The Day the Rabbi Drew Question Marks

Land Bridge, Netherlands

Almost anyone who has ever heard me teach is unaware of the debt I owe to Dr. Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. (PhD. Brandeis University) and the Colman M. Mockler distinguished professor of Old Testament, and president emeritus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts. In 1979, I took one class from the great scholar with the wry wit and fell under his spell. His mind, his grasp of the Old Testament, his love for Jesus, his scholarship and his compelling arguments for the unity of the Bible and his courageous pursuit of the theological center of that unity was and is intoxicating.

I have 16 of his books on my shelves (at least), and this week I started to wade into one of the largest, his magnum opus defense of the Promise-Plan of God: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments. It will take me the rest of the year and probably much of 2023 to finish.  Maybe one personal story will communicate why I think his book and perspective are so important.

Ancient history of my life

I was a baby believer in Jesus, The year was only 9 months old in 1974. I had come to faith in mid January and now I had returned to the University of Maryland in the Fall of ’74. That August I registered for a class called HISTORY OF JEWISH THOUGHT, taught by a local Jewish rabbi and adjunct professor. As I remember it, on the first day of class about 12 students where asked by the professor to tell a bit of their background and why we had signed up for the class. Most of the students in the class where Jewish; probably 4 or 5 of us where gentiles like me. I nervously waited my turn and silently prayed for wisdom.

My turn came.

“I was raised Roman Catholic, but I wouldn’t say that I actually became a Christian until January last semester.”

Other students finished their answers and then the professor asked a more intriguing question. 

“What is your understanding of what a Jew is? 

[I didn’t know it at the time but this is a major issue in modern Judaism. Is a person a Jew because his mother is a Jew, or his father, or both? Is a person Jewish because of where they live or because they eat kosher? Does going to a Yishiva make you Jewish? Does going to a synagogue make you Jewish?]

Clearly, this was a question for more silent prayer.

“God, give me wise words.”  My turn.

“Raised in a nominally Christian home,
I was always taught that the Jews were God’s chosen people.”

The professor turned to the black board (yes, we had black boards in my day) and wrote down “God’s Chosen People.” Then he turned back to me and the class and asked a follow up question. “What does that mean to you, ‘God’s Chosen People’? Could you define that a little bit more.” 

Once again, silent prayer went up to God, I took a deep and nervous breath, and gave my answer. It was an answer I had never conceptualized or verbalized before. I don’t think I had ever heard it before. I believe it was God’s answer to my prayer.

“Chosen by God to be the people through whom He would bless the entire world.”

The professors eyes brightened; he turned and wrote what I said on the board and then turned again and asked another question.

“By that definition, what is it better to be, a Jew or a Christian?”

Another prayer ascended to God; another answer came out of my mouth.

“I would say that it is better to have accepted the Jewish Messiah, Jesus,
as your personal Savior and Lord.”

Now startled, the Rabbi professor turned, wrote three question marks on the board, said, “I don’t know how to respond to that right now,” and moved on to the next student.

I’ve never forgotten that day (obviously). I had only been a Bible reader for nine months. In that time, I had read all of the New Testament and most of the Old. Quietly, gradually, my Bible reading, my Bible study, my weekly church attendance, and my early disciplers and the desperate prayers of that day where all used by the Holy Spirit to give me a clear conception of the Bible’s meta-narrative and an answer that stumped the professor. All glory to God.

Some two years later I was introduced to one of Dr. Kasier’s books and three years after that, I was able to take my first class from the venerable scholar. From then on I have been collecting and reading his books with great joy.

Dr. Kaiser’s book, THE PROMISE-PLAN OF GOD, explores the wonder of God’s plan to choose a people through whom He would bless the world.  In beautiful, scholarly, detailed complexity coupled with devotional simplicity his book(s) continue to challenge my thinking. I hope to share many of his insights over the coming year here on the ChosenRebel Blog.

May God use them, to take you deeper into the wonder of His love and mercy and then out to the world that is desperate for the Good News of the Gospel. May you build a bridge for your neighbors that will enable them to see their way to belief in Christ, the Messiah, the long awaited fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham and the thread that stitches the Old and New Testament together in one massive tapestry of the love of God.

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