The Christian and the Pharisee: Two Outspoken Religious Leaders Debate the Road to Heaven
By R. T. Kendall, Rabbi David Rosen
Dear David, Thank you for the way in which you opened the first chapter. Your kindness, graciousness, and wisdom are like the fruit of the Holy Spirit-the very Spirit Jesus implied was absent in those Pharisees he addressed in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7). You have set a very high standard-in courage, content, and clarity-in what you have written to me. Your own example, moreover, is the best vindication of your claim that those Pharisees Jesus addressed were not what Pharisees are supposed to be like, then and now. In one sense you have already convinced me! Indeed, I can even envisage some readers thinking as they read the previous chapter, He sounds like a Spirit-filled Christian. I would have to add that, in the time I have gotten to know you, you certainly do not seem to me to mirror the kind of person that I have always thought a Pharisee was like. It was probably that factor alone that has brought us together to produce this book.
I fear that there are Christians who, when entering into dialogue with those they do not always see eye to eye with, do not show the loving spirit I sense in you. Let it be said that many Christians can learn from at least one Pharisee that I know!
As you early on shared how you see yourself and where you are coming from, it seemed appropriate that I do this as well.
I am a Gentile Christian of the reformed wing of the Protestant faith. As you helpfully gave a brief history of the various movements in ancient Judaism-Zealots, Essenes, Sadducees, and Pharisees-I thought I would do the same to let you know how I fit into our various streams. You will know that Martin Luther (1483-1546) caused a big upheaval in the Roman Catholic Church in the sixteenth century when his rediscovery of justification by faith alone led him to break with Rome. I am a great fan of Martin Luther, but perhaps more so of John Calvin (1509-1564), who came a generation later. Calvin, stressing the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit in the context of the sovereignty of God, made Luther's teaching even clearer. Those who generally follow Calvin would be regarded as Reformed, or evangelical (although some who are evangelical may not be happy with all the points of Reformed Theology).
Your explanation of the differences between Pharisees and Sadducees pretty much rules out the comparison that is sometimes made-that evangelicals are more like the ancient Pharisees and nonevangelicals (liberals) are like the Sadducees. Since I myself would want to be governed entirely by Scripture and not tradition, perhaps I am more of a Sadducee than I thought! But it is my understanding that Sadducees denied much of what is supernatural (e.g., angels, resurrection) which Pharisees affirmed; so in that sense I guess I am more akin to Pharisees.
It seems suitable in any case that you and I, given our backgrounds and views, engage in this correspondence. You probably already know that the term evangelical is often used generally to describe a conservative theological position, e.g., the infallibility of Scripture, the full deity and humanity of the person of Jesus Christ, the need for all to be saved by trusting only Jesus' death and resurrection, Jesus' second coming, and the final judgment of all people.
But evangelical theologians are divided on the issue of Israel. Some say that the church replaced Israel altogether and that God has no further plans for His ancient people-or the land. I do not agree with this position, usually called Replacement Theology. But some go to the other extreme and claim that Jews don't even need to be converted-that God will give them a second chance when Jesus comes-I do not agree with this position either.
I regard myself as an evangelical but also one who has experienced the immediate and direct witness of the Holy Spirit. I trusted Jesus as my Savior on an Easter Sunday morning-April 5, 1942-when I was six years old. I entered the preaching and pastoral ministry as a member of the Church of the Nazarene (a denomination that stresses holiness). On October 31, 1955, I experienced what I would call the baptism of the Holy Spirit. On that occasion the person of Jesus became very real to me, a full assurance of my salvation was put in my heart, and the knowledge of the Holy Scriptures became paramount. My theology changed considerably. From that day on I sought to be theologically sound, along with keeping a warm heart.
I loved what you said about the Book we have in common. I agree with you that the Old Testament is the revealed Word of God. On this we will have no difference of opinion. Sadly there are scholars in the Christian church who question the infallibility of Scripture and particularly denigrate the Old Testament-or perhaps I should say, the God of the Old Testament. We even have those who say, "I can accept the God of the New Testament but not the God of the Old Testament." I disagree. I accept the God of the Old Testament as well as the God of the New Testament as being the same God. I take the view-that the Old Testament is "God-breathed" (2 Tim. 3:16) and that those who wrote it "spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (2 Pet. 1:21). I regard the New Testament as equally inspired.
By the way, is it appropriate if I refer to God in print as Yahweh? I say that because I know you, as an Orthodox rabbi, do not pronounce His name but use Adonai instead. I want to respect your wishes regarding this; please forgive me if I have erred already.
I was even more pleased that you brought up the Ten Commandments. It is only a matter of time before you and I will focus on them and the way Jesus interpreted them to those men He called Pharisees. I was glad you put your finger on the ninth commandment-about false testimony. This I see as a reminder that I must be utterly, totally, and transparently honest in the way I quote you, answer you, and the way I quote from the Bible.
I expect to learn a lot from you. You have taught me already. If our readers learn from our dialogue, this will be good, of course: but I myself am eager to learn from you and I will ask you not to let me sweep anything under the carpet when I fail to address an issue you raise. This does not mean, of course, that we are going to agree with each other, but I hope we will be open and frank and not let the other off the hook when it comes to points either of us regards as important.
I would like to comment on your statement "I know that your love for the Jewish people is sincere." I don't know what I may have said that led you to believe this, but you are exactly right. I had a head start in thinking along this line. My parents were strong Christians. My pastor in Ashland, Kentucky, where I was brought up, always maintained a holy reverence for Jews and for Israel. We were taught unequivocally that the land of Israel was sacred, that Jews were special, for they were God's chosen people. This way of thinking began flowing through my veins at a very early age. I walked to school every day with a girl whose name was Connie Goldberg. At times I envied her because she was Jewish and I wasn't. I never dreamed I would one day be part of a book coauthored by an esteemed Orthodox Jewish rabbi. I feel so honored, David. You may call this over-the-top, but it is almost as if I am on holy ground.
When I was working on my first degree at Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville, Tennessee, I spent summers working in Washington, D.C. I became fairly well acquainted with Rabbi Abraham Kellner, a well-known Orthodox rabbi in that area. He gave me some of his books. I always wondered why he referred to God as G-d. He and his wife invited me into their home for a meal. I remember one thing they served: a ground-beef patty (I think it was that). It was my first kosher meal and I can't say I enjoyed it. Sensing this, Rabbi Kellner brought some ketchup, which I doused on my meat!
In the course of the evening, discussing Isaiah 53, he lovingly chided me, "You would like to convert me, wouldn't you?" I blushed and admitted to my wish. He was very good about it and we kept in touch. He wrote me a most kind letter that closed with words I can never forget: "May you ever ascend to the Mount of the Lord-to which you raise your eyes."
If you are right, and I suspect you are, that we know far too little about one another, I pray this book will help remedy that. It is my urgent prayer that this book will be read equally by both Christians and Jews and that it will be impossible to tell who derives the greater benefit!