A few years earlier, in 1977, the Lord had sovereignly brought me out of the New Age Movement into the Kingdom of God. For seven years I had served as the president of a nationally known New Age organization when, with many of my colleagues and friends, I encountered the extraordinary reality of Jesus as Messiah and Lord and the power of the Holy Spirit to radically transform lives and bring people into an intimate relationship with the true and living God.
As a result of that experience, I developed a keen interest in the Bible and its wisdom. I was influenced in my early studies by the writings of Derek Prince and developed a growing respect for the importance of Israel. Indeed I found myself drawn to the Hebrew Bible and surprisingly attracted to the Hebrew language.
In the spring of 1981 I noticed a small add in the classifieds of Logos magazine that posed a provocative question:“Can the sayings of Jesus be properly understood without a knowledge of Hebrew?” Readers were invited to request free information from Israel about exciting developments there in gospel research. Which I did…and the rest of the story, as they say, is history![/answer] [question]Who placed the ad? And what information did you receive?[/question] [answer]I received a packet of information from David Bivin telling about the unprecedented collaboration of Jewish and Christian scholars in Jerusalem studying the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, and their growing conviction that Jesus of Nazareth likely spoke Hebrew in his religious discourses. More importantly, in their “excavation” of the gospels, Dr. Robert Lindsey and Professor David Flusser discovered mounting evidence that Jesus’ original words, idioms and Hebrew syntax are remarkably well preserved behind the earliest Greek manuscripts of the gospels.
Later, through a generous gift of a dear friend, I was able to travel to Israel on a study tour and meet David and many of the scholars of what became known as the “Jerusalem School.” I was captivated by the brilliant insights their research shed on the life and times of Messiah Jesus, and felt strongly that the Body of Messiah worldwide should share in the fruit of this pioneering work, and not just a coterie of a few gifted men and women in Jerusalem.
That journey up to Jerusalem forever changed my life and chartered the course for what would become my ministry. I went to Israel as a Spirit-filled believer, and I returned with a burning desire to become an authentic disciple of the historical Jesus of Nazareth. I went back to graduate school at the University of Texas, where I had attended more than a decade before as a Philosophy student, and took courses in Modern Hebrew and Jewish studies. With the help of several friends, I started the Center for Judaic-Christian Studies in order to raise funds to further gospel research in Israel and to share those results with others. Since its inception in 1984, I have served as the Center’s president.[/answer] [question]You must have seen many changes in the last 25 years in public awareness regarding the Jewishness of Jesus and the Jewish roots of the Christian faith?[/question] [answer]In the 80’s I could say to a church congregation that “Jesus wasn’t a Christian, he was a Jew!” and there would be gasps in the audience. Today everyone acknowledges that our Lord was not an Englishman but a devout Jew. Back then few people had ever heard the terminology “Jewish roots of Christianity.” Today you can do a Google search on the term and be directed to over 200,000 websites.
So yes, there has been a noticeable awakening in the Church, even worldwide, to its historic and spiritual origins in the Judaism of Jesus and the Second Temple era in Jewish history. But I am not really surprised by this. From the beginning I had the sense that we were witnessing more than some idiosyncratic curiosity of a few Hebrew-philes, but a move of God’s Spirit that would eventually spread throughout the Body of Messiah.
In the mid-80’s, when I was trying to convince Eerdmans to publish the book Dr. Marvin Wilson had written for us, Our Father Abraham, I told them this work would not be just another typical academic volume, with a short lifespan, but would circulate for years and become a classic in the Church’s awakening to its Hebrew heritage in Messiah. Though they were reluctant—they did not think there was a market for the book—they finally agreed to publish it (after we agreed to purchase 1,000 copies in advance!). Today Our Father Abraham is in its thirteenth printing and is one of the five all-time bestselling academic books for the second largest Christian publishing house in America![/answer] [question]Are you pleased with the way this movement has developed over the years? And what do you see to be its future?[/question] [answer]Many positive and edifying things are occurring for believers returning to the foundations of their faith in a Jewish Messiah and his Hebrew scriptures. Minds are being renewed in the service of God, hearts are being mended, and families are finding blessing and shalom in celebrating the biblical holidays, including the Sabbath. I especially am thrilled with the fact that we now are witnessing the third generation of young scholars fully acquainted with and academically prepared to advance the Church’s knowledge of the thorough-going Jewishness of Jesus and to promote the value of a Hebraic worldview to the Christian vision.
On the other hand, at times I have mixed feelings about the directions some in the so-called Jewish Roots Movement are taking. It is not surprising I suppose that with any move of God’s Spirit in the Church there will be excesses and even extremism that can lead to spiritual pride, soulishness, and sectarianism. Too many who are leaders, it seems, have little scholarly background or accountability, and sometimes their “new revelations” are nothing more than retooled ancient heresies garbed in Hebrew clothing. That does not contribute to the renewing of the Christian mind nor to the sanctifying of God’s name.
My strong conviction is that the Lord is restoring the Hebraic foundations of the Church so that together we all can move forward in greater faithfulness and maturity in the service of the Messiah and the Kingdom of God. Toward that end we should be Father-focused, Christ-centered and Spirit-saturated. We should stand with and pray for Israel. Our teaching should strive to be biblically balanced and theologically sound.
Of all the followers of Jesus, we who are being reconnected to the olive-tree roots of our faith, who study Torah and treasure Jewish wisdom—surely we should be the most humble and wise, with a servant heart and a good eye, like Abraham, our father in the faith. Love should abound in all that we do. More than just knowledge, if the fruit of the Spirit is not characterizing our lives and our communities, then we are in the wrong movement.
At the end of the day, we can never improve upon Jesus and his example. His passion was for one movement alone, the Kingdom of God, and his priority was for the raising up of disciples through sound instruction and godly example. To authentically emulate that and to carry on that mission should be the raison d’être of the Hebraic renewal community.[/answer]