Party game: If you could have any dinner guest you wanted, who would you invite? George Washington? George W. Bush? Noah? Bob Marley?
Lots of guests would be entertaining. Many would offer instruction. But only one could change not just some things, but everything in the lives of those at the dinner table. If the resurrected Jesus came for a fish fry, showing His punctured palms and wounded side, that would make all the difference for guests with eyes to see and ears to hear Him.
The essayist Isaiah Berlin wrote, "The world of a man who believes that God created him for a specific purpose, that he has an immortal soul ... is radically different from the world of a man who believes in none of these things." Berlin notes that "the reasons for action, the moral codes, the political beliefs, the tastes, the personal relationships of the former will deeply and systematically differ from those of the latter."
So true. I'm proof. Born in 1950, I became a Christian in 1976. Do the math for this numerically equal before-and-after comparison. Half a life flying on my own power and messing up thoroughly: You name the moral crime, I did the time. Half a life flying on a wing and a prayer, still a sinner but through God's grace becoming at least a half-decent husband, father, editor, professor.
Researching and writing this special issue of WORLD has been a labor of love and interest. God changed my life in the mid-1970s the same way he changed the lives of the Jews-become-Christians in our Timeline on pages 33-55: His grace, all the way. I had grown up in Judaism but embraced Marxism during the Vietnam war years and was too blind to see its evil; God showed me. He put books in my path-a Russian copy of the New Testament, a book of Puritan writings that I was assigned to use in teaching-and I tripped over them (WORLD, Dec. 14, 1996).
I was not a searcher. I was a runner, fleeing from Christ, busying myself with other things. But God's emunah-faithfulness-was such that I sometimes show a version of emunah now. Victorian poet Francis Thompson's "The Hound of Heaven" tells the story of many of our Timeline conversions and my own as well: "I fled him, down the nights and down the days. I fled him, down the arches of the years ..." And yet, "with unhurrying chase, and unperturbed pace," Christ pursued.
That experience, along with the experience of fellow Jews that I have tried to encapsulate in this issue, leaves me optimistic about Jewish evangelism, slow though the going often is. Christ is in charge, and He wept over Jerusalem. He loves His brothers, surly like me.
The key to Jewish evangelism and all other kinds as well is the willingness to be rejected and the assurance to be polite. Rejection is not defeat; seeds may be dormant for years, but God is at work with His own timing. Politeness-not pushing too hard when rejection is apparent-also stems from confidence in Christ. His action, not our strategy or intensity, changes lives. He confronts us with the truth, which many of us initially despise.
The New Testament epistle to my countrymen notes that "the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword" (Hebrews 4:12). Many of the Jews in our Timeline were initially offended by parts of the New Testament. Most feminists are offended by the particular ways in which God has knit order into the universe. Yet it is at the points where we refuse to bow that God wrestles with us and wins us. What slaveowner liked reading Paul's letter to Philemon and discovering the humanity of Onesimus? What Muslim male likes reading that in Christ there is neither male nor female, and that elders are to be the husbands of one wife? But God uses His Word, and if we remove "offensive" parts of it, we place ourselves above God.
Same thing with apologetics: It's good to develop excellent arguments, but the best won't work without God's grace, and with that grace the worst will be adequate. After I started to attend church in 1976, an old deacon of visitation came to visit at my apartment. We didn't have an intellectual discussion. He just said, referring to the teaching at church, "You believe this stuff, right?" I said yes. He said, "Then you'd better sign up." I agreed, and was baptized.
So my initial question about which party guest you'd want to invite is in one sense irrelevant. Jesus doesn't wait for invitations. Whenever He chooses to come, He crashes the party.
Thanks be to God.