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McDermott, Gerald R. Israel Matters: Why Christians Must Think Differently about the People and the Land. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brazos Press, 2017. 158 pp.; Pb.; $17.90  Link to Brazos Press

Gerald McDermott edited a volume of essays on the status of Israel in the current age (The New Christian Zionism: Fresh Perspectives on Israel and the Land, InterVarsity Press, 2016). The volume included essays by two scholars associated with progressive dispensationalism (Darrell bock and Craig Blaising), two writers associated with the Philos Project (an organization which promotes positive Christian engagement in the Middle East, Robert Nicholson and Shadi Khallou), two writers who edited an Introduction to Messianic Judaism (Zondervan, 2013; Joel Willitts and David Rudolph). This new volume by Brazos Press is an attempt to present the ideas of this previous work at a popular level.

In the introduction to this book, Dermott traces his move from the traditional view that the church has replaced Israel as God’s people to what he calls “New Zionism.” He indicates his theological training convinced him the Church is the new Israel and any protests to that position came from Dispensationalism in the 1970s. Unfortunately, the Dispensationalism McDermott encountered argued for two separate ways of salvation (one for Israel, one for the church) and McDermott was repelled by popular Dispensational emphases on fulfillment of prophecy and predicting the rapture. In his previous volume, McDermott argued strenuously what he calls New Christian Zionism pre-dates the origins of Dispensationalism. This is clearly true; one of the keys for the development of dispensational theology was the rejection of replacement theology, opening up the possibility Old Testament prophecy about Israel could be (literally) fulfilled in the future.

As he began to study the New Testament, he encountered many texts which implied God still loved Israel and there was some kind of an anticipated future for Israel. This caused him to question some of the training he received in theology. His theological training had uncritically assumed the historic replacement theology of the church. In his first chapter (“Getting the Big Story Wrong”), McDermott traces this history of supersessionism through the early church (Justin Martyr. Irenaeus, and Origin) through the reformation, deism, and nineteenth century rationalism.

Chapters 2-5 deal with the biblical data on Israel. First, McDermott deals with the claim that the New Testament teaches the church is the New Israel. Despite the fact the New Testament does not expressly teach replacement theology, any church history will show many in the early church did in fact see the church as a new Israel and often spiritualized the promises of the Old Testament in order to make the applicable to the church. McDermott covered this history in the first chapter of the book, but in the third chapter he tracks “those who got it right.”

Chapters 4 and 5 examine the Old and New Testaments in order to show God’s plan has always been to bring salvation to the world through Israel. Despite Israel’s rejection of God in the Old Testament and the Messiah in the Gospels, God’s plan still includes a future for Israel in the Land. McDermott has correctly recognized the importance of Peter’s sermons in Acts 2-3, especially the promise of the “times of refreshing” Acts 3:19 (first in the introduction, then several more times in the book, p. 75 for example). I have written on this passage in the past, including how this phrase resonates with themes in the Second Temple period. In addition, I consider this to be one of the key texts for understanding what is happening theologically in the book of Acts

Chapter 6 deals with a political objections to McDermott’s New Zionism, “What about the Palestinians?” In this chapter he offers a brief overview of the emergence of Israel over the past hundred years beginning with the British Mandate. This is the least satisfying chapter in the book, and perhaps McDermott would have been better off omitting this material from the book. It seems to me this overview is far too brief to deal with the complexity of the issue and will leave him open to criticism from those who are less positive about Israel’s recent political history. McDermott is quite clear (and correct) that properly understanding Israel’s place in history does not mean uncritical acceptance of the modern political State of Israel, nor would he agree with the strange American evangelical relationship with  the State of Israel (usually having something to do with 1948 as the fulfillment of prophecy). But I do think his description of modern Israel and its relationship with Palestine will the main thing some readers will criticize about this book.

Chapter 7 deals with the status of the New Covenant in the present age. A traditional reading of Hebrews 8:13 argues the New Covenant cancels the Old Covenant, so that the Jewish people under that Old Covenant are no longer God’s special people. At the cross they are replaced by the Church and the Law has come to an end (at least Paul seems to think so). McDermott rejects the older dispensational idea of two new covenants, one for the Jews and one for the church, as well he should. McDermott points out Hebrews says the Law is passing away, not that it was abrogated at the cross. Paul’s point, for McDermott, is that the Law has a new meaning since the Messiah has come, not that the Law has been cancelled.

McDermott turns to a few practical of his new Zionism in chapter 8 (”If All This Is True, Then What?”) He presents this material through the eyes of the senior pastor of his church, Mark Graham. As result of several trips to Israel and continued dialogue with McDermott, Graham has begun to read the Bible with Jewish culture and history in mind. This may be as simple as realizing (and teaching) that the Greek word Christ ought to be understood as messiah, But Graham has made a conscious effort to preach more out of the Old Testament and as a result, he has rethought his understanding of church history and theology. McDermott offers one compelling example of this shift it theological thinking. McDermott includes section here on rethinking the Israel-Palestinian conflict (which is pro-Israel).

As a short conclusion to the book, McDermott offers six proposals based on the observations in this book. First, he thinks the church can see itself in Israel. By ignoring the first two-thirds of salvation history, the church misunderstands God. Second, the history of redemption is ongoing in the sense that the present ages is not the last stage in God’s redemptive plan. This implies (third) that prophecy is real, although it is mysterious. This means contemporary interprets ought to be wary of declaring the present State of Israel is a fulfillment of prophecy. Fourth, the land promises to Israel will be fulfilled in the future, Fifth, Israel and the church are “joined at the hip” even if neither side is aware of it. Sixth, the history of the treatment Jews shows is the “mystery of iniquity.”

By way of conclusion, unlike McDermott, I was never part of a replacement theology tradition, so much of what is presented in this book sounds very familiar from two very different directions. First, McDermott has read N. T. Wright extensively and has picked up on some of the best elements of his presentation of Jesus and Paul, as well as the now popular idea of the “drama of redemption.” Although written at the popular level, there is significant substance behind the argument of this book.

Second, many of the ideas presented in this book are familiar to anyone who has read dispensationalism beyond the cartoon parody of the Left Behind crowd. Dispensationalism started with the observation that the Old Testament prophecies concerning Israel remained unfulfilled and it was not satisfied by declaring these prophecies as fulfilled in the modern church. It is this ecclesiological observation (the church is not a new Israel) which was Dispensationalism’s important contribution to the theological discussion and led to re-reading Old Testament prophecy as predicting a real restoration of Israel in the future (a radical idea in 1900!) McDermott could include some Dispensationalists in his collection of people who “got it right.”

McDermott’s book is a very simple introduction to a very complex problem. He touches on issues which merit far more detail (perhaps their own monograph). That lack of detail will frustrate some readers, but would go well beyond McDermott’s goal of presenting the case for a New Zionism in a simple, straightforward fashion.

NB: Thanks to Baker and Brazos Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

Petra, Jordan, Travel

Petra 2005

May 2005 was my first trip to Israel. I had only 14 students but we did just about everything on that trip. We stayed several days longer than any other trip and made day trips to Petra and St. Catherine’s Monastery in Egypt. Tourism was at a low point in 2005, so we were able to book nicer hotels for very competitive rates. We used an Israeli guide for the whole trip and I learned a great deal from him about how to design a tour.

There was no wifi in 2005, the only internet available was in internet cafes or a computer in the hotel lobby. It did not matter much since no one had wifi enabled devices yet (it was two years before the first iPhone and I was not blogging until 2007).

People ask me which trip was my favorite, but I avoid the question since I do not want to play favorites. Secretly, it was this first trip, when everything was new to me and we had an adventure together.

 

Arad, Israel, Travel

Tel Arad, 2005

 

Israel, Timna, Travel

At Timna, 2005

 

 

On the Temple Mount

May 2007 was only the second time I visited Israel. I only had a handful of students, so Dale DeWitt joined with three people from his church in South Dakota and one student brought a friend and another brought her brother. This was my first time guiding some sites myself, although in Jerusalem I used an Israeli guide. I was still learning about how to design the tour well, and there were some serious bumps on this one.

I was not blogging regularly yet and there was little access to the internet at the time. One of the students put this slideshow together from his own photographs.

Travel, Israel, Tel Dan

At Tel Dan 2007

The May 2009 Grace Bible College Israel trip (May 12-22) was my third trip and for the first time I was able to “live blog” several times from Israel. Free wireless internet was still a rarity in the hotels at that time, so I only made three posts on the trip. I guided most of the trip myself, with the exception of a single day in in Jerusalem for the Temple Tunnel tour. We skipped Jordan on this tour to save some money for the students and I have always regretted that.

Heading to Israel!

Israel Update #1 – Jerusalem

Israel Update #2 – We are in Galilee!

Israel Update #3 — with Picture Goodness!

Israel, Masada, Travel

Masada, 2009

Tel Arad, 2009

In May 2011 sixteen Grace Bible College students  traveled to Israel and Jordan. Unlike other Israel trips, this time we flew Royal Jordanian Airlines to Amman and spent a few days in Jordan before crossing into Israel. This trip was special because my thirteen year old daughter Amy went on the trip along with Ken and Diana Johnson, longtime friends from California. This was Professor Scott Shaw’s first of many trips to Israel with the Grace Bible College group.

This trip was unique because we spent a morning doing an archaeological project at Tamar. We had a nice cool morning (only 90 degrees) and we found nothing but two buckets of pottery fragments (no coins or Dead Sea Scrolls). This was a good experience and more or less cured everyone of any interest in being an archaeologist.

Heading to Israel! (2011 Version)

Day 1: Travel to Jordan

Day 2: Amman, Madaba, Mt. Nebo

Day 3: Petra (in the rain)

Day 4: Jeresh, Welcome to Israel!

Day 5: The Golan Heights

Day 6: The Jesus Sites

Day 7: Qumran, En-Gedi

Day 7 (part 2): Evening Devotional

Day 8: Arad, Masada, and “Do not lick the Dead Sea”

Day 9: Quick update – archaeology is happening

Day 10: Archaeology at tel Tamar

Day 11: Walking in Jerusalem

Day 12: Southern Temple and the City of David

Day 13: Rainy Days and Demonstrations Really Get Me Down

Days 14-15: Back in the USA

Petra, Jordan, Travel

Petra 2011

Mount Arbel Carob Tree Lookout, January 2012

In January 2012 I traveled with 22 adults and students to Israel and Jordan. This trip was a little different than a student trip since we had a wide range of ages (one in high school, two college students, and several older retired adults). I tried to plan the trip with a little less walking (and more frequent bathroom breaks).

Heading to Israel (2012 Version)

Day 1 – Travel and More Travel!

Day 2 – Rainy Days (and Mondays) in Jerusalem

Day 3 – Into the Wilderness

Day 4 – Ibex, Rock Badgers, and Crabs, Oh My!

Day 5 – Crossing the Red Sea

Day 6 – Everything Floats in the Dead Sea

Day 7 – Appealing Caeserea

Day 8 – Following Jesus in Galilee

Day 9 – On The Road to Petra

Day 10 – Hiking in Petra

Day 11 – The Final Day in Jerusalem

Petra, Jordan, Travel

Petra, 2012

Mount Arbel Carob Tree Lookout

In May 2013 I traveled with 15 students and friends to Israel and Jordan.

Thanks to Ben Rolff for this video!

GBC – Israel Tour 2013

Day 1 – We Have Left, On a Jet Plane

Day 2 – Walking around Jerusalem

Day 3 – The Garden Tomb vs. The Holy Sepulchre

Day 4 (Part 1) – Down The Mount of Olives and Up the Kidron

Day 4 (Part 2) – Around the Zion Gate

Day 5 – Heading to Galilee

Day 6 – The Jesus Sites

Day 7 – Crossing into Jordan

Day 8 – Hiking in Petra

Day 9 – Swimming in the Red Sea

Day 10 – The Negev

Day 11 – En Gedi, Qumran, and then Homeward Bound

In May 2015 I traveled with 24 students and friends to Israel and Jordan. Professor Scott Shaw was a co-leader, without his help it would have been very difficult. I wrote these posts while in Israel or Jordan on my iPad, so think of them as “live reports from the field.” I revisited them once I was home to add additional photographs when internet was bad and correct some typos.

Thanks to Aaron Wienss for this video!

Day 1 and 2 – Traveling to Jerusalem

Day 3 – Seven Miles in Jerusalem

Day 4 – Museum Day in Jerusalem

Day 5 – From the East of Jerusalem

Day 6 – Heading to Galilee

Day 7 – The Jesus Sites

Day 8 – Visiting Jordan

Day 9 – Petra

Day 10 – Crossing the Red Sea

Day 11 – Mamshit, Arad and Masada

Day 12 – En Gedi and Qumran

Day 13 – Back Home Again

In May 2017 I traveled with 34 students, parents and friends to Israel and Jordan. This was my eighth trip to Israel and by far my largest group. Professor Scott Shaw was a co-leader (this was his fourth trip), without his help it would have been impossible to manage a group of this size. The students were remarkable – very attentive and inquisitive and (almost) always on time. I wrote these posts while in Israel or Jordan on my iPad, so think of them as “live reports from the field.” I revisited them once I was home to add additional photographs when internet was bad and correct some typos.

Day 1 – Reading Acts is Going to Israel

Day 2 – Arrival as Planned…Almost

Day 3 – Beginning from Jerusalem

Day 4 – A Day at the Museums

Day 5 – From the Mount of Olives and across the Kidron

Day 6 – Caesarea, Bet She’an and The Sea of Galilee

Day 7 – Following Jesus in Galilee

Day 8 – Crossing the Jordan to Visit Jordan

Day 9 – Hiking at Petra

Day 10 – Swimming in the Red Sea

Day 11 – Mamshit, Arad and Masada

Day 12 – Hiking at En-Gedi

Day 13 – Slouching towards Bethlehem

Day 14 – The Long Road Home

 

 

 

 

 

 

The last day of our Israel trip began with a 5:00 AM wake-up call in order to catch our 10:00 AM Turkish Airlines flight. We were to land in Chicago at 5:40 PM, losing the eight hours, but of course we were delayed in Istanbul slightly. With favorable winds we arrived by 6:00 PM. Luggage was excruciatingly slow (our group was the last set of bags off the plane) and one girl lost her bag. One of the group headed home from Chicago (bye Kaitlynn). Even though our bus was on time to pick us up at O’Hare, it was nearly 8:00 by the time we finally hit the road. It was nearly midnight before we arrived at GBC, so something like 27 hours of travel.

Since all electronics larger than a cell phone are now banned on flights from Turkey to the US, I needed to buy a book to read on the plane. The Steimatzky bookstore in the Ben Gurion airport has a very nice selection (better than any US airport I have seen). I ended up selecting Tom Bissell’s Apostle: Travels Among the Tombs of the Twelve. This book is part travelogue, part “lives of the saints” and part New Testament introduction. I read about half of the book on the plane; even if he is not right on some of the New Testament material he is an excellent writer. Since Bissell is not a religious person he is able to report some of the more legendary aspects of the lives of the apostles more objectively than these sorts of books often do.

Now that I am back in the office, I will edit the previous posts and add some pictures. I plan on moving the posts to the “Israel Trips.” Thanks for following this trip, I heard many positive comments from people who vicariously traveled to Israel and Jordan with the Grace Bible College group.

Maybe you can join me for a Pauline Missions trip in 2018 (students) or 2019 (Alumni), or the Grace Bible College student trip in 2019.

 

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