To the Jew First: The Case for Jewish Evangelism in Scripture and History

By Darrell L. Bock and Mitch Glaser, eds.
Grand Rapids : Kregel (2008). 347 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Trevor Craigen
20.1 (Spring 2009) : 95-97

The editors have brought together twelve other writers, from nine seminaries and three mission organizations, in producing this book on Jewish evangelism. The material is divided into three parts, i.e., “Bible” comprising chapters 1-8, “Theology” chapters 6-10, and “Mission” chapters 11-14. The reader is reminded by Mitch Glaser in his introduction that the second of the two conferences sourced some of the chapters in the book. The theme of these two conferences was “To the Jew First in the New Millennium,” the first one in New York City and the second in Palm Beach, Florida, A.D. 2000. The Christian reader or the Gentile believer, Glaser notes, should be broken-hearted at the state of Jewish evangelism and should accord it high priority in his outreach agenda today.

A nice touch is the introductory abstracts given at the beginning of each part, providing an overview, a panoramic sweep, of what is treated in the chapters to follow (22-23; 100-101; 218-19). Perhaps it was designed to encourage a selection of individual chapters for reading—and the layout of the chapters does not demand sequential reading.

Walt Kaiser in his foreword observed that “to the Jew first” is more than some slogan or cute way for Paul to introduce his message to Jewish and Gentile believers in Rome. The phrase he called the “two-step,” i.e., like Paul’s “two-step,” first going to the Jews and then to the Gentiles just as it is displayed in Acts (40). Kaiser further declared, “[A] church cut off from Israel is a church that merely floats in the air with no past, no grounding, and no promises on which to build her present or the future” (7). Well said! His contribution is chapter 2, “Jewish Evangelism in the New Millennium in Light of Israel’s Future (Romans 9–11),” wherein he points out that it is impossible to read and interpret the letter to the Romans without grappling with the main issue, namely the Jewish people in relation to God.

In chapter 6, Blaising tackles the theological question of the future of Israel and introduces the reader to two-covenant theology, which is incisively critiqued and set aside since it is a repudiation of NT Christianity. He sets forth the implications of a non-supersessionist evangelical theology in the areas of the doctrines of God, Man, Christ, as well as the doctrines of the church and the last things. (112-21). His treatment is undoubtedly a superior and more mature understanding of these doctrines than supersessionism can put forward.

The work also pays attention to the distorted understanding of Jesus’ denunciation of Jewish leaders as being a critique of Judaism as a whole. Such misinterpretation apparently led into Christian anti-Semitism. “The Holocaust and the Sacred Romance,” is the title of chapter 7, and it presents a reminder of the most dreadful period in Israel’s history to this day. Whatever the effects may have been, the Holocaust cannot be allowed to stop the straightforward preaching of the gospel. The reader is reminded that both indifference toward and rejection of Jewish missions, have resulted from the Holocaust. The barriers to be crossed in the presentation of the gospel to the Jew and the biblical realities which cannot be ignored are well presented in chapter 7. The barriers are emotional, intellectual, and volitional. Obviously, they deserve attention and reflection. The truths of total depravity, of life and death, and of time and eternity can never be overlooked. The final reality is the eschatological one which points attention to the time of Jacob ‘s trouble and to the Day of the Lord.

Richard Pratt introduces a Reformed perspective in chapter 9 with an alternative to both dispensationalism and replacement theology—it is not convincing.

Arnold Fruchtenbaum presents the “dispensational perspective” in chapter 10. That key phrase, “to the Jew first,” points to an ongoing priority, which is not a matter of preference but of procedure.

In his chapter on the ongoing importance of messianic prophecy, Michael Rydelnik, starting with Justin Martyr, identifies various men from different ages (patristic, medieval, and modern) who used messianic prophecy in their writings when speaking to the Jew. The chapters dealing with the history of missions to the Jews present much pertinent and interesting information.

Of course, a call for a renewed commitment to Jewish missions rings out loud and clear in the closing chapters. Every chapter is instructive and at times one’s interest is piqued to dig further and study a theme more extensively. To the Jew First is worth having on the shelf alongside the other books on missions and evangelism.