A Guide to Judaism for Evangelicals Corrects Misconceptions, and Confronts Ugly Truths

Feb. 16 2021

In Separated Siblings, John E. Phelan, Jr., an evangelical pastor and scholar, attempts to explain to his coreligionists the basic facts of Judaism, its relationship with Christianity, and Jewish history. Gerald McDermott notes a few “gaps,” especially pertaining to Zionism and Israel, but overall finds the book both informative and effective:

Christian readers will find resonance in Jewish texts they might otherwise overlook. The kaddish, for example, is a daily Jewish prayer that begins with words nearly identical to the first petition in the Lord’s Prayer: “May His great Name grow exalted and sanctified.” Phelan observes that while the Talmud . .  . might appear, to outsiders, as obsessed with “minor matters” of religious law, faithful Jews regard it as a divine guide to everyday holiness that puts reason to work “in service of love and obedience.”

This book should also surprise readers who have been led to believe that God rejected the Jews as His chosen people when most 1st-century Jews rejected Jesus as their messiah. Phelan argues that while God’s covenant with Moses was conditional on Israel’s obedience, His covenant with Abraham was unconditional. Moses warned that God’s people would lose control of the land if they turned to idolatry (Deuteronomy 28:36), but they would remain God’s chosen.

If the surprises Phelan documents are intriguing, they are also painful. He highlights many moments in the last two millennia when Christian leaders taught hatred for and persecution of Jews. Erasmus, for instance, refused a trip to Spain because it was too “full of Jews.” Martin Luther preached that if Jews would not convert, “We [Christians] should neither tolerate nor endure them among us.”

Of particular interest is Phelan’s treatment of the great mid-century European Protestant religious thinkers: the Swiss theologian Karl Barth (cited frequently by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik) and the German pastors Dietrich Bonhoeffer (who founded the Confessing Church as an alternative to the Nazis’ official racialized Christianity) and Martin Niemöller (best known for his saying, “First they came for the socialists, . . . then they came for the Jews. . . .”).

As Phelan explains, even Barth, Bonhoeffer, and Niemöller, who “spoke out against the Nazis and anti-Semitism” before and during World War II, nevertheless in their “records reveal anti-Jewish stances and equivocal support for Germany’s Jews until it was once again too late.” The Barmen Declaration (1934) famously declared that Jesus Christ was Germany’s only leader (Führer), but it said nothing about the persecution of Jews because “the Confessing Church would not have accepted it.”

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at Christianity Today

More about: Anti-Semitism, Jewish-Christian relations, New Testament

Iran, America, and the Future of Democracy in the Middle East

Nov. 23 2022

Sixty-two days after the death of Mahsa Amini at the hands of the Islamic Republic’s police, the regime has failed to quash the protest movement. But it is impossible to know if the tide will turn, and what the outcome of the government’s collapse might be. Reuel Marc Gerecht considers the very real possibility that a democratic Iran will emerge, and considers the aftershocks that might follow. (Free registration required.)

American political and intellectual elites remain uneasy with democracy promotion everywhere primarily because it has failed so far in the Middle East, the epicenter of our attention the last twenty years. (Iraq’s democracy isn’t dead, but it didn’t meet American expectations.) Might our dictatorial exception for Middle Eastern Muslims change if Iran were to set in motion insurrections elsewhere in the Islamic world, in much the same way that America’s response to 9/11 probably helped to produce the rebellions against dictatorship that started in Tunisia in 2010? The failure of the so-called Arab Spring to establish one functioning democracy, the retreat of secular democracy in Turkey, and the implosion of large parts of the Arab world have left many wondering whether Middle Eastern Muslims can sustain representative government.

In 1979 the Islamic revolution shook the Middle East, putting religious militancy into overdrive and tempting Saddam Hussein to unleash his bloodiest war. The collapse of Iran’s theocracy might be similarly seismic. Washington’s dictatorial preference could fade as the contradictions between Arab tyranny and Persian democracy grow.

Washington isn’t yet invested in democracy in Iran. Yet, as Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has often noted, American hostility toward the Islamic Republic has been damaging. If the theocracy falls, Iranians will surely give America credit—vastly more credit that they will give to the European political class, who have been trying to make nice, and make money, with the clerical regime since the early 1990s—for this lasting enmity. We may well get more credit than we deserve. Both Democrats and Republicans who have dismissed the possibilities of democratic revolutions among the Muslim peoples of the Middle East will still, surely, claim it eagerly.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at Dispatch

More about: Arab democracy, Democracy, Iran, Middle East, U.S. Foreign policy