From Voltaire to the philosophers of secularism, many have suggested that God is dead. It’s always been obvious, however, from the vibrant religious culture in the Judeo-Christian world, that God is very much alive. But this culture has changed.
Attendance and participation in religious services are down. Some have taken this as a sign of validation and are working hard to convince the world that organized religion is headed for the same tragic end as the Tyrannosaurus rex.
That’s not true. God is alive. His people are still alive and pursuing a relationship with him, and they’re doing it in local religious communities across the world. But we would be accused of having brains the size of the aforementioned T-rex if we ignored the fact that negative changes have occurred.
We could try to blame this on a pandemic. It would be a reasonable argument as to why seats are empty and churches are closing their doors. The truth is, we all know that this has been happening for longer than the world has known about COVID-19.
What Has Changed?
Hundreds of studies can suggest answers: millennials and Gen Z rejecting the religious upbringing of their parents, the rise of the postmodern perspective, the marriage of religion and politics that has driven many to see religious communities as representative of a political party instead of God, apathy, and more. The stats are comprehensive, compelling, telling, and honestly, scary. Oh yeah, and the pandemic didn’t help.
I want to suggest there is a deeper and rarely discussed cause for some of what has changed. It’s a sobering possibility, so brace yourselves.
People are bored. They’re looking for something more than what they’re currently getting. To be a disciple is to be a learner, and without in-depth learning, new revelations, and engagement with the biblical text, spiritual growth stagnates and excitement wanes. The message of salvation preached every Sunday from pulpits is important and foundational. Still, disciples of Jesus are desperate for a deeper knowledge of the Word of God beyond that first step of salvation. Disengagement leads to discouraged, disconnected, and discontented disciples who have just sort of tuned out.
Building muscle requires something called “progressive overload.” It sounds like a bad thing to be overloaded. It’s not. If you continue to lift the same amount of weight without pushing yourself to lift more, you cannot grow. One must be consistently challenged to progress through heavier activity. If you endure the challenge of pushing yourself beyond what is comfortable, you become stronger. If you don’t, you stagnate and stall.
I didn’t come up with this idea myself. I got it from talking to hundreds of Christians of different backgrounds. I get one consistent answer when I ask them why they became disengaged or bored and, maybe at one point, picked up a magazine like this one. The nearly universal response? “Something was missing.”
The Bible can be a strange book when separated from one fundamentally important framework: its Jewish context. That foundational framework is missing for so many disciples.
What happens when they read their Bibles and have questions—not about how to get saved but about who Jesus really was? Why did his parents circumcise him on the eighth day? Why was Jesus in the synagogue on the Sabbath? What is the Torah, and why did Jesus quote from it so much? Does the Torah have application in my life today? Why did Paul say that he was a Pharisee near the end of the book of Acts? Why did Jesus celebrate the Passover? Did Jesus do away with God’s original law? Did Paul? What are these “festivals of the Lord,” and why don’t we celebrate them anymore? Why does the church celebrate other festivals that are not in the Bible? Did God forget the Jewish people or change his mind about them? Does Israel still matter, or is the church the new Israel?
People have so many questions about the Bible and, regrettably, have few places to go for reliable answers. Even many serious students of the Bible would also admit that they have nagging doctrinal, relational, and theological questions that go unanswered. Something is missing.
Maybe You Can Relate
This applies across all generations, but it’s particularly relevant to young people today. They have questions too, and sometimes they’re not satisfied with the systematic-theology-textbook answers of the past. Sometimes their questions are controversial. However, all too often, discussion, and especially disagreement, are discouraged in church circles today. People want to wrestle with the text and have tough talks. Dogmatic answers are not working anymore. Something’s missing for them.
Where should all these “something’s missing” folks go for the answers they seek if they can’t find them in their churches? Should they search the internet for the answers? Good luck to anyone trying to navigate the confusing and contradictory avalanche of results.
How about a Bible study? That could work as long as it’s a Bible study that leads to the positive result of progressive overload discussed above. This study has to help them find what exactly is missing through a deep and meaningful survey of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. It should push exciting envelopes such as the ongoing relevance of God’s Torah, Israel, and the Jewish people. It would need to focus squarely on the Jewishness of Jesus and answer tough questions about his Jewish life, teaching, and continued fidelity to Torah.
The study should dive deep into the real meaning of the gospel message of Jesus—that there’s much more to being a disciple than waiting to die and go to heaven. Make sure it includes plenty of discussion about the centrality of the kingdom of God and its incorporation into nearly every one of Yeshua’s teachings to the people he sought to reach. Perhaps most importantly, the study needs to be centered on building communities of disciples worldwide who physically meet together to learn, connect, and grow each week.
It should allow room for discussion and disagreement about what its attendants are learning, always maintaining that their love for one another outweighs any kind of dogmatic attachment to an idea and that over time they might come to appreciate perspectives different from their own while still holding firmly to what they believe. The study should be a place where disciples learn and connect.
Maybe you’re one of those disciples who want to be part of this kind of community. Maybe this is what you’ve been searching for.
Ready for some good news? These communities are already blossoming all around the world, and they’re having an impact—and there may already be one near you.
Torah Club is a Messianic Jewish Bible study for Christians and Jews. It is building and strengthening communities of disciples, from age eight to eighty, in more than seven hundred clubs in the U.S., Europe, South Africa, Australia, Korea, and elsewhere. Torah Club is changing lives, defying trends, and reconnecting people to the Word and to each other through truly transformative community study.
Jesus, My Rabbi
The current track of Torah Club is Jesus, My Rabbi, and it’s all about knowing Jesus better. We follow a Jewish rabbi named Yeshua, who lived two thousand years ago in the land of Israel. Why don’t we ever get to see him that way? What are we missing when we don’t? Listen to the words of some Torah Club Members who are seeing Rabbi Yeshua for the first time:
Torah club has made a multitude of connections between the Old and New Testaments, which has deepened and expanded the way I understand the Bible.
I have learned more about the Bible in the last sixteen months than I have in the last thirty years.
I’m learning lots of new things, even though I have been a believer for almost fifty years. I might not wholeheartedly agree with everything, but this causes me to read the Scriptures more and do more research.
I wanted to learn more about the life of Yeshua and the meaning of what he did. I’ve never done an in-depth study on his life before, though I have read the gospels, and I wanted to learn more about the person who I am supposed to be modeling my life after.
These are a few examples of people who have found what they were missing and reignited the spiritual passion that was absent in their lives. Their words (and many others that could be shared) are a testimony to the benefit that Torah Club can bring to people looking to find more—to discover what’s missing.
The truth is some people are comfortable with stagnancy or even apathy. They probably won’t be joining Torah Club. It’s not for everybody, but it is for anybody who wants to discover the historical and cultural backdrops of the Gospels and be amazed as the teachings of Yeshua snap into focus and clarity. Unravel his difficult words and parables, study Jewish parallels to his teachings, and ultimately know Jesus better.
Torah Club is bringing change, good change, a restorative change that is needed right now. It’s just getting started. The harvest is rich, and the Torah Club community is growing to meet that need. We hope to see ten thousand Torah Clubs around the world changing tens of thousands of lives.
There is probably one close to you right now. If you’re one of those disciples yearning for more, searching for something that’s missing, there’s a good chance that Torah Club can help you find it. You can find out more about finding or starting a club at torahclub.org.