Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Messianic Believers: Reflections on Identity of a Largely Misunderstood Group

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Theology

Messianic Believers: Reflections on Identity of a Largely Misunderstood Group

Article excerpt

Despite much progress made in understanding multicultural and religious diversity, certain ethnic and religious groups continue to be neglected by the psychological community. Messianic Judaism remains a largely misunderstood and ignored expression of cultural and spiritual diversity. Numerous fears and misconceptions persist within both Christian and Jewish communities with regard to this movement. Even less is known about the psychological experiences of individuals committed to Messianic Judaism as they navigate the mazeway of their identity. This article attempts to shed some light on aspects of psychological identity of Messianic believers by first presenting the historical and theological background of the movement and its influence on the current experiences of its adherents. Research on ethnicity and its psychological consequences is then used to elucidate unique aspects of Messianic identity. Finally, practical recommendations for mental health professionals working with this population and a future research agenda are provided.


"How did you become a Christian?" "When did you convert?" are some of the questions this author is frequently asked by well-meaning people in different life contexts. What is a relatively straightforward question for most believers in Jesus evokes for me a number of divergent reactions that produce varying answers depending on the particulars of the situation. Do I take the time to explain that I do not identify myself as a Christian or convert but rather a Jew who believes in Jesus (Yeshua in Hebrew) as the Promised Messiah? By doing so, I risk being misunderstood and incurring the potential disapproval of the person asking the question. Or do I simply swallow my irritation and describe the story of coming to faith in the God of Israel and the Messiah that was sent to redeem the Jewish people and the rest of the world?

While this dilemma might appear trivial to some, it in fact represents part of a larger story that needs to be heard and understood by Christians and non-Christians alike, including mental health professionals working with individuals who identify themselves as Messianic Jews or Gentiles. This article will provide an exploratory look at this growing movement in its historical and theological context, the status of ethnic and cultural identity of individuals who comprise it, and pose issues that professionals in the mental health disciplines in general, and Christian psychology in particular, need to be aware of.

First, Messianic Judaism will be defined and its distinctive aspects described. The historical and theological context for understanding Jews who believe in Jesus and the particulars of Jewish identity will be presented. Second, relevant research on ethnic identity and its association with psychological functioning will be reviewed. Finally, implications of this knowledge base for clinical multicultural competency and a research agenda that would include Messianic believers will be proposed.


Messianic Judaism defined

While some differences in emphasis may be found among different constituent groups within the movement, Messianic Judaism is generally understood to be a movement of Jews and Gentiles committed to the Messiahship of Jesus that view the perpetuation of Jewish life and tradition and identification with the Jewish people and Israel to be central to their ethnic and spiritual identities (Kinzer & Juster, 2002). The two-pronged aspect of Messianic experience is essential to this definition: simultaneous commitment to the Jewish people and the larger Body of Messiah (Christ) as communities of reference. Recent controversy among various groups within the movement surrounds the relative centrality of each community to the corporate and individual identity of Messianic believers (Robinson & Rosen, 2003; Kinzer, 2000). Additionally, the importance of Torah observance and relationship to Old and New Covenants have been central themes generating dialogue and at times disagreement within various bodies in Messianic Judaism. …

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