A Note from David Brickner: What You Need to Know About False Choices Regarding Evangelization
Did you hear the hubbub over newly released tapes that recorded more of the conversation between former President Richard Nixon and evangelist Billy Graham? For many, the focus was on anti-Semitic attitudes that appeared in the conversation. But the mention of Jews for Jesus in these tapes sheds an interesting light on how and why many Christian leaders today shy away from Jewish evangelism.
The tapes contain a reminder that it is nothing new for Jewish community leaders to regard any overtures to reach Jewish people for Jesus as a threat. As it is human nature to “lobby” influential people to one’s cause, evangelists such as Billy Graham have been pressured to show friendship to the Jewish people by distancing themselves from those whose mission it is to reach Jewish people for Jesus.
The pressure often comes in the form of friendship proffered or withheld based on where one stands when it comes to evangelizing Jewish people. Nearly four decades later, we are seeing the “fruits” of this type of pressure as many Christian leaders are urging other Christians to demonstrate love and respect for Jewish people by keeping silent about the gospel. Rich Robinson, scholar-in-residence with Jews for Jesus, has some keen insight into this trend. I want to commend the following book review, in which Rich shows how Christians can inadvertently diminish their love for the unsaved as well as their own obedience to the Savior:
Honest to God: Christian Zionists Confront 10 Questions Jews Need Answered by Victor L. Styrsky.
Reviewed by Rich Robinson
The title of this book may imply that Jewish people have ten burning questions for Christian Zionists. A closer look shows that the “10 Questions Jews need answered” are actually ten assurances that the author believes Christians need to offer the Jewish people. The author poses these questions as springboards from which to show Christians how to relate to Jewish people.
Victor Styrsky is California director of Christians United for Israel (CUFI), the well-known organization headed by John Hagee, who has promoted this book. On the positive side, Styrsky is passionate about Israel, about supporting the Jewish people, and about what it takes to show that someone truly “loves the Jews.” In the end, however, his book is theologically shallow when it comes to Christian faith and what it entails.
In each chapter, Styrsky presents a question, gives the “standard” Christian answer, offers history or anecdotes to show why that answer is inadequate and then offers his answer. The “standard” answers consist largely of what the author describes as “Jesus talk,” or what some might call “Christianese” (language that fails to communicate to non-Christians).
Following are Styrsky’s ten questions with selected quotes to show the gist of his answers.
1. Does the Christian community have the patience for us? Styrsky refers to 2,000 years of anti-Semitism when he writes,“It is we Christians, with broken hearts and bowed heads who must beseech every Jew we have the privilege of knowing: ‘Does the Jewish community have the patience for us?’” (p. 51).
2. Do Christians still hate us because we don’t believe in Jesus? Styrsky says: “The abominable sins that have been committed against you over the last 1,900 years from those calling themselves Christians are the most wicked in the history of mankind. . . .I ask God and you for forgiveness. . . .Of course we don’t hate you.” (p. 66)
3. What is your real agenda in reaching out to the Jews? The author explains,“Christian Zionists want to be part of the miracle He [God] is doing with the Jewish people . . . Never again will you walk alone . . . We believe that you are the beloved of HaShem and the apple of His eye, and we bless you in the name of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” (p. 82).
4. What can we do about Christians who target us and our children? Styrsky’s advice: “Tell the Christians who can’t stop preaching about Jesus—to please stop. . . . Tell them to live exemplary lives as they walk with you, and if you ever have any questions about why they believe as they do you will ask them!” (p. 95)
5. Why don’t you educate the anti-Israel churches? Styrsky explains, “The anti-Israel attitudes within Christianity are often due to theological persuasions, which produce and feed anti-Israel and anti-Semitic prejudices. . . . The difficulty . . . has more to do with matters of the heart than with education.” (p. 120)
6. How are Christian Zionists trying to influence Israeli politics? “We aren’t and we won’t. We have great respect for Israel’s national sovereignty and the democratic process that allows Israeli citizens to elect their leaders.” (p. 152)
7. Do you really believe all the Jews are going to hell? “Christian theology teaches that the final redemption for Israel and the gentiles is revealed through the coming of Messiah, a belief many rabbis teach as well (Upon Messiah’s arrival, we can ask if it is His first or second visit!) . . . I don’t understand how God is going to bring all of these pieces of my faith together; but I believe He will, and I believe as it is written: ‘all of Israel will be saved.’” (pp. 171-72) (Per #4, Styrsky apparently believes this will happen without Christians taking any initiative to tell Jewish people about Jesus.)
8. You love your enemies? How can you love the terrorists that are killing our children in Israel? “The wearisome ‘we must hate the sin . . . love the sinner’ is just one of the shallow answers given to difficult and painful questions asked by the Jewish community.” Rather, “Followers of the New Testament are instructed to love our enemies. We are also taught, we must abhor evil.’ I abhor the wicked ideology and actions of the militant Islamic movement. When the last deed of a person’s life is a suicide attack upon innocent men, women, and children, I believe God abhors both the act and the person committing it and so do I.” (pp. 203-04)
9. What would you say if a Jew told you he wanted to convert to Christianity? “I would direct a Jewish enquirer to speak with his/her rabbi, and to read the New Testament including the passages from the Tanakh referenced throughout the scriptures. As a Christian, I trust it is God alone who can give revelation concerning the things I believe to be true concerning Jesus of Nazareth.” (p. 218)
10. What is your deepest prayer for the Jewish people? Styrsky’s prayer “for you, and the Jewish people, is that you be good Jews. I pray that you continue to seek the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob within the words of Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings. . . . I also believe those who seek Him, find Him.” (p. 222)
Styrsky is right to encourage Christians to get to know Jewish people personally, their struggles and concerns. He is right to encourage Christian support of Israel and it is refreshing to hear him call on Christians to stop trying to dictate Israel’s policy-making. (I was glad to hear him speak against simplistic views of what Israel should or should not do.) He is right to discourage obtuse “Jesus talk” and various forms of insensitivity that can crop up as people share the gospel.
Unfortunately, he strays far from the biblical view of what we are to do with our faith. He quotes 1 Peter 3:15: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” as a proof text that we ought to wait till Jewish people ask before we tell them about Jesus. Never mind that Paul went into the synagogue to argue and persuade every week. Never mind that the early church grew through proclamation. Never mind that the context of the verse itself is telling Christians how to respond when persecuted and falsely accused by unbelievers—who presumably have heard some gospel proclamation.
Much—most—of the book is informed by the history of Christian anti-Semitism, a subject that does need to be talked about, taught, and accounted for in a Christian theology. The big problem is that Styrsky essentially uses anti-Semitism to shut down sharing the gospel with Jewish people. He frames some of his questions in a have-you-stopped-beating-your-wife way (see question 7: has any sensitive Christian ever believed that “all Jews” are going to hell—as though it is being Jewish that sends people to hell rather than our sins?).
In fact, Styrsky’s question 9 is phrased as though from a Jewish audience predisposed against faith in Jesus (“What would you say if a Jew told you he wanted to convert to Christianity”—not “if he wanted to believe in Jesus as the Messiah”) and his jaw-dropping answer is to consult his or her rabbi. The rabbi, we can be sure, will do precisely what Styrsky will not: namely, argue his own views persuasively. As long as the Jewish religion teaches that Jews must not believe what the New Testament says about Jesus, it is the rabbi’s duty to uphold that teaching. Therefore, referring a Jewish seeker to a rabbi is tantamount to turning him or her away from the gospel.
Styrsky’s “deepest prayer” for the Jewish people—that they be good Jews (and what exactly does he mean by that?) is in stark contrast to Paul’s prayer in Romans 10:1: “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.”
Styrsky’s book offers us a false choice: either be insensitive or be silent. He informs the reader that the Jewish people he knows understand the gospel and will let their Christian friends know if and when they are interested. Here is where he is sociologically na?ve and theologically shallow. Where does he get the notion that his rabbi friends reflect what the majority of Jewish people know and understand about the gospel? More important, the Bible never countenances refraining from sharing the gospel with Jewish people on the presumption that they “already know” what we believe. Nor does the Bible take the position that since only God can change hearts, our only responsibility is to state what we believe if and when asked, and let the chips fall where they may.
If you follow Styrsky’s approach into other areas of witness, you will find that for centuries some Christians have witnessed insensitively to all kinds of people. One might conclude that intellectuals have little trust in Christians because church leaders persecuted those who tried to point out that the earth revolves around the sun. To this day, intellectuals can point to some Christians who hang their brains at the door. In that case, why witness to intellectuals? Why not simply encourage them to continue their academic work? Befriend them and support them—and hope that they ask you, a supporter of intellectuals, why you believe in Jesus.
Unfortunately, too many Christians have bought into the false choice of either loving the Jews or proclaiming the gospel. Or worse, the false notion that loving the Jews means not proclaiming the gospel.
Styrsky’s—and CUFI’s—truncated idea of Christian responsibilities reminds me of Jesus’ statement, “But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former (Matthew 23:23).” Genuine love for the Jewish people is critical. Is proclaiming the gospel any less so?
This book was published by New York: Artzy Books, 2009.
Executive Director, Missionary
David Brickner is executive director of Jews for Jesus. David oversees the world-wide ministry from its headquarters in San Francisco. David received his Master’s degree in Missiology with a concentration in Jewish Evangelism and Judaic Studies from the Fuller School of World Mission. He has authored several books, and has been interviewed on national television shows such as Larry King Live. David’s daughter, Ilana is a recent graduate of Biola. His son, Isaac is on the missionary staff of Jews for Jesus. Isaac and his wife, Shaina, have one daughter, Nora, which makes David part of the grandparent club, a membership he is very proud of. See more here.