ISRAEL: THE APPLE OF SCOFIELD’S EYE
In this and the next several issues of our newsletter, I will consider the biblical role of Israel in Scripture and prophecy. Few theological and eschatological issues parallel in significance that of Israel. This is especially of interest to us in our "Dispensationalism in Transition" newsletter because Israel is the key to the outworking of dispensational theology -- whether of the progressive (Bock, Blaising, Saucy) type or the revised (Ryrie, Walvoord, Pentecost) type. In fact, the role of Israel is THE constant in the evolving system of dispensationalism which is, as we say, "in transition."
MY PURPOSES FOR THIS SERIES
In this series I will seek to accomplish three tasks that should be of interest to our readers:
(1) As we study the matter of Israel and Scripture we will learn something of the serious internal difficulties rupturing (not "rapturing"!) the dispensational camp. This, then, will accomplish an important historical purpose. Dispensationalism is the leading evangelical theology today in terms of market presence -- though most of it is due to its unsightly offspring, Lindseyesque apocalyptic dispensationalism, from which academic progressives (wisely) demur: "It is not correct simply to identify the popular apocalypticism of Hal Lindsey with dispensationalism" (Blaising, DIC, 15n).
(2) As we study the matter of Israel and Scripture we will highlight a foundational problem endangering all brands of dispensationalism. This, then, will serve as an important apologetic tool. The ongoing debate between dispensationalism and covenantalism is important for both the development of the theological systems and, ultimately, the integrity of the Christian faith. "Iron sharpens iron."
(3) And as we study the matter of Israel and Scripture we will grow in our understanding of the redemptive-historical nature of Scripture. This, as I say above, is an important theological matter. If we are to live in terms of a Bible-based Christian worldview, big questions such as this are extremely important. Paul’s method of epistolary instruction was to lay down the theological principles, then build the practical and exhortational on that basis (see Paul’s famous "therefore" clauses, e.g., Eph. 4:1; Rom. 12:1).
This newsletter will be introductory to the series. I am a big believer in laying foundations before building a case.
MY BIBLIOGRAPHICAL RECOMMENDATION FOR THIS SERIES
As I begin this introductory issue, I would like to recommend two very important and extremely helpful books. I highly recommend these to those interested in this issue (and surely anyone downloading this newsletter will be interested!). Theology students should be building a personal research library. Of course, you can borrow ANY book you want for free by simply calling your public library and asking for the "Inter-library Loan" department. They can secure hard-to-find works and bring them right to your library. But the diligent theologue will want to build his own library with purchases of important works. Don’t be like Ring Lardner’s friend, of whom Larnder once commented: "He took me into his library and showed me his books, of which he had a complete set."
This book purchase idea may not be a good idea for revised dispensationalists, though: Who would want to buy "1980s: Countdown to Armageddon" now? Or: "88 Reasons Why the Lord Could Return in 1988?" And you know what’s going to happen to Lindsey’s latest: "Planet Earth 2000: Will Mankind Survive?" These quickly become dated and embarrassing. Why waste money on them? (As H. L. Mencken once said: "There are two kinds of books: those that no one reads and those that no one ought to read." Of course, many do buy these books, after all: When a book and a head collide and there is a hollow sound, is it always from the book?)
I consider the books I will be recommending below so essential to the question of the theological and eschatological significance of Israel that I will begin requiring them for courses I teach at Bahnsen Theological Seminary (714-572-9846 or INTERNET: BahnsenSeminary @compuserve.com). These have been extremely helpful for bolstering my understanding of the issues and in preparing this present series. The books are:
Peter W. L. Walker,
David E. Holwerda,
Any Christian with an interest in biblical theology and eschatology must face the question of the role of Israel in the plan of God. All evangelicals agree: God’s redemptive purpose in the Old Testament focuses on Israel as his special people. But all evangelicals do not agree on the answer to the questions: What is Israel’s PRESENT role in the new covenant era? What is God’s prophetic purpose for Israel in the FUTURE? These are important issues, which, if unresolved, wholly undermine one’s understanding of Scripture. These are issues separating dispensationalism from all other forms of evangelical theology.
Walker’s work is a post-doctoral treatise written under a fellowship at Tyndale House, Cambridge. He was urged to pursue this work after some lectures he gave on the New Testament and Jerusalem in 1984. As far as I can remember from reading his book, he never mentions dispensationalism (only in America do you have to mention dispensationalism). But the utility of the book for dispensational analysis is unsurpassed. The work strikes hard and deep at the root of all dispensationalism: the role and identity of Israel. And in addition it sprays Roundup in the hole from which revised dispensationalism is dug.
Questions broached in
Though the theme of the book focuses on Jerusalem, Walker necessarily deals with the three-fold realia of Israel: its city, land, and temple. Each chapter analyzes the biblical-theological perspectives of select New Testament writers on these three issues. And anyone who knows anything of the dispensational debate will instantly recognize the significance of these issues. With careful precision and clarity of expression Holwerda’s
By careful theological analysis Holwerda shows us the remarkable correspondences between the history of Israel and the life of Christ. These are not accidents of history, but are indications of Jesus’s functioning as God’s true Israel. Page after page of the Gospel record exhibit Jesus as the fulfillment of Israel. For instance, the Old Testament promises of the regathering of Israel to the Land are fulfilled in the gathering of the Jews in Christ, i.e., in salvation. With a wealth of biblical research we are brought to a greater appreciation of the depth and glory of the Scriptural story of Christ, as well as to the meaning and purpose of Israel.
Now, alas, we live in the nineties. Consequently, Political Correctness with its Siamese twin Religious Correctness move me to issue:
A WARNING TO THIN-SKINNED DISPENSATIONALISTS
If Fuzzy Zoeller can be castigated for the light-hearted remarks he made about his friend Tiger Woods winning the Masters golf tournament, I suppose I had better brace myself for potential feedback regarding my understanding of Israel. With some apocalyptic dispensationalists like Lindsey out there, my views (as the views of Holwerda and Walker) will undoubtedly be used to discredit me. (See Lindsey’s incredible
In the course of our study I will be showing that God has fulfilled the Israel-hope in Christ and the Church. Racial Israel has lost its distinctive status and special privilege: They will no longer be exalted over the gentiles and given special treatment by God. Although, as mentioned above, Israel does have a glorious future wherein they will return to the favor of God and rejoin the historical people of God -- but this is only by conversion to Jesus Christ through the same means as anyone else.
However, supersessionism (which I will be presenting and defending in this series) in no way implies that Jews should be either verbally taunted, socially ostracized, economically deprived, or physically persecuted. Indeed, the evangelical supersessionist believes they should be treated with respect ("love your neighbor as yourself") and should be evangelized ("Go, disciple all nations, baptizing them") -- like every other non-believing person.
Perhaps one of the most helpful books exposing the error of the dispensational charge is one intended to do the opposite. Dan Cohn-Sherbok, a Jew who teaches Jewish theology at the University of Kent, Canterbury, England, has written
Unfortunately for Lindsey and Ice, a closer reading of Cohn-Sherbok shows his complaint is not against reformed theology and for dispensationalism. The "sources" which he charges with anti-Semitism are non-other than the New Testament itself! Note the following citations:
"In Chapter 2 the development of Christian anti-Jewish attitudes is traced in detail. According to the writers of the Gospels, Jesus attached the leaders of the Jewish nation for their hypocrisy... In proclaiming this Christian message Paul stressed that the Jewish nation had been rejected by God, and the new covenant had superseded the old.... In these various ways the New Testament laid the foundations for later Christian hostility to the Jewish nation. The New Testament tradition served as the basis for the early Church’s vilification of the Jews...." (CJ, p. xv).
"Matthew referred to these unbelievers [Jews] as hypocrites, blind fools, and serpents.... Such a view of the Church — in opposition to the official leaders of the nation — was a starting point for the tragic history of Christian anti-Jewish vilification and attack" (CJ, pp. 14-15).
"Thus the Jewish leaders are depicted as rejecting and killing Jesus, whereas the first believer was a Roman centurion (Mark 15:39). The Good Samaritan is contrasted wit the faithless Jew (Luke 10:33). The gentiles will come from all places to sit at the Messianic banquet while the sons of the Kingdom will be cast into outer darkness" (p. 18).
What is the horrendous immorality that led Christians to persecute Jews? The declaration that Christianity is the true religion that alone can promise salvation: "In common with other groups at this time, the early Christians believed themselves to be the true Israel in opposition to official Judaism, and such a conception provided the basis for the subsequent repudiation of Judaism and the vilification of the Jews.... [T]he Jewish faith was seen as a stage on the way to Christianity rather than as an authentic religious experience with its own inherent validity" (p. 8).
Supersessionism "sin," therefore, is claiming the Jews were responsible for crucifying Christ, then having the nerve to preach that salvation only comes through (the Jew) Jesus Christ. If that is anti-Semitism, then I am guilty. And I urge you to guilty, as well. This is simply liberalism in racial dress. Or, from Lindsey and Ice’s perspective, it is blatant error due to simplistic analysis. (One thing that bothers me about apocalyptic dispensationalism is that so many of its adherent went to college. Unfortunately, some people go to college to drink deeply from the well of knowledge; some go only to sip; and too many go there only to gargle.)
So then, we will be analyzing the dispensational view of Israel, showing it to be erroneous. We will learn something of the distinctive principle of all brands of dispensationalism, the debate over Israel between progressive dispensationalists and revised dispensationalists, and the biblical conception of Israel and the people of God. Stay tuned.