Faces of Bethel: Gunnar Shipley

May 19, 2014 | 11 a.m.

Culture | Cherie Suonvieri

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Sophomore Gunnar Shipley is a biblical and theological studies major and identifies himself as a Messianic Jew.

At Bethel, there seems to be a special emphasis on the need for diversity throughout the community—cultural diversity, socioeconomic diversity, political diversity. When it comes to religious diversity, however, people begin to tiptoe away as if they’re walking on thin ice.

It’s often assumed that ‘Bethel student’ is synonymous with ‘Christian.’ Anything else will typically catch someone off guard. This creates a challenging environment for individuals who don’t identify as Christian, particularly when their beliefs call them to live lives according to standards to which evangelical Christianity doesn’t adhere.

Bethel sophomore Gunnar Shipley is a biblical and theological studies major and identifies as a Messianic Jew. Hailing from small-town Newton, Iowa, Shipley is ethnically Jewish. The difference between the religion he inherited and his current worldview is that he—like other Messianic Jews—sees Jesus as the Messiah.  

“We call him Yeshua, which is His Hebrew or Aramaic name,” he said.

Messianic Judaism is similar to Christianity in this aspect, but differs in that Messianic Jews believe that the Law of Moses is still binding.

“Otherwise, we’re pretty much the same,” Shipley laughed. “The sad thing is, lots of Christians don’t accept us, and mainstream Judaism doesn’t accept us, so we’re kind of in the middle.”

Despite what one might assume, Shipley didn’t grow up practicing Messianic Judaism. His father, though ethnically Jewish, is a practicing Christian. Spurred by curiosity, Shipley set out two years ago to learn more about his cultural roots and found himself at a Messianic synagogue.

“I felt more at home there, and their theology made more sense to me,” Shipley said. “That’s why I stuck around.”

Though Shipley feels more at peace with Messianic Judaism, theological conversations on a Christian campus present a challenge.

Nick Garrard, assitant rabbi at the Messianic Synagogue Shipley attends, Kehilat Sar Shalom, was able to weigh in on this conversation, having spent part of his academic career at Crown College.

"Professors often teach doctrine that diminishes the Torah," he said. "This can be a stab in the heart for someon who sees the Torah as the precious word of God, holy righteous and good."

Often being the only one of his persuasion, Shipley has come to accept the differing perspectives.

“I’m not here to change people’s minds. I’ll give you my opinion and leave it at that,” he said.

Shipley shared that overall, his professors have been accepting of his beliefs, but students often react in confusion.

'It’s kind of sad to me… It confuses [students] to see a Jewish Christian, when in reality [Judaism is] what started Christianity,” Shipley said. “Lots of people assume that I’m not a Christian, which is kind of annoying, but I guess I don’t blame them.”

Living out a Jewish lifestyle on Bethel’s campus has other challenges, particularly when it comes to food. Shipley said the Law—or the Torah, as Jews prefer to call it—says that if a pan or pot comes into contact with unclean food, such as pork, that dish is unclean as well. Under these beliefs, most cooking utensils in public food service, and consequently the food, would be considered unclean.

 “It kind of takes away the Christian’s ability to witness to Jews, because Jews don’t want to eat with you if the food is unclean,” Shipley said, going on to explain what he considers to be the saddest part.

 “Jews’ idea of modern Christianity has turned them off so completely that they don’t even entertain the thought anymore,” he said.

Shipley has made it his goal to reconcile across this divide—not necessarily to be a “missionary,” because, as he noted, Jews dislike the term—but rather to simply bring the Gospel to the Jews.

“And the rest of the world,” he added.

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