Called to Controversy: The Unlikely Story of Moishe Rosen and the Founding of Jews for Jesus

by Ruth Rosen

Thomas Nelson, P.O. Box 141000, Nashville, TN 37214, 2012, 320 pages, $22.99.

Reviewed by Theresa Newell, chairman and founding director, CMJ USA; North America coordinator, Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism, 1999-2007.

Moishe Rosen put Jewish evangelism on the map in the last quarter of the twentieth century. He is the founder of a movement, not just a mission organization. In typical Moishe fashion, his death on May 19, 2010, allowed him to stay around long enough to check the footnotes of his  biography authored by his daughter!

Several histories of the Jews for Jesus (JFJ) mission, which Rosen founded in 1973 and directed until the mid-1990s, have been published. Two-thirds of this book is prelude to the genesis of JFJ, giving the inside story of a family man who brought a seismic shift to Jewish outreach. The personal history given in the first two hundred pages will be new material for most readers.

The insistent call to take the gospel to his own Jewish people drove Rosen beyond himself. Raised in Denver during the Great Depression and an introvert with a stuttering problem, Rosen was hardly the person one would have predicted to upset the world with creative, break-the-mold, even outlandish ideas of how to reach Jewish people with the good news of their Messiah.

While Jewish mission has hardly made front-page headlines in evangelical circles until recently, several groups have been dedicated to the work since as early as 1809, when The London Society for Promoting Christianity amongst the Jews (known popularly as The London Jews’ Society and today as CMJ) began. The oldest mission to the Jews in America was The American Board of Mission to the Jews (ABMJ, today’s Chosen People Ministries). It was under this mission that the boy from Denver was trained and raised to leadership in New York City.

A visionary, Rosen saw things others did not, particularly the growing spiritual quest among those called “hippies” in cities on the west coast of the Unites States. They were looking for love in all the wrong places and using drugs to find a “new space” with spiritual meaning—and many of them were Jewish. Rosen took to the streets of San Francisco with the message of Jesus. He called himself “a Jew for Jesus.”

The strength of this book comes from the research Rosen’s daughter did with personal interviews and documentation from letters she unearthed. Ceil (who married Moishe when they were both 18) and Ruth’s sister Lyn (both daughters are JFJ missionaries as well as Lyn’s husband, Alan Bond) add enriching details to this family’s story. Each chapter heading begins with a pithy “Moishe saying” which adds to the nuanced portrait of a person who was complex, honest, real, self-deprecating, dedicated to task, and humble before his God.    

Moishe Rosen was not just a pioneer in methods of Jewish evangelism; it is his life that any missionary will find inspiring. His advice was to love God with all of your heart, be faithful to your call, finish well, live by the principles you set up for your team, don’t be afraid to fail—and above all, don’t lose your sense of humor.

Check these titles:
Congdon, Jim. 2009. Jews and the Gospel at the End of History: A Tribute to Moishe Rosen. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Publications.
Rosen, Moishe and Ceil Rosen. 1998. Witnessing to Jews: Practical Ways to Relate the Love of Jesus. San Francisco, Calif.: Purple Pomegranate Productions.
Tucker, Ruth A. 1999.  Not Ashamed: The Story of Jews for Jesus. Colorado Springs, Colo.: Multnomah Books.


EMQ, Vol. 48, No. 4, pp. 498-500. Copyright  © 2012 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS).  All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.


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