Israel and the Church: A Common Heritage and an Uncertain Future
(London, 8 – 9 October 2010)
The aim of this two-day conference, held at the London School of Theology, was to raise awareness within the Church of an alternative to the often polarised debate between supporters of Israel and the Arab population in Israel and the disputed territories. Speakers were Drs Darrell Bock (Dallas Theological Seminary), Mitch Glaser (Chosen People Ministries), Jules Gomes (Liverpool Cathedral), Richard Harvey (All Nations Christian College), Barry Horner and Calvin Smith (King’s Evangelical Divinity School). The event culminated with a concert by Nashville Messianic artist Marty Goetz. Jointly organised by Chosen People Ministries and King’s Evangelical Divinity School, the conference eventually involved most of the evangelistic works among the Jewish people in the United Kingdom. The conference hall was packed, and the presentations were at once direct and conciliatory in tone. The final session, modelled on the BBC’s Question Time programme, permitted delegates to raise questions with a panel comprising the various speakers.
During the conference, responses among speakers to the current Middle East conflict (including issues such as the land) were varied and nuanced. Yet all speakers were united in their challenge to supersessionism, affirming instead God’s continued plan and purpose for the Jewish people. The speakers also highlighted and eschewed the highly polarised and divisive nature of the current debate between supporters of both Israel and the Palestinian people, calling for greater objectivity and Christian charity towards fellow brothers and sisters in Christ holding opposing viewpoints. The conference also explored the detrimental impact caused by the unnecessarily pejorative language of the current debate, including how polarisation of opinion is causing Church disunity, how polemical anti-Israel and anti-Christian Zionist rhetoric is impacting Messianic Jewish identity and its relations with the Church, and the effects upon Jewish evangelism. All speakers also affirmed the need to share the gospel with both Jews and Muslims.
A conference volume is planned and additional papers to complement those delivered at the conference have been commissioned. Audio and video recordings and further details of the event are available through the websites of both host organisations (see below). It is our hope that as people become aware of this conference the tone of the debate will change somewhat, while replacement theology will give way to a greater appreciation of God’s continued plan and purpose for the Jewish people.
Calvin - can I make a few comments on your press release. It states '...affirming instead God’s continued plan and purpose for the Jewish people.' Can I ask what you mean by this? If that plan and purpose is in Christ then that is something Covenantalists can and would affirm.
There does seem to be a reluctance here to acknowledge that there are theologians who are trying to move away from supercessionism / replacement theology without embracing Christian Zionism. It would be helpful if this Covenantal position could be acknowledged as being distinct from replacement theology. Can I suggest you read Tom Wright's book, Justification: God's Plan and Paul's Vision, SPCK. He writes for instance about God's 'single-saving-plan-through-Israel-for-the-world-now-fulfilled-in-the-Messiah, Jesus.'p.74-75 and he specifically rejects the charge that he is ascribing supercessionism to Paul. p.120. In other words, he agrees with Soulen's premise that Israel must be included in the meta-narrative, although for Wright it is Israel in Christ.
Having studied enlightenment philosophy I am well aware how Hegelian dialtectics work; by setting up polarities between thesis and antithesis so that a new synthesis can be established. Surely we should be trying to accurately understand positions and move away from poor or false representations. Then we can break down the dialectic so that a true biblical position can be established. I think the Covenantal theology is a very positive one for Messianic Jews - and I have already said that polemics and rhetoric are not always helpful in building dialogue and leading people into Christian truths.
Andrew, the press release has been agreed by the organisers and conference speakers beforehand, and as such is non-negotiable. It will not be modified or changed as a result of comments posted here. Further details on our position will be available in the more detailed conference report in due course.I am very happy to respond to the issues you raise, but any such comment represents my personal viewpoint rather than that representing of conference participants. Let me know, therefore, if you still want me to respond.
In the meantime, any suggestion the conference was somehow polarising or polemic is not convincing. Speaking with people from all sides of the debate after the event, the consensus seems to be it was thoughtful and did not reduce issues to a simple either/or. (Indeed, in your email to me afterwards you yourself acknowledged there was plenty of food for thought there.)
Andrew, not being pejorative or polarizing doesn't mean ditching our views, but rather seeking to express them graciously and with respect towards those Christian brothers we strongly disagree with. Which reminds me (and as I asked several times, but so far without response during our discussion in the last couple of posts), have you raised the issue yet of pejorative and unhelpful language with the Christian brother in question? I ask yet again because if you felt the above statement was somehow offensive or hurtful, you must feel positively wounded by the dogmatic declaration that millions of sincere Christians worldwide are "deviant heretics" because they believe God has restored the Jewish people to the land God originally gave them in the Old Testament.
Hi Calvin - I don't expect you to change the wording as I recognise it is already issued. I just feel a sense of frustration that there is no recognition that there are those of us trying to develop an understanding of Israel and the Church that is Covenantal (i.e. unity and continuity with biblical Israel) and not replacementist. (Infact I heard Richard Harvey say that even Messianic Jews suffer from the accusation of being supercessionist). You may comment in your own capacity if you wish. And there was indeed a lot of useful material in the conference which I enjoyed.
No I haven't raised this issue with said Reverend. I think his comments were aimed at extreme teaching that, for instance, seeks to expand the borders and deny the human rights of Palestinians (many Christian), rebuild the temple, find red heifers, and set aside the sacrificial work of Christ, and ultimately force Israel into a war against the Arab nations it cannot win. There are some teachings that need to be described as heresy, but clearly not all Christian zionists hold to those extreme forms. I don't think his statements were aimed at those who simply believe that Jews have been brought into the land by God i.e. the milder form of Christian Zionism. There is also a difference between insensitive comments on the one hand and driving nations to war on the other.
As you know when studying people's theological views, there is a need to give greater weight to published material and not to one off statements that may not fully reflect accuractely someone's position. I would prefer to judge someone's views on that basis.
Anyway I am trying to move the conversation away from said Revd. to a leading (even if now ex) Bishop.
Not sure how published material outside books doesn't count(aren't you getting mixed-up with differentiating non-published, off-the-cuff statements from published statements?). Besides, doesn't his book label CZs heretics too? The word is liberally sprinkled in promos. But I think you're probably right to move on. My experience in some previously sympathetic circles is that his views are waning in popularity.
Concerning para 1, there are plenty of people holding that view I think. For them Israel is subsumed into the Church, which takes over the promises. Nonetheless, it is argued, the promises of Israel continue, serving as a defence from the charge of supercessionism. But isn't this just simply semantics? In Romans 9-11 we see Gentiles benefiting from them, yet ultimately the promises come full circle to incorporate God's historical covenant people as a distinct corporate entity. Thus one day they will "look upon him whom they pierced". As one speaker at the conference pointed out, promises expanded to cover all peoples in no way negates their ultimate fulfilment incorporating Israel.
You see, too often the language of expansion of the promises becomes a device to push either an economic of structural supercessionist model, that is, the view that says "God has finished with Israel" (cf Rom 11:1). But I rather think this is precisely what you meant in your first comment, that Israel survives, but only through the Church (that is, semantically), that there is no further divine dealing with His historical people as a distinct corporate entity (note I am not referring to dual covenantalism here, simply God's ongoing plans and purpose for Israel). Please do correct me if I have misunderstood you.
Calvin - the Covenantal position is absolutely not about semantics, but about a literal view of Israel as the Church, in terms of ethnicity, legality and spirituality. Jesus was a Jew/Israelite, as were the disciples and the 120 men in the upper room; as were the 3000 Israelites saved on the day of Pentecost, as were those Jews and Israelites who converted as far a field as Rome, Pontus, Etheopia and Egypt. This is the root that Gentiles were being grafted into in Romans 9-11; a profoundly Israelite root; and it is a root that Jews can be, are being, and will be, grafted into.
It is an approach that also seeks to read the New Testament, including the Gospels, in light of the Old Testament. Much of our western teaching focuses on the parables of Jesus as moral stories without engaging in the subtle Jewish message being told by Jesus (and retold by John) from the OT. Consider the story of Nathanel's calling - it is pregnant with OT references for those willing to delve below the surface. Compare Nathanael's declaration of Jesus as the King of Israel (John 1) with Nathan's prophecy about David's lineage and the promise to build his house (1 Chron 17). Or the reference to angels descending from and ascending to heaven with Jacob's dream at a place Jacob called Bethel - the house of God. I believe the Covenantal position is neither economically supercessionist, nor structurally supercessionist, because it strongly includes Israel in the meta-narrative in Christ and embraces all that God has done through biblical Israel.
God now wishes to bring the remainder of Jews into Christ and Christians should demonstrate the love of God to Jews. God has a purpose for them, but I believe it is in unity with Gentiles in Christ.
Jewish roots of Christianity and Jewish-Christian interpretation (your second para) is quite one thing. Only an exegetical novice would deny an understanding of Jewish culture, religion and literature do not shed light on the interpretation of the Bible. So I don't think you're conceding anything there.
But you speak of Israel joining the Church, rather than the other way around (compare this with Paul's analogy of the cultivated olive tree). You also speak of a remainder joining, not the whole house of Israel, even though Paul speaks of a remnant "at the present time", while later (eschatologically) "all Israel" (ie the house of Israel) will be saved. In short, what you describe merely suggests Israel is subsumed into the Church, not vice versa, it is swallowed up by the Church which takes over the promises given to Israel. But because this then allows you to say israel survives and the promises continue, this is not supercessionism. I suggest, therefore, this position is indeed thoroughly semantic - supercessionism in all but name. Changing the terminology won't alter that... whether so-called "fulfilment theology" or whatever.
You see, personally, I think those who reject God's continued plan and purpose for Israel have been stung by accusations of replacement theology and supercessionism, and have therefore adapted their language which is much more sophisticated. But upon close scrutiny it means pretty much the same thing.
Calvin - you are stretching my words to make my comments say something different to my intention. Let me clarify - the teaching is that Israel is the Church and the Church is Israel. John Calvin believed in the eternal church from Adam to Abraham through Israel to Christ. The LXX calls the congregation of Israel in the Sinai wilderness the Ekklesia. Calvin believed it was the church in immaturity with muturity coming through Christ. i.e. the church of Israel today is in unity and continuity with biblical Israel.
Does Christian Zionism need to misrepresent this teaching in order to justify its own position?
I don't feel 'stung' by the claims of supercessinism, just frustrated that you cannot even understand the teaching. Christian Zionism from the start has had to establish a dialectic by falsely painting those who hold to reformed teaching as supercessionist in order to carve out a place for itself.
Forget Calvin, CZ and your attempt to suggest all Reformed people hold your view (they certainly do not). Let's leave aside too your frustration (and suggestion I'm somehow a CZ who draws on a false dialectic simply to defend my views), and instead let's get to the nub of it, shall we? For you Israel is subsumed into the Church, so that the two are now one and the same thing, yes? Outside the Church Israel retains no continued plan and purpose as a distinct people, correct?
Calvin - I wouldn't use the word 'subsumed' preferring 'unity and continuity.'
Israel is I believe a spiritual title conferred upon those who are in submission to God. The State of Israel I believe does not have a right to the title outside of Christ. Indeed it is only in the 20th century when the State of Israel arose that Christians began looking upon Jews as forming 'Israel.' It is more accurately a state of Judah.
I believe that God still loves Jews and wishes to bring them into Christ in unity with Gentiles.
"I wouldn't use the word 'subsumed' preferring 'unity and continuity.'"
Like I said, semantics. Again, you believe outside the Church Israel retains no continued plan and purpose as a distinct people, correct?
"It is only in the 20th century when the State of Israel arose that Christians began looking upon Jews as forming 'Israel.'"
Andrew, this is quite wrong. There's a long history of this in the Church and I'm rather surprised you don't appear to know about it. Meanwhile, the spiritualisation of the term Israel, especially in light of Romans 9-11, seems like hermeneutical gymnastics.
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