Does the Holocaust change the context for Christian evangelization of the Jews?

When thousands of evangelical pastors, theologians, teachers, and other Christian leaders gathered at Lausanne II in Manila last year, the outcome was a significant theological declaration, the Manila Manifesto. Lausanne II’s highly professional press office issued daily releases about developments during the ten days of meetings.

Just months before, a small group of 15 evangelical scholars met in Willowbank, Bermuda, under the sponsorship of the World Evangelical Fellowship, to draft a two-page, theological document on the appropriateness of Christians evangelizing Jews. The gathering did not enjoy the services of a full-time press office.

Guess which group got more press coverage?

Journalists, after all, love a fight. The Manila Manifesto looked like a lot of gray prose, and religious prose at that. There is no story in theology.

However, when Rabbi A. James Rudin of the American Jewish Committee deplored the “Willowbank Declaration on the Christian Gospel and the Jewish People” as nothing less than “a blueprint for spiritual genocide,” religion reporters all across the country knew that they would not have to cover parish bake sales that week.

Why did the Willowbank Declaration receive such a heated response? Why did Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein of the Holy Land Fellowship of Christians and Jews lament that the document sets Christian thinking on Judaism back 20 years?

A look at the theological trends that prompted the Willowbank Declaration provides the answer. Such trends were summarized in the declaration’s preamble:

Some church leaders have retreated from embracing the task of evangelizing Jews as a responsibility of Christian mission. Rather, a new ...

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