Evangelism vs. Judaism – are they really that different?

Reform Judaism, Orthodox Judaism, and Evangelical Christianity

Evangelical Christianity, as it is seen today, has its roots in the Great Awakenings of the 18th and 19th centuries. The Reform Movement of Judaism also has its roots in the modernity of the 19th and 20th centuries. Orthodox Judaism is very old, but it has seen a recent uptick in its adherent pool. There are some similarities between the conduct of all three groups, and I am going to discuss a couple of them here today.

Judaism had always been not only a religion but also a sense of identity for the people. It was its own subculture, and unfortunately for most of history, it was the only culture allowed to those born into it – while modern Europe is quite liberal, Jews were certainly the subject of persecution for most of European history. They were forced to live in ghettos among themselves and it was difficult for them to interact with the broader culture – unless they converted, of course. However, after Napoleon broke down the doors to the Jewish ghettos, Jews started to become more involved in the broader surrounding culture. This led to the idea that Reform was needed for the religion and the people to survive in the modern era.

The contemporary Reformed Jew is as much a member of the broader culture as he/she is Jewish. This means personal decisions are no longer decided solely based on Jewish identity, but can be based on intercultural feelings or simply personal tastes.

Revolutions in Judaism and Christianity

Stemming from the Great Awakenings, Evangelical Christianity took reforms from Protestantism and continued the trend. It shifted the focus of the religion from arcane, theological discussion to a more personal, emotional experience. See our article on Pentecostalism for an example. The movement eventually splintered off into hundreds of different denominations, but the point remained: religion should be more personal.

While Reform Judaism does not promote such extreme practices as speaking in tongues, it does allow for a more personalized religion. This is the first similarity between Reform Judaism and Evangelical Christianity. It is not exactly the same personalization, but Reformed Jews are not bound by strict, ancient codes that are not compatible with the modern world. This enables them to live a more personalized lifestyle, just as Evangelical Christians have decided they too want to have different denominations for different personal ideals.

Another way to view them as similar is to look at who is accepted into the religion. Reform Judaism openly accepts converts and children of Jewish fathers but non-Jewish mothers (both of which are uncommon in some other strains of Judaism, especially conservative ones). They do not necessarily actively prosthelytize, but they do reach out to people susceptible to conversion to encourage them. Evangelicals make it a point to convert people and bring the Word of God to the masses, so Evangelicals and Reformed Jews can count one more similarity between them – namely, they both welcome converts and actively reach out to people.

One more interesting similarity between the two was their early expectation of the Coming of Christ. Evangelicals originally expected Jesus to be returning for His second visit to Earth, and Reform Jews originally expected the Messianic Age to spread throughout the globe soon after (Reform Judaism starts in the early 1800s). They may have disagreed on the entity coming, but they both thought it would happen soon. Today, most adherents on both sides acknowledge it is sometime in the future, but it may not be the immediate future.

Reform is always a reaction to the zeitgeist, and Reform Judaism and Evangelical Christianity can be seen to be similar in this aspect. However, on the religious side, there is more connection between Orthodox Jews and Evangelicals than there is between Reform and Orthodox Jews.


Many Reform Jews are actually not that religious according to a Pew study conducted in 2013. The study suggested that Orthodox Jews and Evangelical Christians are more alike in their beliefs and habits. Nathan Guttman over at Forward.com helped breakdown the numbers in the Pew poll (it is admittedly a long study). He states that 83-86% of Orthodox Jews and Evangelicals believe religion is important in their lives, while only 20% of non-Orthodox Jews believe so. Furthermore, and rather surprisingly, Evangelicals and Orthodox Jews believe in God at a rate hovering around 90%, while only 34% of non-Orthodox Jews hold the same view. That means 66% do not believe in God with absolute certainty. This doesn’t mean 66% deny the existence of God, just that they are not as firm in their belief as Evangelicals or Orthodox. This statistic helps bolster the idea that Judaism is not only a religion, but also a culture and way of life.

Guttman breaks down a lot of other interesting statistics in his article, but the main point is that Orthodox Jews and Evangelical Christians may be more alike than Reformed and Orthodox are. It makes a nice summary of the Pew research, if you don’t have time to parse the whole thing.

Interestingly, in contrast to the longstanding dislike of Jews by Christians, and often outright persecution, at least before the 20th century, Evangelical Christians largely support Jews and Israel. One reason is the Evangelical belief that once all Jews are back in their homeland, Israel (which 82% of Evangelicals believe was given to them by God), the Second Coming process will begin and Christ will return to Earth.

The similarities in religion should always be used as a springboard to better understanding each other. Hopefully our website helps you better understand other religions and how you can interact with them in a way that will help you and your cause. A main point of Evangelicalism is to get more people to believe in the Word, so the more you know about others, the better you can communicate with them.

Come back for more articles on other faiths and your own, right here at Our Holy Testament.

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