For me as a Jewish believer in Jesus, one of the most encouraging occurrences in recent years is that Jewish evangelism has become an issue. While there have always been a substantial number of Christians concerned with bringing the Gospel to Jewish people, for the most part the topic was avoided. Perhaps until now many found the matter of Jews coming to Christ and the resultant opposition by the Jewish community too perplexing to discuss.
Now it seems that some Christians are finding the courage to say what they have always believed—that Jews need Jesus as much as any other ethnic group. The ensuing clamor is bringing the realization that inevitably the Gospel is an offense to all who choose not to believe it. Thinking Christians are joining the issue and looking for new and better ways to convey the message of God's love in Christ.Yechiel Eckstein, an Orthodox rabbi, is best known for soliciting funds from such concerned Christians to benefit Soviet Jewry. In a recent ChristianityToday.com article, he wrote an article titled, "
Witnessing vs. Proselytizing
| A rabbi's perspective on evangelism targeting Jews, and his alternative."He has learned the language of evangelicals and knows how to sound like one of us. In fact, he does this so well that many Christians mistake him for the leader of a messianic congregation. Even those who know that Yechiel Eckstein is not a Christian feel that he is "very close" to believing, and this has given him special standing in the evangelical community.One might never suspect that Eckstein is against any concerted effort to bring Jews to Christ. He sounds virtually magnanimous as he states, "I wholeheartedly support the right of Christians—or members of any other faith—to share their beliefs as they feel called." Then he suggests what he considers the best way to witness.First of all, it should be apparent that by virtue of his position as a rabbi, he certainly doesn't intend for Jews to come to Christ. Because of this, his definition of the word witness
is nowhere near the evangelical Christian meaning. In the Jewish community, any rabbi's suggestion of how Christians might bring Jews to Christ would be considered ethnic treason. To think that Rabbi Eckstein would be willing to help us with "soul winning" among the Jews would be too much to hope.In his "advice" Rabbi Eckstein says that Jews should not be "targeted," and that "door-to-door style evangelism is simply poor strategy—at best, counterproductive and at worst, deeply, pointlessly antagonizing." One must wonder what set of secret statistics the rabbi has from which he draws his conclusion that door-to-door evangelism is "poor strategy". Certainly he has not gone door to door, nor handed out tracts on a street corner to tell people about Christ.I feel qualified to speak out on this issue because I have done both. As a missionary to the Jews in Los Angeles, I used to go door-to-door three days a week. Not everyone I encountered allowed me to tell him or her about Jesus, but I did have many productive conversations. I felt I was sowing gospel seed that would later sprout and come to fruition. Furthermore, I found very few people who were antagonistic. Those who did not want to hear from me would simply say, "No thank you."Though door-to-door witnessing can be effective, many evangelical ministries do not engage in it as much as we once did. It is labor intensive and it is increasingly difficult to find missionary staff workers who will go door-to-door or stand on street corners to hand out literature.In his article, Rabbi Eckstein goes on to suggest, "Instead of targeting Jews for conversion (which I call proselytizing), why not simply include them in any overall outreach (which I call witnessing)?"My response is, "Thank you very much rabbi; that is what every evangelistic church and evangelistic rally have been doing since the beginning. Billy Graham includes anyone who wants to come to his crusades. Nevertheless, it takes trained missionaries like myself to go and tell Jews that their Jewishness is no barrier to being loved by Christ and by Christians. This kind of specific emphasis is true of every mission field where people are gospel resistant."Concerning the word proselytize
, I find it more than ironic that in the original sense, this referred to a Gentile converting to Judaism. The words targeting
have been wrenched away from their original meanings.The term targeting
is used in the media to describe a target
audience or in merchandising to describe a target
market. In either case, such targeting
means to appeal to certain audiences or markets. Even relief agencies need to consider (or target
if you will) those to whom they should direct their aid or services. In order to reach their intended audience, they determine the geographic locations, lifestyles and needs of that specific group. Then they try to adapt their presentations to communicate best to those they want to reach.When we missionaries and evangelists discuss the best methods of outreach, we talk about a target
people because the Bible doesn't provide a better word.Is it wrong to have Christians wonder how they might make the Gospel more appealing to the Jewish people? If it is right to want to appeal to each people's group, age group, and geographical group, how can it be wrong to "target" people for the gospel?Christian evangelists do not use coercive and unethical methods. If we as missionaries to the Jews did that, then would we not discredit ourselves? We constantly hear ourselves charged with this misconduct, but when our accusers are asked for details, they are strangely unaware of any credible instances where there was coercion. Thus these charges are no more than name-calling.The truth of this issue is that no matter how tactfully, lovingly, thoughtfully and carefully we approach our fellow Jews with the message that Jesus is the promised Messiah, we will offend many who don't want to hear it. Still there will always be the few who do want to hear the Good News about Jesus. They are the remnant spoken of in Romans 11:5
, and it is to them that our message is directed.When we call for Jews to consider Jesus Christ, Y'shua HaMashiach, as the Savior, we are not asking them to become traitors. The reason they would be labeled traitors if they believed is beyond our control, in the hands of the Jewish community leaders.There is not a shred of evidence that the early Jews for Jesus, Peter, Paul, James and John, hated their fellow Jews because they loved Jesus, the Jewish Messiah. They all targeted Jews. Even Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, whenever he came to a new town would go to the synagogue as his first place to preach. What usually followed was either a riot or a revival. Paul did not stop lest he offend some of his fellow Jews. We have never decided to offend people; rather our actions are based on a decision to obey God and proclaim Christ.Why are we surprised that the message of the cross is offensive in today's secular society? It was equally offensive in Jesus' day. Back then, some Jews ignored the Gospel, but to others it came as Good News. Today there are some who have decided to be offended. One of their favorite tools to squelch unwelcome Christian witnessing is to show umbrage: "If you want Christians to back away from witnessing to you, put on an offended face. After all, were they not told, 'Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God?' " (1 Corinthians> 10:32
)The truth will always offend those who don't believe it. Nevertheless, we wrong those who need the message of life when we tactfully present it as a euphemism or merely our opinion rather than the life saving message it is.The message of Jesus Christ is just as controversial today as it was in apostolic times. The message of the cross is bound to offend many (see Galatians 5:11
).In a society that is so careful to be politically correct, no one wants to be classified as an offender. Hence one of the ways to stop others from doing something you do not like is to complain that they offended you. But how far can this be carried? Imagine the Tourist Bureau of Hawaii issuing a statement that they were offended by the Tourist Bureau of British Columbia's advertising because it had robbed them of tourists who might have gone to Hawaii!Even in a polite society, one would have to admit that both parties had a right to advertise and the tourists had a right to choose. Yet if it were up to the rabbis, no Jews would have a chance to hear the Gospel of Israel's Messiah preached to them.Basically, Rabbi Eckstein is appealing to what John Cuddihy calls "The religion of civility." Cuddihy argues that we shall never understand the civil religion as described by Hobbes, Rousseau, Herberg, and Bellah until we stand it on its head and see it as a "religion of civility." (See No Offense: Civil Religion and Protestant Taste
by John Cuddihy, The Seabury Press, N.Y. 1978).What characterizes such an outlook is neither creeds nor rituals but the very absence of the assertion that anything is ultimately right or true.The historic religions had been made to promise that, when they sallied forth into public places, their bearing and their carriage—their public behavior—would express a decent respect for the plural opinions of Americans. They would, they promised, be respectful and therefore respectable. They would not wear the old time religion on their sleeves.In the religion of civility, niceness
takes the place of conviction. Yechiel Eckstein is seen as a nice rabbi, and why can't we Christians also be nice? The answer is that God wants more from us than niceness allows. He wants us to obey His command to preach the Gospel to all people (see Acts 1:8
the Jewish people to receive the Law; He targeted
the Jewish people when He chose Israel to bring His message to all nations (see Isaiah 49:6
); God targeted
the Jewish people by putting words in the mouths and writings of the Jewish prophets who foretold Messiah's coming. But most of all, Jesus the Messiah targeted
the Jews when He chose to be born of a Jewish mother in a Jewish village not far from the Jewish capital of Jerusalem.Remember, God could have chosen Oslo, New Delhi or their ancient equivalents. Were Peter, James, Paul, John and Barnabas a group from Mongolia? No, they were Jews. If Jesus did not specifically target
the Jews, the Christmas carol we sing might have been "O, Little Town of Ulan Bator."Why castigate the Southern Baptists for targeting Jews? God himself set the order of preaching to the Jews first. It is good news that they are going to preach to Jews and everyone else. Believing what Baptists do, about Christ being the only way to God, it would be devastatingly hateful for them to ignore the Jewish people with the gospel.What did Paul mean when he said that the Gospel, of which he was not ashamed, was the power of God unto salvation, to the Jew first (Romans 1:16
) and also to the Gentile?God has a target for His love, and it is for all people. Are not the Jews to be included in this special love? Are we who have received it not to present it to them in a way that they also can receive and understand? After all, through the Jewish people, great blessing came and can continue to come to the whole world, and thus God's promise to Abraham will be fulfilled, "I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Genesis 12:2-3
Moishe Rosenis the founder of
Jews for Jesus.
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See our related evangelism story today on ChristianityToday.com, "
Can I Get a Witness? | Southern Baptists rebuff critics of Chicago evangelism plan."In December, we looked at targeted evangelism with articles by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein (to which this article is a response), and several articles from the Christianity Today archives. These include coverage of Billy Graham's famous
statement in a 1973 issue of CT that he "never felt called to single out the Jews" for evangelism and his
reiteration of that stand in a speech before the American Jewish Committee four years later, as well as one of our earliest editorials touching on the subject: "
Christmas and the Modern Jew."Wednesday's Larry King Live focused on the evangelism of Jews, with guests Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center; Rabbi Schmuley Boteach, executive director of the Oxford L'Chaim Society; in Louisville, Kentucky, R. Alert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; and David Brickner, executive director of Jews for Jesus. See a transcript
here or video (for a very limited time)
here.Rosen wrote an article similar to this one for the Jews for Jesus newsletter, titled "
Why Emphasize Witnessing to Jews?" It's only one of more than 50 articles about
Jewish evangelism in the Jews for Jesus special online resource area on the topic.See Christianity Today's other past articles on messianic Judaism and "targeted" evangelism:To the Jew First? | Southern Baptists defend new outreach effort (Nov. 15, 1999)
Protecting the Right to Convert | The freedom to choose religious belief is under assault globally (Mar. 1, 1999)
The Return of the Jewish Church (Sept. 7, 1998)
Mapping the Messianic Jewish World (Sept. 7, 1998)
Did Christianity Cause the Holocaust? | No, despite what a biased film at the tax-supported Holocaust Museum implies (Apr. 27, 1998)
Is Jewish-Christian a Contradiction in Terms? (Apr. 7, 1997)
Jews Oppose Baptist Outreach (Nov. 11, 1996)
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