Jewish evangelism: Conference spawns reflections
Convening in Jerusalem, the Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism's 10th International Conference on Jewish Evangelism included some 200 Jewish evangelists from six continents. Participants strategized about the best methods for communicating the Gospel to Jews.
Jim Sibley, a former professor at Criswell College and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, argued in a presentation at the conference that Jewish evangelism must continue because Scripture presents the Gospel as "especially for Jewish people."
"My thesis is a simple one," Sibley, a professor of biblical studies at Israel College of the Bible in Netanya, Israel, wrote in the paper he presented. "It is that Scripture teaches that the Jewish people should not only be a continuing priority in evangelism and missions, but that this priority is intrinsic to the Gospel itself. ...Ultimately, this is the case, because it is rooted in the promise of the fathers, as recorded first in Genesis 12:3b: 'In you all the families of the earth will be blessed.'"
Paul's statement in Romans 1:16 that the Gospel is "the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek" doesn't mean simply that the Jews heard the Gospel first, Sibley argued. Rather, it means the Gospel was intended first and foremost as a message for Jewish people.
"The Gospel itself requires that we maintain a particular concern for the Jewish people," Sibley wrote in his paper for the Aug. 16-21 conference, "for if the Gospel is not especially for the Jewish people, can it really be for anyone else? This priority should have an impact on the church's strategies of missions and evangelism, as well as its prayer life."
In a related article, published in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Sibley challenged those who believe ethnic Israel has been rejected by God and replaced by the church as God's people -- even if only temporarily. This theme is reflected in the article's title: "Has the Church Put Israel on the Shelf? The Evidence from Romans 11:15."
Speaking of ethnic Israel, Paul writes in Romans 11:15, "For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?" Sibley disagreed with many biblical scholars -- including some conservative evangelicals -- who suggest Paul is speaking about God's temporary rejection of ethnic Israel. On the contrary, Sibley argued, Paul is talking about the Jews' rejection of the Gospel.
"The rejection of the salvation which was offered through Jesus the Messiah by the majority of Israel has meant that salvation could be offered to the nations, even as the Abrahamic covenant had promised," Sibley wrote. "In verse 15, Paul argues that if their rejection of salvation has brought such blessing to so many, how much greater the blessing when they accept that salvation."
Even though many Jews have rejected the Gospel message, their acceptance of it would mean the spiritual rebirth of Israel, Sibley wrote. He said this should drive Southern Baptists to share the Gospel with Jews.
"Romans 11:15, far from teaching that God has rejected the Jewish people, actually provides the church with a rationale for Jewish evangelism and missions in the present," Sibley wrote.
Other Southern Baptists take a different view. Sibley challenged, in particular, the views of Tom Schreiner, a professor of New Testament interpretation and biblical theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Although Schreiner affirms that Christians should carry the Gospel to ethnic Jews, he has expressed a different interpretation of Romans 11:15 in his commentary on Romans (Baker Academic).
When Paul says in Romans 1:16 the Gospel is the power for salvation "to the Jew first," Schreiner wrote, the apostle "may be reflecting on his missionary practice of using the synagogue as a starting point for the preaching of the Gospel" and his "theological conviction that the Jews were specially elected to be God's people."
Yet while Jews maintain a "crucial" role "in the outworking of salvation history," Schreiner argued, Romans 11:15 references God's temporary rejection of "some Jews." The church -- consisting of both Jews and Gentiles -- has received the blessing once promised to the nation of Israel.
But, Schreiner argued in his commentary, a time will come, after the fullness of the Gentiles has been gathered into the church, when a great ingathering of Jews will occur, and they will place their faith in Jesus as their Messiah (Romans 11:26).
Consensus on Jewish evangelism
Despite disagreement on some issues related to Israel, Southern Baptists agree Jewish evangelism is urgent.
Messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention's 1996 annual meeting in New Orleans expressed this consensus view in a resolution "on Jewish evangelism." The statement included a commitment to pray "for the salvation of the Jewish people" and to "direct our energies and resources toward the proclamation of the Gospel to the Jewish people."
In recent years, Southern Baptists have increased their efforts to reach people from every ethnic group, including Jews, the president of the Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship told Baptist Press. Since 2014, the SBMF has been an organizational member of the Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism.
Southern Baptists are "the most evangelical of just about everybody. We share with everybody," SBMF President Ric Worshill said, adding that SBC Executive Committee President Frank S. Page especially encouraged outreach among ethnic groups when he established a Multi-Ethnic Advisory Council that completed its work last year.
Thanks in part to the advisory council's work, Worshill said, "slowly and surely, our ethnic groups" -- like the SBMF -- "are being supported by local Southern Baptist churches." But the work isn't finished, and Worshill urged Southern Baptists not only to support Jewish evangelism, but also to practice it.
"Jews also need to hear the Gospel," Worshill said. "All people need to hear the Gospel. We need to plant seeds in abundance, so that many people will come to the Lord."
Matt Queen, associate professor of evangelism at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, told BP he is "convinced" that a "consensus affirming the importance for Jews to be evangelized exists among Southern Baptists" despite disagreement on some theological matters related to the Jewish people.
"We must not only care about Jewish evangelism, we must practice Jewish evangelism," Queen told BP in written comments. "In addition to offering himself to be accursed by Christ if only his ethnically Jewish brothers would be saved (Romans 9:2-3), Paul desired and prayed for their salvation (Romans 10:1). How can Southern Baptists be anything but passionate about Jewish evangelism?"