Friday, September 23, 2011

Gen 12, Israel & the Land

And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed. Gen 12:3

Christian Zionists often quote this verse and apply it to the nation Israel. Note that this shouldn’t suppose that Israel is free to do whatever it wills and that Christians must indiscriminately support it. Among other things, we should acknowledge that Israel’s major failing as a secular nation is its lack of recognition of Christ as its Messiah.

But anti-Zionists (for want of a better word) will invariably take the above verse and re-route it to ONLY point to Christ and ultimately the church. Steve Wohlberg’s article is one example of how replacement theologians might strategize a response to Zionists:

Notice, the direct "bless-curse" line concerned Abraham alone, not Israel, and "all the families of the earth" were to be blessed in Abraham, which meant through "his seed," which was Jesus Christ (see Galatians 3:16). In order to receive that very blessing, individuals must be willing to be "turned away" from their sins by God's grace (see Acts 3:25,26).

Wohlberg, and others, invariably ignore Gen 27:29 where Isaac blesses Jacob-Israel. Note the blessing and curse.

May peoples serve you, And nations bow down to you; Be master of your brothers, And may your mother's sons bow down to you. Cursed be those who curse you, And blessed be those who bless you.

Acts actually confirms Israel’s election and that the covenant is still valid. Peter is addressing the Jews (Acts 3:13-15):

It is you who are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant which God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, 'AND IN YOUR SEED ALL THE FAMILIES OF THE EARTH SHALL BE BLESSED.' "For you first, God raised up His Servant and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways. Act 3:25-26

And Romans:

For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree? For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery-- so that you will not be wise in your own estimation-- that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, "THE DELIVERER WILL COME FROM ZION, HE WILL REMOVE UNGODLINESS FROM JACOB." "THIS IS MY COVENANT WITH THEM, WHEN I TAKE AWAY THEIR SINS. Rom 11:24-27

Those verses counter the idea that, because God is “no respecter of persons” (Rom 2:8-11), it somehow negates Israel’s future land promises. The Abrahamic Covenant was unconditional, as distinct to the Mosaic Covenant.

Referring to Deut 28 yet leaving out Deut 30 (keeping in mind Romans 11:24-27) simply doesn’t do the matter justice. Lev 26 is often appealed to by those who argue that Israel hast lost rights to the land but verses 44-46 are almost always ignored. Other verses routinely ignored are Deut 4:25-31; Eze 36:22-38; Zec 2:8 and Zec 14:1-21. There are a host of others.

Often those who deny Israel’s right to the land also deny they hold to replacement theology. They prefer to describe their views in other terms – such as “Fulfilled” - and appeal to a redefinition of the promises. Paul Henebury (Dr Reluctant) is sorting that matter out on his blog and I strongly recommend that people find out what he has to say about it.

More later.

What Does Christ as “True Israel” Mean for the Nation Israel?

Read Barry Horner's "Future Israel - Why Christian Anti-Judaism Must be Challenged" HERE

Monday, September 5, 2011

Farewell to the Rapture?

N T Wright has a reputation as a solid scholar so when he writes something, people take notice.

I have his 800 pages plus book “The Resurrection of the Son of God” where he argues for the case of a real, physical resurrection – which I thought should have been obvious to anyone reading the NT. He is the author of “New Perspectives on Paul” for which he has received both praise and criticism.

Dr Wright is also one of those scholars who don’t see a future kingdom for Israel. Mike Vlach quotes him as stating:

Jesus spent His whole ministry redefining what the kingdom meant. He refused to give up the symbolic language of the kingdom, but filled it with such a new content that, as we have seen, he powerfully subverted Jewish expectations.”

I think Dr Vlach does a decent job responding to that position HERE. I’m reading Alva McClain’s “The Greatness of the Kingdom” which meticulously exposits both OT and NT Scripture regarding the Kingdom, so I struggle to understand how Dr Wright holds to his view.

With that in mind I found his 2001 article “Farewell to the Rapture” a revealing read into the mindset of his type of scholarship. It’s important for non-pretribulationists to note here that Dr Wright’s main focus isn’t the timing – it’s the idea of the rapture.

Dr Wright:

The American obsession with the second coming of Jesus — especially with distorted interpretations of it — continues unabated. Seen from my side of the Atlantic, the phenomenal success of the Left Behind books appears puzzling, even bizarre. Few in the U.K. hold the belief on which the popular series of novels is based: that there will be a literal “rapture” in which believers will be snatched up to heaven, leaving empty cars crashing on freeways and kids coming home from school only to find that their parents have been taken to be with Jesus while they have been “left behind.” This pseudo-theological version of Home Alone has reportedly frightened many children into some kind of (distorted) faith.”

I’m impressed that someone bothered to collect official statistical data addressing the issues in that last sentence. It’s a pity that it wasn’t cited. Either way…

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord. (1Th 4:16-17)

I like Kevin Zuber’s astute observation:

And . . . there will be a “rapture” – hey, if 1 Thessalonians 4 teaches anything it teaches we are going to be “caught up” . . . unless one is willing to “spiritualize” that passage and say it’s not going to be a “bodily catching-up” . . . in which case we have a “bodily resurrection” of the dead in Christ and a “spiritual catching up” of those who are alive and remain!”

Now that’s a thought!

Still, Dr Wright begs to differ. Apparently these passages MUST be spiritualized and Dr Zuber didn’t get the memo:

“Paul’s mixed metaphors of trumpets blowing and the living being snatched into heaven to meet the Lord are not to be understood as literal truth, as the Left Behind series suggests, but as a vivid and biblically allusive description of the great transformation of the present world of which he speaks elsewhere...Paul’s misunderstood metaphors present a challenge for us: How can we reuse biblical imagery, including Paul’s, so as to clarify the truth, not distort it?”

Well there you go. All those “misunderstood and mixed metaphors” are a challenging trap for newbies who think Scripture actually means what it says.

Interestingly, in his book (mentioned earlier), Dr Wright chose to understand passages alluding to the resurrection as literal, rather than metaphors. So I guess that somewhere, somehow, there exists some advanced manual or code of interpretation that is handed out to PhDs who’ve attended the right colleges and seminaries.

I just wish these guys would write some easy-to-follow guideline for a schmuck like me so that I can know when to take any given passage of Scripture literally or symbolically, or when to re-interpret something stated in the OT using the NT.

Speaking of which, Dr Michael Rydelnik’s book “The Messianic Hope: Is the Old Testament Really Messianic? ” is a must read. Chapter 8 “RASHI’S INFLUENCE ON THE INTERPRETATION OF MESSIANIC PROPHECY” is an eye opener (and warning) for those who rely on Rabbinic guidance for interpreting OT scripture.

You can read Dan Phillips’ review of the book HERE

In the meantime, since the writing of “End of the Rapture” in 2001, the concept hasn’t died and neither has dispensationalism. It’s one thing to mock the popular Left Behind genre or authors who are not always considered great examples of disp, and quite another to properly interact with the bedrock that props them up.


The New Perspective on Paul - Part 1

A Defense of the Old Perspective on Paul - What Did St. Paul Really Say?


Friday, September 2, 2011

Does Historic Premillennialism trump Dispensationalism?

As mentioned previously, I’ve listened to a 2009 lecture delivered by Gary Hoag to a Denver Seminary audience. It was based on Craig Blomberg’s manuscript (Dr Blomberg being ill at the time). The title of the talk was “Inappropriately Privileging Israel: Why Historic Premillennialism Trumps Dispensationalism".

You can listen to it HERE

Dr Blomberg co-edited “A Case for Historic Premillennialism: An Alternative to "Left Behind" Eschatology”. The book received strong criticism by reviewer Erik Swanson for improperly engaging DP:

Not only does this book misunderstand DP, but the authors misrepresent DP as well. They (mis)represent DP as simply a popular movement, fueled by popular culture and imagination, not backed by solid exegesis and theology.”

I bring this up again because I sympathize with Erik Swanson’s frustration. That same approach characterizes the lecture. If you’re going to legitimately challenge another system, you should accurately interact with its beliefs and strengths; otherwise you’re just knocking down straw men.

Firstly, as an ex-posttribber, I’m unimpressed by the “academic & exegesis” vs the “comfortable populist” inferences that Dr Blomberg draws when he compares posttribulationism with pretribulationism. It smacks of elitism. Also, note that apantesis isn’t a magic gotcha word. Kevin Zuber has a study on it HERE, or refer to his essay in “Dispensationalism – tomorrow & beyond” (p 343). And a comparison of tereo ek in Rev 3:10 and John 17:15 isn’t helpful to post-trib either - read Richard Mayhue’s essay HERE.

Lastly, Erik Swanson answered Dr Blomberg’s wrath of God points in the review above. In fact at one stage Dr Blomberg states the church must go through the Tribulation and endure persecution and martyrdom then later claims tereo ek in Rev 3:10 means protection within!

Contrary to Dr Blomberg, Jerry Falwell’s “brand of dispensationalism” is not representative. That “America doesn’t exist to support a distinctively Jewish state in Israel” may well be true. Mature dispie scholars would vouch for the wisdom of a “separation between church and state”. But why raise that issue?

Many “religious organizations” routinely lobby the US government for political and monetary aid for other countries. Palestinian aid is sought out by certain “Christian” groups (e.g. Sabeel). And people like Stephen Sizer and Gary Burge, and organizations such as the World Council of Churches and National Council of Churches have sought the boycotting of Israeli products. What do we make of church groups who vie to influence government decisions on pro-life, gay marriage etc? Wouldn’t these activities cross over the "separation between church & state" guidelines? Why is support for Israel singled out?

I’m not sure why he even mentions Two Covenant Theology. Even if one or two “popular” dispies may hold to it; it is not the correct dispensational view. There is only ONE way to be saved and that is by grace through faith. Note Tony Garland’s article HERE and this ESSAY

He uses the term “the shifting sands of dispensationalism”. Disp was formalized in the 19th century when theologians began to take a literal approach to the OT. Since then it has gone through further refinements and developments. Covenant Theology (which isn’t that much older) has also evolved and changed. The same is true of Reformed Theology. In fact if one carefully looks at a Who’s Who of HP from the Early Church Fathers to date, one will see changes in modern day HP.

Dr Blomberg chides outright replacement theology by pointing to sufficient OT evidence indicating that national Israel has some future in the Millennium. He even points out that RT has led to anti-Semitism. This is an important admission which I’ll explore in a later post. He affirms that George Ladd is a scholar who overshadows the rest and, like Dr Ladd, he fails to see a necessity for either a Temple, or national Israel in Palestine prior to the Millennium. He punctuates that point several times.

Note here that people like J C Ryle, Horatius Bonar, Renald Showers, Arnold Fruchtenbaum etc have shown “biblically” that Israel must, once again, be a nation prior to the Millennium. Dr Fruchtenbaum identifies several OT verses pointing to a gathering into the land in unbelief in “Footsteps of the Messiah”.

Contra-arguments to Gen 12:1-3 are typically raised by proponents of replacement theology and Dr Blomberg does the same. They argue that the church, as Abraham’s spiritual heir, is the ultimate recipient of these verses and not a prophetically irrelevant Israel in a state of unbelief. In a lengthy process of circular reasoning they insert the church and remove Israel. (Acts 3:13, 25-26; Rom 11:25-29)

His comments on Ezekiel’s Temple (ET) confuse me. I’m not aware of any dispies who teach that ET is premillennial. I don’t see how you can merge ET into the New Jerusalem or why you’d want to in the first place. If you’re able to recognize clear OT Scripture to confirm a future for Israel then surely you can use that same “exegesis” on a literal comparison of the differences between ET and the New Jerusalem.

Even when he acknowledges OT prophecies regarding Israel in their land during the Millennium he attempts to apply the NT to make the Gentile church share the same territorial benefits, which he then extends to all the earth (Matt 5:5). He appears to have a problem with a uniquely Holy Land with a Jewish flavor and any type of Temple. This isn’t just replacement theology; it is absorption theology or a sort of socialist theocracy where whatever national Israel owns, so must the Gentile church.

While he briefly addresses the excesses of those who are pro-Palestinian and those who are pro-Israel, it’s quite obvious that Christian Zionism and national Israel are his primary targets. His language implies that Israel oppresses Palestinian Muslims and Christians; hence he lectures against blindly supporting Israel.

Yet a fact-check will show that Palestinians and Christians living in Israel fare much better than in Israel’s Muslim-dominated neighboring countries! He seems unaware of the dynamics driving the Arab-Israeli conflict and the existential threat to Israel. Aside from theological considerations, there are legitimate reasons for supporting Israel even if it is secular and imperfect.

But that he promotes blatant replacement theologians like Gary Burge and Colin Chapman as the “best guides” to refer to theologically ultimately explains his position on Israel both biblically and from a secular viewpoint. Burge and Chapman re-interpret the OT via the NT. These men have also written glowing reviews for anti-Israel activist and revisionist
Stephen Sizer’s book “Christian Zionism: Road-map to Armageddon?”

Dr Paul Wilkinson has written about Sizer and his supporters HERE. I also recommend his book “For Zion’s Sake”. A more balanced approach to Sizer’s book is Dr Michael Rydelnik’s “Understanding the Arab-Israeli conflict – What The Headlines Haven’t Told You”.

Keeping the terms “academic” & “exegesis” in mind, read Barry Horner’s (Future Israel) response to Gary Burge. Many points that Dr Horner raises about Dr Burge re NT authorship etc are a concern.

Based on Dr Blomberg’s lecture and his advocacy of Gary Burge’s theology, even if I were to revert to posttribulationism, I could never consider myself an HP. It’s not about rapture timing, though Dr Blomberg clings to that distinction. It’s about God’s faithfulness to His word. It’s about taking the clear OT references to Israel’s future literally. On this basis, Dr Blomberg’s lecture fails to live up to its objective.

I’ll explore Dr Burge’s stance on Israel in a later post.