Eight years ago, a professional relationship between a Christian preacher and a Jewish communal professional in the Portland, Oregon area blossomed into a unique Jewish-Christian dialogue that takes place on local radio every week called, “The Teacher and the Preacher.”
Pastor Dave McGarrah and Charlie Schiffman met in 2009 at a gathering of Jewish leaders in the Portland area. “We met, and I was immediately drawn to him,” McGarrah told Breaking Israel News.
“Jovial, conversational, no walls, very responsive. I invited him to lunch and that’s how it all began. Over time, his wife suggested that we do a radio program together. Long story short, this fall will be 8 years we’ve been on the radio.”
Schiffman passed away suddenly, but the dialogue still continued as Harold Berman, a colleague of Schiffman’s, stepped into his role.
“When Charlie passed away a few years ago, I began to think about the show and had a strong feeling I should reach out to Dave,” Berman explained.
“A few days later, at the shiva (formal mourning period), Charlie’s wife out of the blue mentioned the show and urged me to reach out to Dave. It seemed like enough of a sign, so I did. We talked for about a year, and then I became the new ‘teacher.’ Our conversation and friendship has continued to grow ever since.”
Open conversation between a Christian pastor and an Orthodox Jew would have been unthinkable for most of the past 2,000 years. What makes such a conversation possible now? Berman’s answer is on the tip of his tongue.
“In a word; Israel. For most of the past 2,000 years, Jews have been guests in other countries, and although we always yearned to return to our land, it seemed like a very far-off dream. Over the centuries, much of the Christian world practiced replacement theology, and didn’t see the Jews returning – ever. Under such circumstances, a ‘dialogue of equals’ was virtually impossible. Today, we are sovereign in our own land. Torah again is coming forth out of Zion.”
And the many peoples shall go and say: “Come, Let us go up to the Mount of Hashem, To the House of the God of Yaakov; That He may instruct us in His ways, And that we may walk in His paths.” For instruction shall come forth from Tzion, The word of Hashem from Yerushalayim – Isaiah 2:2
Berman continued, “Increasingly our conversations with Christians involve teaching Torah, rather than defensively trying to explain why we’re not Christians. Our return to our own land has caused some Christians to understand the Bible in a new way, as the words of the prophets and the headlines in the newspapers increasingly intersect.’
“They understand that Jews have an important God-given role to play. For some other Christians, this has caused cognitive dissonance and hostility, as we are not following what they saw as the Biblical script. The more we are in our own land, and continue to grow and thrive here, the more it becomes possible to have an entirely different kind of dialogue with those who understand the return of the Jewish people to be part of God’s plan.”
Pastor McGarrah reflected on the question as well.
“I think there is a Divine paradigm shift happening where the historic walls of division are definitely falling and doors are opening for conversation,” he said. “Add to that, most Christians don’t know any Jewish people, which has kept levels of conversation from happening.”
“I also see a new openness among the Jews, even though there is still pretty significant levels of skepticism, and understandably so. I also believe that Christians United for Israel (CUFI) has had a big impact on this issue of coming alongside Israel and the Jewish people and standing with Israel without any demand that there should be a shift in the Jewish theology before Christians are willing to stand with Israel.”
Concluding succinctly, Pastor McGarrah said, ‘it’s a God thing.”
Both of them agree to not shy away from controversial topics. One of their goals is to shine light on the occasions when, according to Berman, “Jews and Christians often are using the very same words or phrases from the Bible and mean very different things by them – sometimes without even realizing it.” Examples include the differences between the way Jews and Christians understand the concept of messiah and the salvation of the Jewish people.
Given their willingness to discuss such sensitive issues, both feel that “The Teacher and The Preacher” radio program is, according to Pastor McGarrah, “a chance to model a level of love and mutual respect for each other and the virtues and values of each other’s faith. It’s not a debate.”
“We celebrate our commonalities, our shared values, our shared love for Israel – but we never shy away from the differences or hard issues,” Berman stressed. “But we do so in the spirit of dialogue and mutual respect, rather than disputation or intent to convert. Otherwise, the conversation isn’t worth having.”
Addressing Jewish listeners, Berman explained to Breaking Israel News the reasons of why we are living in the midst of a paradigm shift.
“The history of Jewish-Christian interaction over the centuries has largely been very negative,” he said. “It’s important for Jews to understand that this is starting to change, and there is a new paradigm emerging – one in which Jews can simply be themselves and have something important, and, in fact, essential to bring to the table.”
“At the same time, there still are many Christians who cling to some of the old paradigms, continue to proselytize, to view Jews as not understanding their own Scripture, and to engage in religious triumphalism,” he noted. “This is becoming harder and harder to justify as Israel continues to flourish and its impact continues to grow. But it’s important that Jews understand that some Christians are now operating from a different paradigm.”
Agreeing with Berman, Pastor McGarrah referred to a “big shift” in the Christian community.
“It is insightful for the Jewish listener, for I think that they realize that there is a big shift happening in the heart of Christians towards Jews.”
McGarrah also encourages Christians to listen to the show in order to be educated and inspired.
“Listeners can be inspired to learn more about their faith, the Jewish roots of Christianity, the Feasts and Festivals, the Holy Days and their meanings.”
Berman spoke about misunderstandings Jews have for Christians. “Many Jews tend to think that all Christians are kind of the same. Just as there is great diversity among Jews, so there is great diversity among the some 2 billion people who call themselves Christians.”
For his part, Pastor McGarrah spoke about the common misconceptions Christians have about Jews. “The perspective from Christians is that ‘the Jews are so blind,’ without seeing how blind Christians are. Second is the mindset that the Jews no longer play an important part in the spiritual work of God’s Kingdom, and there is no significant role for them in the future.”
“I think this is a result of two big things,” he continued. “Replacement theology and no significant teaching to pastors/people regarding the Jewish roots of Christianity. This is a fulfillment of what Paul wrote about in Romans 11 when he warned that we dare not be ignorant about what God was doing. Both of these are big misconceptions.”
Berman would like to see “The Teacher and The Preacher” serve as a model for private conversations between Jews and Christians.
“For this kind of dialogue to be successful, the participants need to be relatively knowledgeable about their own faith, and come to the conversation with a sense of openness to understanding the other, and to conveying their own faith in a way that will enrich the other,” he said.
“Because there is a paradigm shift taking place in certain parts of the Christian world, sincere dialogue with Christians who have embraced this paradigm shift is not only important, but perhaps imperative.”
Pastor McGarrah concluded by pointing to the positive aspects of such interfaith dialogue.
“God is pleased when His kids come together in love and value and appreciate each other, no matter the differences. We want the listeners to know that we will be better because of the blessing of building relationships with each other.”
Christians remain indebted to all that the Jews have contributed to Christianity,” McGarrah added. “There is no Christianity without Judaism.”