“To the Jew First” – Amen, But Tell Me How

jews-firstheader.jpg-optThat the Jewish people need to hear the Good News is, thankfully, clear to many supporters of Israel. The question, then, is how they will hear. Or, rather: How do we present the gospel in such a way that our audience will actually take it to heart?

The above question is important for any communicator, but when it comes to sharing Yeshua with my people, it becomes more than just another good one. How do you speak about God to Holocaust survivors, their children and grandchildren? What do you say if they ask you where this good and all-powerful God was when men, women, and children, old and young, were gassed in Auschwitz en masse just for being Jewish? How do you talk about the loving Messiah with those whose genetic memory carries the pain of the murderous Crusades and the Inquisition, of forced conversions and blood libels? How do you communicate a religious message to people allergic to preaching in general, and religious preaching in particular?

In search of answers I have to start with the negative – things I won’t do. I won’t attempt to buy souls, giving humanitarian aid with one hand and a gospel tract with the other. Instead, I will simply care and love regardless of what comes out of it. I won’t preach – I’d rather invite to talk and discuss. I won’t justify the church – instead, I will admit its guilt, face and feel the pain, and cry with those who are crying. But what do you call this approach? Is it unheard of? Am I about to invent a wheel?

In a way, sharing the gospel with the Jewish people is still like fallow ground. Over the last 200 years there have been many sincere attempts, some more successful than others. The last 130 years have seen the emergence and steady growth of the Messianic movement – another exciting development. But on the whole, the Jewish people are still largely unreached. So yes, we do need to keep asking, seeking, and knocking in search of God’s way – or ways – to share the faith with Jews.

But the idea of abandoning authoritative preaching in favor of conversations with plenty of room for objections and difficult questions is not really new. One appealing way of doing this is the well-known Alpha course, originally startedjews-firstsmall.jpg-opt in the late 1970s by an Anglican parish in London (Holy Trinity Brompton, to be precise). Alpha is now successfully used in over 160 nations by many different denominations, from Orthodox and Roman Catholic to Baptist and Pentecostal.

The fact that the Alpha approach seems to work in so many different cultures
challenged me to think about whether Israel was still too different for it to take root here as well. Years ago, when I asked a couple of Jerusalem pastors about it, their answer was negative. Why? Israelis don’t want to discuss Yeshua in public, was the explanation. It was somewhat discouraging, but later, when pastor Christian Rasmussen from Immanuel Church in Tel-Aviv called me and suggested I check out Alpha for myself – something I’d never really done properly – I happily agreed. And in about a year I got a phone call from another pastor.

Michael Beener from Sderot asked Caspari to introduce the faith to a group of his fellow Russian-speaking Israelis. The rest of our story is told by him in the forthcoming interview, but the net result is this: We know that Alpha does work, even in Israel. For the moment, it’s being used with Russian immigrants, who are more open to Yeshua and don’t mind discussing him in a group. True, native Israelis still prefer one-on-one conversations, but it’s okay: God is in charge of timing, so we are not in a hurry. Where a net isn’t needed yet, let’s keep fishing with an ordinary rod! In the meantime, Caspari is planning to process our experience of adapting Alpha to the Jewish context and to share it with all who are willing to learn. After all, we are a teaching ministry, aren’t we?

Alexander Goldberg