King's Evangelical Divinity School

23 November 2009

Stephen Sizer as Anti-Replacement Theology Champion?

I note Stephen Sizer will be speaking at Bethlehem Bible College's Christ at the Checkpoint conference (March 2010), aimed at promoting a reading and reflection upon Scripture from a distinctly Palestinian perspective. The title of Sizer's paper is "Israel and the Church: Challenging Zionism, Anti-Semitism and Replacement Theology."

Let's leave aside for the moment the supercessionist-heavy list of speakers (excluding, of course, Walter Kaiser, a respected theologian taking the opposite view), which suggests there is unlikely to be a much-needed Evangelical theological breakthrough on the Israeli-Palestinian issue at this conference and instead yet more preaching to the choir and plenty of back-slapping. If only those critical of Christian Zionism could intelligently disengage it from supercessionism, they might find they'd command wider support.

Anyway, the notion of Stephen challenging replacement theology appears somewhat incongruous. In the past, several other supercessionists have tried (not very successfully) to distance themselves from the label "replacement theology". You see, ditching punitive supercessionism while holding to variations of either economic or structural supercessionism (see R. Kendall Soulen's useful book The God of Israel and Christian Theology for definitions of the terminology) doesn't qualify as having eschewed replacement theology. True, there are technical differences between these variations of supercessionism, nonetheless all mean the same thing semantically and theologically: whether one maintains Israel has been replaced or subsumed by, or redefined/extended in light of the Church, however one chooses to word it, it is still replacement theology in concept and outcome. God's historic people are superceded.

Thus, given how, in our correspondence last year Stephen stated categorially the Jews are no longer God's chosen people, I will be interested to see how exactly he intends to challenge replacement theology. At the very least his paper's title is disingenuous, even misleading. It is certainly amusing. At the risk of sounding pejorative, it's like the Pope presenting a paper challenging Catholicism, or Benny Hinn criticising the excesses of Charismaticism. Though no doubt it will be embraced with gusto at the conference, it just won't wash across the wider theological world.


Anonymous said...

Calvin - Can I ask why you feel the need to see this as replacement theology? I had never given any consideration to the existence of replacement theology when I was a mild Christian Zionist. It seems to be an attempt to form an Hegelian type dialectic between Christian Zionism and those opposed to political zionism.
Can it be that when people are labelled as replacement theologians then it is easier to dismiss them as being anti-semitic? If not what is the reason? If we are to move the debate forward we surely have to come away from steriotypes and labels and approach theology afresh.
Those who believe the Kingdom of God is for Jews as well as gentiles seek to love Jews, and ultimately as a people they are still loved even in divorce from God and thus not replaced in God's love, although the old ways of Judaism and political, nationalistic zionism can have no place in Christ and cannot bear the fruit that God desires outside of Him.
Andrew Sibley

Calvin L. Smith said...

See what, exactly, as replacement theology? Supercessionism? Your question is unclear.

Concerning a dialectical approach, this is somewhat disingenuous, even curious. Have you directed that question to Stephen, who has made his name by criticing Christian Zionism? For my part, I'm on the record academically seeking to disengage supercessionism from criticism of Christian Zionism. Did you not read my comment about the need for more of this?

Concerning your reference to anti-Semitism, what are you talking about? Yes, some critics of Sizer and others level that charge (sometimes unfairly, other times because comments against Israel are expressed far too pejoratively, even hysterically). Conversely, however, the other side too often accuses those disagreeing with it theologically as playing the anti-Semitic card.
It goes both ways. As for me, my record and the nature of my theological comment speak for themselves, so your implicit suggestion is, frankly, somewhat beneath you.

Since you raise the issue of Jews needing to hear the Gospel, I couldn't agree more. Unfortunately, the pejorative supercessionism we hear all too often makes that so much more difficult, as I know from personal experience. Why should Jews consider listening to the Gospel when some Christians are so fiercely anti-Israel?

Anonymous said...

Dear Calvin - my comments were not meant as a personal attack on you, and apologies if I gave that impression, and I appreciate that you do seek dialogue as well. But it seems to me that Stephen Sizer is also going out of his way to address the problems of anti-semitism and replacement theology as well, so I don't think he is being 'misleading' or 'disingenuous'.

You also wrote "...all mean the same thing semantically and theologically: whether one maintains Israel has been replaced or subsumed by, or redefined/extended in light of the Church, however one chooses to word it, it is still replacement theology in concept and outcome." I read that as in part a criticism of my own position because I have sought to understand the church as being in continuity with biblical Israel. I don't know whether you have read my book yet, but in it I have tried to be faithful to what I believe the Bible teaches, and faithful to the character of Christ in loving all, Gentiles, Jews & Palestinians. I have tried to extend as much grace as possible to those I disagree with.

I would like to ask though what is the bottom line for you that makes people supercessionists? I suspect it is beyond what I could agree with, even though I believe that God does still wish to include Jews in the Kingdom of God.
Kind regards Andrew Sibley

James said...

If Stephen Sizer "is going out of his way to address the problems of anti-semitism" could you please explain why he sent out antisemitic emails, why he has written about the "Jewish lobby", why he had contact with the Holocaust denier Israel Shamir, and why he directed readers to a book review by a contributor to the antisemitic Ziopedia site? And why he threatens those who dare to challenge such things with police action? I wonder whether you were aware of these aspects of his output?

Anonymous said...

In plain English replacement theology shuold say that the people of God have been rejected and end the debate. Who cares if you go against the Scriptures...? The Christian? Ask the crusaders, ask the inquisitor, ask the
"Church" They will tell you that the people of God is no more, but these people iether do not know how to read or are donkies reading the Scriptures because if Paul said "The people of God" that means that, that people is property of God ,and I know of no Christian that could take them away from Him. Now if the Hebrews weere the people of God before and after Jesus and if Jesus said to the samaritan lady "Salvation is from the Jews" is logical that is you take the Jews out You have no salvation and if you leave the Jews in then the "Church is the one that have to disapear. That is the reason why you have to be grafted in so you do not disapear. You will form part of the people of God, that was before Jesus and is after Jesus, other wise get Mary the mother of Jesus out of the picture and with her get all the diciples out including Mary Magdalene. But if you get them out you will have cero Gospel. Romans 11: 1. God hgave not rejected his people.

Anonymous said...

You are like all Christians: Not a fair ppeople

James said...

Also Andrew,
God's character is to hate divorce, so how can it possibly be, as you say, that the Jewish people are in divorce from him?

Anonymous said...

James this is what Jeremiah 3:6-11 says
6 During the reign of King Josiah, the LORD said to me, "Have you seen what faithless Israel has done? She has gone up on every high hill and under every spreading tree and has committed adultery there. 7 I thought that after she had done all this she would return to me but she did not, and her unfaithful sister Judah saw it. 8 I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries. Yet I saw that her unfaithful sister Judah had no fear; she also went out and committed adultery. 9 Because Israel's immorality mattered so little to her, she defiled the land and committed adultery with stone and wood. 10 In spite of all this, her unfaithful sister Judah did not return to me with all her heart, but only in pretense," declares the LORD. 11 The LORD said to me, "Faithless Israel is more righteous than unfaithful Judah.
God does hate divorce, but he hates adultery (idolatry in this case) more. Note also the distinction here between Israel and Judah, and if you read the rest of the passage Judah and Israel are promised reunion - but its a long story.

zachary esterson said...

“Christian Zionism’s particular reading of history and contemporary events … sets Israel and the Jewish people apart from other peoples in the Middle East… it justifies the endemic racism intrinsic to Zionism, exacerbates tensions between Jews and Palestinians and undermines attempts to find a peaceful resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, all because ‘the Bible tells them so.’”

That is spectacular.

The traditional Christianity, to which Sizer otherwise seems to subscribe, holds that Jews have indeed been “set apart”, by manifest dispossession of temple, Jerusalem and land, precisely because de-selected by g-d in favour of gentile, largely Greco-Roman Christians.

By Sizer’s reading, traditional Christian anti-Zionism is also Zionist.

What about the traditional middle eastern (never mind European) Christianity and Islam that also “set apart” Jews, and then worked to drive them from the Arab, Islamic (never mind European Christian) world altogether?

I think Sizer is a mite confused. Hardly a systematic theologian. Or historian. No wonder he keeps his comments turned off.

Susan said...

Sorry, I've read the Gospels and parts of the Gospels are so hate filled towards Jews that I feel sick to my stomach reading large parts of the Gospels.

I don't buy your fake show of love.

I am only speaking for myself personally, but as a Jew, I couldn't resist commenting.

zachary esterson said...

Patristic Christianity is anti-Zionist (to use an anachronistic term in lieu of an insufficiency).

But its anti-Zionism is, for the most part, indistinguishable from anti-Judaism or, in some measure, antisemitism (again, to use anachronistic terms in lieu of an insufficiency).

In those days there was sometimes no clear distinction between any of them.

Anonymous said...

Susan - What I think is a shame is that Christianity and Judaism are so highly polarised. The Gospels I believe should be read as a struggle within Judaism between the Scribes and Pharisees, and Jesus who many Jews believed was the promised King and Messiah. The Gospel, NT writers, and apostles were themselves from the tribes of Israel (plus the Greek Luke). Christianity should thus best be seen as an extension of Judah / Israel, not its replacement. In that way Christianity is really seen in continuity with Judah/Israel and becomes a natural home for Jews.
Andrew Sibley

James said...

@ Andrew: the passage you've cited doesn't say God has divorced Israel (even for her adultery) - in fact if Judah and Israel are promised reunion and (later in Jeremiah) a new covenant then this completely undermines such a suggestion doesn't it?

@ Susan: which parts exactly? It doesn't help that most English translations translate the word "ioudaios" in John's gospel as "the Jews" rather than as the more accrate "Jewish religious leaders".

Rebecca said...

Yes, Andrew, but what you're speaking of really is a replacement of Judaism by Christianity. I'm Jewish, and while I acknowledge the kinship between Judaism and Christianity (at the very least on the shared basis of the Hebrew Scriptures), I don't see Christianity as an "extension" of Israel. I feel no need to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah - from my point of view (and that of many Jews, historically), he did not fulfill the messianic promises of the Bible. He did not usher in an era of peace among all peoples, nor did he restore Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel. The world continued on its wicked way after his lamentable death.

And from my point of view, both the scribes and the Pharisees are at the root of the type of Judaism I practice - rabbinic Judaism. The New Testament portrayal of both is an unfair caricature.

You, of course, are free to disagree with me, but I think that you should be aware that almost all Jews do not consider Christianity to be an extension of Israel.

James said...

I'm Jewish and I believe Jesus is the promised Messiah for both Israel and the nations. Rebecca - if you want to know why I believe that (and why I believe there are good answers to the very genuine questions you have raised), I'd be happy to explain. Like you I see Sizer as introducing very dangerous antisemitic motifs into Christian discourse on the Middle East - a shame that Andrew seems unable to grasp that, but good that Calvin does!

Stuart said...

I hope that it's not inappropriate to comment on this here. But bloggers are coming together after it emerged that Stephen Sizer called the police in on the fine Messianic Jewish Seismic Shock

We wish to show our solidarity with Seismic Shock who has been the victim of intimidation for shining a spotlight on the anti-Zionist theology of Reverend Stephen Sizer.

Calvin L. Smith said...

Yes, I saw this (who didn't? Seems the whole blogosphere's talking about it.) I thought I'd comment in due course, when the dust has settled a little.

Anonymous said...

The replacement theology supporter calls himself the "anti-replacement theologitian".This remind me the Russian saying:the thief cries:stop thieft!