A very good friend of mine alerted me to a book that sounds incredibly interesting. It’s entitled, The Great Good Thing: A Secular Jew Comes to Faith in Christ, and it is written by Andrew Klavan, a rather prolific writer and political commentator. I have ordered the book and plan to review it as soon as I can, but I decided to do a bit of “background reading” first, and I ran across this thought-provoking interview that he did with Jews for Jesus. The interview is definitely worth reading in its entirety, but I wanted to share my thoughts about it.
If you aren’t familiar with the organization, Jews for Jesus is a group of Jewish people who have come to realize that Jesus is the Messiah, and they want others to learn this as well. As a result, they do what they can to spread the Gospel within the Jewish community. Since Andrew Klavan is a reasonably famous Jewish person, it only makes sense for them to promote the fact that he has come to believe in Christ as the Messiah. What makes the interview interesting to me, however, is the fact that he described himself as a secular Jew before his conversion. In fact, he says:
After my bar mitzvah, I was done with the religious part of Judaism. Or any religion. I was always comfortable as a cultural Jew, though. I kind of liked being a bit of an outsider in that way. It didn’t mean very much to me but it was there. As for God, as I became more of an intellectual, I became an agnostic. For a brief, though important time, I was an atheist.
Note that he makes a distinction between being an agnostic and being an atheist. This is an important distinction that is (unfortunately) lost on many theists. An agnostic claims neither belief nor unbelief in God, while an atheist specifically says that he or she does not believe in God. Klavan is obviously aware of the difference, and if I am interpreting his words correctly, it seems that he went from agnostic to atheist and then back to agnostic again before becoming a Christian.
There were many aspects of his story that I found fascinating, but a couple of them really stand out. First, he says that he received thousands of dollars worth of gifts at his bar mitzvah, and at first, he really loved them. After several months, however, he became ashamed of them, because he realized that he had essentially lied in order to get them. By participating in a bar mitzvah, a Jewish boy is entering not only the Jewish community as someone who is responsible for his own actions, but he is also entering the Jewish faith as someone who is ready to observe the precepts of the faith and take part in public worship. Since he had no intention of doing those things, he felt that his bar mitzvah was a lie, so he actually threw away the gifts he received at it. That strikes me as a very mature act for a teenage boy!
Another really fascinating aspect of his story was how he came to believe. He said that he started reading the Bible when he was 15. He didn’t do it because he was seeking God, however. He did it because he wanted to be a writer, and he understood that the Bible is an important work of literature. Once again, that seems like a very mature action for a teenage boy! He shares an interesting incident related to this:
One day my father walked into my bedroom without knocking and caught me reading Luke’s Gospel. He was livid. He told me if I ever thought of converting he would disown me. I find this kind of funny now, when you think of what you could find your teenaged son reading if you burst in on him like that!
While he thinks the incident is funny, I find it rather telling. Earlier in the interview, he made it clear that his father did not believe in the religious aspects of Judaism. Nevertheless, his father became furious at the thought of him converting to Christianity. Why? Most likely it is because his father understood how important the religion of Judaism is to Jewish culture. Thus, he thought that by converting to another religion, his son would essentially be rejecting his heritage.
Andrew addresses this issue in what I consider to be the most fascinating statement he makes in the interview:
One of my biggest fears confronting baptism—took me five months to work through it—was I didn’t want anyone to think I was turning my back on Jews, trying to escape my Jewish identity. The default mode with some Jews is to assume you’re trying to “pass as gentile” or blend in or that you hate your Jewishness and are joining the enemy. All understandable, because the Jews are the most mistreated group of people on the face of the planet and some of that trouble has come out of Christian sources, which stinks. Oddly, though, accepting Jesus made me feel more Jewish than I ever had, religiously at least. I had no connection to the Old Testament particularly, until I accepted the New. (emphasis mine)
In other words, the New Testament gave him a reason to believe in the Old Testament, and as a result, he connects more with his Jewish heritage than he did when he had no belief at all. Isn’t that beautiful?