I remember the first time I read Leviticus 11 and its list of permitted and forbidden foods. I fully confess that a dozen or so years of Christian education hadn’t fully prepared me for the experience.
I’m sure that was, at least in part, my own fault. To be sure, somewhere in all the theology I’d imbibed was an answer to the pressing question of why it was okay for me to eat bacon with my pancakes. However, I didn’t find it satisfying.
It took me a while, but I eventually jettisoned the theological systems with which I’d grown up. Dispensationalism—the idea that Israel used to be God’s people and would be again, but was in time-out right now—the idea that the Law used to be incredibly important but had been superseded by some other all-defining relational superstructure—none of it made sense to me because I believed in a God who doesn’t change.
I unmoored my theological boat and started paddling myself across an ocean of possibilities. I figured I knew enough about theology and the Bible to cobble together a map and sextant. However, there was no New World waiting for me on the other side. Instead, I lived the unmoored life, sometimes baking under the hot sun, sometimes soaked to the bone in sea-brine.
Occasionally, I thought I had caught sight of a continent, but they all turned out to be mirages. Many of the Hebrew Roots subcultures amounted to well-spun conspiracy theories of forgotten ancestry or the esoteric power of hidden names. Eventually, I’d move on, paddling my boat in some new direction.
I struck out on my own because I misunderstood a fundamental point: I thought the early church had done the same thing. I thought Yeshua had revolutionized everything. I thought he had wiped the slate clean, replacing Second Temple Judaism with some sola-scriptura, all-things-new redefinition of what it meant to follow the God of Israel. I thought these things because I wanted to think them; maybe I felt them before I thought them. The idea of going it alone resonated with me for all the wrong reasons.
Today, in large part because I’ve learned from the journeys of others, I’ve come to realize that the apostles never pulled up their theological anchor. They didn’t need to go anywhere, because they were right where they were supposed to be—in Judaism.
Judaism, that forbidden continent, the one place I thought I’d never end up.
To be fair, I haven’t ended up in a synagogue—not even a Messianic synagogue. In a theological sense, however, I understand that Messianic Judaism is the religion of the New Testament, and that Messianic Judaism is Judaism. It may be an unexplored land; I still don’t really know what it looks like for me, a Gentile Christian, to be involved with Messianic Judaism. However, it’s not an undiscovered country; it’s not hiding somewhere off the theological map. Here there be no monsters—just Torah study, acts of kindness, and the obedience of faith required of all who follow the Jewish Messiah.
Certainly, the task of Messianic Jewish theologizing isn’t complete. It has hardly started. However, we can have some clear idea of where it will end up: in a space that is recognizable as Jewish, though it makes room for millions of others from the nations of the world.
The unmoored life is lonely. Maybe it was a necessary part of my journey. Even so, I’m glad it’s over.