Reverend Johnnie Moore

Rabbi Heschel taught the Bible and linked it to our present time with effortless elegance. 

The Congress of Christian Leaders
Washington DC
A Baptist Perspective

Where did you first encounter Heschel’s work?

I don’t remember the exact time, but it must have been when I was in my early 20s. I was the campus pastor at Liberty University, and I encountered Rabbi Heschel’s book The Sabbath.  As a young evangelical growing up in the Baptist tradition, I felt a powerful love for the Jewish community, but I had never read any theological text written by a Jewish rabbi. I shortly thereafter discovered his book The Prophets and used it heavily when preparing sermons on the prophets of the Hebrew Bible. In many ways, discovering Heschel launched me into a lifelong passion for Jewish texts. At this very moment, a copy of The Prophets sits on my desk (a gift from a rabbi mentor of mine) and it sits next to several other books by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Rabbi Lau’s three-volume commentary on Pirkei Avos, Rabbi Soloveitchik’s book On Repentance, and a copy of some Chofetz Chaim readings. I’ve found a deeper understanding of my own faith by engaging substantively with rabbinic commentaries on the Hebrew Bible. My relationship with Jews and Judaism isn’t sentimental any longer. It is about shared learning and shared serving.

How did Heschel and his thinking inspire your work, religious life, or civic engagement?

As a millennial evangelical, I felt a commonality with Heschel’s passion for justice and the fact that he still taught the biblical text seriously. His teaching gives us a prophetic theology that isn’t political theology, per se. His sermons shook the foundations of the culture, but they were still sermons drawn from and anchored in the biblical text. Sometimes, clergy preach politics and shimmy in the Bible. Rabbi Heschel taught the Bible and linked it to our present time with effortless elegance. 

I really love the remarks he delivered on the first occasion he and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., shared a pulpit.

What of Heschel lives in you?

Heschel always challenges me to leave my comfort zone, to embrace righteousness and justice, and to know that the Bible says something about all of it.  

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