They left stereotypes at the door and got right to the issues.

Jews recoiled when in August the president of the Southern Baptists made his now infamous statement about God’s unwillingness to hear prayers of Jews; their tension grew when evangelicals did so well in the November 4 election and prompted some of them to speak of returning to a more “Christian” America.

It was in that atmosphere that leaders on both sides sat down together last month in the second National Conference of Evangelical Christians and Jews. Together, they probed the barriers that have made evangelicalism the one wing of Christendom that Jews eye most warily.

By all accounts, the three days of meetings at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, just north of Chicago, were a success. No theological differences were erased; in fact, those obstacles were even more clearly underscored than they were during the first conference in New York five years ago. But what happened this time was that people felt comfortable with each other and so they lost no time in getting to the issues.

“For too long everybody’s been an abstraction,” said Rabbi James Rudin, assistant director of the American Jewish Committee in New York. “We’ve always been cardboard people to one another. At this meeting we had good chemistry and we intend to build on it.” Marvin Wilson, a professor at Gordon College, concurred: “We spoke our minds from the word go. We were not on eggshells like we were last time.”

Indeed, the theological gloves didn’t stay on long: “Christianity, as the flower and fulfillment of its Old Testament root, is the one and only truth, the solely salvific religion,” Vernon Grounds, president emeritus of Conservative Baptist Seminary in Denver, said in a speech. ...

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