Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God.
The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul (Acts 16:14).
In his Consumer Alert! Yourphariseefriend (Rabbi Yisroel Blumenthal) sounds the alarm against Christians, who consider religion like a financial transaction, a concept, which he correctly says the Jewish Bible does not teach. He makes a very important point that Christians should heed. My only criticism is that he lumps together the New Testament understanding of salvation with the majority Christian understanding of salvation (the transactional view of salvation). I shall argue that the true Christian view on salvation has much in common with the Jewish view, both of which have been at odds with major Christian movements since the resurrection. Yourphariseefriend begins: “You may be wondering: What is a “consumer alert” doing on a blog that focuses on religion? Perhaps you never thought about it this way, but religion involves a transaction. There is an exchange taking place. The Christian missionary is encouraging you to give the devotion of your heart to Jesus and he is promising you eternal life in return for what you have given.” There is a price to pay; if not, there’ll be hell to pay.
Yourphariseefriend continues: “The price you pay [the Christian says] is the devotion of your heart, the return you are promised is escape from the fires of hell and eternal bliss – after death.” Yourphariseefriend’s aim in his “brief study” is (he writes) “to focus on those passages in the Jewish Bible that speak of the particular transaction that we are addressing in this article – giving the devotion of your heart in exchange for a future return… One of the primary lessons of the Jewish Scripture is that the devotion of your heart is not yours to give away. It belongs to the God who created your heart in the first place. Deuteronomy 32:6, Isaiah 45:18, Jeremiah 10:16, Jonah 1:9, Psalm 86:9, 95:6, 100:3, Job 12:10, 35:10, Daniel 5:23 – are but some of the Scriptural references to this teaching.” It will be useful to look at these biblical references the rabbi has cited. But before we do so, we need specifics on the nature of this If-I-give-my-heart-to-you transaction so prevalent among Christians.
Some Christians say that you need to make Jesus, the Son of God, Lord of your life, which in effect means making God the Lord of your life. Whether you believe in a triune (three person – Christian) God or unitarian (one person – Jewish) God, the Rabbi’s point is that it is impossible to make God the Lord of your life owing to the fact that He is already Lord of your life. In this light, we read the scriptures the rabbi has referenced. I italicise the words that I believe are of import to the Rabbi:
Deuteronomy 32:6 – Do you thus repay the Lord, you foolish and senseless people? Is not he your father, who created you, who made you and established you?
Isaiah 45:18 – For thus says the Lord, who created the heavens (he is God!), who formed the earth and made it (he established it; he did not create it empty, he formed it to be inhabited!): “I am the Lord, and there is no other.
Jeremiah 10:16 – Not like these is he who is the portion of Jacob, for he is the one who formed all things, and Israel is the tribe of his inheritance; the Lord of hosts is his name.
Jonah 1:9 – And he said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”
Psalm 86:9 – All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name.
Psalm 95:6 – Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
Job 12:10 – In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind.
Job 35:10 – But none says, ‘Where is God my Maker, who gives songs in the night..
Daniel 5:23 – but you have lifted up yourself against the Lord of heaven. And the vessels of his house have been brought in before you, and you and your lords, your wives, and your concubines have drunk wine from them. And you have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone, which do not see or hear or know, but the God in whose hand is your breath, and whose are all your ways, you have not honored.
What puzzles me is the rabbi’s assertion that “the Christian missionary” (that is, all Christian misionaries) uses the above scriptures “as an endorsement for the transaction that he is encouraging,” which, the Rabbi says, he is “not authorized to enter into.” I explain: Those Christian missionaries who believe that all scripture is God-breathed (theopneustos 2 Timothy 3:16), certainly agree with the above scriptures, which amplify God’s creative act “In the beginning God…” (Genesis 1:1), the mother of all presuppositions. So, from the point of view of God as creator, sustainer and destroyer, everything we are and have, including our hearts, belong to God. The Rabbi is right: enough already with giving “your” heart to Jesus. At this point, there is a distinction the Rabbi, indeed all Jews, miss, namely, not all Christians believe in this transactional view, namely “give the devotion of your heart to Jesus and he is promising you eternal life in return for what you have given.”
Granted this is the majority Christian view, for example, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, Methodist, Charismatic, and the masses of seeker-driven movements. This leaves a remnant of Christians; a “stump of stump” (Isaiah 6) who, with the Rabbi, cry foul. Why does this Christian remnant decry this transactional view? Let me answer with a rabbinical question: “How on earth can you invite Jesus into your heart? Where in the Bible does it say such a thing? In the Bible we do indeed see God pouring his love into unregenerated hearts, but when God regenerates a sinner, this involves no invitation from the sinner to God, but is a unilateral sovereign divine merciful call. It’s called amazing grace.If you ask God to change your heart, God has changed it already, because you would never want to ask such a question unless you had the desire to do so.
Where did your desire originate? Not in you but in God, who replaced your heart of stone with a heart of flesh: “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 11:19 (Also in Ezekiel 36:26).
There is only one instance in the scriptures where we read about the opening of hearts. And it’s not a human but a divine initiative;Acts 16:11-14:
11 … sailing from Troas, we ran a straight course to Samothrace, and the next day came to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is the foremost city of that part of Macedonia, a colony. And we were staying in that city for some days. 13 And on the Sabbath day we went out of the city to the riverside, where prayer was customarily made; and we sat down and spoke to the women who met there. 14 Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul (Acts 16:11-14).
What a Christian should be singing is not “change my heart, O God.” but “strengthen my heart,” in other words, strengthen the “inner man,” strengthen my inner being to be more like You.
Christians of the sort the Rabbi is talking about love to sing:
You are the Potter,
I am the clay;
Mold me and make me,
This is what I pray
You bet you’re the clay. The question is do you understand and accept what clay does? It’s a passive lump. I am pretty sure that most of those who sing this song believe that the Potter looked down the corridors of time and saw the time when He would ask you if he could turn you into one of his potts. Wrong, because clay, by its very nature, cannot ask the Potter to mould it. Once, however, the Potter has chosen you for one of his pots; lo, a miracle: you, clay ass that you once were, will get a voice, and now you can ask God to continue to mould you, embellish you, make you more beautiful. (See Change my heart, O God: Impossible: and frankly silly).
The kind of Christians the Rabbi is discussing are called in Christian theology, “synergists” (Greek “work with”), because they say God needs their cooperation to make him their Saviour and Lord. They are also called “Arminians” (after Jacob Arminius). The stump (Yiddish for stubborn) remnant of Christians are called monergists (Greek “work alone,” that is, God’s work alone). They are also called Calvinists. (See Calvinism and Arminianism for a fuller explanation).
Now you know why I am – and suggest it the best thing to be – a Jewish Calvinist. Thank you dear Rabbi Blumenthal for, if not coming to my side, taking my side on a core issue. It makes my heart feel good. If ever in your wildest you consider converting, you now know; “stump” is the way to go.