Listen free for 30 days

Surprised by Christ

My Journey from Judaism to Orthodox Christianity
Narrated by: A. James Bernstein
Length: 16 hrs and 3 mins
5 out of 5 stars (2 ratings)

£7.99/month after 30 days. Cancel anytime

Summary

Raised in Queens, New York, by formerly Orthodox Jewish parents whose faith had been undermined by the Holocaust, Arnold Bernstein went on his own personal quest for spiritual meaning. He was ready to accept God in whatever form he chose to reveal himself and that form turned out to be Christ. But Bernstein soon perceived discrepancies in the various forms of Protestant belief that surrounded him, and so his quest continued - this time for the true Church. 

Surprised by Christ combines an engrossing memoir of one man's life in historic times and situations from the Six-Day War to the Civil Rights Movement to the Jesus Movement in Berkeley with an examination of the distinctives of Orthodox theology that make the Orthodox Church the true home not only for Christian Jews, but for all who seek to know God as fully as he may be known.

©2008 Ancient Faith Publishing (P)2018 Ancient Faith Publishing

What members say

Average customer ratings

Overall

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    2
  • 4 Stars
    0
  • 3 Stars
    0
  • 2 Stars
    0
  • 1 Stars
    0

Performance

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    2
  • 4 Stars
    0
  • 3 Stars
    0
  • 2 Stars
    0
  • 1 Stars
    0

Story

  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    2
  • 4 Stars
    0
  • 3 Stars
    0
  • 2 Stars
    0
  • 1 Stars
    0

Reviews - Please select the tabs below to change the source of reviews.

Sort by:
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Insightful and interesting

i thoroughly enjoyed the book although initially I took a while to get used to Fr Bernstein’s slow and deliberate delivery. However as the book got deeper in talking about Orthodox Theology I appreciated the pace of the reading as it gave me time to digest what was being said. As someone interested in what the Orthodox Church believes I found it very interesting and insightful and would throughly recommend it to anyone seeking to learn more. At the same time I discovered so much about Judaism and have a much better appreciation of it than before.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

Sort by:
  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for CLC
  • CLC
  • 25-01-19

A Wonderful Story and a Great Lecture

Every once in a while I’ll choose a book simply because it’s available. I was recently offered the chance to listen to Surprised By Christ in exchange for an honest review. Though I knew nothing about the book aside from the title, I jumped at the opportunity. Once I had an audio code, I quickly read the blurb about the book, which piqued my interest - I thought it would be fascinating to hear the author’s tale, and I looked forward to hearing him read the tale himself. I also noticed that it would be 16 hours of listening - that seemed daunting, but I jumped in and started listening.

There are a few parts to the book, but my mind has since divided the book into two sections - the story and the lesson. I LOVED the story. Reverend Bernstein shared his autobiography - from childhood in New York, to his conversion to Christianity, then his time in college and experiences in Berkeley and beyond. Each moment of the tale I felt I was sitting with a grandfather who had a wealth of tales to tell. It never got tiring. He laced his tale with details about popular culture and major historical events and figures. I loved every minute of it.

The “second half” of the book, the lesson, was equally fascinating, though it required a different level of attention. While I could listen to the leisurely story, I found that I needed to speed up the audio in order to be attentive to the lecture. Reverend Bernstein provided a comparative breakdown of many aspects of faith in the Orthodox Church, especially as compared to Protestantism. What I found even more interesting was that he also paired it with Judaism and showed how the two aren’t mutually exclusive, but how Orthodoxy is the fulfillment of the Jewish faith, showing how Christ fulfilled the law as well as prophecy, and how Christianity is still tied to its Jewish roots.

Having listened to the book in its entirety, I would listen to it again. I am also planning to purchase a hard copy of the book so that I can spend more time in the second half of the book and study the information presented. Whether you listen only for the story, or whether you follow through with the whole book, it is worth listening to. Whether you agree with the author or not, the information he presents is well thought out, reasonable, and full of scriptural references. I highly recommend this book to anyone with the time to listen.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for Anonymous User
  • Anonymous User
  • 16-01-19

Will Change Your Understanding of Christianity

Since the book "Surprised By Christ" is an intensely personal account, I'll start my review on a personal level, and disclose that I am an Orthodox Christian convert from Roman Catholicism, into which I was baptized and raised from infancy. Because of this, I have always felt somewhat handicapped at understanding both Judaism and the Old Testament. I'm very aware that I can only view either through the lens of the Western Christianity I've inherited. I don't even know the right questions to ask. I was so attracted to Judaism that in my 20s I nearly converted, myself, and that journey caused me to approach Christianity differently. Christianity views itself as a descendant from Judaism, but as modern Christians, in a culture that has claimed Christianity for so long, how much do we really understand about the relationship between our faith (Christianity) and its mother faith, Judaism? (Not much, as it turns out, which is why this book is so illuminating.)

This is what I appreciated so much about Fr James Bernstein's approach to describing his transformation from a cradle Orthodox Jew into, ultimately, an Orthodox Christian priest (via a long trek through Evangelical protestantism). Recounted in first-person autobiography, throughout the story he shares the assumptions he inherited as an Orthodox Jew and the questions they generated as he approached Christianity. It's extremely revealing to hear his reactions as he learns about his new faith after converting. For instance, much of Western Christian salvation theology finds its basis in the idea of sacrifice, which we assume directly descends from Old Testament concepts of sacrifice. But do we have the remotest understanding of what sacrifice meant to an Old Testament-era Jew? Modern Jews have retained a sense of the significance - modern Christians clearly have not. And yet, it's integral to our understanding of our life in Christ and the identity of Christ, Himself. This is just one example in which Fr James brilliantly clarifies Christian theology through the light of his Jewish background.

Do not, however, assume that this book is any kind of dry theological treatise. Important as the concepts presented are (and richly supported through scriptural references and quotes from early Christian fathers), listening to the audiobook was more like sitting down to coffee in the company of a friend, and hearing a long, lovely and fascinating story. Fr James artfully weaves together his personal thoughts and questions, experiences of spiritual growth, and encounters with significant history (a front-row seat in Israel's 6-Day War, a narrow escape from Vietnam conscription, participation in the lively Berkeley culture of the 60s and 70s). The author reads the book at a leisurely pace, which enriches the story and also makes it easier to follow when he delves into rich theology and scripture.

This book is so multi-layered it will bear repeated listening. I am very grateful to Fr James Bernstein for having written it, because it presented answers to questions I didn't know I had, but that prove critical to my understanding of my faith. If you are already a Christian, this book will enrich your understanding of Christianity in unexpected ways: be prepared to let go of what you think you know. And if you aren't a Christian, enjoy a great story that will still enlighten you about parts of our cultural history that are, in general, meagerly understood. Fr James Bernstein brings an invaluable voice to the conversation of culture, history and faith.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for Jodi S.
  • Jodi S.
  • 19-03-19

Very long but so worth it.

Surprised by Christ by Father James is amazing. I am a recent convert from Byzantine Catholicism which is close to Orthodoxy in so many ways but I have so much to learn. This book is so instrumental in helping anyone learn more about the faith. It’s a little bit biography, history both of the Church and of the life and times in which he grew up and grew in Christ.
Full disclosure- I received the audio version for free in exchange for a review and I’m so thankful. It is a wonderful book but I would not have had the time to read the actual book. It is quite long and I’m a busy mama of 6. I love his voice and it was a pleasure to listen along in the car. The only problem with that is that I couldn’t take notes. I will probably end up buying the hard copy to go back through and underline all the things that really spoke to me.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for Kristin Ulrich
  • Kristin Ulrich
  • 29-05-19

A Wonderful Surprise

Curiosity drove me to select this book. I have no connection to Judaism or any real conversion story, but the topic itself sounded crazy enough to be interesting—an Orthodox Jew converting to Orthodoxy and becoming a priest? Well, I wanted to see how that could possibly happen.

When I first started listening to this book (through Audible), I started to regret my choice. The introduction talked about how this book would be wonderful for anyone of the Jewish faith considering Orthodoxy or wishing to understand more about the connection between the Jewish faith and Orthodoxy. That was absolutely not me and I began to worry that my curiosity had driven me astray (as it has done before, from time to time). But, I continued reading and, just like the title “Surprised by Christ,” this book surprised me by how fascinating and compelling the story as well as how, convert or not, Christ has likewise surprised me in my life and continues to do so in little things every day.

The author evocatively leads us through his life, painting a picture of his childhood, his curiosity about faith, and ultimately the way all of his experiences led him to the priesthood. What struck me most was how the book made me realize how many little “conversion” events of my own I had had throughout my life—those little moments in life that led me to a deeper faith, a more profound understanding, and a reminder to keep searching. Life never takes you where you think it will, whether it is from Judaism to Orthodoxy, or from a childish understanding of faith to something more, to be more childlike rather than childish. This author and this book surprised me in the best sort of way.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for ElzabetG
  • ElzabetG
  • 17-05-19

Surprised by Depth

The positive
Surprised By Christ is an autobiography that reads like a novel underpinned by a theological treatise lived out by someone who sought and found wonder.

As a convert from evangelical Protestantism who always heard that Eastern Orthodoxy was very similar in many respects to Judaism, I have always been curious about how. I know very few Jewish people and none of them are practicing. Fr James’ book really opened up a whole new vista of understanding how the two faiths are related and where they diverge.

"Why would God want to become man? . . . Jews believed that sacrifices were not necessary for God to forgive. We held that there are no constraints on God's forgiveness other than the repentant heart of the sinner. To view a payment to God as a necessary requirement for His forgiveness was for us akin to saying that God could not absolve sin unless he was bribed. That God had become human in order to be able to forgive sins did not make sense. The belief that God the Father had to kill God the Son in the flesh (a form of God killing himself) in order to forgive sin made even less sense…
"As an Orthodox Christian, I came to understand that the focus of the Incarnation was not to enable God to forgive; the emphasis was on the healing, purification, and ultimate transfiguration of mankind. The goal of the Incarnation was to energize our fallen human nature and to make it godlike--a process variously referred to as deification, divinization, or theosis. The Orthodox teach that God in His wisdom chose to accomplish this by assuming our human nature and transforming it from within--not from without." (p278)

That quote right there solved a personal issue I had always had with the Incarnation since my evangelical Protestant life. It made no sense to be that God—Who owns everything— needed to be paid a ransom or that He would need to pay a ransom to anyone or anything else. And that was always the explanation, that Christ was either a ransom to God for us or to Death for God’s sake. These two paragraphs alone explained it simply and beautifully.

The entire book is like this.

As an audio book it reads very well. You can tell Fr James hails from Brooklyn. All of that upbringing is in his voice as he tells his story. And his storytelling is on point. Sometimes his voice can become a little “drone-y” but the story of his life and the depth of his knowledge overpower that.

The negative
There are times when he seemed to get bogged down in details but that is just me—I like things to get to a point and so Fr James’ penchant for telling the ENTIRE story around his point sometimes made me want to skip ahead but there is wisdom in that as well

4.5 stars

Full Disclosure #1: I was given an Audible credit to purchase this book in return for an honest review. Thank you for the opportunity to do this, AFP!

Full Disclosure #2: I listened to the audiobook twice and then purchased the hard copy so I could take notes in it.