Honest Evaluation or Close-mindedness?
When one reads through Christian apologetic materials one finds a reoccurring theme. The image of a court weighing the evidence as to whether or not The Nazarene is the Messiah is encountered repeatedly. The apologetic books Evidence that Demands a Verdict, 1 and 2, are classics. A newer apologetic book is called The Case for Christ. These theme is rooted in the word apologetics itself, "In NT times an apologia was a formal courtroom defense of something (2 Tim. 4:16)." 1
The imagery of a courtroom brings up thoughts of individuals who have cast away their preconceived notions and biases. They weigh the evidence without emotion, just examining the facts. Frequently missionaries will use this image to present themselves as representing a rational belief based on the only reasonable conclusion one can draw from the evidence. Particularly Messianic testimonies will often present their conversions as a result of examining the prophecies of the Messiah found in the T'nakh. They are portrayed as courageous individuals who fought the bias against the Nazarene they were raised with and accepted the facts of Christianity.2
On several occasions I have had correspondence with missionaries who have challenged me on my bias. They have accused me of having made my mind up about Christianity without having ever really considered it. Rather, they claim it was a result of my Jewish upbringing which influenced my decision. If only I where to examine the evidence fully, and to do so with an open mind, I might "see the light".
This stereotype is common. Jew's are painted as ignorant of Christianity, "the Jewish person assumes that all Gentiles are Christians."3 His reaction to the Christian claims is a result of being "taught from the cradle that Judaism and Christianity are mutually exclusive categories" (ibid). I would concede that, in general, people frequently do not make religious choices on purely logical grounds. But in this regard Christians are certainly no less disinclined to accept a faith other than the one they where brought up with.4 And the generalization that Jews are ignorant of Christianity has no factual support and my own experience indicates that the typical Jew is more familiar with the various sects of Christianity, and the nature of the Jewish/Christian polemic, than their Christian counterpart.
All that said, I will not try to paint myself as unbiased. It would be dishonest of me to indicate to you that when I began the research which resulted in this book that I did not have a preconceived notion of what the conclusion would be. I had no intent on examining the validity of my own beliefs, merely the intent to persuade others to accept mine. When I first began researching the so-called Messianic prophecies of the Jewish Bible I did so with the express intent to show that they prove conclusively that the Nazarene was the Jewish Messiah who died for the sins of the world.
Yes, I was biased without a doubt. My bias was that of an evangelical Christian who believed that the Bible was the inspired and inerrant Word of God. I wanted to produce a work which gave a comprehensive and persuasive argument to support my beliefs with the hope that it might persuade others to accept them. I had one thing going for me though; I wanted my case to be rock solid. I wanted an intellectually honest argument. Once familiar with the Messianic approach, in my head I produced an Orthodox Jewish audience, but one that knew everything that I did. If I where to produce an argument that could be understood differently I could not bluff them...they knew it too. If I found an argument less than persuasive, I couldn't expect them to accept it. I would just set such arguments aside as support, but not being proof. After all there was so much "evidence' to work with, why not only use conclusive evidence. But then came a point where I realized that most of the arguments for Christianity could only "support" one's case if one where to already hold a Christian world view. I could no longer honestly say that if I where a Jew living in the first century C.E. that I would be a follower of the Nazarene based on the teaching found in T'nakh.
Nor was this an easy decision to make. Believing in Torah observance I had developed a great admiration for Judaism. But at the same time I was driven to create a "Torah observant" community within the "Messianic" framework. Goals and dreams which gave me a sense of purpose were rendered superfluous. By joining the Jewish community the community was made, my goals where accomplished. I became a participant in a Torah observant community rather than helping build one anew. And while becoming Messianic was socially difficult, causing me to leave my old Church, leaving the Messianic movement by rejecting the Nazarene was rejecting a belief by which I had defined myself by since childhood, my Christian faith. It was not easy, but I knew what I had to do.
So yes, I was biased, and still am. I do not read a new missionary argument expecting it to possible be correct, to indicate that the Nazarene really is the Messiah. But my new bias is one based on intensive study of Christian arguments and proof texts and repeatedly finding them to be incorrect. My new bias is an educated guess based on previous experience with Christian arguments. And a Christian who is reading this is not likely expecting it to provide a sound argument that the Nazarene is not the Messiah. But I believe if they try to be honest and open that this book will do just that. The issue is not who is more or less biased. We all have biases. The issue is who can get beyond them to recognize the truth. I am by no means perfect and may not always present an argument without flaw, but I remain confident that my analysis of this issue is sound and the conclusions correct.
3Share the New Life with a Jew, p. 23.