Is It Time for a New Jesus Movement Among Jewish Millennials?
I came to faith in Jesus in 1971 as a heroin-shooting, LSD-using, 16-year-old, Jewish, hippie rock drummer. I had no idea I was part of a worldwide spiritual event known as the Jesus People Movement or Jesus Revolution. It even merited a cover story on Time Magazine, June 21, 1971.
Jewish young people made up a conspicuously high number of these newly born-again hippies and rebels and radicals in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Today, a new poll commissioned by Jews for Jesus makes me wonder if we could be on the verge of another spiritual movement — one that will especially reach Jewish young people.
Jews in the 1960s Counterculture
Jews played a leading role in the counterculture movement of the 1960s. Names like Allen Ginsberg and Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin come to mind. Key leaders of the Weather Underground were also Jewish. These included Terry Robbins, who died when his own bomb exploded.
Among the bands that played at Woodstock, Jefferson Airplane had three Jewish members, Sha Na Na had three, and Blood, Sweat & Tears had five. Both Country singers Joe McDonald and Arlo Guthrie were born to Jewish mothers. Singing icons like Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel and “Mama” Cass Elliot were Jewish, just to name a few.
Spiritual Search in the 60s and 70s
Jews were at the forefront of this spiritual search.
But the 1960s were not only marked by sex, drugs, rock and roll, and rebellion. They were also marked by deep spiritual searching. It was common to get high, listen to rock music and talk about spiritual things. This ranged from Eastern religion to human consciousness to Jesus. This was not so much in terms of the Christian faith but in terms of Jesus as a cool, revolutionary leader.
And again, during this time, Jews were at the forefront of this spiritual search. They even made up the largest number of Buddhist converts in the West. That’s why the term JewBu (or JuBu) was coined, to describe Jewish Buddhists.
I was told by a Hare Krishna leader that, at the height of the movement in the 1970s, 75 percent of their world leadership was Jewish. Perhaps the best known example would be Hridayananda Goswami, born Howard Resnick. He joined the Hare Krishnas while at Berkeley in 1969, ultimately earning a Ph.D. in Sanskrit and Indology from Harvard.
What makes me think that something like this might be happening today?
Strong Signs of Young Jewish Interest in Jesus Today
We’re living in turbulent times again. America is deeply divided and radical student movements are on the rise. And while many millennials are dropping out of organized religion, they’re still on a spiritual search.
I don’t know that young people today are looking for spiritual answers at the same level we were during the counterculture revolution. Nor do I have evidence of a growing groundswell of conversions among millennials, parallel to what happened when I came to faith.
At the same time, the results of a new Barna poll, commissioned by Jews for Jesus, are raising many eyebrows. It’s producing headline like this in the Jerusalem Post: “STUDY: ONE-FIFTH OF JEWISH MILLENNIALS BELIEVE JESUS IS THE SON OF GOD.” What a headline!
Yes, Jews for Jesus financed the poll. But the Barna Group, which conducted the research, is highly respected. So, the results must be seriously evaluated rather than discarded as religious propaganda.
In sum, “These young adults [born between 1984 and 1999] describe themselves as religious, and practice Jewish ritual, but are unaffiliated. They value tradition and family, but don’t plan on marrying only Jews. They are proud to be Jewish, but don’t feel that contradicts with practicing other religion.”
Accordingly, there was ample evidence of assimilation and syncretism, with 42 percent of the respondents saying that they practiced Christmas. (A 2013 Pew Research poll, cited in the article, found that one third of its Jewish respondents celebrated Christmas.)
Nearly Half of Jewish Millennials Hold High View of Jesus
And when it came to beliefs about Jesus, the results were stunning: “The survey found that 21 percent of Jewish millennials believe Jesus was ‘God in human form who lived among people in the 1st century.’ And 28 percent ‘see him as a rabbi or spiritual leader, but not God.’”
This means that a whopping 49 percent of Jewish millennials see Jesus as either God incarnate or as a rabbi or spiritual leader. That’s a massive figure no matter how you parse it. This is not far from the Pew poll of 2013, which surveyed American Jews of all ages. It found that “34 percent said belief in Jesus as the Messiah was compatible with being Jewish.”
Of course, among very religious Jews, the findings would be quite different. But the fact that so many Jewish young people see Jesus as a spiritual leader, rabbi, or more is huge.
I can’t verify this from my own experience with Jewish millennials. And, when it comes to Jewish assimilation, as the poll indicates, there’s cause for concern. But for those who have eyes to see, there is much greater Jewish openness to Jesus the Messiah than in the past.
This is great news for those of us involved in Jewish outreach. It should inspire all Christians to pray with special focus for Jewish millennials today. May they truly encounter Jesus-Yeshua their Messiah!