McCartney boosts Jews for Jesus

Promise Keepers founder sees link with evangelical Christians

Denver Post/September 1, 2004
By Eric Gorski

Describing it as his life's calling, Promise Keepers founder Bill McCartney on Tuesday unveiled a new effort to persuade evangelical Christians to embrace a little- known religious group historically shunned by Christians and Jews alike.

With "The Road to Jerusalem," the former University of Colorado football coach is reaching out to self-described Messianic Jews, who believe they can remain Jewish while accepting Jesus as the Messiah of Jewish tradition.

To Jewish leaders, the movement is Christianity in Jewish clothes, an attempt to lure Jews to Jesus because a straight sell won't work.

At the same time, many evangelicals are strong Israel backers and keep Messianic Jews at arm's length to maintain good relations with Jewish leaders.

"This is a minefield," McCartney said Tuesday after a kickoff news conference in Denver. "This is paved in terror and triumph. It ends in triumph."

McCartney believes the Bible commands Christians to stand with Messianic Jews and shakes his head at Christians who embrace the "unbelieving Jews" of Israel but shun "believing Jews" in the Messianic movement.

His new group, which follows Promise Keepers' tradition of racial reconciliation, initially will stage a Dec. 3 gathering near Palm Springs, Calif., send emissaries to churches and arrange tours of Israel, ministry president Raleigh Washington said.

Washington, a former Promise Keepers executive, said church and individual donations make up this year's $300,000 budget, and fundraising for next year is underway.

Washington said winning new believers to Jesus is not the primary goal of the ministry, although he would welcome that.

"Our goal is to convince the church we've been silent," he said. "We've not been arm in arm with the Messianics."

The group lists endorsements from two dozen Messianic and evangelical leaders, including televangelist Pat Robertson and charismatic pastor Jack Hayford, incoming president of Foursquare Gospel church.

Early reviews from Jewish leaders were positive but tempered.

"To me, the key issue is whether it's going to be a vehicle for proselytizing Jews," said Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, which raises money for Israel from evangelical donors. "If this is simply an attempt - to use their language - to unite the body of Christ, that's an internal thing for them and I think it's perfectly legitimate."

Rabbi Eliot Baskin, president of the Rocky Mountain Rabbinical Council, compared the effort to Lutherans and Episcopalians seeking common ground.

Craig Blomberg, a professor of the New Testament at Denver Seminary, said McCartney has a proven record of persuading people to follow him.

"If you asked (evangelicals) in theory, 'Should we embrace Messianic congregations as fully Christian?' most would say in a heartbeat, 'Absolutely,"' he said. "But most would say the same thing about a white congregation and a black congregation. That doesn't necessarily mean they intermingle."

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