A media dust-up has been blowing over political commentator Anne Coulter’s recent remark on the Donny Deutsch cable television show. Coulter told Deutsch, Christians want Jews to be perfected.” He responded by labeling her an anti-Semite and various people began hurling verbal grenades in earnest.
In the midst of the furor we received a phone call from “Newsweek” columnist Lisa Miller, asking if we could explain what Ann Coulter meant by her remark. While I can’t claim to know for certain, I tend to agree with Miller’s theory that Coulter used the term “perfected Jew” in place of the more commonly heard phrase “completed Jew.” Ms. Miller wondered if Jews for Jesus had invented the term “completed Jew” (we didn’t) and would we comment on what it means.
While I have never referred to myself (or anyone else) as a perfected Jew, I have used the term “completed Jew.” I used to meet regularly with an elderly Jewish man named Bernie when I was in our Jews for Jesus Chicago branch. I remember Bernie telling me that my use of the term offended him because it implied that he, as one who did not believe in Jesus was somehow incomplete.
It was also in the Chicago area that I spoke at a church whose pastor believed in the “perfectibility of the saints.” He confidently asserted that he had achieved that perfection and claimed that he had not sinned in more than three years. It is hard to believe that a mere human being could go for three years without ever offending the Almighty in thought or word, if not in deed. Please forgive me for not expounding on the doctrine of the “perfectibility of the saints,” a teaching over which true Christians have disagreed with one another for centuries. My purpose is not to argue about that particular doctrine. But I recall my unspoken response to this man’s claim at the time. I thought, “He has some nerve! He thinks he’s better than me!” I automatically translated his comment into a reflection on me and my shortcomings–which was more or less what Bernie had done. This brings me back to Anne Coulter and the controversy surrounding her recent remarks.
Lisa Miller made what I thought was a fair attempt to get at what Coulter might have meant. In her article, Miller quoted me as follows: “By believing that Jesus is the promised Messiah of Israel, we’ve been completed in our Jewish identity by embracing the hope of our people” (“Newsweek” Nov. 5, pg. 18). I am glad to have made a gospel statement in “Newsweek” and am particularly pleased that the magazine published a photo of Jews for Jesus staff member Elisheva R, handing out gospel tracts. But the statement attributed to me bears a bit of revision.
While I have used the term “completed Jew” in the past, it isn’t exactly a biblical phrase. Paul prayed for the Corinthians to be complete (2 Corinthians 13:9). He was confident that God would complete the good work He had begun in the Philippians (Philippians 1:6). He told the Colossians that they were complete in Jesus (Colossians 4:12). The Bible also speaks of God’s Word and His appointed times as being fulfilled or completed. However, I don’t see that the Bible talks about completing one’s Jewish identity.
On the other hand, the Bible does talk about people being perfected. Jesus was the first perfected Jew according to the author of Hebrews: “And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him” (Hebrews 5:9; see also Hebrews 7:28). This same author tells us that Jesus, by His sacrifice, “perfected forever those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:4). That’s us–His followers. We who believe and follow Jesus, whether Jewish or Gentile, can likewise be perfected in Him.
The Apostle John tells us that God’s love is perfected in us as we keep His word and as we love one another (1 John 2:5; 4:12 ,17). However, the word “perfected” here may also be translated “completed,” so we are once again faced with the controversy Ms. Coulter has launched.
Can Jews or anyone else truly be perfected? Is that what Christianity teaches? Is that what God wants? Well, the answer from the scriptures appears to be yes. But contrary to my quote in “Newsweek,” it isn’t one’s Jewish identity that is perfected/completed but rather our identity in Christ.
I imagine that people who were offended by Anne Coulter’s desire for Jews to be perfected felt she meant that Jews are imperfect while Christians are perfect. But when we realize it is our standing before God that is perfected or completed in Christ, it is no longer a matter of being Jewish or Gentile. In Jesus, God has declared us righteous; that kind of completeness or perfection is not achieved through our own efforts but though God’s mercy and by the righteousness of Christ. Without Jesus, whether we are Jewish or Gentile we are imperfect, incomplete and frankly, without hope.
I like the way Dr. Ray Pritchard stated it in his blog:
“. . . ‘Do the Jews need Jesus?’ The answer is yes, not because they are Jews but because they are sinners like everyone else. When Romans 3:22 says, “there is no difference,” it means no difference between Jew and Gentile when it comes to sin and salvation. God doesn’t play favorites. Anyone who believes in Jesus will be saved.”
For more of Dr. Pritchard’s observations on this (and links to the transcript over which the controversy arose) click here.
Now frankly, I don’t think that we can expect unbelievers to readily grasp the distinction I am trying to make here. When we receive Jesus as our Savior from sin, we stand complete, perfect in His righteousness before God. That does not mean we are better than other people. As the Apostle Paul confessed, so ought we; “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me” (Philippians 3:12).
There is a “now and not yet” to God’s work in our hearts. We need to seek humility before God and honesty before others regarding our claims. When we try to explain that Jesus is the only way for salvation, the world so often thinks we are saying Christians are superior to everyone else when in fact we are saying we are just like everyone else–sinners in need of a Savior! Because this message is so easily misunderstood, some Christians have grown uneasy and embarrassed, choosing to remain silent about the problem of sin and our hope of perfection in Christ.
No matter how humbly we present the gospel, it will always be controversial. If we are truly humble, we will not shy away from telling the gospel truth. For a humble person, the possibility that someone might see the truth of Jesus is so much more important than how they might see us. To actually be humble is better than to appear humble in the eyes of people who are, without Christ, spiritually blind.
I really don’t know whether Anne Coulter understood the significance of her statement. Heaven knows most of the world did not, and does not, understand. But those of us who long to see the gospel preached should consider the implications of this “dust-up” in the media, and commit to faithfully declaring that both Jews and Gentiles are imperfect and in need of Christ.