What would you think of a newspaper article titled, Jews for Jesus criticizes Evangelicals”? The Washington Times recently published such an article, which was quickly picked up and reported by other media. (We last accessed this on 1/15/04. If it is no longer available when you receive this, you may need to search in the Archives section (link in left column of Washington Times web page).

You can imagine the furor caused by the title alone. I have been on the phone with all kinds of people who want to know what it is all about.

The article was prompted by a letter I sent to our friends and supporters last November. That letter spoke about “The War on Jewish Evangelism.” If you don’t remember it or did not receive it, you can review it on our web site at:
http://www.jewsforjesus.org/resources/pastors/reading_room/war

At any rate, the press didn’t exactly get the story straight. The title is certainly a grabber, but it is misleading. It conveys the idea that Jews for Jesus is somehow in a different camp than evangelicals. It almost seems to suggest, “Let’s you (evangelicals) and him (Jews for Jesus) fight.”

Title notwithstanding, Jews for Jesus was not criticizing evangelicals. We are evangelicals. We thank God for other evangelicals and rejoice that they have shared our desire to see all people, including Jews, hear the gospel.

The criticism I wrote in “The War on Jewish Evangelism” referred to a strategy that certain Jewish community leaders use to undermine evangelical Christian support of Jewish evangelism. By support, I don’t mean dollars only, though that is an important part of support. But the crux of support is the recognition that Jewish people need to know Jesus to be saved and that Christians need to share the gospel with them as they would with any other people.

What the Times article labeled “criticism of evangelicals” was actually a warning and a criticism of the divisive strategy that would prevent my fellow evangelicals from doing right by my Jewish people.

Much was made of my reference to Billy Graham’s comment: “In my evangelistic efforts, I have never felt called to single out the Jews as Jews.” The point was not to admonish Billy Graham, but to tell how those waging war against Jewish evangelism continually misuse this quote (made over thirty years ago) to imply that Billy Graham, a highly respected evangelist, doesn’t believe that Jews need Jesus. But that isn’t what Billy Graham said. Many Jewish people have come to Christ through Billy Graham’s ministry and I imagine that he rejoices over each one. I’m sure it would be helpful if Dr. Graham clarified this misunderstanding and came out strongly in favor of my Jewish people hearing the good news. But the point was how that statement has been manipulated to make Christians feel they have no need, indeed no business, telling Jewish people about Jesus.

My letter mentioned other Christian leaders in connection with their
endorsements of Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein’s organization, the International
Fellowship of Christians and Jews. This is not the first time we have
raised concern about this organization. See:

Eckstein responded with a few mean-spirited comments about Jews for Jesus in the Times article, accusing us of being envious of his (fund raising) success. That is like saying that the farmer is envious when the fox gets into the chicken coop!

Eckstein knows Christian jargon and uses it to motivate Christians to give to his organization. He is rolling out infomercials, spending a fortune on television appeals. These infomercials use biblical phrases and Christian understanding of end time prophecies to court Christian favor. Many don’t realize that as a rabbi, Eckstein does not particularly believe the Christian view of end times prophecies spouted in these ads.

As far as we’re concerned, Eckstein is weakening the evangelical community with a deceptive approach to those who love Israel and would ordinarily witness to Jews. Many think that their donations to him result in a witness. Actually the opposite happens because Eckstein, who opposes Jewish evangelism, gives the money to various Jewish organizations, some of which actively seek to dissuade my Jewish people from believing in Jesus.

So yes, I’m concerned that some of our evangelical leaders have endorsed Yechiel Eckstein without examining the implications of endorsing an organization whose leader is diametrically opposed to Jewish people coming to faith in Yeshua. And my letter on the war against Jewish evangelism did list Christian leaders whom we feel were deceived by Rabbi Eckstein. This was not intended to reflect poorly on their character or their Christian commitment. They support him because of the goodness in their own hearts. I appreciate their hearts and their desire to do good for the Jewish people. I’m sure they never intended believers to take the public endorsements as an indication that International Fellowship of Christians and Jews is a Christian ministry; nevertheless, many have. It’s my duty to challenge those who endorse Eckstein to see the bigger picture.

The most crucial need facing my people today or any other day is to know Jesus. People need to understand that supporting Eckstein will not help to meet that need and to some extent, it may hinder. I have made efforts to communicate this to those Christian leaders who were named in the article and I wanted you, dear friend, to know as well.

Ultimately, I am grateful that the Washington Times article can help shed light on my Jewish people’s need for Jesus. No doubt some opponents will continue to distort my words in hopes of hurting our cause. But in, the end, our focus at Jews for Jesus is the gospel and what God wants accomplished. As long as we keep that straight, we can’t lose. Besides, at least they spelled our name (and His) right.