Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism is a tough book to review. Half of me wants to give it 5 stars, the other half zero. The author is bright and some of its strong points are extremely strong and insightful, but because of its equally strong bad points, the book just doesn't work, in my opinion.
The title itself means that Messianic Jews have been encouraged - in the past - to maintain their Jewish connections as a way to evangelize ("missionary"). Modern Messianic Judaism tends to now advocate maintaining ones Jewish roots because this is right and good - not for pragmatic or evangelistic reasons.
The book's strong suit is its argument that the early Jewish Christians retained their Judaism. He also demonstrates (from a few selections by key church fathers) that the early church chose to separate itself from its Jewish roots because of persecution directed by the Romans toward the Jews.
Mark Kinzer's main thesis is that, "the New Testament teaches a bilateral ecclesiology in solidarity with Israel." He in essence argues for a Jewish church whose members are Torah observant, remain involved within the Jewish community and synagogue, while also fellowshipping with gentile believers who are thusly connected to Israel through these Jewish believers.
As far as proving this proposition, the author does a pretty good job. Beyond this, however, the book becomes questionable at best.
What's wrong? The author uses a poor hermeneutic (or at least not an evangelical one), his hermeneutic leads to the opposite position regarding his main proposition, he interprets texts with an agenda, trying to force unnatural interpretations on verses that contradict his proposition, he suggest that Jews can be saved apart from faith in Jesus (Yeshua), he quotes more from Roman Catholic sources than he does evangelical ones, and he also proposes that modern Messianic Jews must follow both the Torah and the oral Torah (tradition) as though the Bible had nothing to say about this.
His principle of hermeneutics suggests that the Bible is "irreducibly ambiguous" (which is far from always true), that we need to take into account how Christian readers have understood a text down through the ages (which destroys the author's proposition, since Christian readers have embraced an anti-Semitic reading for about 1800 years!), and that we must adjust our hermeneutics in light of history.
His suggested interpretations of passages that contradict his proposition are completely unsatisfying. In Galatians 2:14, where Peter confronts Paul and says, "You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?" the author suggests a couple of interpretations (one borrowed, one original) that actually made me doubt his proposition. No answer is better than an obviously contrived one.
For the Biblicist, this book does not make the grade. It is geared more toward Roman Catholics or other groups who do not feel compelled to develop their theology from solid exegesis. Many of its theological extensions were quite a reach.
Yet, nonetheless, it does excel in provoking thought, and some of the passages were carefully interpreted in creative and potentially accurate ways.
I would recommend this book to the theologian, leader, or discerning reader who has significant interest in Messianic Judaism and the role of Israel in God's dealings. It might be appreciated by those with sympathies toward Roman Catholicism.
There are many grains of wheat amongst the tares here. Nonetheless, for most readers, I would recommend "They Loved the Torah" as a more Scripturally-based work.
Additionally, Kinzer can strongly advocate a "post-missionary" approach because he does not see non-messianic Jews as necessarily lost. Commenting on the exclusive statement of John 14:6 where Jesus implies He is the only way to God, Kinzer writes,
"John does not provide a comprehensive teaching on soteriology. The book fails to tell us about the fate of the vast multitude who have not rejected Yeshua but who have not specifically embraced him."
His Romish method of interpreting Scripture justifies this: "However, the basic thesis of a canonical and theological interpretation of scripture is that our reading of each text and each book should be guided by the vision of the canon as a whole, as viewed within the life of the believing community in the context of its journey through history." Translation: the Bible doesn't say what it means, but can only be interpreted by examining how others have interpreted it over the centuries. Again, I would argue, such a hermeneutic reinforces anti-Semitism, since that is the track record of Christian interpretation, especially within Catholicism.
One must note that the "salvation only through faith in Jesus" in Acts 4:12 and John 14:6 were both directed to a JEWISH audience. If there is another way of salvation, then it is for the gentiles!