Are you aware that there is a significant aspect of theology which directly affects Jewish outreach and evangelism, yet it is scarcely even acknowledged by today’s Messianic movement?
Each one of us has people we know and care about, who are resistant to the message of salvation in Yeshua the Messiah. Quite frequently, these are people we are related to—and we diligently pray for the salvation of our close and extended families every day. It can be quite distressing to entreat a loved one, or a close friend, to pay heed to the good news—and then see them reject it. Our motive to testifying to someone of the good news or gospel tends to be a straightforward one: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Messiah Yeshua our Lord” (Romans 6:23, NASU). Without receiving the forgiveness available in the completed work of Yeshua at Golgotha, an eternity separate from one’s Creator awaits (Revelation 22:15).
The reasons why people reject the salvation of Yeshua vary. Oftentimes, the main substance may be a human being’s inherent self defense of his or her own ethics or morality. Many of the people we love and care for deeply are not evil. They are good upstanding citizens and contributing members of society. They do good deeds. They are active in their communities. They pay their bills. They do not cheat on their taxes. They do not steal. They have never killed anyone. They are patriotic Americans who support those in uniform. They are no different than any other average person in doing what is right and honest. Of course, Proverbs 14:12 reminds us of how “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (NASU). Many people will defend how they live their lives, with the belief that since their good deeds far outweigh their bad deeds, God will have no choice but to let them into the Kingdom of Heaven.
There are, of course, some other, more poignant reasons, as to why people we know and care about may reject the good news or gospel message. Many people in today’s world, as ethical and upstanding as they may be, do not believe in God (cf. Psalm 14:1; 53:1). Why make a commitment to a God that they do not believe exists? The atheist who denies the very existence of a Supreme Being, yet considers himself or herself to be moral, only believes that it is important that humanity does not annihilate itself, and that it is survival of the species which is important—not some eternal destiny involving an afterlife and/or resurrection. Many of us can testify of people we not only know, but are related to, who reject the message of Israel’s Messiah because they reject God. And, it is a definite and obvious prerequisite that in order to believe in Yeshua, you must first believe in God!
Others we know actually do believe in some kind of Supreme Being. Some of them may actually profess some acknowledgment of the importance of the teachings of Yeshua (Jesus), at least as a good teacher or ancient philosopher. Some of them may even read their Bibles as a good way of reflecting on their upbringing as small children. But the belief that they have to actually repent of their sins or misdeeds, and ask the cleansing power of Yeshua’s work on the tree to spiritually regenerate them, is far from their minds. Why is this the case? Because ultimately for them, the Bible is just a collection of interesting stories and myths, not to be taken too seriously. Since God is all love, and many, if not most people, are naturally inclined to do good and abhor evil—whether one is Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or whatever—most will probably make it into “the great beyond.” It is affirmed that “all paths lead to God.”
As things stand today, about half of my extended family may be considered liberal Protestant. Their church attendance is mainly for annual holidays like Christmas and Easter or Mother’s Day. While they believe that the Bible contains good principles, they are not too concerned with concepts such as sin, the Ten Commandments, they certainly support gay marriage, and they definitely believe that “all paths lead to God.” Most especially concerning is that the Tanach or Old Testament, is believed to contain a great deal of creative fiction. A number of years ago, a particular relative greatly hailed the 2001 book Reading the Bible Again for the First Time: Taking the Bible Seriously But Not Literally by Marcus J. Borg. The kinds of arguments made in this book were favorable to spiritual applications of the Scriptures’ message, but not to its historicity. And, most of the historicity concerned the Genesis accounts, the record of the Exodus, and the rise of the Kingdom of Israel. This relative was quite proud of telling the conservative evangelicals in my family, “I do not believe in the rigidity of Adam and Eve!” Most of the Bible was just myth and superstition of primitive peoples long since gone.
While exploring and defending the reliability of the Tanach was a critical part of my own studies at Asbury Theological Seminary (2005-2009), this had been relegated only as a curiosity for me following my family’s relocation to the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex in 2013, and our reintegration into the Messianic Jewish movement which followed. I never really thought that the issues of Tanach reliability would come up, unless I was asked to discuss something off to the side with an individual or two here and there, probably a young person coming back home from college whose trust in the Bible got challenged. Little did I know that issues of Tanach reliability, as much as they have impacted my liberal Protestant relatives from truly receiving salvation, have impacted the families of many Messianic Jewish Believers in even more astounding ways.
When people in today’s Messianic community prepare to be involved with Jewish outreach and evangelism, they are correctly trained in issues involving the Messiahship of Yeshua and on combating Christian anti-Semitism. We are each prepared to go into the Scriptures and point to Yeshua fulfilling various prophecies and expectations of Second Temple Judaism. We are given a list of terms not to use, like Jesus or cross, and instead be sure to use Yeshua or the execution-stake. However, how many of us—in encountering very liberal and progressive Jewish people—almost never get around to discussing Yeshua of Nazareth? We spend time developing relationships with Jewish people and establishing trust, and then are told when one’s faith practice comes up, “I am glad your religion works for you.” How many of us have to field questions about the existence of God and the reliability of the Tanach Scriptures, for which we are not at all prepared?
Today’s Messianic movement has failed to recognize that the uncharted frontier of Jewish evangelism is the defense of the Tanach Scriptures. To many Jewish people, the Hebrew Scriptures simply contain interesting stories composed by their unsophisticated ancestors, which have important lessons to be sure, but are broadly fiction. Jewish people in the West, having escaped the persecution and discrimination of Eastern Europe, can now in America be whoever they want to be, believing whatever they want to believe, integrating into society as much as they want, often becoming areligious and their Judaism being a Jewish culture coupled with a dismissal of the Hebrew Scriptures as a guiding code of instruction. If half of my family are liberal Protestants, then how much higher is the percentage of today’s Messianic Jewish Believers’ families as liberal Jews? If you are a Messianic Jewish Believer, does eighty to ninety percent of your extended family treat the Tanach Scriptures as largely fiction?
For far to long, when Messianic people encounter those who dismiss the Tanach Scriptures as myth—whoever they may be—our common reaction is that we retreat into fundamentalism, and just flat avoid dealing with it. We avoid having the difficult discussions internally among ourselves, meaning that we are not only not prepared for what we know our God-less society is going to hurl at us when high school and college students among us ask questions from their science classes, but what many of our non-believing Jewish friends and neighbors might say. How many Jewish people we try to witness to of Yeshua, do not reject Yeshua because of Christian anti-Semitism on another continent from the Middle Ages—but because they either do not believe in God, or they think that the Tanach Scriptures are fairy tales?
What are some of the issues that we as today’s Messianic people have made an effort to avoid? Creation. The Flood. Babel. The Exodus. The Wilderness. The Conquest. Ancient Near Eastern Law Codes. The Kingdom of Israel. Jonah. Job. These are all important venues where we need to know how liberal theology has treated these accounts as being ahistorical at best, and outright fabrications at worst. (And to be fair, both liberal Jewish and Christian scholars have made negative contributions here.) Too many Messianic people look at some of these issues as actually being salvation issues, and refuse for there to be open discussion internally—severely hampering our external outreach skills. With the 2020s soon upon us, this will no longer work! Hiding from Tanach difficulties will not work for our outreach to the world, and will certainly not work for our testimony to the Jewish community.
We need to recognize not only what is, and what is not, a salvation issue—but be honest enough to recognize that there might be more diversity in our Messianic faith community surrounding these issues today, than we are perhaps prepared to publicly admit. I personally may be regarded as a small “c” conservative Believer in the Holy Scripture, particularly the Tanach—but I am also not afraid for there to be open discussions on how the universe and human beings got here, and how God worked in ancient history through the people of Israel. None of us should be afraid of these discussions either. We need to consciously keep in mind the classic credo of apologetics, “sanctify Messiah as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:15, NASU).