LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Southern Baptist efforts to evangelize Jews are not based on anti-Semitism or intolerance but on a mandate from Jesus Christ, R. Albert Mohler Jr. told a national audience Jan. 12.
Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., was one of four guests on CNN’s “Larry King Live” talk show who lively debated the issue of recent Baptist evangelism efforts, especially to Jews.
“In this endeavor, Southern Baptists are about what we’ve always been about from the beginning, and that is sharing the gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ to all persons, Jew and Gentile, rich and poor, young and old,” Mohler said. “Our prayer is that all persons would hear the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and respond in faith. We believe that the gospel is for all persons, regardless of any kind of ethnic identity.”
Joining Mohler on the program were two Jewish rabbis — Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and Schmuley Boteach, executive director of the Oxford L’Chaim Society — and David Brickner, executive director of Jews for Jesus.
Hier’s main problem with the Southern Baptists was not their efforts to proselytize, but their methodology. He claimed Baptists were being deceptive, pointing to the use of Jewish symbols in the “Days of Awe” prayer guide published by the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board.
“If you have something to sell, be straight about it,” Hier said.
Mohler denied the charge of deception.
“We’re very up-front about what we’re doing,” Mohler said. “And the prayer book you held up was intended for Baptist Christians to use in praying for their Jewish friends. It wasn’t even intended to present to the Jewish people directly at all.”
Brickner, an ethnic Jew who believes in Jesus as the Messiah, expressed support for Baptists. “I’m proud of them,” Brickner told King. “I applaud their efforts, because they care enough to love my Jewish people. And the most loving thing that you can do is share the love of God in the Messiah, Jesus.”
Boteach based most of his arguments against Southern Baptists on the classic liberal charge of “intolerance,” and went so far as to brand Baptist actions as anti-Semitic.
“Who would have thought that in the new millennium we would once again see the prevalence of spiritual dictatorship and totalitarianism?” Boteach asked. “I am absolutely against any religion that says that one faith is superior to another. I don’t see how that is anything different than spiritual racism. … I thought I was living in an enlightened world where people respected each other and had tolerance.”
An irritated Boteach interrupted Mohler, Brickner and even King on several occasions, drawing reprimands from King: “Don’t interrupt!” and “You’re interrupting again.”
Mohler called Boteach’s anti-Semitism charge “especially disappointing, since American evangelicals are the best friends in many ways that the Jewish people can have. We defend their right of religious liberty,” Mohler said.
Boteach and Hier each made several references to the Holocaust throughout the program.
King, however, confronted Boteach with that strategy.
“If someone has a sincere belief that Christ is the answer and wants to share that with you, why are you hanging the Holocaust around his neck?” King asked. “He wants to share a belief with you.”
As far as sharing beliefs, Mohler and Brickner each had several opportunities to do exactly that.
“All I know is that the only way to heaven is through personal faith and belief in the Lord Jesus Christ the Savior,” Mohler said. “No matter how good or bad by human estimation, the fact is before God we are all sinners in need of a Savior. There is not one who is good, no, not one, says the Scriptures.”
The Jewish rabbis essentially said that being a good person is enough to get into heaven, regardless of religion or belief. But Mohler countered that viewpoint.
“It seems that the Jewish leadership in America will make great allowances for the fact that perhaps a majority of American Jews, according to polls, no longer believe in a personal God, but one can be an atheist and still be, supposedly, a good Jew,” Mohler said. “But the moment a Jew believes that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, he is told he is no longer a Jew. I don’t think that makes sense to very many people, and it certainly makes no sense regarding the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
King asked Mohler how the “campaign” to convert Jews was going. Mohler questioned the use of the word “campaign” because he said Southern Baptists aren’t focusing on Jews any more than any other group.
Mohler said he has known several Jews who have come to faith in Christ.
“They still have a Jewish mother and a Jewish father. They still consider themselves ethnically Jewish,” Mohler said. “But they know the faith of the Lord Jesus Christ. They know that he is the answer to their need. They know that he is the Lord of all and he is the Messiah the prophets of the Old Testament promised.”