Assessing the risks of Jewish-Christian dialogue.

Jewish-evangelical interchange seems to be entering a new phase. A decade or more ago (when I first took interest in dialogue), the activity seemed limited to an individual here and there. More recently, whole groups of Jews and evangelicals have convened in order to understand each other better. Much distortion remains, however, because we often prefer to talk about rather than with one another.

Difficulties arise when the two communities try to engage in dialogue. First, they are basically different, like oranges and apples: the Jewish community is a culture, the evangelical community a religious faith. Evangelicals, for example, do not understand how an atheist can be a Jew, but Jews have no problem with that combination.

Second, the groups must overcome the bitter legacy of Jewish-Christian relations from biblical times to the present. This ominous cloud hangs over any current endeavor.

Third, the impression lingers that dialogue implies weakness or uncertainty as to one’s own convictions. Or else, it represents a risk that one group may uncritically accept an alternate point of view and slip from the solid rock of their faith.

Fourth, differing theological vocabularies can cause problems. Take the Protestant doctrine of grace. I remember a Roman Catholic theologian who got so exasperated with a Protestant’s insistence on the principle of grace that he blurted out, “I agree, I agree, now can we get on to something else?” But Jews are not Roman Catholics; our appeal to salvation by grace may sound to them like escaping from responsible action. It may appear as not necessarily approval, but acquiescence in the holocaust. We don’t always understand each other as we attempt to ...

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