Internal critique is as vital as contriteness for maintaining vibrancy in the life of the Church. The New Testament promotes the salutary practice of gentle admonishment among Christians. Paul apparently had this in mind when he penned the phrase “speaking the truth in love.”
Like other popular movements with a reformative dimension, the Hebrew Roots Movement (HRM) could gain much from constructive self-criticism. Those leading and those supporting the movement should encourage it. For without internal critique, our labors may yield only short-lived benefits and dubious achievements.
Crossing denominational lines, the HRM is more amorphous than delineated, and it includes much diversity. I can, therefore, speak knowledgeably only about the wing of the movement which has been influenced by the Jerusalem-based research of the late Robert Lindsey and David Flusser through the efforts of their Christian students. This wing may be described as being mainly Protestant Evangelical and Charismatic.
Dozens of HR teaching ministries have emerged within the last twenty-five years. Usually educated individuals holding undergraduate, seminary, and even doctorate degrees manage them. Two principal aims of these ministries are: 1) exposing Christians to the marvelous insights accessible through a Hebraic approach, and 2) equipping laymen to serve as Sunday school teachers, Bible study leaders, etc.
This model has worked well in that it has allowed the movement to expand steadily among Protestant Evangelical and Charismatic Christians. But, of course, no model is exclusively advantageous. One benefit often comes at the expense of another. This is certainly the case for the current HR model. It has two interrelated weaknesses whose affects will become more salient, if they are not corrected.
First, those who view the HRM as having a reformative role to fill must acknowledge a glaring conflict of interests. Hebraic teaching ministries rely heavily on Protestant Evangelical-Charismatic sources of money. In other words, can those bearing the banner of change succeed at reforming the preaching tradition, when they are financially dependent on funds from individuals and churches which have a strong affection for that same tradition? Obviously, this arrangement favors not disturbing the status quo.
Secondly, educated laymen constitute the main leaders of the HRM. Alongside their important contributions, a paucity of highly trained experts persists. Few of the leaders hold earned graduate degrees from accredited Jewish institutions or Judaica departments at secular universities. As a result, the movement lacks the credibility required to challenge aspects of the preaching tradition. To challenge them successfully and to offer more suitable theological alternatives would require experts working together.
Operating in tandem, these two factors act as restraining forces. Leaders shy away from questioning cherished theological assumptions. Consequently, issues remain unraised and needed theological initiatives cannot be undertaken. For example, consider the following trio:
- How do ancient Jewish literary sources affect our view of Scripture? Can our Statements of Faith be improved upon in the light of such sources?
- If eternal life and the kingdom of heaven are related, but independent concepts in ancient Judaism, how should we distinguish them one from the other in our preaching and teaching? For example, are there identical demands for receiving eternal life and entering the kingdom of heaven?
- Jewish tradition has long praised tsedakah and gemilut hasadim (deeds of charity). Is this same concern emphasized adequately in the HRM? Has it inspired pioneering ministries which excel at feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting those in prison, etc.?
Here I have given a sampler of issues and initiatives which deserve more attention. Our reluctance to engage them, and other similar ones, is symptomatic of the HRM’s underlying dilemma. Like a swimming pool for toddlers, it lacks a deep end.
The HRM has more to offer than merely rediscovering the biblical feasts and referring to New Testament personalities by their Hebrew names. But to offer more, leaders and supporters must start dredging together in order to remove the shallowness. Such an undertaking will require courage. Co-religionists will be offended, and their ire will be expressed fiscally. It will also require rethinking about material resources. Boldness to chart a new course alongside long-term vision for investing in expertise, may be the right mix for stimulating our succulent Hebrew roots to produce something more exciting than dried traditional fruit.
-  David Bivin, “Doers of the Word,” in Sermons From Narkis (ed. Joseph Frankovic; Jerusalem: Jerusalem Perspective, 1996), 17-19 ↩
-  The degrees held are usually in fields other than Judaica or Bible. ↩
-  This also applies to instructors who hold doctorate degrees in Judaica or Bible and lecture at Christian institutions where faculty members must sign a doctrinal statement. ↩