Theology

“Jews for Jesus” didn’t convert me

If your life is anything like mine, then it’s not at all unusual to receive a text message from a friend around 10pm asking complex questions about dispensationalism, which leads into a discussion about the missionary organization Jews for Jesus

There were some things I shared in that conversation that I felt were worthwhile enough to share in a blog post, because I am still considered a “Jew for Jesus” by people who are learning my story for the first time. I think people conflate the terms “Jew for Jesus” and “Messianic Jew” as if they are synonyms, but they’re not – the former is an evangelistic organization, while the latter can rightly be considered a fringe denomination of Protestant Christianity. 

You would think, as a Jewish-born Anglican, that I would fully support the heart of an organization like Jews for Jesus, but I actually can’t, for several reasons:

They Appropriate Jewish Symbols

It should go without saying that Christians wearing Jewish symbols such as kippot, tallit shawls, or blowing shofars is offensive to the Jewish people. These symbols are being taken from their historic context and being used in ways they were not intended, often not by ethnic Jews who converted but by gentile Christians who claim to “love Judaism.” The gospel message that people are inherently sinful and in need of a savior is offensive enough without having to further add insult to injury by misusing Jewish symbols in a Christian context. When Jewish people say this behavior is offensive and hurtful, it hurts the Christian witness not to listen.

Their Rhetoric Is Flawed And Inaccurate

“It’s Jewish to believe in Jesus” is a common refrain in the world of Jews for Jesus. But when you really look at the tenets of Judaism and what the theology actually teaches, you can easily see how Christian and Jewish beliefs are, at the core, quite different. Christianity teaches Original Sin; Judaism teaches that we’re all inherently good. Christianity teaches that Jesus is the only way to heaven; Judaism teaches that there may not even be a heaven, but if one exists, one need not be Jewish to go there.

Is it “Jewish” to believe in Jesus? Not really, if you have more than a surface-level understanding of the two faiths. Which leads me to my next point…

Christianity Will Cost You Judaism

Christianity calls you to die to yourself. There is a cost for everyone. In some parts of the world, it can mean persecution or death. In the United States, it more commonly looks like having people think you’re weird or outdated in your beliefs. For me, Christianity cost me Judaism. True, my ethnic identity is something separate and more permanent. But in spiritual terms, it is dishonest to still call myself Jewish. It took years for me to come to terms with that, and accept it, knowing Christ is now the bedrock of my identity. There is no distinction between Jew or gentile when all are one in Christ. 

Any Jew considering Christianity should be prepared to feel unwelcome in Jewish spaces and possibly lose family and friendships. But more than that, they should be prepared to lose a critical piece of the Jewish identity they are used to, because following Christ is going to be radically different.

There’s Too Much Emphasis On Apologetics

Sure, it’s important to understand why Christians believe Jesus fulfilled the ancient prophecies. That is understandably important to a Jew who is interested in Christianity. But in my experience, it’s easy to get so caught up in these arguments that you actually lose sight of the person of Jesus: who actually was he? What was he like? What does he tell us about God?

I fell in love with a person, not an argument. I was won over by love, not a debate. 

I honestly don’t know many people who converted from apologetics – arguments intended to convince skeptics of Christianity’s validity. What’s more, Jews aren’t taught to read Scripture the way that Christians do. In Judaism, the Bible is not inerrant or authoritative, nor divinely inspired: it’s a uniquely human book. So there’s not much to be gained by arguing about prophecies when each side has radically different views about the text they come from. 

Call Me Anglican

That, in a nutshell, is why I can’t support Jews for Jesus as a reputable organization – and it’s not one I would send a Jewish friend to if she were interested in the Christian faith. For a better assessment of who I am spiritually, I recommend studying the Anglican church. 

Photo by Jonny Gios on Unsplash

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