Looking back on my college years, I can honestly say that I learned more from listening daily to Dennis Prager on the radio than from attending my classes. What is tragicomic is that I paid over $100,000 for my Pomona College education, whereas my lessons from Prager were free.
Prager is a Jewish talk radio host who also teaches the Bible at the University of Judaism. His mission in life is “to get people obsessed with what is right and wrong.” He does this primarily through his nationally syndicated talk radio show in which he discusses the great moral issues of the day. He often receives challenges from a variety of callers, and I have never heard him lose a debate. I once heard Alan Dershowitz on the show, and Prager wiped the floor with the Harvard law professor. A few years back, Prager also memorably debated an Oxford philosophy professor on the question, “Can man be good without God?”, and he triumphed yet again.
But interestingly enough, while I have never heard a greater defender of Judeo-Christian values in the secular world than Prager, I have never experienced anyone undermine my faith as much as he has either. Since I will be recommending one of his books, I first need to mention a brief caveat before explaining why I think believers ought to read The Nine Questions People Ask About Judaism.
In college I read the works of existentialists, evolutionists, higher critics, et al, and still felt secure in the religion that I grew up with since birth. I could see through their smoke and mirrors, and I could sufficiently meet the objections posed by my classmates and professors in and outside of class. I must confess this was due in no small measure to listening to how Prager handled such objections from his callers.
But one day as I was listening to Prager’s show, he posed a question that I had never thought of before. It provoked several Christians to call in, and my heart and faith began to sink as I heard him shoot down caller after caller. The question was: How can a just God require perfection from imperfect people? By contrasting the apparent unfairness of Christianity with Judaism (which requires neither perfection nor even belief in God to go to heaven), Prager was making a strong case against Christianity and for the reasonableness of the Jewish faith. His statement that a moral giant like Gandhi could go to heaven, at least according to Judaism, which emphasizes good acts over right belief, powerfully resonated with me.
To make a long story short, after about a month of searching through books, calling ministers, looking online, all to no avail, I finally came upon a small book by R.C. Sproul titled, Reason to Believe. It introduced me to John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, St. Augustine, i.e., the Reformed faith. The doctrine of original sin, as explicated by these masters, answered the challenge and my faith was reborn.
In light of my own personal quandary, my caveat is that The Nine Questions People Ask About Judaism devotes a chapter on why many ethnic Jews are not Christians. The chapter is disturbing especially for new Christians, thus I would not recommend this book for them. Reading Nine Questions might be comparable to a Mormon reading C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. In fact in my opinion it is Judaism as interpreted by most ethnic Jews, and not Freud or Nietzche, that has presented the most potent objections against Christianity. So why should Christians read this book?
Christianity is a Jewish religion. 70% of the Bible was written in Hebrew. The heroes of the faith were Jews. (Hebrew 11-12) Indeed the New Testament itself professes that Judaism is the root of Christianity. As Paul reminds Gentile believers, “You do not support the root, but the root supports you.” (Romans 11:18) The New Testament by definition is a continuum. You cannot understand it fully without understanding the Old Testament.
Therefore Christians should read this book in particular because it is the Mere Christianity of Judaism written by the C.S. Lewis of the Jews. And a firmer grounding of the root of one’s faith can only lead to more fruit. Did you know, for example, that the purpose of keeping kosher reflects an ethical concern for the suffering of animals? Or did you know that the Jews’ life calling is to perfect the world under the rule of God? Even wrestling with the book’s chapter on Christianity will make you stronger or reveal just how weak your faith really is. The book’s devastating critiques of atheism and humanism, its enlightening explanation of Jewish traditions, and its arguments for the importance of organized religion are some other reasons to pick up this quick read.
The nine questions addressed in the book are:
1. Can one doubt God’s existence and still be a good Jew?
2. Why do we need organized religion or Jewish laws – isn’t it enough to be a good person?
3. If Judaism is supposed to make people better, how do you account for unethical religious Jews and for ethical people who are not religious?
4. How does Judaism differ from Christianity, Marxism and Communism, and Humanism?
5. What is the Jewish role in the world?
6. Is there a difference between anti-zionism and anti-semitism?
7. Why are so many young Jews alienated from Judaism and the Jewish people?
8. Why shouldn’t I intermarry – doesn’t Judaism believe in universal brotherhood?
9. How do I start practicing Judaism?