously sent me two books to choose from, both written by a gentleman named J.K. McKee who maintains a personal/professional website called TNN Online (Theology News Network Online). McKee’s rather lengthy Statement of Faith is also available on his site, so in addition to his About page, you should be able to find out all you need to know about him.

As far as Pete goes, he describes himself as a “46 [year old] recovering seminary trained pastor.” He also says:

During most of my life I have had a particular interest in eschatology (end times events/prophecy) and in understanding truth. (I used to be a conspiracy theorist… now, I am a conspiracy factualist… ) In my quest, I began to run into pieces of information that challenged my very conservative traditional Christian religious perspectives. Only when I began to pray earnestly for Yahweh to show me TRUTH did He move my focus from geopolitical events and onto a close scrutiny of what I now call ‘Churchianity.’ As I learned how far the Church had moved from the simplicity of the Book of Acts and the clear teaching of the Word, I became convicted of the need for a personal reformation.

Tent of DavidTo “bottom line” it, my understanding (and please correct me if I get this wrong, Pete) is that both Pete and Mr. McKee would fall into the theological/doctrinal category within Hebrew Roots of being One Law (and I’ve linked to a set of definitions created by Rabbi David Rudolph from his website MessianicGentiles.com).

The book Pete and I agreed upon (via email) to review first is McKee’s One Law for All: From the Mosaic Texts to the Work of the Holy Spirit. The book is about two-years old and so far has rather stellar reviews on Amazon with a total of nine reviews as I write this. Either the book is incredibly good, or the deck is stacked, or both.

Let me explain.

Since I’m also published author, though not in the religious or theological space, the publishers I’ve written for typically send me anywhere from five to ten “review copies” of my books once they go to market so I can pass them out to family and friends, asking them to write and publish reviews on Amazon.

This is a traditional marketing technique and the assumption is that the author’s family and friends or perhaps “fans” of his/her work will be more likely to write favorable reviews, elevating the book’s ranking at Amazon. Of course, at least from my experience, every time I’ve sent out review copies of one of my books and asked people I know to review it, it’s always a tad risky, since I want the reviewers to be honest and sincere, and there’s always a chance they’ll take exception to some portion of what I’ve written (if not the whole book). On the other hand, I don’t want anyone to be dishonest in writing their opinion of something I’ve created. If one of my books is to be praised, I want that praise to be authentic.

I say all this with the idea that the individuals who have reviewed McKee’s “One Law” book at Amazon may be those people who are already predisposed to like the content of McKee’s book (and his general theological bent) and thus write positive reviews.

I know one of the reasons I reviewed Matthew Vines’ book God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships is because I knew it would draw exactly two audiences: those who automatically supported his platform and those who automatically opposed it. I wondered if Mr. Vines would ever get a truly objective review of his work, so I made it my “mission,” so to speak, to do just that, setting aside as much of my own personal bias as was possible.

I intend to do the same thing here with the caveat (please pay attention to this part) that I am theologically and doctrinally opposed to the position that there is One Law, that is, a single and unified application of the Torah mitzvot that applies to all disciples of Jesus Christ (Yeshua HaMoshiach) whether they be Jewish or Gentile (that application would ultimately be applied to all human beings since the Bible refers to how “every knee will bow, see Romans 14:11; Philippians 2:10).

I have a history in “One Law,” and after coming to faith within the context of a Christian church nearly twenty years ago, I swiftly (long story) transitioned into a Hebrew Roots/One Law congregation (which billed itself as “Messianic Judaism”) and learned my basic understanding of the Bible and my faith there.

Without going into a long explanation, after some years, I finally was prompted to question all of the assumptions I naively accepted back in the day and spent nearly a year publicly exploring said-assumptions on my previous blog spot (to which I no longer contribute).

In the spirit of friendship and learning, I have agreed to Pete’s proposal but I could be considered what trial attorneys call a hostile witness in that my attitudes and beliefs regarding “One Law” are not supportive of the theological presuppositions it entails.

one law bookThe goal is as Pete states on his own blog:

In the process of our discussion, I mentioned to James via email that we ought to read and review/discuss a book at the same time…

One point to stress for all of us from the outset: the goal here is to learn and grow. We may be challenged, but we want to plan on good vigorous discussion that at the same time is peaceful and displays the fruit of the Spirit!!

That is, Pete and I will read McKee’s book and each of us will post our impressions/reviews on our respective blogs (and I also intend to post a review on Amazon). We will insert McKee’s book into a crucible and attempt, through our differing viewpoints, to tease out the essence of what’s been written, then present those findings to whoever chooses to read our blogs.

As Pete says, we both want to show that two people can discuss differing theological perspectives in a peaceful and cooperative manner, and avoid those emotional meltdowns that we all frequently have witnessed in the religious blogosphere. We aren’t (necessarily) trying to convince the other to change his mind, but rather are trying to provide clarity of thought and expression of our respective points of view.

I hope you will follow along on our two blogs and feel free to join in (politely and respectfully) on our discussions.

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23 thoughts on “A Book Review By Invitation”

  1. Looking forward to it. For all who want to participate, please order promptly and you can have the book in hand by Monday at the latest and be able to discuss particular pages, thoughts, paragraphs, etc…

  2. Sounds good.

    I do want to do some other background reading to better understand his perspective. I’m not sure he touches Acts 15 in the book (haven’t checked) but I did order his 2010 ‘Acts 15 for the Practical Messianic’ since I am sure you’ll ‘go there.’ 😉 It is about another 190 pgs.

    In wrestling with McKee (and generally, I really like his approach and scholarship), I want to be sure to understand his position.

  3. Being somewhat familiar with McKee’s work (actually reading his “The New Testament Validates Torah” right now), I really look forward to hearing both of your perspectives/thoughts. I think this has the potential to be a great dialogue and I know many will be interested to see the exchange as blogger “flies on the wall” so to speak.

    I commend both of you for the endeavor and pray it will be fruitful, rooted in love.

    Blessings to you and yours in Yeshua, James, (as well as Pete)

  4. Reblogged this on natsab and commented:
    James, Ruth and I have had a few emails exchanged to clarify my misunderstanding and miscommunication. Bottom-line, James will be joining us for a review and book discussion. Ruth will not be able to at this time… maybe some future collaboration.

    So, per comments on James’ acceptance post, we’ll be starting some time after August 15… Get yer book and prepare to dig/discuss, etc…

    This should be fun!

  5. I’ve started digging in Kindle-style. Already seeing some things I never saw, and others that I don’t quite agree with. Looking forward to the discussion.

  6. I’m very mindful that even if we are all polite and friendly here (and on Pete’s blog), chances are other bloggers and some others in general who are aware of this dialogue are going to be offended. Some people will never be pleased by any civil discussion like this one, and would only be satisfied if I were to totally capitulate and move (back) to the One Law view, or conversely, if Pete were to totally abandon it. I think there is a bit of denial going on in the religious blogosphere. There have been disagreements between different branches of Jesus-worship ever since there was something we started calling “Christianity.

    In the realm of high level Christian scholarship (take Larry Hurtado and James D.G. Dunn for example) there are continual debates on a variety of important topics, and yet there is no emotional “bickering” among professionals (at least not publicly). While one Professor may believe there is no credible scholarly debate or reason to disagree with said-Professor’s position, there is almost always the other side of the coin which is brought up in another scholar’s research.

    In Yeshua’s day, there were multiple different “Judaisms” that majorly disagreed with each other (just look at the Pharisees and Sadducees on the issue of the resurrection) and look at the differences between the various “Christianities” and different “Judaisms” today. It is wholly unreasonable to expect to lay out some sort of “devastating argument” that is impossible to refute. And yet I believe Pete and I will either directly or indirectly encounter people who will attempt to convince one, the other, or both of us, that we are wrong and they are right.

    This isn’t about “winning” (think Charlie Sheen), it’s about conversation and exchange of perspectives.

    I suspect we will not see any true unity of theology or vision in our faith until Messiah returns to straighten us all out. In the meantime, I think it’s better to take the moral high road, so to speak, as I believe Pete and I are doing rather than posting “snarky” responses on blogger just because you can.

  7. I’ve been guilty of posting “snarky” comments before. I’ve changed and I promised myself to never go down that path again. It is hard though. It’s hard to detach yourself from your emotions about a topic that is…well, very personal (If one takes his/her Kingdom life serious). It’s also ten times harder when you’re sitting behind a computer. For some reason, social etiquette and dignity go out the window. Social media is good, but sometimes it falsely empowers those of us who can’t handle the responsibility.

    When I was in high school, computers were still fairly new. The internet speeds were horrid. Whenever our computers would be slow loading or running sluggish, instead of getting frustrated and “going off”, our teacher would suggest to go get a drink of water from the hall fountain. By the time you get back, hopefully your computer will have loaded the webpage or done whatever task you told it to do. Maybe this is how we should approach commenting on social media and blogs.

    Being guided by love for each other is also a good one too 😉

  8. I agree, Keith. It’s always good policy when writing something in anger online to stop, go make yourself a sandwich or a cup of coffee, come back, re-read what you’ve written, and edit out anything snarky (or if necessary, deleting the comment or blog post) before clicking “Submit”.

  9. This sounds great. Looking forward to it. I am familiar with John McKee, have communicated with him a little on 2 or 3 occasions, and have great respect for him because what he is doing is dedicating his life to seeking to write scholarly material for Messianics, recognizing the movement (and I believe HR falls under this same umbrella) is all over the place. So even if I don’t agree with him on whatever issues, I still respect him and appreciate his underlying motive. I have one of his books and certainly wouldn’t mind reading this one, so I’m ordering!

  10. I guess that’s what book reviews are all about, Linda. I’ve read McKee’s qualifications, but there are tons and tons of degreed theologians publishing and they don’t all exactly agree with each other. My job is to see if McKee convincingly makes his point, even though I may not always agree with that point.

  11. First, Thank you for the invite Pete,
    I would have liked to participate, but unfortunately I have commitments that prevent it. No doubt James will be far better suited for this task since he understands the OL position and has real experience in it.

    “…chances are other bloggers and some others in general who are aware of this dialogue are going to be offended.”

    James, you’re nothing if not perceptive. 🙂 Here’s hoping everyone plays nice. (I have no doubts that you and Pete will)

    “In the realm of high level Christian scholarship (take Larry Hurtado and James D.G. Dunn for example) there are continual debates on a variety of important topics, and yet there is no emotional “bickering” among professionals (at least not publicly).”

    Perhaps among fellow Christians this is true, but it did remind me of a “Scholarly Brawl” when Peter Schäfer did a Daniel Boyarin “smack down” 🙂

    I’ll be checking in to keep up with all of this. Good luck!

  12. @Ruth: Thanks. I’ll need it.

    @Pete (and everyone else): I made it to page 19 for the first day after an hour’s worth of reading. I know it must seem like I read very slowly, but I usually take copious notes in the books I review citing my opinions and sources which either support or refute the points made in the book.

    I could have written a “meditation” on the Introduction section alone:

    Finding the preliminary answers to these questions is not going to be easy — but not because of any real fault of the Bible — but instead because of the immaturity and posturing in various parts our Messianic faith community. To some of today’s Messianic Jews, non-Jewish believers, observing God’s Torah via the empowerment of the Holy Spirit is tantamount to canceling out their distinctiveness as Jews. (emph. mine)

    -McKee, Introduction, p. x

    That part of this paragraph is replete with assumptions as well as a “snarky side-swipe” to certain Messianic Jewish leaders, writers, and organizations.

    I should say that McKee paints Torah observance (p. ix) as an all or nothing affair, which is patently untrue. Any Christian worth his or her salt observes significant portions of the Torah, even admittedly, although they call it the moral parts of the Law (as opposed to the ceremonial portions). I don’t think anyone, including me, would say that Gentile Christians are forbidden to visit the sick, give to charity, feed the hungry, or perform any other possible act of kindness and compassion just because they are listed in the Torah. The issue isn’t whether or not Gentiles are permitted to observe the mitzvot since obviously they are. The question is which mitzvot and how are they to be observed. Further, which of the mitzvot are considered obligatory on the Christian and which are voluntary?

    And to be fair relative to “immaturity and posturing,” in Chapter 1 (I guess they’re chapters though not numbered) “One Law For All,” p. 2, McKee seems to criticize “posturing” on both sides of the aisle, since he mentions Tim Hegg as well as Juster, Resnik, Lancaster, and others in footnote 2 on that page. McKee calls for “maturity” in examining the scriptures, but also says (p. 3) that:

    ….there has been very little engagement with actual verses themselves…

    which I found odd since I recall various publications in Messianic Judaism addressing Hebrew Roots/One Law as actually referencing many of the scriptures McKee himself cites in the first 19 pages of his book.

    No promises on being done with the reading and writing of my review by Tuesday/Wednesday. As I said, it’s slow going with needing to write the notes upon which to craft my review. I don’t want to have to take on each point McKee makes since a lot of what he’s said so far I’ve read before albeit from the opposite end of the telescope. I don’t want to have to “joust” with each scripture reference and would prefer to render an overall impression as to whether or not I was convinced the author was successful in establishing the validity of his interpretations.

    I’m waiting to see if he’ll make points I haven’t heard of before, but so far (granted I’m barely into his book) he hasn’t.

  13. I thought this comment by ProclaimLiberty on another of my blog posts was relevant to the current conversation:

    Halakhah is universal; only minhag is potentially localized. Local adjustments in the application of halakhah are minhag (customs) or horaot sha’ah (temporary injunctions). They do not in themselves change halakhah, even locally. Even the adjustments developed by the Conservative and MJ movements can only be considered temporary injunctions. Such injunctions are, nonetheless, limited in their communal jurisdiction, as you suggest.

    Regarding your other pseudo-proverb that one cannot fit the ways of heaven into human systems — that is a flat-out denial of the authority of HaShem’s Torah. Torah is not far off, and it is not something that resides in the heavens — per Deut.30 — but rather it is now a human (specifically Jewish) responsibility to administer, interpret, and apply. It is precisely an example of the ways of heaven being incorporated into a human system. It can be administered in better or worse ways, or more or less consistently with its heavenly principles; but it is now a human system. It absolutely demands of us that we incorporate heaven’s ways into our human systems. It also includes distinctions between Jews and non-Jews regarding what is required or not required of each; so while there truly is only one Torah (comprising both written and oral components), each of its elements does not apply to everyone in identical fashion as if it were a uniform blanket of coverage. Moreover, it comprises multiple levels of concrete and metaphorical and symbolic applications by which it may be differentiated in its application to any given subset of people in any given set of circumstances. Hence a concrete requirement for Jews may have only symbolic value for non-Jews, if it applies at all or in any degree. This is a great deal more complex and nuanced than any description such as “one law with caveats”.

  14. James wrote:

    I should say that McKee paints Torah observance (p. ix) as an all or nothing affair, which is patently untrue. Any Christian worth his or her salt observes significant portions of the Torah, even admittedly, although they call it the moral parts of the Law (as opposed to the ceremonial portions). I don’t think anyone, including me, would say that Gentile Christians are forbidden to visit the sick, give to charity, feed the hungry, or perform any other possible act of kindness and compassion just because they are listed in the Torah. The issue isn’t whether or not Gentiles are permitted to observe the mitzvot since obviously they are. The question is which mitzvot and how are they to be observed. Further, which of the mitzvot are considered obligatory on the Christian and which are voluntary?

    I purchased the wrong book, lol, thought you two were going to review “A part of Israel”, guess I will get a copy of the “One Law for All” now… anyways, coming from a One Law perspective, Torah obligation/responsibility is the question, not whether gentiles can keep certain moral standards that are found in the Torah, thus I doubt his point has anything to do with gentiles performing Torah deeds. The question is are gentiles who are in the Messiah, responsible/obligated to keep the Torah, with that question in mind, I think his perspective makes a lot more sense, however I have not read it in context, so I can’t say for sure.

  15. “Keeping the Torah” is variable depending on the individuals or groups involved. There’s no “one size fits all” observance, even for Jews. It stands to reason and given the difficulty Paul and the Jewish Messianic community (and Jewish communities in general in the first century) had understanding how to integrate Gentiles as co-participants into Jewish communal life that it wasn’t particularly obvious. Matthew 28:19-20 was of no help to Peter (Acts 10} or Paul’s Jewish critics (Acts 15:1-2) and required full deliberations, testimony, and reviewing proof texts (later in Acts 15) before the appropriate halachic ruling could be issued. If it was as simple as “the same rules that apply to all Jews in Messiah apply to all Gentiles in Messiah,” then I wouldn’t expect to see such a struggle. The issue would simply be whether or not to circumcise the (male) Gentiles making them fully Jewish proselytes or not to circumcise, which would effectively make them “Jews without a bris.”

  16. “Keeping the Torah” is variable depending on the individuals or groups involved. There’s no “one size fits all” observance, even for Jews.

    I agree, however we can’t say gentiles are obligated to the Torah in any way, unless establishing the foundation for what creates the obligation. That is step one, without that, the rest of the argument is playing a “would if” game…

    how to integrate Gentiles as co-participants into Jewish communal life that it wasn’t particularly obvious. Matthew 28:19-20 was of no help to Peter (Acts 10} or Paul’s Jewish critics (Acts 15:1-2)

    I agree, but I don’t see that as a fault of the Torah or the commandments themselves, in not being clear. Instead, the issue was more a cultural/traditional view point, note an invalid view point at that, concerning gentiles, i.e. gentiles being considered unclean, and how it was considered unlawful for Jews to associate or visit gentiles, and thus this invalid view of gentiles among the traditional view point of that day, was a major hindrance to what was happening. This is why I think Matthew 28 was of no help, the invalid doctrines were still too great within the minds of Peter and others who were in need of a rewriting… in fact, without this rewriting, this discussion would not even exist today, as the Gospel would have never went beyond the Jewish sect to gentiles.

    If it was as simple as “the same rules that apply to all Jews in Messiah apply to all Gentiles in Messiah,” then I wouldn’t expect to see such a struggle. The issue would simply be whether or not to circumcise the (male) Gentiles making them fully Jewish proselytes or not to circumcise, which would effectively make them “Jews without a bris.”

    I would say the struggle was not over an argument of whether or not gentiles should keep the Torah, but false doctrines. Acts 15:1 has nothing to do with the Law of Moses, which means we must look elsewhere to understand what the argument was, since it was not simply being circumcised, and when we understand what Paul meant when he said, “beware of the false circumcision”, I think we get a better understanding of the actual struggle.

    Also, I think it is important to note, that making a proselyte, is different than simply committing the act of circumcision…

  17. Actually, Zion, the traditional view in that era of gentiles as unclean and properly to be avoided was entirely valid. It was extremely rare to find such a thing as a cleansed gentile with whom a Jew might have even the most limited contact, let alone something so threatening to Jewish ceremonial purity as table fellowship, which is why Kefa’s vision in Acts 10 required so much pondering and why a heavenly revelation was even needed at all. Jews quite properly needed strong reassurance that HaShem had somehow cleansed these particular gentiles sufficiently to set them apart from those who were still to be avoided. Even so, it remained unclear what part Torah would play in their sanctification and discipleship, and how it might be applied, since they were not to become proselytes but rather were to remain gentiles with a difference. Acts 15 represents the results of deliberation to develop some such clarity, and even that seems to have required additional consideration in documents like the Didache. So it shouldn’t seem surprising that still today we must revisit these considerations that already recognized the existence of distinctions between Jewish obligation to Torah and the ways in which Torah should influence gentile behavior.

  18. PL, I don’t see how your conclusion lines up with Peter’s revelation, which was that Peter came to the realization, “God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean”, not some, but any. So I don’t find your perspective in this context as adequate. Cornelius was called a righteous and god-fearing man, and even that would not have been good enough. Like I said earlier, if gentiles were to be avoided, the Gospel message could never reach the nations (Matt 28)… Peter claimed it was unlawful for a Jew to associate with a gentile, so either he broke the Law, or the “unlawful” was not what the Law teaches in this regard, thus a traditional view was being broken…

    I don’t see Acts 15 as purposed for clarifying gentile relationship to Torah, but instead to their salvation status, seen in the dilemma of Acts 15:1, and answered in Acts 15:11. Then and only then, do I see a satisfying factor for the community, showing that gentiles prove that change by adhering to 4 very important community rulings, created by the Apostles, and this was just a starting place for community fellowship, this was in no way a summation or conclusion on gentile relationship to Torah, and if gentiles even have a relationship to Torah, implying covenant affiliation, which is not the topic or the issue in my opinion. This was based on the traditional views of this time and what should be done in the immediate context, and some of those views were not valid, such as the view proposed by the false circumcision.

  19. @Zion — As with many laws, there are conditions which constrain their application. The Torah does, in fact, constrain Jewish interactions with unclean gentiles. Kefa’s vision essentially challenged the notion that all gentiles were automatically to be dismissed as being in that category. And since no one wears a nametag that shows on the outside whether they are unclean, Kefa had to offer the benefit of the doubt in not presuming them to be so. However, the vision itself merely stated that Kefa was not to consider as unclean someone whom HaShem had cleansed. This worked out alright practically, because only “cleansed” gentiles would have sought out Kefa in the first place. Nonetheless, this entire discussion is now moot until the Temple operations are restored and Jewish ceremonial purity becomes an issue again.

    As for Acts 15, a few issues were clarified therein. One was that gentiles were not required to become Jews in order to be “saved”. In other words, they did not require membership within the Torah covenant in order to approach HaShem or to be accepted by Him. We find in other passages that their reliance on the metaphorical sacrifice represented in Rav Yeshua’s martyrdom was sufficient to enable their acceptance and open the door to their growth toward spiritual maturity. This would be comparable to the acceptance of G-d-Fearing gentile sacrifices at the Temple, which also, obviously, did not require them to be members of the Jewish covenant, but only to conform with the Torah principles of recognizing HaShem as G-d, eschewing idolatry, and generally conforming to the Temple’s standards for gentile behavior within its precincts. Hence we have the other aspects clarified in Acts 15, in the four principles cited as incumbent upon the gentile disciples of Rav Yeshua, whose status was under consideration, and in the observation in verse 21 that further Torah instruction was readily available by which they could learn all that might be needed to pursue their growth in sanctification. The four principles were not merely “community rulings”, but were rather general principles that counter idolatry and foster humanitarianism which should be observed by any G-d-fearing descendent of Noa’h the ark-builder.

    Thus we do find that the Acts 15 report clarifies that gentile disciples do not bear the responsibilities of the Torah covenant; which is consistent with Rav Shaul’s prior statement in his Galatian letter that they are comparable to Avraham before he received the covenant ratified with his circumcision (which was, of course, some four centuries before the Torah covenant was given to Israel at Sinai). Hence these later covenants do not apply as such to gentiles but only to Avraham’s Jewish descendants. Nonetheless, the advanced spiritual guidance which HaShem provided to Jews within the Torah covenant, to enable them to fulfill their assignment to be a light to the gentiles, that the gentiles might bless themselves by means of Avraham’s descendants (because he obeyed HaShem’s voice in the binding-of-Isaac episode), becomes a source of guidance also for gentile disciples of the Jewish Messiah who wish to experience a foretaste of the kingdom that is to be ruled by such a Jewish king.

  20. I just want to let anyone who happens to be following this topic that I’m going to review McKee’s book in two parts. Part one will publish tomorrow morning and hopefully part two will go online on Friday (I still have about forty pages left to read). Just FYI.

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