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Nearly 1 million U.S. evangelicals are 'Jewish'

WASHINGTON – A new survey by LifeWay Research shows an estimated 871,000 American evangelical Christians have at least one Jewish parent or grandparent – almost three times the largest estimates previously assessed in past studies.

The messianic Jewish movement has been growing in the United States and Israel, but the latest survey is a shocker to those who track the size and scope. There are hundreds of messianic congregations in the U.S. attracting Jews and non-Jews alike because of the unique teachings and beliefs that emphasize a literal Israel-centric view of the Bible – both Old Testament and New.

“We are thrilled with the growth of the messianic movement both within and outside of the nation of Israel,” said Mitch Glaser, president of Chosen People Ministries, one of the sponsors of the survey. “The number of evangelicals saying they have a Jewish parent or grandparent is far greater than we imagined. Probably one of the reasons for this, according to the LifeWay Survey, is because over 70 percent of evangelicals in the United States believe in the importance of reaching out to their Jewish friends with the good news of Jesus.”

The study found that among American adults, almost 40 million have evangelical beliefs using the LifeWay Research definition. Two percent of these evangelicals indicate that one or more of their parents or grandparents are Jewish. This yields the estimate of 870,771 adult Americans who have evangelical beliefs and self-report that they have at least one Jewish parent or grandparent.

In addition, about half of the evangelicals surveyed, or 47 percent, agree with the statement, “Jewish people continue to be significant for the history of redemption as Jesus will return when the Jewish people accept Jesus.” Twenty-three percent disagree, and 31 percent are not sure.

More than 2,000 were surveyed in the study between Sept. 20-28, 2017.

The survey was sponsored by Chosen People Ministries, an organization whose mission is to pray for, evangelize, disciple and serve Jewish people everywhere, and to help fellow believers do the same, and New York Times bestselling author Joel C. Rosenberg.

“The Scripture places God’s commitment to Israel as an expression of his faithfulness and grace,” said Darrell L. Bock, New Testament professor at Dallas Theological Seminary. “God made promises to Israel as a people long ago Scripture says He will keep.”

The survey also found 86 percent of American evangelicals believe sharing the gospel with Jews is important.

“The study indicates unprecedented openness and responsiveness to the gospel among American Jews and Americans with Jewish roots,” said Rosenberg, a dual U.S.-Israeli citizen. “What’s more, a significant percentage of American evangelicals without Jewish roots say they believe sharing the gospel with Jewish people is important, though not all of them are doing so. We must always be loving and humble when we share the message of Jesus with anyone. But the church must never be ashamed of the gospel because it is, as the Apostle Paul instructs us, the power of salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jews first and also for the Gentiles.”

The study also found 30 percent of Americans with evangelical beliefs have Jewish friends. But only 32 percent of those told their Jewish friends about Jesus in the past year, and evangelicals in general seem unclear about how Jews fit into God’s plan.

According to the survey, 28 percent embrace “supersessionism” or replacement theology – the claim that the Christian church “has fulfilled or replaced the nation of Israel in God’s plan.” Forty-one percent reject that idea, and 32 percent are not sure.

Younger evangelicals – those between 18 and 34 – are more likely to say Christians have replaced Jews in God’s plan. Thirty-four percent agree, and 30 percent disagree. Thirty-six percent are not sure. In contrast, 48 percent of Evangelicals 65 and older disagree with replacement theology. Twenty-three percent agree, and 29 percent are not sure.

“To see nearly 40 percent of younger evangelicals unsure of how Israel fits into God’s larger story tells me we have a huge opportunity to educate the next generation to appreciate God’s love and plan for both Israel and the nations,” said Esther Fleece, international speaker, author and millennial influencer. “Millennials don’t need help getting involved, we need help understanding a theology that gives Israel and the Jewish people a place in God’s ongoing story.”

More than half of respondents believe “the Bible teaches that one day, most or all Jewish people, alive at that time, will believe in Jesus.” Sixteen percent disagree, and 29 percent are unsure.

Although evangelicals see a clear tie between Bible prophecy and the rebirth of the nation of Israel, they’re less certain whether Jewish people play a role in the return of Jesus.

“According to the survey, many evangelicals believe the Gospel will be spread to all people in the world before Jesus returns,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. “But they aren’t sure if Jewish people have a special place in God’s plan anymore.”

When the first part of the study was released in December, showing a need to educate all, especially the young, about Israel’s place in God’s plan, key faith leaders formed the Alliance for the Peace of Jerusalem. The organization is dedicated to facilitating a better public understanding of the complexities of the Middle East, including its roots in history and the Bible. Glaser, Rosenberg and Bock are all founding members of the alliance, of which Fleece is a part.

LifeWay Research is a Nashville-based, evangelical research firm that specializes in surveys about faith in culture and matters that affect churches.