Learning Messiah is the English edition of the Dutch original that appeared in 2015. The book appeared on the 27th of September 2018.
On the back cover of the book it reads:
Israel’s election, calling and history make up a big part of Scripture. It could be said that they belong to the “DNA of the Bible.” But why is it then that the Christian narrative about the Messiah, Israel and the nations, often seemed to have and sometimes even still has a different “genetic structure”?
Does Israel—together with its election and promises—leave God’s stage through a side door, when Jesus appears on stage? Does a changing of roles take place, within a different story? Does the Messiah function within it as some kind of “black hole” in which the eternal election and calling of Israel disappear?
How do we read God’s way? The Holocaust made us realize that our de-Jew-ized reading and preaching of Scripture contributed in various ways to this catastrophe. And we find ourselves confronted by the question: How does the narrative of the Bible then look when the whole of Scripture plays a decisive role, and the faithfulness of God toward Israel stays in the center? This book presents an answer to these questions, calling us to learn to read God’s way anew, and to walk in it.
The book in one sentence
Against the dark background of nearly 2000 years de-Jew-ized reading of Scripture this book forms a kind of biblical theological study of the prevailing Christian narrative about the Messiah, Israel and the nations. It offers a comparison between the “genetic structure” of the traditional canonical narrative and the “genetic structure” of the Scriptures. It shows the necessity of us learning to read God’s ways anew, in a new manner.
How does the book help the reader?
It provides a rendering of the narrative of Scripture to which the faithfulness of God is central, and from which every bit of replacement thinking/supersessionism has been removed, so that also the underlying structure of the narrative is marked by God’s faithfulness toward His elected people. It thus offers an alternative to the traditional Christian narrative, that so often has been characterized by replacement thinking and supersessionist narrative structures. The book also shows what consequences a new rendering of the canonical narrative has. Central to this alternative reading and narrating of the canonical narrative is the calling that Israel received at Sinai, as mentioned in Exodus 19:5-6:
“ ‘Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ ” (NIV)
God’s way with Israel and the nations, and also the coming of His Messiah Jesus/Yeshua have everything to do with this calling of God’s people in the midst of the nations.
In what ways differs the book from other books in this genre?
It challenges the whole Christian faith community to learn to read in a new manner the ways of the God of Israel, and to reconsider one’s own long held opinions regarding the ways that God has walked and still walks. At the same time it offers one continuing story in which God, Israel and the Messiah, as well as the nations, the journey of the whole of Israel through the centuries, and the ways of the Christian church underway toward God’s future have been brought together. It helps readers to rediscover this ongoing story and to learn to tell it themselves.
It is a biblical theological book that within the framework of a “new” canonical narrative also raises systematic theological questions. Lastly the book calls in a very concrete manner for a change in our thinking and practice relating to many aspects of our Christian life in the encounter with the God of Israel, His Messiah and His people.
In the Preface to the English Edition it reads: “Learning Messiah … wishes to serve the worldwide Christian church. … It is a book that invites Christians of whatever denomination or spiritual color to join looking in the mirror and to act upon what we see. When, however, my Jewish friends or other Jewish readers might read this book, I would first of all regard—seen against the background of the very painful history of Christian-Jewish interrelations—their reading as an honor and token of a renewing mutual trust. Then I would invite them to see themselves as looking over my (and our collective) Christian shoulder, and to encounter and witness in this manner a thorough reconsideration happening on our side. So this book is first written for Christians, but my hope is that it will contribute to improving and deepening an encounter with Judaism and God’s people Israel as a whole.”
What the book wants to be and what not
The book Learning Messiah wishes to provide a sketch of the ongoing narrative of the Scriptures, as an alternative to the traditional canonical narrative. The choice has been made deliberately to focus on this “new” canonical narrative, to draw the outlines of God’s way with Israel and the nations in a positive way. Deliberately we have chosen not to discuss every objection that could be made, and not to engage with all counter voices that could be mentioned. Discussing every ancient and modern objection would seriously hamper the flow of the rendering of God’s narrative. This choice has also been mentioned in the Introduction (I.7).
One should also keep in mind that the book has been written in such manner that not only theologically educated readers could read it and benefit from it, as has been stated also in the Preface. Theologians and scholars will perhaps like to receive answers to all kinds of questions that arise with them, or they would want a more elaborate justification of choices that have been made. As such that is understandable, but because of the design and the aim of the book, as mentioned above, they will have to be content with what the book offers. Further discussion and justification of choices that have been made certainly must happen elsewhere. Theological trained reviewers sometimes view this fact as a negative point, but when also non-theologically trained readers read the book—sometimes even bit by bit—this is valuable and brings blessing, as reactions show. The book has been aimed at this to happen. In the Preface the desire is put in words: “that this book will be a blessing to many who desire to know the Holy God in all His ways, and desire His ultimate kingship.” May the words of this book be read in this way.
The painting Shofar by Jip Wijngaarden calls us to rethink our ways and return to God’s ways. The shofar is blown because of the paths that the people of Israel did have to walk. The path of the Shoah, the Holocaust, the path of being led away, of waiting for the train …
The shofar is being blown also above the village, with the church in its midst – a blind village: both church and houses without windows …
For the words of the artist herself about this painting, visit her website jipwijngaarden.com.
Reviews and reactions
Reviews and “reader experiences” will appear on www.learningmessiah.com. Also reactions in other languages will be published on this website.
The Dutch website shows the reception of the book in the Netherlands and among the Dutch reading audience.