There’s been noise made about the lack of scholarship and credibility in the Hebrew Roots movement, criticisms coming particularly from the Messianic Judaism crowd.
To be sure, there’s some truth to that criticism. Numerous Hebrew Roots teachers have made false prophecies, or stated as fact things with no scholarly support. We have clowns on this side of the fence. Pardon our mess.
For many, this leads Hebrew Roots folks into Messianic Judaism or back into Christianity, where there’s less fanaticism, more scholarship. That way, they say, we’ll be set on the right path. Or at least, a more scholarly one.
But there’s an unspoken truth here: a theological education, while valuable, isn’t required for faithful living.
And – don’t throw fruit at me – a theological education isn’t even required for faithful teaching. (Blasphemy, I know!)
And – don’t curse me – a theological education doesn’t guarantee anything in the way of walking a good life for the Lord.
And – don’t stone me – a theological education sometimes does more harm than good!
Yes, religious leaders with higher education often get caught up in the intricacies of religion, theology, philosophy, and they lose sight of what’s important. And they’re worse off for it.
It’s not limited to religious education. I work in technology, and I’ve seen the same thing here: college grads love to write single-threaded command line web servers on Node.js. Fresh out of college, the technology is more important the the real goal, which is writing software useful to regular people. Regular people don’t need single threaded command line servers in Node.js. But the college grads lost focus on the goal.
So it is with religious education. Philosophy and theology and religion is more important than the real goal. Instead of serving, they get caught up in intricate discussions on Bilateral Ecclesiology. They takes sides and dig in and battle it out. They become advocates for a theology, and write long, articulate papers about why their theology of choice is gaining traction among other religious scholars! They write condescending blog posts against alternative views; of course, you’re free to disagree, so long as it’s clear you’ll be made out to be a foolish simpleton who just doesn’t have the credentials to be taken seriously.
Biggest problem for higher-educated religious folks is an oldie: pride. You have more reading, more education, more engagement, more grounding in the scholarly world. Granted. And you’ve seen the junk scholarship, and the you-can’t-possibly-be-serious theologies out there. Likewise, granted. So, you’re kind of jaded. Maybe even untouchable. Who can intellectually engage with you? Is there anyone you can take seriously? (Outside your niche circle of scholarly friends, of course!)
See, that’s pride, and I see it all over the Messianic blogosphere.
Paul, the highly-educated, scholarly apostle said that all of his credentials, having been trained as a Pharisee under the most respected rabbis of Judaism – he counted all of it as dung. It’s not that it had no value, or that he hated his former religion; it’s that he came back to the goal: serving God, actually showing love to regular people. The real goodness is in there, and not in being connoisseurs of the latest doctrines circulating the religious world.
Don’t get me wrong, education has great value. It can debunk junk scholarship right off the bat. It can grant a solid ground to stand on. It can give a broader view than the one with which we were raised. It can give us a good command of what other people – smart, wise, scholarly people – think about the Scriptures, and how they interpreted them.
Even so, we should acknowledge that some of the greatest heroes of our faith were simple men. Biblical and afterwards. Fisherman, tax collectors, tent-makers, – these were average people. Called by God. Spirit-helped. According to Scripture, even the first century church was filled with so-called nobodies, all lacking credentials.
Anecdote from my 20 some years in the Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots movements: the so-called “dumb” people in the Hebrew Roots movement tend to be ordinary people who can relate to you, treat you kindly, can help you deal with problems in the real world.
Contrast this with so many of the higher-educated leaders who lecture on about airy theological issues, who intellectualize away even the clearest black-and-whites into mucky grays. Let them keep writing detailed theses; my Hebrew Roots friends and I will be volunteering at food kitchens.
I’ve witnessed good fruit from people in the Hebrew Roots movement. That didn’t come from a theological education.
Here’s a lesser-known story for you all. A few years ago, a young, well-educated, intellectual Messianic blogger, a young man who advocated against the Hebrew Roots movement, abandoned Yeshua altogether.
His reason? Pay attention, it’s telling.
He wrote in his final blog-ending post: “I evaluated Jesus, Christianity, Islam, and all other religions and ideologies from this central and defining perspective. Succinctly put, Judaism is more important to me than Jesus is.”
Catch that? He evaluated the diverse ideologies and perspectives. Then abandoned the Messiah for a religion.
God save us from intellectuals.
An embarrassing truth: highly-educated religious people have a terrible track record. Educated leaders within Judaism missed Messiah. Greek philosophers discarded the gospel. Popes and cardinals committed abuses of the worst kind. The Church of England regarded John Wesley and his laypreachers – ordinary people, non-clergy – as a threat, and attempted to suppress them.
Wesley is an interesting case: Though Wesley – like the apostle Paul – received higher theological education, the educated religious leadership of his day put down Wesley’s laypreachers – many of them ordinary people – describing them as promulgators of strange doctrines, fomenters of religious disturbances, blind fanatics, leading people astray, claiming miraculous gifts, attacking institutional religion.
I think Messianic Judaism is making the same mistake: denouncing simple servants of God – Hebrew Roots folks – as blind fanatics, attackers of institutional religion, fomenters of disturbances, lacking of higher education, perceived or real.
I say “perceived,” because the Hebrew Roots movement is not completely void of scholarship – praise God! – as some paint it to be. Yes, we have clowns. We need more solid scholarship, yes. But there exists sound, Biblical teachers in the Hebrew Roots movement. It’s true! Baruch HaShem. Two teachers I look to for instruction, J.K. McKee of Outreach Israel Ministries and Tim Hegg of Torah Resource, both received degrees in theological higher education. I trust these men not because of the degrees they received, nor because of their education credentials, but because the fruit of the Spirit I’ve grown to know them for. And it’s for this same reason I am unable to look to many philosopher-theologian types in Messianic Judaism for leadership and teaching.
Maybe some Hebrew Roots folks are uneducated, blind fanatics, attackers of institutional religion, fomenters of disturbances. But maybe there’s some good people in there, too. And maybe there’s more fruit there than Messianic Judaism might lead you to believe.
God bless the Hebrew Roots folks and Messianic Judaism folks. Maybe we’re to work together sometime.