Her curiosity didnt surprise me. Folks at my new church are also interested.
One threw back his head and said: "Wow! You must have met a fabulous salesman.
Its tough to evangelize Jews!" Another pulled me aside and asked:
"What magic words convinced you to come to the Lord? I never know the right
approach to make to a Jewish person."
Again, Im not surprised. I used to be an unswerving hard sell. I enjoyed
bellowing "Not interested!" at on mission Christians who put me in
But, here I am todayan enthusiastic Christian. Which brings me back to those
questions my friend asked.
When I chart the road to my conversion, I find that I jumped six major
hurdlessome intellectual, some emotional. Perhaps my experiences getting past
them can help you be on mission more successfully in your encounters
with your Jewish friends.
Paul might have been thinking of me when he wrote that Jews demand
miraculous signs (1 Corinthians 1:22, NIV). I certainly needed a
compelling reason to consider Christianity. The folks who tried to convert me
by quoting the Gospels received a curt answer in return: "I dont accept the
writings that you call the New Testament." "You have to accept the
Bible!" was the inevitable comeback.
"Sure I accept the Biblemy Bible! It ends with Second Chronicles,
and it doesnt say anything about God having a son."
"But ... but ... but ..."
This is the familiar motorboat imitation done by confused Christians who
cant find the right opener to start a conversation about Jesus.
The Christian who finally got my attention introduced me to the miracle of
the early church: A band of uneducated Jewish peasants, from a hick town in
Judea, whose leader had been executed in a horribly demoralizing way
conquered the cowardice they had consistently demonstrated
found the strength to become missionaries and martyrs
carried their faith throughout the known world.
Its hard not to be impressed by this "pragmatic proof" of Christianity.
Remember what Gamaliel, Pauls superstar Jewish teacher, said about Peter and
the other apostles: For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it
will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men (Acts
I used to think Christians were gloomy folk, who seemed obsessed with heaven,
hell and salvation. One of my favorite ways to end a discussion was: "Im not
interested in Christianity! It doesnt offer anything I need while Im
Of course, I was wrong. Christianity offers something everyone needs: the
peace of Christ in a world full of fear.
I left this hurdle behind when a cheerful Christian friend talked about
the peace of God, which transcends all understanding (Philippians 4:7,
NIV). It got me thinking about what my thoroughly Jewish father had told
me decades ago. "Sincere Christians seem happyat ease with themselves and the
world around them." He added: "Theres something real there."
Today, I know Who and What the something real is.
Christianity drips with complex doctrines: the Trinity, the Incarna-tion, the
atonement, predestination (or the lack thereof). At first, they baffled and
discouraged me. C.S. Lewis came to my rescue. The essential principles of
Christianitywhat Lewis dubbed Mere Christianity in his classic book of
the same nameare easy to grasp. As Lewis explains: "The central Christian
belief is that Christs death has somehow put us right with God and given us a
Simple and succinctwithout the heavy baggage of theological language, or the
"theories" (as Lewis calls them) beloved by specific Christian denominations.
Exactly the encouragement I needed to begin delving the riches of "full
Speaking of denominationsI now recognize that my
friends made Christianity seem even more complex by trying to bring me to
Christ and to their particular churches. Trust mea non-Christian has
great difficulty grasping the distinctions between, say, Southern Baptists and
Episcopalians. Trust me againback then, I didnt care to learn. I chose my
denomination after I decided to become a Christian.
My recommendation: Use your church as an examplebut dont be upset if your
friends heart leads him or her to a different door.
After a business colleague made a valiantbut unsuccessfuleffort to share Christ
with me, I asked: "Why do you care about my religion?" "I hate to see you
separated from the Lord," he answered. "Dont you realize that Judaism
doesnt work? Read John 14:6. No one comes to the Father except through
I got spitting mad and told him why: "Jews believe that every human being
has direct access to God. I certainly do. Go see Fiddler on the Roof.
Who do you think Tevya is always talking to?"
"How dare you Christians claim ownership of God?" I blurted back.
What we have here is a terrible "marketing strategy." My friend chose to
advocate Christianity by trampling on my beliefs. He used Christian polemics,
when he should have used Christian apologetics.
The differences are enormous.
A polemic screams: "Youre so wrong you must be stupid!" An apologetic
invites a change of thinkingwithout the implied insult.
A highly effective evangelist wrote: Always be prepared to give an
answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.
But do this with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15, NIV).
Speak gently and argue respectfully. This may mean biting your tongue,
taking a few deep breaths, leaving tough concepts for later or putting a softer
"spin" on controversial passages.
Use explanations that invite more discussion and dont raise hackles.
Here are three Christian doctrines along with why they set off warning bells
in Jewish minds:
The Trinityseems to challenge monotheism (which Jews "invented").
The idea of Christ dying for someone elses sinsstrikes Jews as contrary to
fairness and justice.
New Testament notions of hell go far beyond Jewish concepts of eternal
Speak gently and argue respectfully when you introduce these concepts. Youll
be a more productive on mission Christian.
Lets be frank. For nearly two millennia, Jews have suffered persecution and
insult at the hands of people calling themselves Christians. Its not surprising
that Jews are wary of Christians bearing the gospel.
A Christian neighbor once said to me: "Its terribly unfair to blame todays
Christians for past horrors."
"Youre right!" I snapped. "About as unfair as the Christian kids who kept
telling me that I killed Christ!"
I can pinpoint the moment when my distrust began to fall away. It was when I
heard a committed Christian gush joyfully about Christianitys roots in
"Did you know," he said, "that the Jewish founders of Christianity didnt
start out to create a different religion? Or that Jerusalem in the first
century was chock full of Jewish Christians who prayed in the Holy
Temple? Or that the Romans considered Christianity to be a sect of Judaism? Or
that you can find the fundamental prayer of Judaism in the New Testament?"
"Whoa! What fundamental prayer?"
"Check out Mark 12:29," he said. "Jesus explained that the most important
commandment is: Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is
"Dont be," added my friend. "As Paul wrote in Romans 1:16: the gospel is
the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew,
then for the Gentile (NIV)."
The more I thought about it, the more I appreciated that Paul was right.
I was a closet Christian long before I went public. After allwhat would my
family and my Jewish friends think? How could I explain going over to the
And so, I was sappily secretive about my journey.
I bought my first New Testament in a used bookstore 50 miles away from home
(no way would I go to a Christian bookstore, and I worried that I
might meet a friend in our local Barnes & Noble). I even reset the dial
after I listened to a Christian radio station.
One well-meaning friend shared Jesus words in Mark 10:29-31: no one who
has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields
for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this
present age ... and in the age to come, eternal life (NIV).
It was the last thing I needed to hear. I didnt want to leave my family.
And I winced when I recalled the horror stories Id heard about Jewish family
members who "mourned" the loss of a convert to Christianity and pretended that
he or she had died.
Happily, my fears proved to be an imaginary hurdle: my family and friends
supported my decision. I was blessed, but many other Jewish converts experience
painful breaches when they put Jesus first.
My advice: Be supportive if your Jewish friend experiences the heartache of
My journey from Judaism to Christianity lasted almost three yearsmostly because
I insisted on traveling solo in the beginning. I didnt let my Christian friends
know what I was thinkingor doing until I felt moved to finally join a
When I look back, I see that my leisurely pace had one enormous benefit. It
helped me to figure out for myself what I now consider the strongest attraction
to Christianity for a Jewish person: I didnt fall away from Judaism when I
became a ChristianI moved ahead to an even richer understanding of God through
my newfound relationship with Christ.
Ron Benrey is a writer and author living in Columbia, Maryland.
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