Calvin Smith has done the world a huge favour by producing this book, which seeks to provide a biblical response to the recent wave of anti-Israel sentiments being expressed by some voices within the church.
I am only part-way through reading it, but am pleased to say that it succeeds on every count, and I have no hesitation in awarding it five stars.
(1) It is broad - the authors come from a wide range of church backgrounds and theological positions. This shows that a positive view of Israel and the Jewish people is a mainstream approach that is not confined to a minority of christians (who are often falsely condemned as extremists).
(2) It is deep - there is no proof-texting or shallow arguments. The authors are mostly academic theologians who carefully analyse what the Bible says. Their conclusions are robust and will stand up to the most rigorous scrutiny.
(3) It is balanced - all viewpoints are carefully considered, and the authors are not afraid to criticise the Christian Zionist movement when appropriate. Unbiblical views such as dual covenant theology and an uncritical attitude towards the state of Israel are explicitly rejected.
(4) It is gracious - the authors have avoided polemic language and personal attacks. Their views are expressed in a gentle and considered fashion which does them great credit, especially given the contentious nature of the subject.
(5) It is accessible - technical terms are avoided and it can read by anyone. It can be understood by a lay person yet is also sufficiently detailed to be of value to church leaders and the academic world.
A special note for messianic Jewish readers - whilst most of the authors are writing from a gentile Christian perspective, the book is extremely relevant to the messianic community, not least because of its content and the quality of its scholarship.
I will try to write a more detailed review when I've finished it, but I know my conclusions will not change and want to commend it immediately.
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Supersessionism isn't a doctrine that belongs to a checklist in order to determine who is a part of a certain theological persuasion. It is something that, though not as central as Christ, is fundamental in the interpretation of Old and New Testament prophecy (eschatology), and, in opposition to the claims of most covenantalists shows forth a continuity between the testaments that has more integrity with what biblical passages (in their own context) actually say, than the way most supersessionists interpret scripture. While upholding biblical truth, about God's future purposes concerning the nation of Israel, it doesn't treat Jewish people with a view that they can do no wrong and neither does it claim that Israel is wholly responsible for the problems in the middle east. As Calvin writes, "If Christian Zionists are to avoid an 'Israel right or wrong' mentality, by the same token, Christian Palestinianism should reject an 'Israel is ALWAYS wrong' position. The evidence on the ground suggests this is simply not true. I would much prefer to be a Christian in Israel, despite the problems they face there, than in many Muslim countries." Hermeneutically speaking when we pay attention to Jacob Prasch's contribution and note the real sitz im leben of a number of Pauline letters, our interpretation of scripture may be less polarised and more controlled, in the whole literal/symbolic debate than has appeared from the time of the Alexandrians and Antiochenes. I well recommend this book for its honesty and integrity in relating these truths, taught in scripture, to the present situation in Israel today.
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There is much to gain and to commend in this small volume. It represents the formal output of a weekend conference, and gains colour and depth from the diversity of strengths and perception of the participants. It steers carefully between the tidal force of anti-Zionist hatred which is still rising in evangelical churches and the uncritical and often unevangelistic devotion to Israel, sometimes verging on idolatry, expressed by some dispensationalist believers. Yet, as might be expected in such slippery heights, in places the volume yields significant concessions to either camp. Nevertheless its principal fault is that, like many conference proceedings, it lacks focus. What is the formal definition of the error of supercession, what lies at its root? This is the crucial issue - given its pivotal role in the genesis of Christian hatred of the Jews and of reinforcing Jewish prejudice against the Messiah. Is it the proposal that the land promise has been allegorised away (Vantassel and to some extent Tony Pearce), a failure of hermeneutical method (Prasch's fascinating and insightful chapter), a faulty eschatology (Wilkinson), a failure to incorporate a vital thread in the metanarrative of scripture (Smith), faulty exegesis of the term Israel in the NT (Cheung), or an irreversible transfer of Tenach promises given from Israel to the Church (Taylor). All these observations contain considerable weight and validity, but how useful are they at identifying the spring of the problem, and just as importantly the route to the solution?
I suggest it is Vantassel and Wilkinson who come closest to the solution, by reason of their proximity to the Puritan theologians who possess clarity of sight of the skeleton of scripture. Perhaps it is a lack of acquaintance with writers like John Owen, John Gill, or Goodwin that deprives them of the insight that such early Christian Zionists (though they would no doubt be surprised at the label) were driven not so much by their conviction about the timing of millennium (on which they differed), but by their primary focus on the Divine covenants as both keys and seals to the glorious purpose of scripture. Far from being hostile to a conviction of God's ongoing purpose for the Jewish people and an ardent expectation of their return to the Holy Land, as Vantassel suggests, these principles deeply undergirded them. Many covenant and reformed theologians today are explicitly anti-Zionistic, Robert Reymond, Palmer Robertson, and William Hendriksen to name but three, and they cite their covenant theology in defence. However they are deeply out of harmony with many if not most other writers from the same school, John Murray, Jonathan Edwards or their many Puritan forebears, as Iain Murray points out in his defence of post-milleniallism the Puritan Hope. I do not suggest that the solution to a modern problem will be found ready made in their writings. Even Gill and Owen, though princes of covenant theology, are not always consistent with each other or with self in writing on the land promise. However their burning priority to understand scripture by the great landmarks of the Divine covenants is instructive. Their intricate and sometimes paradoxical interrelation is the root that bears the olive branches, both wild and native. This root misperceived has lead to a wide variety of ecclesiological and theological errors, and it is this root to which we must look for the real cause of supercessionism, both of the old kind and much more especially of the new.
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