Southern Baptists are providing leadership at a conference that prioritizes Jewish evangelism in the new millennium, scheduled for Feb. 8-10, at the First Baptist Church of West Palm Beach in Florida.
"Come and hear why some of the most prominent Christian theologians and leaders in North America believe that Jewish Evangelism should be a priority for the Church in the New Millennium," reads conference promotional material.
Sponsored by Chosen People Ministries (CPM), the conference will explore the "role of Jewish people in God's prophetic plan" and "how to share the gospel with Jewish people in a sensitive and winsome manner."
The CPM's Web site said, "Jewish people are not especially religious" and "Jewish people are not especially familiar with the Old Testament."
The conference comes some 15 months after a firestorm of controversy erupted over the Southern Baptist Convention's targeting of Jews for conversion.
In late 1999, the SBC circulated a prayer guide for the conversion of Jews during their high holy days.
Jewish leaders reacted critically to the effort. Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein said, "with the SBC's recent commitment to targeted Jewish proselytizing, they have crossed the line of responsible witness."
Eckstein, who had worked for many years with Southern Baptists to promote Christian-Jewish understanding, broke off relations with the SBC.
Two Southern Baptist seminary presidents who spoke defensively for the SBC's targeting of Jews are conference leaders. Former president of the SBC Paige Patterson joins Southern Seminary president Al Mohler on the program.
Other speakers include faculty members at Southern Seminary and Dallas Theological Seminary who advocate a narrowly held belief system known as dispensational premillennialism.
Dispensational premillennialists divide biblical history into a series of stages based on a literal reading of the Bible through the lenses of a complex historical scheme. They mix a hyper-view of biblical prophecy with a deep-seated loyalty to the state of Israel.
Dispensational premillennialism believes the Second Coming of Christ will be followed by a period of intense, worldwide tribulation. After a time of divine punishment, Christ will reign on earth from Jerusalem for a thousand years. Christ and Satan will then engage in a colossal battle, ending with Satan and the wicked being thrown into the lake of fire.
A literal reading of the Bible and a common commitment to Israel are keys to understanding a meeting designed to prioritize the evangelization of American Jews and a conference staffed by dispensational premillennialists.
Robert Parham is BCE's executive director.