Warren Marcus. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1993. 275 pages. $9.99, paper.
Every story book by a Jewish believer in Jesus gives the lie to the unspoken assumption in the Jewish community that Jews don’t believe in Jesus. Shalom, by award-winning filmmaker Warren Marcus, is a welcome addition to a growing body of such testimonies. The author, head of New Day Pictures International, has worked in video and film in the secular world and then in the ministries of the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) and Liberty Broadcasting Network.
The narrative begins with Marcus’ New York City upbringing and establishes his Jewishness early on. Many Jewish readers will immediately relate to the various facets of life the author recounts. Like him, I too recall annual Passover seders at which a family member would surreptitiously shake the table, so that young eyes thought the prophet Elijah was drinking from the cup. Some readers may have had similar childhood discussions with Catholic friends in which they asked for an explanation of the Trinity, only to find that their gentile friends didn’t understand the Trinity any better than they did! Many will relate to the twice-weekly attendance at Hebrew school after regular school was dismissed, and of course, the ceremony of bar mitzvah at age thirteen, viewed by many contemporary Jewish teens not as a transition to religious responsibilities but as a graduation ceremony from Hebrew school and the synagogue. Other aspects of the author’s early life were perhaps not as typical, such as an alcoholic father who loved to hobnob with powerful figures, including members of the Mafia.
A notable aspect of this book is that the story is not the typical” Jewish believer’s story. Marcus did not first confront Yeshua as a teenager or adult. Rather, his coming to the Messiah was a long journey of discovery, a growth in faith that began when he was a child. From an early age, he recalls, he had a hunger for God that was inspired by visual imagery and films. First there was a dream, in retrospect eerily reminiscent of a scene in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments. Later, a viewing of Ben Hur instilled a desire to know more about Jesus. Many times over Marcus tells us how, while not yet a believer in Jesus, he prayed that God would help him through one crisis or another—including those that involved sparing him the hard results of unethical decisions!
En route to his discovery of Yeshua, the author points to several obstacles that he describes as the work of Satan, seeking to keep him from coming to faith. I was reminded that the theme of spiritual obstacles is often found in Scripture. Abraham encountered one hurdle after another as he awaited God’s fulfillment of the promises He gave in Genesis 12:1-3. On the level of our individual lives many of us are Abraham.
Marcus recounts the roadblocks that threatened his own coming to faith: atheism, pornography, sexual abuse, career sidetracking, drugs, and even the objections of his own wife (but we note that his marriage never broke up and in fact his wife came to faith). Marcus’ journey included this discovery: that life is a spiritual battle but that God is a God who can overcome all.
Another notable theme of the book is how God used film and visual media to reach out to the author. As a filmmaker, Marcus points out time and again the amazing power of the media in influencing his life. (I did not notice until halfway through the book that each chapter title is actually the name of a well-known movie.) Even Jesus Christ Superstar, a film many Christians decried for its unscriptural portrayal of Jesus, somehow resonated with Marcus in his spiritual search. And who is to say that God cannot use such things?
There are other lessons incorporated into the fabric of the narrative—not through sermons but through descriptions of genuine life situations. This is the filmmaker’s art: to tell truth through story. For example, take the message of Deuteronomy 6:6-7: “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” It is a lesson about how we come to learn by family influence. Marcus shows the truth of this through an anecdote: at three years old, he observed his older siblings smoking cigarettes in a movie theater and proceeded to scream until they finally gave him one too. When they left the theater, bystanders were startled by the spectacle of a three-year-old sauntering down the streets of New York with cigarette in mouth, blowing puffs of smoke. And so it was that through the influence of family members, Marcus briefly took up smoking, at least until his father shortly afterward found out what had happened! Family is a powerful educational environment, whether for good or ill.
Other lessons are similarly conveyed through narrative Marcus states one lesson outright as well as narrating it: the importance of sharing our faith. In spite of contact with Christians nominal and genuine over many years, he writes, “To this day I cannot understand why not even one Christian ever told me why I should believe in Jesus as my Messiah” (p. 53). Nevertheless, God brought Marcus and many of his family members to faith in Jesus.
Shalom encourages us to witness to Jewish people, to be aware that we are in a spiritual battle and to see how spiritual influence is conveyed through the media of modern life. The author is always gracious in his portrayal of other people and candid about himself. This is a refreshing, honest book that should be on your bookshelf of Jewish testimonies.