Thursday, December 6, 2007

Wings of Refuge

Romance is in the air. Wandering Jude sees the writing on the wall, and it's mostly love stories. That's right. Conversion narratives masquerading as romance novels. Over the next few weeks we'll discuss a variety of evangelical Christian novels that have at their core both romance and conversion to Christianity. Wandering Jude warns the reader not to get too excited. These are not "bodice-rippers." There is no sex to speak of; these love stories are definitely PG or in some cases even G. Nothing remotely close to PG-13 or R territory.

Lynn Austin, a master of the Christian romance genre, wrote Wings of Refuge in 2000. In this book, Benjamin Rosen is an Israeli secret service agent, an Orthodox Jew, and a horticulturalist. He befriends the protagonist of the novel, Abby MacLeod, but is murdered by terrorists. His cousin is Hannah Rahov, who is an archaeologist that Abby works with on her trip to Israel. Hannah is a "Jewish believer in Yeshua." Ari Bazak is another archaeologist that Abby meets. Many other Israelis are featured in this novel of romance and (some) suspense. The novel also uses a common device and portrays a number of early Jews and Jewish Christians from the 1st century.

Wandering Jude usually avoids pointing out inaccuracies in these books, given that they are so common, but this time he couldn't resist. E.g., it's unlikely that Rosen would touch Abby in the way he does on the plane since he is an Orthodox Jew. (p. 24). Rosen also writes in a Bible. No-no. Also, Wandering Jude doesn't think that Ari is short for Aaron. (p. 34).

Here are some excerpts from the book:

"Abby stared. "Excuse me if this sounds rude, but aren't you Jewish?" "Yes." "but ... you just quoted Jesus." "I'm a Jewish believer in Yeshua -- Jesus, the Messiah promised in the Jewish Scriptures," Hannah said. ... "I hope there will be an opportunity to share my own spiritual journey with you before this summer is over." (p. 51). Later, speaking to a group of Christians, Hannah says, ""And the, on a star-filled night during King Herod's reign, Jesus the Messiah was born."... "He offered a solution to the crisis in their lives. But in spite of all the words that the prophets had spoken, the answer Jesus offered was not what any of them wanted -- or expected."" (p. 61).

""How long have you been a Christian, Hannah?" Abby asked. ... "I've been a Messianic believer for about five years now.... My daughter, Rachel, became a believer first. And I have to tell you that I was quite upset when she told me about her faith. When a Jew hears the word Christian, we immediately think of the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition and all the other horrors committed in the name of Christ. We've quite forgotten the fact that Jesus was Jewish, as were all of his disciples, the apostle Paul, and most of the earliest Christians."" (pp. 61-62).

Hannah states: "The central belief of the Jewish faith is that God is working to redeem mankind. Once I saw that Jesus already brought about that promised redemption -- my redemption -- my faith was completed, not altered." Abby glimpsed Ari's face in the rearview mirror and saw by his frown that Hannah's words made him uncomfortable." (p. 62).

Some of the Christians in the group make negative comments about the Pharisees. Hannah disagrees with them, saying: ""the Pharisees were men of great courage -- heroes who were willing to face death rather than deny their faith..... But by Jesus' day, the outward form of their religion had become more important than the state of a man's heart or his relationship with God. They were carefully straining their food to avoid swallowing a gnat -- the smallest of the unclean creatures -- while at the same time, by neglecting mercy and grace, they were swallowing camels, so to speak -- the largest unclean animal." (pp. 72-73). ""Besides keeping the faith alive during times of persecution," Hannah continued, "the Pharisees made another very important contribution. They helped develop an educational system, teaching the Torah in local synagogues. It was because of the Pharisees' devotion to teaching God's Law that the average person in Jesus' time knew what the Bible prophecies said, even if he was a humble fisherman or a carpenter. And so the Pharisees prepared the people for Christ's coming."" (p. 73).

Wandering Jude notes that this description of the Pharisees seems much more fair and even-handed than most others found in Christian novels. In other words, kudos to the author.

"Her life is a gift from God," Jake told her. "Whatever happens, we can trust Him with it because His love reaches to the heavens, His faithfulness to the skies. And that's a very long way." Hannah had learned the morning prayers from Jake. They recited them together before they began each day." (p. 130). Hannah asks why people want to destroy the Jews. Jake answers, "Because we bear witness to the Holy One's plan to redeem mankind. In fact, His redemption will come from our race, from Abraham's seed. If Satan can destroy us, he thinks he can destroy all memory of God and keep mankind under the curse. But Satan's plans won't succeed." .... "But I also believe that what our enemies intend for evil, God is going to turn to our good."" (p. 131).

"She gave a nervous laugh. "You know me, Hannah. I wouldn't know what to do inside a synagogue even if they did let me through the door." "I wasn't raised in a religious home, either, but I've been attending Sabbath services with Jake ever since we were married..... You won't be surprised to learn that his faith has started to rub off on me after six years of marriage. I didn't know how to pray either, so I started by praying the psalms. Try it. With this crisis, it helps keep my fear down to manageable proportions."" (p. 138). ""Jake was reading the prophecies of Ezekiel to me the week before he left.... a huge army coming against Israel after the Jewish people are gathered here from many nations....And it says that God will allow them to come so that He can show His greatness and His holiness before the eyes of the whole world."" (p. 138). "Two day later, Hannah attended Sabbath services with Devorah. It comforted her to imagine Jake and Ben and a minyan of ten men reading the same Torah passages and reciting prayers...." (p. 139).

""I hate the Arabs for putting us through that." Jake [said]: "Don't hate them, Hannah. They win if you hate. The Holy One is a God of redemption, and it's our job to show His redemption to the whole world. We can't do that if we hate."" (p. 144).

""Do you call it coincidence, Ari, that millions of followers of the three great world religions all come to worship God within these ancient walls?" "I call it unfortunate," he said, frowning again." (pp. 149-150). ""They are also united by a common ancestor," Hannah said. "All three religions trace the roots of their faith to Abraham -- the Jews and the Christians through his son Isaac, the Arabs through his son Ishmael."" (p. 150). "God expects us to live our our faith in a real world of pain and strife until His redemption is complete," [Hannah said]. (p. 151).

""Christians often forget that Yeshua -- Jesus -- was Jewish," Hannah continued. "He didn't come to start a radical new religion but to fulfill the revelation of redemption that the Jewish people had already been given. All His life, Jesus carefully followed Jewish Law."" (p. 153).

Abby notices a difference between the Jew Ari and the Jewish Christian Hannah: "But what she couldn't understand as she walked home that night with him and Hannah was why Ari's heart had been hardened by his enemies, while Hannah's remained untouched by hatred." (p. 218).

The Israelis celebrate Shabbat with the Christian group: "The Richmans accorded Hannah the honor of lighting the Sabbath candles. Abby listened appreciatively as the family recited the prayers and blessings in Hebrew.... After a ritual hand washing, Judith uncovered two fragrant loaves of challah." (p. 215).

On Yom Kippur, Jake talks to his daughter: "Every Yom Kippur we rehearse for the day when we will face God's judgment. We think about death by fasting and denying ourselves all of the usual pleasures of life for twenty-four hours. Then we confess our sins and repent -- which means we turn away from them -- and we promise to live better by God's strength." (p. 261). Rachel, Jake's daughter, says: "I'll pray for you every day, Abba, and ask God to keep you safe.".... "If it's His will, Rachel . . . we must always yield to His will. Otherwise, we're putting ourselves in God's place, telling Him how to run the universe. No one must sit in God's place." "But why would it be God's will for you . . . to die?" she asked. "Who can know the mind of the Almighty One? Many good men died in the last war, Rachel, and we don't know why. We can't see His design because we stand too close to it."" (p. 265).

Hannah grieves her dead husband, killed in the Yom Kippur War: "Rachel wanted to continue attending the synagogue, so Hannah fulfilled all of the rituals with her, performing her lines by rote. When Yom Kippur rolled around each year and the rabbi promised that "Those who trust in the Lord shall exchange strength for weariness," she wanted to shout aloud that it was a lie, that God was a cruel tyrant. She and Rachel said prayers every morning... but they were words -- empty, meaningless words." (pp. 279-280). Later, Hannah prays: ""How could you take him from me? How could you let Jake die? What kind of a God are you?" Jake was dead. God had cruelly snatched him from her.... God alone was strong enough to heal her wound, but she had turned from Him in anger, instead of turning to him for refuge.... "I can't go on, God.... Please help me!"" (p. 284).

Rachel, Hannah's daughter, becomes a Christian: ""You know what surprises me the most, Mama? How Jewish this Yeshua was. The Christian Bible has him celebrating Passover and all the other feasts, quoting Jewish prophets, attending synagogue.... He really wasn't starting a new religion at all. He was simply a Jewish rabbi with a breathtaking interpretation of Judaism. He was trying to move a very corrupt religious system back to what God originally intended. And the God he describes is the same one I believe in -- a God of redemption." Hannah was alarmed. "You've studied history, Rachel. You know all the atrocities that Christians have committed against our people in that name." "His followers did those things, Mama, not Him."" (p. 343).

""But I am still a Jew! I haven't given up any part of our faith or our heritage. I don't have to. Yeshua the Messiah is the fulfillment of the Jewish faith."" (p. 346). As they celebrate the Passover seder, Rachel explains each ritual in light of her newfound faith in Jesus.

Hannah comes to faith in Jesus in part through the death of her daughter, who dies in a terrorist bombing, and in part through the witness of an Arab Christian pastor who visits her in the hospital.

Hannah says: ""All my life I've dug through ruins to prove that this land belonged to our Jewish ancestors. Now these Christian symbols on the floor of a Jewish home prove that some of those ancestors believed in Yeshua the Messiah! .... to prove to him that Rachel was right, that Yeshua was Jewish. And that He was the Jewish Messiah our ancestors had been waiting for."" (p. 363). In the end, Ari also becomes a Christian.

The last word:

Wandering Jude concedes that this is not a bad book. The plot, the characters, the story, the writing, everything is OK. But it's still propaganda.

Why does the Jewish character Jake always sound so much like a Christian when he pontificates and theologizes? Could it be ... that this is the author's way of telegraphing her intention to make him a Christian right before he dies? (A common ploy among evangelical conversionist authors).

Most of the arguments that are made on behalf of Christianity in this book are fairly reductionistic. The most common one is that since Jesus was Jewish (he was very very Jewish, yes he was), then it's only logical and natural that Jews 2000 years later should convert to the religion that follows his teachings. Um, there are, of course, a few problems with this argument. One is that IT MAKES NO SENSE. Another small problem with this line of reasoning is that IT MAKES ABSOLUTELY NO SENSE. OK, Wandering Jude now formally ends his rant.

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