Christians are divided these days about Israel. Catholics and Lutherans are repenting for past anti-Semitism. Presbyterians and Methodists are anti-Zionist and pro-Palestinian and don’t give Israel the modern nation any “special status” whatsoever in God’s purview. Dispensationalists look for the Church to either be raptured (if faithful) or fooled into following the anti-Christ (if unfaithful/apostate)…and then Israel is supposed to be back on God’s radar screen once again. Charismatics want to BE “Israel” — seemingly a “special blessing” is attached — and Evangelicals want to argue about Israel’s future, her “right” to her land, whether she can still be “saved” or not (without consciously and deliberately “accepting Jesus as God and Savior”)…and on it goes. Some Messianic Jewish believers want to “trust Jesus” AND “keep the Law”, some One New Man followers are advocating freedom to eat bacon sandwiches, etc. So how can the same Scripture yield so many points of view on such a seemingly limited subject?
First of all, we need to ask ourselves how we are supposed to view Scripture as a whole. As my blog would seem to indicate, I am biased in the direction of the early Church father St. Irenaeus, who upheld a “salvation-history” orientation to his theology, as being the primal, apostolic worldview of Scripture. That meant, among other things, that “history” was not just a “neutral” template on which God or people could write out or act out their personal preferences or agendas (whether good or bad); rather, it was PART AND PARCEL of God’s own activity to bring about His redemptive plan for humankind. Thus, from Genesis to Revelation, Scripture had a covenantal “story” to it, involving creation, fall, judgment, second chances, God’s covenant with Abraham, the Exodus, the Law, the Conquest, judges, kings, a Temple, an exile (actually, two!), a return, prophetic hopes of a coming Messiah and Kingdom, the Incarnation, Atonement, Resurrection, Ascension, Pentecost, apostolic Church, New Testament instruction, a worldwide preaching mission to the nations, a prophesied time of apostasy/”falling away”, Israel’s physical and spiritual restoration, the return of Christ, the Kingdom on earth during a time of the “restoration of all things”, final judgment, and an eternal New Heavens and New Earth. — This is a straight-forward, face-value reading of Scripture and its own viewpoint of salvation-history, including the role of Israel in the mix. Surely then, our slant on how to view Israel should develop out of that biblical theological viewpoint?
If it does, then — if we compare Scripture with a survey of our own “place” in the unfolding of history today — we surely find that we are at the point of the “apostasy” of parts of the Church, following the outreach to every last tongue, tribe and nation, and the physical restoration of the nation of Israel (1948) and the city of Jerusalem (1967). What is yet lacking is Israel’s last days spiritual “awakening” to her Messiah (Rom. 11:26, etc.) — and the faithful Church’s “One New Man” union with her under Messiah Jesus Himself. This “return to Jewish roots” is not just historical and spiritual, but also very much theological: we need to let the old “biblical-classical synthesis” of the Western Church break down, and rethink and rework biblical Christianity in a less “Greek” orientation, as St. Irenaeus originally did in his “‘Against Heresies” (5 volumes) and “Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching”. Modern presentations of this type of theological understanding can be found in J. C. K. von Hofmann (“Interpreting the Bible”), Oscar Cullmann (especially in his “The Early Church”, “Christ and Time”, and “Salvation in History”), George Eldon Ladd (“The Blessed Hope”, “Crucial Questions About the Kingdom of God”, “The Pattern of New Testament Truth”, “I Believe in the Resurrection”, and “The Last Things”), Robert Saucy (“The Case for Progressive Dispensationalism”), and Dan Juster and Asher Intrater (“Israel, the Church, and the Last Days”).
Of course, real life is never as simple as it looks to be on paper: to reorient the life and thinking and doing of the churches requires “repentance” from past sins and mistakes, and “reform” of past biases, wrongful theological turns, denominational miscommittals, etc. Those who “see” these past sins and mistakes can perhaps be looked to to make headway in this new/old “One New Man” convergence, understanding of salvation-history, prayer for the rebirth of Israel at the end of the age, etc., kind of direction. But those who will oppose it will also be many — and as history itself keeps looming closer and closer to a climax, “making room for Israel” could easily become a watershed for the churches, as to whether they do really trust their JEWISH Savior and Messiah, or prefer to gnostically de-ethnitize and de-historicize Him, in order to cling to a Gentile pre-eminence instead. As Emil Brunner once put it, we tend to be “scandalized” whenever God decides to be “particular” in what He chooses — or chooses NOT to choose! I think it was e. e. cummings, the modern poet of a generation ago, who said, “How odd of God to choose the Jews.” Just so that God’s “oddities” don’t become our own “offenses” — or practical or theological “stumbling-blocks” in the days to come!
O Lord, give us a heart after Your own heart, to not be upset by what You Yourself deem to be “good”, whether we fully “understand” Your priorities right away or not. In Jesus’ own precious name we pray: Amen.
— Lance Wonders