King Solomon wrote, …Of making many books there is no end…” (Ecclesiastes 12:12) How true, and many of those books profit those who write them, but not those who read them.
Books can be powerful. Some shape attitudes for generations to come, and not always for the better. Do you remember the book, Dr. Spock’s Baby and Childcare? His ideas have influenced child rearing techniques of new parents for years. As a result, the better part of an entire generation never learned the meaning of the word “no,” never learned to respect authority, never learned the value of discipline for themselves until it was too late.
Some books tout ideas that are easily recognized as patently absurd. Unfortunately, other books are a subtle mix of true and false ideas. People recognize the truth and sometimes swallow the entire stew without straining out what is false. I want you to know about three such books promoted by Christian publishers, widely endorsed by Christian leaders, but which undermine the Christian duty of evangelism to the Jewish people. I need you to be aware of this deviation from Biblical thinking so you can help raise that awareness in the Body of Christ.
Baker Book House’s 2003 release, The Gospel According to Moses: What My Jewish Friends Taught Me About Jesus by Athol Dickson, is an example of a good/bad mix wherein people can swallow dangerous theology without even realizing it. Dickson is much enamored of my Jewish people, to the point that he begins to renegotiate the uniqueness of Christ in a subtle fashion. Dickson’s last chapter deals with his understanding of Jesus being the only path to God.
He says, “As the title of this book implies, it is my intention here to explain the gospel. I believe everyone must confess their sin, repent and place their trust solely in the reparation made possible through Jesus’ atoning death and resurrection in order to find peace with God.” So far, so good right? Unfortunately, he adds an idea that is growing in popularity: **”But while these are conscious steps on my part, I am not at all certain that the divine redemptive process depends upon my consciousness of these steps.”**
Dickson is not the first to suggest it is possible for someone to experience redemption without being conscious of it. This view is sometimes called the “anonymous Christian” theory, i.e. someone can be saved by Jesus without believing in Him or knowing it is Jesus who saves them. The Scriptures speak very clearly about the need to confess Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead (Romans 10:9). How is it possible that anyone, Jew or Gentile, could be redeemed without conscious recognition of these important steps?
Along with an endorsement from Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, (who does not believe in Jesus), this book includes endorsements from the pastor of Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas and Reg Grant of Dallas Theological Seminary. Sometimes Christians only read sample chapters of a book before endorsing it without knowing the entire content. I do not know whether or not that was the case in these instances.
Harper’s 2003 release, The Rebirth of Orthodoxy: Signs of New Life in Christianity by Thomas C. Oden contains much to commend, yet it too, strikes a blow against Jewish evangelism. Says Oden on the subject of Christian missions to Jews, “I concede that the original apostles engaged in a mission to the Jews. But I believe that any missionary effort that fails to honor the election history of those it seeks to serve falls short of charity. I believe that the one covenant with God may be viewed from two different vantage points: one, the elect people of God; the other, the transmutation of the people of God in the light of the ministry of Jesus.” He goes on to say that both need to be honored and concludes with a story of a visit between Will Herberg and Reinhold Niebuhr in which the Jew, Herberg, indicated to Niebuhr that he was considering becoming a Christian. Niebuhr urged him strongly to go back and first read his own rabbinic tradition. Oden then comments, “Niebuhr was bang [correct] on his hunch.”
If people approached you about becoming a Christian, wouldn’t you gladly point them to salvation in Messiah Jesus, whatever their upbringing? It seems Neibuhr, or Oden for that matter, would instead invite inquiring Jewish friends to study the Talmud. Would they also encourage an inquiring Hindu to go read the Bhagavad Gita, or the inquiring Muslim to instead go study the Koran?
Oden is a well-regarded theologian, on the faculty at Drew University, and one of the senior editors at Christianity Today. J.I. Packer, a wonderful friend to Jews for Jesus, endorsed this book among others. Endorsements by godly men and women do not ensure that every word in a book such as this is gospel truth.
Jossey-Bass’s 2003 release, A Baptist Among Jews is written by Mary Blye Howe, who is likewise enamored with the Jewish people. When asked by Geoff Robinson, a Christian friend of Jews for Jesus, whether Jews need the gospel, she said unequivocally, no. Her book characterizes Messianic congregations as untruthful, preying on vulnerable segments of the Jewish population, etc. (p. 142-144) The foreword for this book is written by John Wilson, editor-at-large of Christianity Today. He remarks that most evangelicals will probably not open a book like this one because they’ve lost touch with the Jewish roots of their faith. For those who do, he says, they will “experience in these pages, a vivid encounter with Jewish women and men who worship the same God you do.”
Others who endorse the book include Tony Campolo, Jimmy Allen (former president of the Southern Baptist Convention); Phil Strickland (director of the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission).
I love my Jewish people. I love the beauty and richness of Jewish tradition. But I believe the Scriptures, and the apostle Peter who stood before the Jewish Sanhedrin (not a Gentile in the crowd) and declared, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) Those who would have you believe otherwise are not only wrong headed, they do nothing to prevent my people from heading toward a Christ-less eternity. I believe in freedom of speech, but I also believe in speaking up for the truth. Friend, please challenge the Christian companies who publish these books as well as the Christian leaders who endorse them.
Links to Baker Book House, Harper’s and Jossey-Bass are as follows: