Bock, Darrell L. and Mitch Glaser, eds. Israel, the Church, and the Middle East: A Biblical Response to the Current Conflict. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel, 2018. 296 pp. Pb. $24.99 Link to Kregel
Darrell Bock and Mitch Glaser have worked together on the topic of Israel in several books published by Kregel: To the Jew First: The Case for Jewish Evangelism in Scripture and History (2008), The Gospel According to Isaiah 53 (2012), The People, the Land, and the Future of Israel (2014), and Messiah in the Passover (2016).
In the introduction to this new volume of thirteen essays, the editors point out the relationship between the Church and Israel has been a source of passionate debate for much of church history. They refer here to a historic “replacement theology” in which it is proposed the Church replaced Israel as God’s people, implying Israel has no future restoration apart from the church. Old Testament promises of restoration were more or less spiritualized as descriptions of the present church; Israel as a people had no future hopes. The development of dispensationalism in the nineteenth century was in part a response this theology. The earliest dispensationalists drew a strong contrast between the Church and Israel, resulting in the belief Israel would be restored as God’s people in the future and therefore the Old Testament prophecies of a messianic kingdom must be taken seriously.
Modern American evangelicalism has embraced modern Israel, although this may be a result of conservative politics more than the remnants of dispensationalism. In some political circles it is fashionable to be critical of the modern state of Israel and in some theological circles it is equally fashionable to dismiss support for modern Israel and wild-eyed dispensational fantasies like the Left Behind sort. Glaser and Bock think there is a “significant lack of objective academic responses to books by Christian authors critical of Israel and Christian Zionism.” This collection of essays in an attempt to provide some balance between those who defend Israel and those who have legitimate concerns for the concerns of Palestinians.
The first two parts of the book cover biblical and theological foundations. Each of the authors in these two sections of the book are well-known evangelical scholars associated with major evangelical seminaries. First, Richard E. Averbeck discusses “Israel, the Jewish People, and God’s Covenants.” This essay introduces the reader to the idea of biblical covenants and suggests one of the best ways to understand the overarching story of redemption in Scripture is “to follow the historically progressive sequence of God’s redemptive covenants from the Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, and New covenants” (30). Based on his analysis of the Abrahamic covenant, Averbeck believes the land promises made to Abraham are irrevocable.
Second, Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. focuses on a prophecy concerning Egypt in Isaiah 19. At first this seems tangential to the purpose of this collection, but as Kaiser points out, in the history of the church this chapter has been treated in a symbolic or allegorical way, so that Egypt “stands for” idolatry of the Roman church. But reading Isaiah 19 with non-symbolic hermeneutic leads Kaiser to see the chapter as God painting a picture of “the days leading up to the millennium, a time when three deadlocked nations will be changed by God’s grace and be included in the Gentile harvest of the nations” (Rom 11:26).
Third, Mark Yarbrough outlines “Israel and the Story of the Bible,” beginning with a brief survey of recent suggestions for an overarching plot for the Bible. The most successful, Yarbrough suggests, is the metaphor of a four act play: creation, fall, redemption and restoration. The problem with such a high-level view of the story of the Bible is “we are not supposed to stay where it leaves us” (50). The details of the story matter, and the details, for Yarbrough, include the language of covenants, the promise of an earthly messiah, two messianic advents, a clear offer of a kingdom by the Jewish messiah Jesus, and as yet unfulfilled promises to Israel concerning land, worship and a messianic era.
Michael Rydelnik picks up on the issue of unfulfilled land promises and argues the New Testament is consistent with the Old and reaffirms the idea God gave the land of Israel to the people of Israel forever (82). Rydelnik examines several sayings of Jesus which imply a future restoration to the land, a future temple and a future kingdom ruled by the messiah. He deals with two difficult Pauline passages, Galatians 3:16 and Romans 4:13 which could be read as universalizing the promises of the Old Testament to the church, but concludes neither text is talking about the land promises.
Craig Blaising develops “A Theology of Israel and the Church,” beginning with a clear description of how of supersessionism and traditional dispensationalism understand Israel and the Church. Blaising attempts to chart a course between these two views which he calls Redemption Kingdom Theology (RKT, formerly known as progressive dispensationalism). Like traditional dispensationalism, RKT rejects the idea the church has replaced Israel, but does not see “the church as separate from the ethnic peoples of Israel and the Gentiles in the plan of God” (89). Since the Gentiles in the Old Testament were never excluded from the eschatological kingdom, the church is not excluded from the promises to Israel. In order to support this thesis, Blaising argues the “Kingdom of God has been progressively revealed in canonical theology” (90).
Mitch Glaser’s essay warns against “The Dangers of Supersessionism.” He begins by defining “Christian Zionism” (see for example Gerald McDermott and the other work by the editors of this volume) against “anti-Christian Zionism” (Stephen Sizer and Gary Burge, for example). The “anti-” in Glaser’s description seems a rather polemic way of describing those who universalize Israel’s land promises. Glaser argues “anti-Christian Zionism” follow Palestinian evangelicals who are both politically pro-Palestine and theologically supersessionist (108). He sees a statement like the Kairos Palestine Document as politically motivated and creates an environment which destroys the possibility of unity between evangelical Palestinians and Messianic Jews. No dialogue is possible when one side is only described as the victim, while the other side is an aggressor in need of restraint (115).
In the final essay in the second part of the collection, Michael Vlach examines “Israel and the Land in the Writings of the Church.” Vlach often contributes articles on the historic roots of dispensationalism and in this essay he argues restoration of the kingdom to Israel was the view of the earliest church but the church largely abandoned this after the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70 and the failed messianic revolt in A.D. 135. During the Patristic Era these events were viewed as divine judgments on the Jewish people. The bulk of the article traces a thin thread of restorationism present in the church until the rise of evangelism of the Jews in the eighteenth century and the rise of dispensationalism in the nineteenth century.
The first two of the three essays in the third part of the book deal with two lesser known movements. First, Erez Soref discusses the history of Messianic Jewish Movement in modern Israel. Soref is the president of One for Israel, a non-profit organization based in Neyanya, Israel. Although there are challenges to the Messianic Jews in modern Israel, Soref sees the movement as growing, there are approximately 300 messianic Jewish congregations in Israel today. Tom Doyle looks at the modern Palestinian Church within Israel. Doyle is the Middle East director of e3 Partners and is a licensed guide for the State of Israel. He points out there have been Arab believers since Pentecost (Act 2:11, but Doyle misses the point since these were likely ethnic Jews living in Roman Arabia rather than ethic Arabs). Yet his point stands, there has been a presence of Christians among the people of the Middle East since the earliest days of the church, including Jews, Arabs, Syrians, Egyptians, etc. His article details how Bethlehem Bible College trains Palestinians to do ministry in the West Bank and includes a short interview with Jack Sara, president of BBC, a Palestinian Christian, and a Christian pastor in the Gaza Strip.
Third, Darrell Bock examines a biblical foundation for reconciliation between Jews and Arabs using Luke’s “two-stage program” (promise/fulfillment, already/not yet). He develops these in Luke-Acts and suggests the reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles is a “not yet” expectation for the future. This requires a short survey of several texts in Isaiah which look forward to the reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles, but also a close examination of the key text for this entire collection of essays, Romans 9-11. As applied to the “tangled mess” of the Middle East, Bock thinks the already/not yet aspect of reconciliation means modern Israel does not have carte blanche to do whatever they like under the guise of self-defense (183). Israel is still responsible for basic human rights in the region.
Finally, in part four of the book, three essays examine current challenges to peace in Israel. First, Mark L. Bailey answers the question, “Should Christians Support the Modern State of Israel?” For some modern evangelicals, the answer is a firm and patriotic “yes,” while those outside of conservative evangelicalism the answer is “of course not!” Bailey acknowledges there are inadequate reasons to support Israel (to jump-start Armageddon or bring material prosperity to America, for example). He believes a proper biblical view would lead to a genuine love of Israeli, Palestinian, and Arab alike (201).
Second, Craig Parshall examines the legal challenges of the Israeli-Palestinian conﬂict. Parshall is a constitutional lawyer serving as Special Counsel to the American Center for Law and Justice. His focus in this article is on the status of the modern state of Israel under international law. He concludes there is overwhelming evidence that Israel is a legitimate nation, and “deserves more respect than they international critics have afforded it” (215).
The final essay in the collection asks “Is It Sinful to Divide the Land of Israel?” Messianic Jewish apologist Mike Brown responds that support of a two-state solution is not a sin, although the two-state solution is a short term solution since when Jesus returns, the land will be Israel’s alone (226).
The book includes several appendices. First, data from the 2017 Lifeway Survey of evangelical attitudes toward Israel. Second, the editors included a statement from the Alliance for Peace of Jerusalem (website is down as of July 2018), including a purpose statement and several affirmations and denials. Darrell Bock concludes the book with a short summary of the book. The volume concludes with an eleven page bibliography, Scripture and subject indices.
Conclusion. Like other recent books edited by Glaser and Bock, Israel, the Church, and the Middle East offers a perspective on the current state of Israel which is positive and premillennial. The church has not replaced Israel as God’s people so the eschatological promise of the Old Testament should be taken seriously. The articles reflect a moderate dispensational viewpoint without the lurid predictions which have come to characterize dispensationalism for many readers.
Surprisingly, the book lacks dialogue. The contributors are all “Christian Zionists” to use Glaser’s term, and to a certain respect, these are the “usual suspects” for this particular topic. Although a few contributors are living in Israel working with Messianic Jewish ministries, only Tom Doyle represents a Christian Palestinian voice. The book could have been improved by seeking out contributions from individuals from a genuinely under-represented community, Christians, Arab Christians.
Nevertheless, this collection of essays is a welcome contribution to the ongoing discussion of the nature of biblical Israel, the Church and their relationship with the modern state of Israel.
NB: Thanks to Kregel for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.