Growing up Jewish, you can imagine the many hurdles I had to jump through in order to grow comfortable enough with the Christian faith to start considering myself one (see my memoir). Contending with Jesus being more than just a prophet was one thing; contending with certain Christian subcultures was something else altogether.
In my experience with strict, conservative Christianity, absolute obedience to God and Scripture is something to be praised. If God asks you to sacrifice your only son, for example, you don’t hesitate — you do it. Even if secular authorities will arrest and imprison you.
But Jews don’t read the text that way. With the story of Abraham and Isaac, for example, Abraham is believed to have failed the test. Further into Scripture, the disturbing actions of other patriarchs aren’t held up as anything to emulate. Jews don’t attempt to sanitize the chapters that involve genocide or child sacrifice; they admit that this is a problematic piece of their history. This intellectual honesty is something I’ve always admired about my people.
In my campus ministry, and seminary after that, I learned a few things upfront: 1) Obedience is very important, and 2) Everything that happened in the Bible, including bloodshed, can be justified because it’s literally God’s Word.
On the whole, Jews are considered argumentative, stubborn people — and this is a good thing! Many biblical figures are praised for the ways in which they argued and wrestled with God (literally, in Jacob’s case). Arguing with God is praised because it shows a desire to understand God more.
By contrast, the ultra-conservative stance “God said it, I believe it, that settles it” stripped away the intellectual curiosity that brought me to Christianity in the first place. I asked “Why?” too many times in Bible studies and in seminary lectures, and was met with “Because it’s in the Bible!” too many times to feel accepted and safe in such a place. My faith was beginning to feel stunted; did following Jesus mean checking my brain at the door? Did the doctrine of inerrancy really mean making excuses for murder?
Being Jewish, it seemed, put me at a distinct disadvantage in this new world. I was approaching Christianity rather Jewishly by asking “Why?” over and over, but this simply was not done.
Fortunately, I saw this subculture for what it was: a subculture within Christianity that does not represent the whole. Just as there are liberal, conservative, and Orthodox strands of Judaism, I had to find the Christians who could help me grow in Christ the only way I knew how: by asking “Why” regarding the grittier parts of the Bible, and wrestling with those texts by putting them in proper context rather than attempting to sanitize them.