A local pastor is leading a double life.

On the one hand, the Rev. Chad Foster serves as a Christian minister and director of life at St. Peter’s Lutheran in Columbus. On the other, the 42-year-old Foster also works as an ordained Messianic Jewish rabbi.

In other words, a rabbi who believes in Jesus.

And his ministry frequently sees him blending elements of those two callings.

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One of Foster’s latest efforts involves leading a free class, “Torah 1.0,” beginning at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 4 at St. Peter’s Lutheran, 719 Fifth St. The free, one-hour weekly course on the opening books of the Hebrew holy book and the Christian Bible will, among other things, highlight the deep Jewish roots of Christianity — and help Christians understand their faith in a whole new way.

“If we as Christians take seriously the idea of the call of discipleship and being a true follower of Jesus by God’s grace and becoming more like him, then we should really know who he was,” Foster said. “If Jesus were Chinese, don’t you think we’d want to know more about the Chinese?”

As he spoke, Foster sat in his small office — filled with Jewish symbols — just off the edge of the St. Peter’s sanctuary. He wore a kippa or yamuka, the traditional Jewish brimless cap that represents humility before God.

He also bore a fringed prayer shawl or tallit over his shoulders. A menorah, the nine-branched Jewish candelabrum, sat on the edge of his desk. An oversized dreidel, a Jewish toy, teetered on a book shelf.

Foster, raised in Georgia by a Jewish mother who became a Christian, long has been drawn by both Judaism and Christianity.

The Rev. Mark Teike, St. Peter’s senior pastor, first met Foster at a Lutheran Pastoral Leadership Institute gathering about five years ago. The pastor and his wife noticed Foster was wearing a yamaka.

“I’m not used to seeing Lutheran pastors wearing a yamaka, so I thought I’d better strike up a conversation,” Teike told his congregation when he first introduced Foster this summer.

Foster, who keeps the Jewish Sabbath and follows a kosher diet, took time recently to answer some questions.

What’s your calling?

I really view myself partly as a Jewish missionary to Christians to allow Christians to be exposed to the origins of their faith.

And a lot of Christians are craving that now. It’s like a new reformation in the (Christian) church … I believe that Christians need Jews. And Jews need Christians. One is incomplete without the other.

What’s your theory about Christians’ hunger for their roots?

My rabbi is convinced it’s a sign of the messiah’s imminent arrival. And I can’t exactly define what imminent means in this case.

Your office book shelf features the holy book of every major religion. You obviously respect other faiths.

I believe dialogue done in love in relationships is the way to go. I don’t want to debate Hindus. But I do love to talk to Hindus.

If we can learn to see each other as those with the image of God in one another — and yes, there still will be differences that are irreconcilable — then why can’t we partner to help others? The Buddhist and the B’hai want the homeless guy warm and well-fed as much as I do.

Why is such a view of diversity necessary needed in churches today?

If Jesus is the messiah of the nations, then a Christian congregation should reflect that.

That’s one thing I love about Judaism. It’s never an either/or thing. It’s always both/and.

Some Christians may hear all this and say, “He’s trying to change St. Peter’s Lutheran from being a Germanic Lutheran church.” But no — I am not.

Christ’s death and resurrection always are part of who I am. But they are not ALL of who I am. There’s more.

You’ve read a lot of the writings of internationally-known Catholic monk Thomas Merton, known for building bridges with faiths beyond Christianity.

Merton regularly engaged the mystic Muslim community, Buddhists, Hindus and others. His book on Zen is really amazing because he said he believes in a Zen Christianity and the idea that if something is true, then it’s true from God and for all God’s people.

And yet he never stepped away from a strong belief in Jesus Christ and his crucifixion and resurrection.

Learning of Jewish roots

What: “Torah 1.0,” a class on the Torah (the Bible’s first five books), open to anyone interested. The course will make connections of the Torah to the New Testament and the writings of early Christians, and expose the student to the Jewish roots of Messiah and Christianity.

When: 6:30 p.m. Jan. 4 through May 24 and possibly beyond.

Where: Room 2164 of St. Peter’s Lutheran School, 719 Fifth St. Enter through the main entrance off the back parking lot.

Cost: Free.

For parents: Child care provided.

Information: 812-372-1571 or http://drchad.faithweb.com/torah.html

Chad Foster

Age: 42.

Family: Married to Tricia, a nurse, since 1999. Children Julia, 13; Chalmers, 10; and Keziah, 7.

Role: Director of Life at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, 719 Fifth St. in Columbus since July.

In the past: In Murray, Kentucky, served as a pastor to one congregation and a Messianic rabbi to another fellowship.

Education: Received his rabbinical ordination in 2010 via the United Messianic Jewish Assembly. He studied at Yeshiva Kol HaTor and the Azamra Institute in Jerusalem. He has a master’s degree from Concordia Seminary in Clayton, Missouri, and a doctorate from Trinity Theological Seminary in partnership with the University of Liverpool. He was ordained as a Lutheran minister in 2001.

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Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.