The Christian and the Pharisee was lent to me by friends who have a particular interest in relationships between Christians and Jews. It consists of a series of letters between the two men – one, a noted Christian preacher and teacher, the other a senior Rabbi. The agreed aim of the debate (page 72) was for R.T. Kendall to try to explain to David Rosen why he should become a believer in Jesus as Messiah, and for Rosen to explain to Kendall why he (Rosen) should remain a Jew. Therefore, the deliberately evangelistic stance adopted by Kendall in the second half of the book is not out of place, as suggested by a previous reviewer on Amazon.
The mood is friendly and courteous throughout. Indeed, Kendall’s tone borders on the cringingly deferential (“David, I’ve learned so much from you…”). Still, there is much to learn from the learned Rabbi. His explanation of how the Written Tradition (the Torah) is supplemented by the Oral Tradition of the rabbis is interesting. His account of Jewish beliefs and practices both at the time of Christ and in the present day are enlightening. His understanding of Old Testament passages that Christians regard as key to understanding the identity of the Messiah (such as Isaiah 53) rightly makes us Christians ask if we have read them correctly.
In the early exchanges, it seems that both men (and the traditions they represent) have much in common. And of course they do. (One of the things they share is a Zionist understanding of the relationship between the Jewish people and the land of Israel. It is a bit of a shame, then, that this is pretty much taken for granted by both sides, given that it is by no means without its problems.) Kendall was so impressed in one of their early meetings by Rosen’s gracious welcome that he even began to suspect that Rosen was a ‘secret’ Christian. However, as the debate develops it becomes apparent that they are worlds apart. A key moment comes half-way through the book (page 83), when Rosen writes, ‘The idea that God is somehow exclusively incarnate in one human being is totally beyond my comprehension. The idea of the Trinity leaves me baffled. The concept of vicarious atonement defies my moral comprehension.’ Add to this last point his denial of innate sin (notwithstanding Genesis 3) and you have in effect a brick wall erected against the Christian gospel, and there are no signs at all by the end of the book that the slightest crack has appeared in it.
By the way, the original reason my friends lent me this book was shed some light on the practice of some Jewish people and some friends of Jewish people of writing ‘G-d’ instead of ‘God’. This Orthodox Rabbi calls it, “quite unnecessary and even a little ridiculous” (page 26).
Fascinating, informative, and illuminating debate then, though in the end sadly inconclusive.