Recently, I presented a paper at the Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism (LCJE) conference in Denver. My topic was “Paul within Judaism: The Implications for Jewish Evangelism.” Going into the presentation, I anticipated that this subject would generate a strong reaction. I was not wrong.
As the FFOZ Director of Outreach, I have the responsibility of representing our organization at various Christian and Messianic conferences and events. Sometimes that involves speaking or teaching. Other times I attend with a singular focus on networking and building relationships. At this year’s LCJE conference, I was grateful to be able to do both.
The LCJE annual conference attracts leaders who are mostly involved in Christian missions to the Jewish people (aka “Jewish missions). The purpose of the conference is to gather annually to share ideas, network, and to receive encouragement. A positive feature of this conference is that it attracts missionaries from all over North America.
FFOZ is not a missionary organization. We certainly value the importance of evangelism, but our focus is on Messianic Jewish education and learning. Nonetheless, we believe it is beneficial to attend the LCJE and be in relationship with Jewish missions leaders so that we can be aware of what is happening in Jewish evangelism. We are thankful to have many good friends who are involved in Jewish missions. We also think that it is important for FFOZ to have a voice at the LCJE as ideas are being exchanged about how best to present Jesus to the Jewish community.
This year, we presented a concept that was outside of the framework for most of the attendees at this conference. Most Jewish missions leaders embrace a traditional Christian view of Paul, which involves him presenting a gospel message that says that Jesus set us free from adherence to the Torah and Judaism. I presented a radical alternative to the prevailing Christian view, which made the case that the best way to understand Paul is inside of Judaism, and not outside of or against it. Here is an excerpt from the paper that I presented:
My observation has been that the standard Christian framework for interpreting Paul outside of or against Judaism has fundamentally undermined Christian and Messianic Jewish efforts to present Jesus to the Jewish people. I suggest that we consider a different approach, which involves presenting Paul as a Jewish teacher to Gentiles within Judaism. I believe that a framework that involves “Paul within Judaism,” or “Paul’s Judaism,” or even “Judaism’s Paul” best positions those involved in Jewish evangelism to present a gospel message that the Jewish community can at least potentially accept.
At the end of my presentation, there was a question and answer time. As you can imagine, there were some lively exchanges. Placing Paul within Judaism has many controversial ramifications. What about Gentiles? What is the role of rabbinic authority? For which Judaism are you advocating? These were some of the questions that people asked. The time for questions went by quickly, so we could only begin to discuss these important matters. But I am thankful that we began the conversation. And I am thankful for the fact that FFOZ is providing in-depth answers to these questions and helping to blaze the trail for the restoration of both Jesus and Paul as being best understood and followed within Judaism.
After I had stepped down from the podium, several people wanted to speak to me. As one particular woman approached me with an intense look on her face, I thought she was getting ready to express opposition to my presentation. But when she spoke she said, “I am Jewish. And I want you to know that I agreed with every single word you said today. This is exactly what we needed to hear.” Several others joined in and provided additional affirmation. I was encouraged.
For the rest of the conference, I was anticipating that I would have more people express opposition to my presentation. Some did. However, several more came up and said that “Paul within Judaism” resonated with them. Others approached me and said that they couldn’t entirely agree with my position, but that my presentation had given them some things on which to ponder. I couldn’t ask for more than that.
The process of restoring the gospel and Paul back into Jewish space is not easy. We face challenges in various directions. But it is worth the effort. Many of Yeshua’s disciples are sensing that God is restoring the Jewish foundations of the faith. When they hear that articulated in a clear and biblical fashion, it “clicks” in their hearts and minds. First Fruits of Zion is grateful to be playing a part in the restoration process that we trust is paving the way for the kingdom of our Messiah.
FFOZ Friends will be receiving the audio recording of Ryan’s presentation at the LCJE as an upcoming teaching of the month. For information on how to become an FFOZ Friend, go to http://friends.ffoz.org/