Review: From Adam and Israel to the Church

From Adam and Israel

From Adam and Israel to the Church (Essential Studies in Biblical Theology [ESBT], Benjamin L. Gladd. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019.

Summary: A study of the theme of the people of God, tracing this theme throughout scripture in Eden, in Israel, in Christ, and in the church.

This is the inaugural volume of a new series looking at essential themes in the story line of scripture. This work is written by series editor Benjamin L. Gladd and traces the idea of the people of God through scripture. For many, particularly in the dispensationalist stream, this is defined by covenant with a sharp demarcation between Israel and the church.

Gladd uses a different lens, focusing on the people of God as created in the image of God, expressed in terms of the functions of king, priest, and prophet. Kings control the environment, keeping it holy. Priests both worship holy God and discern between holy and unclean. Prophets speak truth on behalf of God. Gladd also develops a three level understanding of the world that mirrors the heavenly temple with the Holy of Holies (Eden), the Holy Place (the Garden) and the outer courts (the outer world).

Gladd traces this from Eden, where Adam and Eve allow the unholy serpent into the Holy of Holies, yielding control of the environment, and shade and then disobey rather than speak the truth. He then shows how this image of God as king, priest, and prophet was reflected in the creation and fall of Israel, at Sinai, in the Tabernacle and Temple, and the nation’s decline into idolatry with unfaithful kings, apostasy with unfaithful priests, and prophets bringing the word of God competing with those who were false. Ultimately, in Nebuchadnezzar they experience what they’ve embraced in the anti-king, anti-priest, and anti-prophet. The prophets point to Israel’s restoration, centered in a person who would embody king, priest and prophet.

Jesus embodies restored Israel in his person as the ideal king who succeeds where Adam and Israel fail, and gives himself for his people as great high priest, who is also the temple, the Holy of Holies, and speaks with authority the word of God that constitutes the people of God. These people, the church are the Israel of God, displaying the image of God who rule by standing and suffering with the king, to be vindicated by God, who are priests built as a temple for God to dwell on earth and who bear prophetic witness to the world and the cosmos and stand guard against the evil one’s wiles.

Perhaps most bracing is the author’s thoughts about how kingship, priesthood, and prophets works out in the new creation:

   Perhaps another dimension of imaging God in the new creation will be the development of technology and science. Will we invent the wheel again? Will we learn how to start a fire once more? What about basic human knowledge such as math, language, music, and so on? I suspect that we will not start from scratch. One could possibly argue that we, being perfected in God’s image, will develop what we have learned in the past. The knowledge that humanity has acquired and is acquiring through observing the world around us may not only inform us about God’s creative power, but it may also prepare us for life in the new creation.

The author speaks of the wedge between Israel and the church and the church as the true Israel, the people of God who image God, in continuity with ethnic Israel. I wish the author might have said more specifically about the Jews, and about how Romans 11 might be fulfilled in this people of God. The author allows for a “remnant of Christian Jews” saved through history (p. 128-129), which seems far from explaining how “all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26). He contends that the church does not replace Israel, yet he calls the church the true Israel of God. Granted that how these things shall be is unclear for any of us, this presentation seems to be murky at best.

That said, Gladd paints a picture of the people of God throughout history, a people who images God in the world, and in our own day is called to be kings who rule without exploiting, who worship God alone and commend his excellence over all worldly idols, and who prize the truth in our lives and words. We pursue these in faithfulness to the great high king, high priest and ultimate prophet, Jesus. This is not insipid pablum but strong and substantive food for the follower of Jesus. I look forward to seeing what successive volumes in this series do to enlarge on the biblical story line.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: The New Christian Zionism

New Christian Zionism

The New Christian Zionism, Gerald R. McDermott ed. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2016.

Summary: Argues that the Old Testament promises of restoration for Israel, including restoration to the land, can be supported in the New Testament, and that Christian Zionism enjoys a long history of theological support not rooted in premillenial dispensationalism.

A book arguing for a fresh perspective on Christian Zionism strikes me as a brave project. Zionism, once representing the hopes of an oppressed people, now is often cast at the source of oppression of other peoples, particularly Palestinians. Likewise, “Christian” Zionism, often associated with premillenial dispensationalism, has fallen in disrepute in both liberal circles for whom any form of Zionism is reprehensible, and among a significant portion of the evangelical community who reject the two “dispensations” or covenants of dispensationalism, and see the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy through a new people of God comprised of both Jew and Gentile which heralds a trans-national kingdom of God. This view, with which I will admit to being sympathetic, is often referred to as supersessionism. It is for example, reflected in these summary comments on Romans 11 by John R. W. Stott in his exposition of Romans:

“It is clear . . . that the ‘salvation’ of Israel for which Paul has prayed (10:1), to which he will lead his own people by arousing their envy (11:14), which has also come to the Gentiles (11:11; cf. 1:16), and which one day ‘all Israel’ will experience (11:26), is salvation from sin through faith in Christ. It is not a national salvation, for nothing is said about either a political entity or a return to the land. Nor is their any hint of a special way of salvation for the Jews which dispenses with faith in Christ” (p. 304).

Gerald R. McDermott and his other contributors have mounted a formidable rebuttal to this contention. In the introductory section, McDermott contributes two chapters arguing that Christian Zionism has enjoyed a long history in the theology of the church, from the earliest centuries to Barth and Niebuhr in more recent times and that this has by no means been confined to premillenial dispensationalism.

The next section makes, beginning with Craig Blaising’s chapter on hermeneutics, the argument that the advent of Christ does not nullify the promises and hope of Israel, which may be found in the New Testament as well as the Torah. Joel Willets then shows how this is the case in Matthew noting the early Jewish context, the geographical perspective, Davidic messianism, the “turfed” kingdom, and the focus on Jerusalem, the temple, and the atonement. Mark Kinzer makes a similar argument for Luke-Acts, particularly noting the repeated returns to Jerusalem in Acts. David Rudolph tackles Romans giving a memorable summary of his argument in the acronym “GUCCI”:

  • G The Gifts of Israel
  • U The Uniqueness of Israel
  • C The Calling of Israel
  • C The Confirmation of Israel’s promises
  • I The Irrevocability of Israel’s election

Part Three concerns “Theology and its Implications.” Mark Tooley traces the mainline embrace, and eventual disenchantment with Zionism, more recently followed by some evangelicals. Robert Benne contributes one of the most fascinating chapters, exploring Reinhold Niebuhr’s Zionism that flows from his theo-political realism as well as his sense of the unique place the Jews have occupied in human history. Robert Nicholson then makes a case that present day Israel has neither violated international law, nor, to any significant degree, the Torah in its occupation of land and treatment of ethnic minorities. Shadi Khalloul, an Aramean Christian makes a similar case, while acknowledging ways Israel has failed in areas of human rights. He contends that as the one democracy in the region, they have done far more to uphold religious and civil rights than the surrounding nations. The book concludes with recommendations for continued scholarship and implications for the church.

One of the subtexts of this discussion is the existence of the present day State of Israel, and how it is to be understood in light of prophecies concerning restoration of Israel to the land and how it is to be regarded as a moral actor on the world stage. Concerning the former, they resist the temptation of dispensationalists to fit this into a “last days” scheme while conceding that the survival of the Jews through history and near-miraculous victories against surround foes may argue for some form of “pre-consummate,” or proleptic fulfillment, anticipating the final fulfillment of all things in Christ’s return. Several authors even argue for a restoration of the nation to the land prior to any form of spiritual transformation. While arguing that support for Israel never warrants support for unjust policies, the authors are fairly muted in their discussion of Jewish settlements of occupied territories and the “fence” that has made life so difficult for many Palestinians.

I was most interested in the arguments from the New Testament but in the end personally found them wanting. They seemed to be readings between the lines that extend promises for the people of Israel to the land that are not explicit in the biblical text. Darrell Bock acknowledges this problem (p. 312), but did not, to my mind give an adequate response. The review of historical theology was helpful, because I, like many would have equated Christian Zionism with premillenial dispensationalism. In terms of making the case for the State of Israel from Christian principle, I thought the four essays in Part Three were the strongest part of this work. In particular, the last two, by Nicholson and Khalloul, provide a counter to the media treatment of Israel, which has been increasingly hostile, and often one-sided in their view, in recent years.

The work challenged me to look harder at the texts around Israel’s hope and how we understand these. In particular, when we speak of a “new heaven and new earth,” and a “new Jerusalem” as the focus of a physical existence in the resurrection, what place is there for Jews, whether as a corporate entity, or at least for Jews, as John Stott speaks of, who trust in Christ? Is there a landed hope for them? Is there any significance in the present day State of Israel?

I do think these scholars have more work to do to make their case. They, along with the publisher, should be commended for engaging this discussion afresh. At the same time, while the term is convenient shorthand and connects to historic realities, I would hope that a better phrase than “Christian Zionism” might be found, for I fear some will never get past a title with this phrase, which would be unfortunate.

Review: The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Tough Questions, Direct Answers

The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Tough Questions, Direct Answers
The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Tough Questions, Direct Answers by Dale Hanson Bourke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza has dominated the news in recent weeks. So I decided to pick up this book, which I had received a while back to explore more of the context for this conflict.

Warning: if you have taken a particular “side” in this conflict, this book, and maybe this review, is not for you. If there is any side the author would take, it is with those who seek a peace that is just and lasting for all parties. Rather, the book is designed as a fact book, organized in a question and answer format to help us understand the history of the region, the peoples, life among Israelis and Palestinians, and the nature of the conflict.

The book begins with a chapter titled “Who, What, Where?” answering questions about the geography, territories, and people. It is followed by a chapter titled, “In the Beginning” which traces the history of the land and its peoples back to their common Abrahamic roots. We learn for example that it is only in the last century that Jews and Arabs have been at war. We learn the meaning of terms like shoah, the Nakba, and intifada. The third chapter explores government and politics within Israel including both Israeli and Palestinian governance and how these interact.

Chapters 4 and 5 explore Israeli and Palestinian life respectively including the religious tensions among Jews and the dominance of Orthodox Judaism, minority groups like the Bedouin and the Druze, and the relationships of PLO, Palestinian Authority and Hamas in the West Bank, and Gaza. Chapter 6 discusses other players including other nations surrounding Israel such as Jordan, which has its own ambivalent relationship with the Palestinians. Chapter 7 summarizes the central issues of the conflict which come down to borders and security, Israeli settlements (in the West Bank), Palestinian refugees, and Jerusalem.

I found the book quite helpful in explaining the context of things we hear on our nightly news. It is also richly illustrated with color photographs, timelines, and charts. It also helped me understand why it is so difficult to reach a lasting peace accord, and why it is so vital to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, for Jews, for Christians (many of whom are Palestinian), and Muslims who share this land, and for the U.S., and other parties who provide both aid and peacemaking assistance. This book is part of a series of Skeptics Guides by the same author. The other two volumes in print are Responding to HIV/AIDS and Immigration.

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