While many religious thinkers and leaders bemoan the enormous chasm separating Jews and Christians, few are taking theology-based actions to fix the problem. Dr. Brad Young, a Christian theologist who studied in Jerusalem and now teaches in America, is one of the few uniquely qualified thinkers to straddle the gap with knowledge and understanding. In Israel for a lecture tour, he offered Breaking Israel News his perspective on the amazing developments between Christians and Jews and the challenges they continue to face.
Dr. Young, who received both his Masters and PhD from Hebrew University of Jerusalem, is currently a Professor of Biblical Literature at Oral Roberts University. He is the founder of the Gospel Research Foundation and one of the founding scholars of the Jerusalem School of Synoptic Studies.
On Friday, this unique theologian will speak in Hebrew at Jerusalem’s Bible Lands Museum in partnership with the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation, presenting his understanding of modern Christianity’s relationship to Israel.
Breaking Israel News took the opportunity to ask Dr. Young about the challenges in the Christian-Jewish relationship.
“It begins with the problem that Christians and Jews simply don’t understand each other,” Dr. Young explained. “You also need to realize that there have been so many years of persecution.”
Dr. Young stressed the enormity of this growing change.
“This is an unprecedented major miracle,” he insisted. “30 years ago, most Christians would have said the Jews are a curse. Now, most Christians say Jews are a blessing and they want to help Israel. This is one of the major changes in the entire history of religions.”
The growing relationship we are seeing today comes as a result of basic changes in the Church, he explained.
“We’ve had a major transformation in Christianity, especially in the Evangelical world. This change in Christianity began over one hundred years ago, but Auschwitz gave us a heightened awareness. The miracle of the rebirth of Israel in 1948 led to Christians connecting with Jews in an entirely new framework.”
“This is a legitimate concern and needs to be addressed. Christians believe in their faith,” Dr Young said. “If you tell a Christian that he can’t bear witness to his faith, you are trying to turn him into a Universalist, something he isn’t.
“But the reality is not so black and white. Most Christians want to love Jews unconditionally without converting them, and just want to express bearing witness by answering questions about their own faith. They want a dialogue, and, unfortunately, due to legitimate fears based on historical precedent, many Jews are reluctant to open a spiritual dialogue.
“Fundamentalists and Christians who still hold by Replacement Theology are more in that camp of converting Jews. Spiritual Christians, much less so.”
What about Israel? Misconceptions abound there too, he said.
“There is the belief among Jews that Christians’ love for Israel is a farce and a ploy, that we just want to bring Messiah to see armageddon when Jews will all convert. That is just a myth coming from the liberal press that hates Christianity and wants to prevent any meaningful relationship between us.”
What can be done?
“One of the things we need to do is change the Jewish perception of Christianity,” he said. “So many think all Christians are connected to the Pope, that there is little if any difference between the different forms of Christianity.”
On the contrary, he said. “There is a lot of diversity and many Christians have a genuine love for Israel and want to help. Christians would like to build this relationship but the Jews aren’t usually so open to this, because of this misperception of Christianity. It is difficult finding a partner.”
Dr. Young admitted that there was basis for this error in perception.
“Many of the older churches are still saying they are the true Israel, and they don’t read the Bible like it really means what it says. There is a big difference between that and what is happening in the Charismatic renewal in the Evangelical movement in which there is a total rejection of Replacement Theology, which is what contributed to a lot of the historic hatred.”
He was clear on what needed to be done to improve this relationship.
“We need to focus on the commonalities, that we can learn from each other.”
The biggest commonality, he believes, is the Bible. Orthodox Jews, as opposed to other branches of Judaism, are uniquely positioned to relate to Evangelicals, because “We both believe the Bible was divinely inspired,” Dr. Young pointed out.
He called for more outreach and education between the two groups. “Orthodox and Evangelicals share a common love of the study of Torah, that leads to a natural rapport. We need more Orthodox Jewish leaders to teach Torah to Christians. This is what draws people together.”