Far be it from me to disparage any kind of evangelism. But I have noticed that in some circles, lifestyle” or “friendship evangelism” has become a euphemism for, “Be nice and don’t mention Jesus until they ask.” Now don’t get me wrong, I believe that Christians ought to love and demonstrate respect for Jewish people and everyone else. It’s the waiting until people ask part that bothers me. Frankly, if people had waited for me to ask about Jesus, I would not have heard the gospel. Most Jews don’t bring up that subject to Christians; it is too sensitive.
Let us approach this subject positively by asking, “How soon after meeting Jewish people (or anyone else) should one mention Jesus?” The answer is simple: it depends on how important Jesus is to you. Friends talk to one another about what they regard as important. If you seek God’s face daily in prayer, believe that He answers prayer and that one’s personal salvation is the most important thing in life, you will mention Jesus fairly soon and your faith will often figure into your conversation. I am all for that kind of lifestyle evangelism and wholeheartedly admire those who practice it.
There is another kind of “lifestyle evangelism” that I can’t endorse. It’s the kind where people congratulate one another that actions speak louder than words, and that if others know they are a Christian, they need not say anything about Jesus so long as they live exemplary lives.
Isn’t it interesting that Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, an Orthodox Jew, promoted this kind of evangelism about a year ago in his article “Witnessing vs. Proselytizing,” which was posted online at the Christianity Today website. Eckstein is a man of great sensitivity and tact, but he is not a believer and his goal is not to see other Jews become believers. Helping people win Jews to Christ would make Eckstein anathema in the Jewish community. Yet some Christians regard him as an expert on how to successfully share their faith. Ecktstein claims to uphold the Christian mandate to witness, but eventually he discloses his opinion that it is arrogant for Christians to think that Jewish people need Jesus. His article outlines a history of anti-Semitism that Jews have suffered in the name of Jesus, and Eckstein concludes, “If Christians want to share their faith with Jews, they should start by being good friends and neighbors, and wherever possible, ‘good Samaritans.’ Evangelicals call this style of witnessing ‘lifestyle evangelism,’ and it seems to me a self-evidently superior form of outreach.”
I think that Christians should be concerned that Rabbi Eckstein has gained quite a platform among evangelical Christians. As reasonable and affirming of the Christian religion as Eckstein might seem, his commitment as an Orthodox rabbi is still at odds with those of us committed to seeing all people, including Jewish people, find salvation in Jesus. In truth, he would probably mourn over each Jew who came to believe in Jesus if he takes his rabbinical calling seriously.
I’m afraid that some Christians have been so flattered by Eckstein’s approach that the utter lack of logic in using him as an authority on Jewish evangelism escapes them.
In a way, I am glad that Eckstein speaks so highly of “lifestyle evangelism” because it affords thinking Christians the opportunity to reflect on how to fulfill the Great Commission. The kind of lifestyle evangelism Eckstein praises centers on how nice people can be, whereas the Bible centers on why the cross is so necessary.
It’s absolutely right to be kind. Yet the Great Commission was not to go into the world and be nice to everybody until they see how wonderful you are and ask, “What makes you to be so wonderful?” The gospel is about the wonderfulness of Jesus. Yes, we should reflect the fruit of His Spirit in our lives to attract people to Him. But we do not have to earn the right to tell anyone about God’s wonderful plan of salvation. It is our obligation and our privilege to tell what God has done. The gospel is not how nice I am, but how Jesus is the sin-bearer and how He died according to Scripture and rose again from the dead.
The gospel that we preach is foolishness to those who perish. The cross is always an offense. If you expect Jews for Jesus to be liked by everyone because we are very nice people who are never controversial, I am sorry, but we will be a disappointment.
We think it is most important to carry the cross courageously and to proclaim that cross as God’s only way of salvation. If lifestyle evangelism means having the courage to let people know what Jesus has done for us in the course of everyday life, I hope you will pray with us that we will always have the heart to maintain that kind of “lifestyle.”