Don’t Call Me Christian: A Truly Jewish Story by Paul Liberman and Jack Wasson (Arlington, TX: Tishbite Press, 2015), 251 pp.
Let’s start with the title of Paul Liberman’s autobiography—so important to him that he talked co-author Jack Wasson out of Wasson’s proposed title, The True Story of Paul Liberman. Liberman, who was on the forefront of the Messianic Jewish movement in the 1970s, explains in his book:
For Jews over the centuries, the word “Christian” had come to mean, “Gentile—one not Jewish, synonymous with Catholic—a follower of the Pope in Rome.” In 1973, there were about 1,000 Jewish believers [in Jesus] in the country. Of that group, there was a small pocket of Messianic Jewish believers who wanted a more Jewish identity, distinct from simply melding into the Church and disappearing. By the early 1970s, a number of us young Jewish believers . . . refused to identify ourselves at all as “Christian” or even “Hebrew Christian.” My personal conviction was that to do so would be the same as taking out an ad in the Jerusalem Post. “Paul Liberman is no longer Jewish! He is now a Gentile!” (pages 222–23).
Like the title, Liberman is not subtle. But that’s a good thing. Though you may not agree with his conclusion as to the identity of the Jewish Messiah, Liberman is thoroughly transparent about the struggles in his spiritual journey.
Many first-person, so-called “story” books—true stories of a person’s religious faith—seem to be written from a template. It often goes like this: In the first third of the book, the author details the downward spiral into sin and degradation; in the second third, we learn how someone told the author about God, resulting in a desperate cry for help; and in the final third, we learn how wonderful the author’s life has been ever since.
Fortunately, Liberman does not write from a template. After college, he helped his father’s electrical supply company to flourish and then launched a successful career in the Commerce Department in Washington, DC. Blessed with an entrepreneurial spirit, Liberman seemed to succeed in whatever he put his hand to. He became known as the “deal maker.”
Happily married with two young sons, he seemed to have it all. Then a lawyer who rode the same bus to work with him every day challenged him to read a book containing over 300 prophecies about the Messiah from the Hebrew Scriptures. That led him to secret visits to the library to read that most forbidden of books to a Jewish reader—the New Testament.
In 1971, at age 35, Liberman came to the conclusion that the Messiah described in the Hebrew Scriptures matched the central figure of the New Testament, Yeshua (Jesus). In a precarious position at that time in his career, Liberman told God he needed a Messiah, and if Jesus was that Messiah, he would like his help.
When that prayer was answered, Liberman’s faith was solidified. But in many ways, his troubles were just beginning. As Liberman puts it, “That left me thinking, I’m the only Jewish guy on the face of the earth who has come to this conclusion. I’m really alone” (page 108).
It was a year and a half before Liberman met another Jewish believer in Jesus. He details his great aversion to stepping into a church, preferring to study the Bible with other believers in a home setting. He recounts the tremendous struggle his wife, Susan, had with his faith, especially after their two young sons came to believe in Yeshua. After Susan became a believer in 1973, the Libermans determined to raise their boys as Jews, but not with the label “Christian”—not in a church, but in a new Jewish congregation, where people could worship Yeshua in a Jewish context. Thus began his role in the history of the modern Messianic congregation.
But all was not rosy within the Messianic movement. The Libermans raised a highly divisive issue: What should these new Jewish followers of Jesus be called? The Libermans fought for the term “Messianic Jew,” while the old guard held to “Hebrew Christian.”
Liberman doesn’t gloss over the difficulties of life, and the book reads as a continuum, not as a spectacular “before and after” tale. Although his book may be of the most interest to those of his generation, he writes in a conversational style, easily accessible for young adults who may have the same spiritual questions that Liberman faced as a young man.
To learn more about the man behind the book, read our interview with him here.
—reviewed by Matt Sieger
You can learn more about the book and purchase it at dontcallmechristian.com