LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Christians have a responsibility to proclaim the gospel to all people, including Jews, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. said during a spirited debate on MSNBC’s “Donahue” Aug. 20.
Mohler joined a Messianic Jew, a rabbi and host Phil Donahue in debating the issue of Jewish evangelism — a subject that came to the national forefront when the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement rejecting the need for Jewish people to embrace Jesus as the Messiah.
Donahue, a Roman Catholic, and Rabbi Shmuley Boteach hotly contested any contention that Jews should be evangelized. Donahue called such thinking “intolerant” and “arrogant,” while Boteach went one step further in calling Mohler a “spiritual Neanderthal.”
But Mohler and Michael Brown, a Messianic Jew, grounded their answers in Scripture.
Donahue began the show by joking that “all we have to do is convince the Southern Baptists” to follow the Catholics’ lead. In fact, the first few minutes were a mini-debate between Donahue and Mohler.
Donahue began by asking Mohler if the Southern Baptist Convention’s 16 million members believe that Jews can go to heaven.
“Southern Baptists, [along] with other Christians, believe that all persons can go to heaven who come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ,” Mohler said, “[T]here’s no discrimination on the basis of ethnic or racial or national issues.”
Donahue then asked, “So a good Jew is not going to heaven?”
“All persons are sinners in need of a savior,” Mohler responded. “Jesus Christ is the sole mediator. The gospel, we are told by the apostle Paul, comes first to the Jews and then to gentiles. Salvation is found in his name and in his name alone through faith in Christ, and [through] that faith alone.”
Not satisfied with the answer, Donahue asked another question: Who’s more likely to go to heaven — a Nazi or a “good Jew” killed in a concentration camp?
“The gospel is not just for the worst of us, the gospel is for all of us,” Mohler said. “The Scripture tells us the hard truth that all have sinned. That Nazi guard is going to be punished for his sin and it will be judged as sin. His only hope would be the grace of God through Jesus Christ our Lord. The profound truth of the gospel is that the salvation that can come to any person who comes to faith in Christ can come to that Jew who was killed and to that guard who does the killing. That’s the radical nature of the gospel.”
Donahue responded that while Southern Baptists have “many wonderful members,” Mohler’s views are full of anti-Semitism and prejudice.
“If the church had just come up with this in the 20th century as a novel idea, perhaps it should be subjected to such a critique,” Mohler said. “But this is a gospel that has been received from the Lord Jesus Christ himself, who said he came first of all for the people and children of Israel and then also for the gentiles. He himself declared that he is the Way, the Truth and the Life and that no man cometh to the Father but through him. He spoke as a man born of the Jewish race, but he was also the Son of God.”
Brown, who was a drug user until becoming a Christian as a teenager, agreed.
“My goal is not to convert Jews to Christianity,” said Brown, president of ICN Ministries, a Pensacola, Fla.,-based evangelistic outreach with a focus on “Israel, the Church and the Nations.”
“My goal is to get Jews [and] gentiles to recognize who the Savior is. … Jesus came as a Jew to fulfill what was written in Moses and the Prophets. If he did it, Jews should believe in him. If not, throw the whole thing out. If Jesus is not for Jews, he’s not for anybody.”
Boteach, a radio host and author of “Judaism for Everyone,” strongly disagreed with both Mohler and Brown.
“Rev. Mohler, however intelligent of a scholar he may be, he is a spiritual Neanderthal with repulsive, revolting views,” Boteach said. “… This is the modern equivalent of spiritual terrorism. You would think that we would have progressed to some sort of racial harmony and tolerance — especially after Sept. 11.”
Boteach later asserted that, “If Jesus were alive today I think he would take Rev. Mohler and Dr. Brown to court for character assassination. They took the Prince of Peace and made him into the torturer-in-chief.”
Donahue took Mohler to task again, saying that he has made God into an “egomaniac” who tells people, “You better pray to me or I’ll show you what trouble really is.”
Mohler, though, responded by saying his views are founded in both the Old and New Testaments.
“God declared this to Moses in the covenant at Sinai,” Mohler said. “He spoke very much about the fact that there was an order to have no gods before him. Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of that law.”
Donahue asserted that Mohler’s views were arrogant, arguing that the Crusades began with similar beliefs.
But Mohler said he has a duty to proclaim the gospel message.
“It would be [arrogant] if this was our message,” Mohler answered. “But if that is what the Son of God said himself, if that is the truth, then it would be hateful and it would be intolerant not to tell you what we believe to be the truth. I cannot compel any person to believe in Christ, but I do have the responsibility with gladness and joy to share the good news of the gospel, knowing that all who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ shall be saved whether Jew or gentile.”
Boteach, obviously upset at Mohler’s answer, then asked a series of questions.
“Rev. Mohler, are you allowed to think?” Boteach asked. “Because you sound like a broken record. You have been repeating this mantra since the show started. Does your religion allow for independent thought? Are you allowed to have a heart? Can you feel for people? Do you know that Jews have been turned into lampshades and bars of soap and ashes? … You are a liability to Christianity.”
However, Mohler said that his beliefs are the bedrock of orthodox Christianity and that the Jewish people have a special place in God’s plan.
“I am fully aware that neither the Roman Catholic bishops nor the leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention have any power to send any soul to heaven or to hell,” he said to Boteach. “The question comes down to what the gospel really is. What you assaulted in your language there is classical Christianity as taught by the apostles and handed down by the church.
“I believe that God has a distinctive purpose for the Jewish people and that Christians are called to be friends to all, and especially to the Jewish people with a sense of indebtedness. At the same time, we are to bear witness to the gospel, believing that God is going to do a remarkable thing in bringing many, many Jewish persons to faith in Christ.”