Friday, June 30, 2006

Israel, Palestine, the Church, and Eschatology

Several things prompt me to write a post on the controversial topic of Israel and Palestine. I was spurned on by the intriguing post of Ben Witherington Pray for Peace of Jerusalem and Madeleine Albright's book The Mighty and the Almighty which you can read about at CT that (apparently) makes some reflection on God, America, and Politics post-9/11.

Let me say that I am convinced of two basic premises: (a) Israel has the inalienable right to exist in peace, free from terrorism and violence. Suffice to say, I am not a big fan of the President of Iran. (b) The Palestinians need a homeland and one free from walls, check-points, tanks, and rocket attacks. The Israeli occupation of the West Bank is completely illegal.

I am not a fan of the mainline American denominations that want to divest funds from Israel and fail to censure acts of terrorism against the small Israeli state. (In fact some of these denominations love to complain about the human rights abuses perpetrated in Israel, Iraq and Guantanamo bay, but curiously never get round to mentioning absuses perpetrated in Sudan, Saudi Arabia, China or North Korea). I am even less of a fan of ultra-conservatives in American Churches that support Israeli policies uncritically on the grounds that the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948 was a fulfillment of biblical prophecy.

Acts 13.32-33: 'And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus.'

2 Corinthians 1.20: 'For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.'

(Those who are familiar with Graeme Goldsworthy's work will know that these verses form the rubric of his approach to biblical theology).

As I see it, God's promises to Israel were complete and fulfilled in the handing over and raising up of Jesus by God the Father. There is of course still the hope that national Israel will respond to the message of Christ (either as individuals or en masse) but the establishment of Israel in 1948 was not something forecast in the Book of Revelation which we must uphold despite the cost it brings upon the Palestinians.

Let me also be clear that I do not think the Church completely replaces Israel (contra Covenant Theology); nor do I think that a hard and fast distinction can be made between the Church and Israel (contra Dispensationalism). Instead, the church is the representative of Israel in the Messianic age and by virtue of their faith in Jesus Christ they are constituted as the people of God in the era of the New Covenant. I think this comports with the more or less "Reformed" view, but I've had people tell me that I sound like a progressive dispensationalist too.

For sound and sober reflections on the topic from a progressive dispensational perspective I recommend the article by Darrell Bock Some Christians See a 'Road Map' to End Times from the LA Times.

I recommend also the following resources:

Colin Chapman, ‘God’s Covenant – God’s Land,’ in The God of Covenant, eds. Jamie A. Grant & Alistair I. Wilson (IVP, 2005), 221-56.

Gary M. Burge, Who Are God’s People in the Middle East? What Christians Are Not Being Told About Israel and the Palestinians (Zondervan, 1993).

Gary M. Burge, Whose Land? Whose Promise?: What Christians Are Not Being Told About Israel and the Palestinians (Pilgrim, 2003).


Sven said...

Good post Michael, Christian Zionism is an excellent example of why good theology matters.

I've never understood why Christian Zionists are so insistent that the Jews are the people of God - where does that leave the church?

Thanks for the book recommendations.

Gordon Tisher said...

I'm interested in why you say that the Palestinian state should be "free of walls, checkpoints".

The idea of the Israeli wall is to separate the state of Israel from the eventual Palestinian state. In other words, to separate two sovereign states. There are fences, walls, checkpoints, etc, between just about every other sovereign state in the world, so what is wrong with the Israeli one? (There's a wall and checkpoints between Egypt and Gaza, and between the Jordan and the West Bank, and nobody complains about those).

It is unfortunate that the wall cuts off some Palestinians from their workplaces, but Israel considers its own strategic needs above those of a population whose goal (demonstrated by their voting for Hamas) is Israel's destruction.

And the occupation is most certainly _not_ "illegal". The West Bank and Gaza are territories captured from Egypt and Jordan in the (entirely defensive) wars of 1967 and 1948.

Despite the fact that there is nothing in international law that dictates that victorious combatants must return captured territory, Israel in fact gave back 90% of the land it captured in 67 -- the entire Sinai peninsula.

The fact that Israel is willing to give the West Bank and Gaza to the Palestinians is pure charity on Israel's part, and neither legally nor morally necessary.

Matthew D. Montonini said...

Thanks, Michael. As usual very enlightening. Especially with regards to the church vis a vis Israel.

C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

Gordon Tisher said:

"And the occupation is most certainly _not_ 'illegal'."

That's right.


MOsborne20 said...

In his book, Provoked to Jealousy (Bell, Richard H. Provoked to Jealousy. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen
Testament, 2. Reihe 63. Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1994), Richard Bell puts forth an excellent argument for the church fulfilling the promises made to Israel, but without replacing Israel.

His work is based on Dt. 32:21, "They have moved me to jealousy with that which is not God; they have provoked me to anger with their vanities: and I will move them to jealousy with those which are not a people." Paul picks up on this in Rom. 10:19 and identifies the church as the fulfillment of the "No people." If I reading you right, his thoughts are similar to yours. It's an excellent work.

Thanks for all the effort put into this blog. It really sharpens me and informs me.

tony siew said...

I remember reading Bishop JC Ryle's prediction that Israel one day would have their homeland and most people (scholars included) ridiculed Ryle. It was in the late 1800s, I think. But in 1948, Israel came into being. How is it possible that Israel (Jewish people), God's chosen people be accused of acting illegally in occupying what God has promised to their forefathers in the Bible? West Bank belongs to the Israelites.

Romans 11:24-26 states clearly that when the full number of gentiles come in (God's elect among the nations), God will return to save the Jews, all of them in fact, "all Israel shall be saved". but the question is the timing. It will only happen when Christ returns from heaven to deliver his people from near destruction by the beast (Rev 11). They will look upon him whom they pierced - those who believe will rejoice but those who rebel will perish in the wrath of the Lamb.

Though Israelites have right to the land, but what they do to Palestinians must be in accordance with God's law - loving the aliens being hospitable, one law for the natives and aliens alike, etc.

If injustices prevailed against the Palestinians in anyway, Israelites will be held accountable by God. In the meantime, we the church (Jews and Gentiles) pray for the peace of Jerusalem and work towards justice for the Jews and Palestinians alike.

Stephen (aka Q) said...

Thanks for the reasoned and measured thoughts. You make me aware that there are whole schools of thought on this issue which I haven't considered yet.