Like two brothers in a divided family, Christians and Jews still have a strong family relationship, says professor Marvin Wilson. He believes they can patch up that relationship while still adhering to their religious distinctives.

Wilson is professor of biblical studies at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts, and a veteran of Jewish/Christian dialogue. He made his plea for reconciliation at a February conference in Jerusalem that featured top Christian and Jewish leaders from around the world. He was the only American evangelical among the plenary speakers.

“We who are Christians have a Jerusalem connection at the very heart of our faith,” Wilson says. “When the church makes the entire Bible rather than church history its starting point, it will be driven to recognize on the deepest level that Christianity is Jewish.… We are Abraham’s spiritual children, grafted into Israel, not Israel into us.”

Wilson does not believe the church has permanently displaced Israel. Instead, he believes “the church in these latter days will … grow into a deeper appreciation of its own Hebraic heritage and foundation.”

Some in the church still blame the Holocaust on the Jews’ refusal to recognize the lordship of Jesus, Wilson says. He instead believes the “dejudaization of the church … fostered through a neglect of the Hebrew Bible” was one of its main contributing factors.

Limits of evangelism

Despite Christianity’s debt to Judaism, Wilson is not urging Christians to pretend to be Jewish, or pretend not to be Christian. In remarks later in the conference, George Carey, archbishop of Canterbury, said Christians in interfaith dialogue do not have to repudiate evangelism. However, they have to recognize there are limits to evangelizing.

“Jews have often been the victims of intolerant and insensitive Christian evangelizing,” Carey said. “We have been guilty of treating people as objects which need a religious formula instead of people greatly loved by God.”

Linda Compton, an evangelical Presbyterian minister who directs the Marin Interfaith Council in San Rafael, California, endorsed Wilson’s ideas.

“Since my conversion, I’ve always felt that we can’t understand our Christianness if we don’t understand Jesus Jewishness,” Compton said.

Wayne Hilsden, senior pastor of King of Kings Assembly, an evangelical church in Jerusalem, also agrees with Wilson’s message. “It’s going to take a miracle for Jews to trust Christians again,” Hilsden says. “But I believe that miracle is possible.”

Hilsden sees the return of the Jews to their Promised Land as evidence that God is at work. “I believe that Jews will open their eyes to the truth of Jesus and his messiahship,” he says. “That will be a revelation of God that will come supernaturally. That will outdo any human efforts to convince Jewish people of our sincerity.”

Common ground

“I think that Orthodox Judaism and evangelical, charismatic Christianity have a lot in common,” said Rabbi Yitzhack Rubin, who attended the conference; that includes “a belief in God, a belief in a God who is concerned, a belief in God who gave us a blueprint for life, which we find in the Scriptures.”

Rabbi Irving Greenberg, professor at the Center for Jewish Learning and Leadership, went one step further. Speaking after Wilson, Greenberg commended the Christian post-Holocaust self-critique and lamented “unrevised negative stereotypes and contemptuous judgments” within Judaism.

“This is why I as a Jew have come to affirm that it was in the fullness of time that Christianity was born,” he said. “This represented not a replacement or a repudiation but an offshoot, a reaching out to the rest of humanity.”

Wilson says one good way to change attitudes toward Jews is for Christians to visit Israel. “The land has its own built-in power. It can change lives.”

The conference, Religious Leadership in Secular Society, drew 450 leaders from almost 100 countries. It was sponsored by the Bamot Center for Cultural and Social Studies and the Tantur Ecumenical Institute.

Conspicuous by their absence were local Christian Arabs, although the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah, spoke on the final morning. Some ultra-orthodox rabbis protested the conference.

By Gordon Govier in Jerusalem.

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