Survey conducted by Kai Kjµr-Hansen and Bodil F. Skj°tt. Jerusalem: United Christian Council in Israel in cooperation with the Caspari Center for Biblical and Jewish Studies, 1999. 319 pages.
See the authors’ response to this review.
The recent publication of Facts & Myths: About the Messianic Congregations in Israel is a welcome addition to the literature on Messianic congregations. Until its publication, the inquiring public was left to rely on anecdotal information and literature produced by participants in the movement whose agenda was often difficult to distinguish from their conclusions. The authors are to be commended for their factual compilation of background information on over 100 congregations and small groups of Jewish followers of Yeshua in Israel. Nevertheless, Facts & Myths reads as if it was rushed to publication. It could have benefited from more sophisticated analysis and careful editing. It presents helpful data, but does not develop much in the way of new thought. For instance, there is no information on where or how people in the congregations came to faith and is therefore not useful in accessing the effect of Messianic congregations in evangelistic outreach. In effect, Facts & Myths is more a directory than an accounting or history of Messianic congregations in Israel.
There are those, including this reviewer, who though welcoming the research data, question the wisdom of putting this information in public view. This is complicated by the fact that the authors and publishers are connected with foreign Gentile-dominated mission organizations. Current missiological research links religious persecution with the actions of outside missionary agents. In light of this, one can but wonder who will be helped by this book’s publication. It is, rather, altogether possible that the detailed information catalogued here could be used against the interests of Jewish believers in Israel. Furthermore, the authors’ rationale for including Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons in the survey data is unclear and only serves to degrade the character of their work. It will most certainly be confusing to those in the Israeli congregations and may be seen as portraying a pejorative image of the Messianic movement.
By far the most controversial element in Facts & Myths is its conclusion that the Messianic movement in Israel is significantly smaller than most had assumed. In seeking to dispel the sensationalistic estimates of tens of thousands of Israeli Messianic Jews made by Israeli anti-missionary organizations and less inflated but unrealistic numbers quoted by Christian agencies, Kjµr-Hansen and Skj°tt miss the significance of the 81 congregations they document. According to their estimates, in the 51 years from the re-establishment of the Jewish state, the number of congregations has increased from 2 to 81 and Jewish believers from less than 200 to 2178 adult core members in the congregations. As researchers, they did not attempt to survey children or Messianic believers who are not core members of the congregations. Nevertheless, the significance is in the number of congregations. Although this number is not as dramatic as reports coming from church planting agencies in Africa, Asia, or Latin America, it is significant for the number of corporate witnesses in a land and among a people believed to be strongly resistant to the person of Jesus. The significance of this seems to escape the authors.
The reader who can set aside the pessimistic perspective of the authors will find much to be encouraged about concerning the surprising growth of the Israeli Messianic movement over the last half-century. This is recommended reading for all who take joy in the growth of a Messianic remnant in Eretz Yisrael.