I suspect that most of you have been at a theological crossroad at least once in your Christian life. I have stood at several over the years. Let me tell you about one such instance, since it is one that many have faced down through church history. It involves the question of “What do you do with a future national Israel in the Bible?” The decision one makes about this question will largely determine your view of Bible prophecy, thus greatly impacting your view of the Bible itself and where history is headed.
A Personal Crossroad
Back in the early ’80s I lived in Oklahoma and was in my first pastorate after getting out of Dallas Seminary in 1980. I had been attracted for about a decade to the writings of those known as Christian Reconstructionists. Most reconstructionists are preterist postmillennial1 in their view of Bible prophecy. Up to this point in my life I considered myself a reconstructionist who was not postmillennial, but dispensational premillennial. Through a series of events, I came to a point in my thinking where I believed that I had to consider whether postmillennialism was biblical. I recall having come to the point in my mind where I actually wanted to switch to postmillennialism and had thought about what that would mean for me in the ministry. I remember thinking that I was willing to make whatever changes would be necessary if I concluded that the Bible taught postmillennialism.I went on a trip to Tyler, Texas (at the time a reconstructionist stronghold) and visited with Gary North and his pastor Ray Sutton. I spent most of my time talking with Ray Sutton, a Dallas graduate who had made the journey from dispensationalism to postmillennialism. As I got in my car to drive the 100 miles to Dallas where I would stay that night, I expected to make the shift to postmillennialism. In fact, I spent the night in the home of my current co-author, Tim Demy, who told me later that he said to his wife after talking with me, “Well Lynn, looks like we’ve lost Tommy to postmillennialism.”
The next morning as I drove from Dallas to Oklahoma, my mind was active with a debate between the two positions. About two-thirds of the way home, I concluded that to make the shift to postmillennialism I would have to spiritualize many of the passages referring to a future for national Israel and replace them with the church. At that moment of realization, which has been strengthened since through many hours of in-depth Bible study, I lost any attraction to postmillennialism.
Since that time, more than fifteen years ago, further Bible study has continued to strengthen my belief that God has a future plan for national Israel. It was the Bible’s clear teaching about a future for national Israel that kept me a dispensationalist. What the Bible teaches about national Israel’s future has been a central issue impacting the action of Christians on many important issues. It is hard to think of a more important issue that has exerted a greater practical impact upon Christendom than the Church’s treatment of unbelieving Jews during her 2,000 year history. As we will see, treatment of the Jews by Christendom usually revolves around one’s understanding of Israel’s future national role in God’s plan.
Over the years I have been asked many times, “How can a genuine, born-again Christian be anti-Semitic?” Most American evangelical Christians today have a high view of Jews and the modern state of Israel and do not realize that this is a more recent development because of the positive influence of the dispensational view that national Israel has a future in the plan of God. Actually, for the last 2,000 years, Chrisendom has been responsible for much of the world’s anti-Semitism. What has been the reason within Chrisendom that would allow anti-Semitism to develop and prosper? Replacement theology has been recognized at the culprit.What is replacement theology? Replacement theology is the view that the Church has permanently replaced Israel as the instrument through which God works and that national Israel does not have a future in the plan of God. Some replacement theologians may believe that individual Jews will be converted and enter into the church (something that we all believe), but they do not believe that God will literally fulfill the dozens of Old Testament promises to a converted national Israel in the future. For example, reconstructionist David Chilton says that “ethnic Israel was excommunicated for its apostasy and will never again be God’s Kingdom.”2 Chilton says again, “the Bible does not tell of any future plan for Israel as a special nation.”3 Reconstructionist patriarch, R. J. Rushdoony uses the strongest language when he declares,
The fall of Jerusalem, and the public rejection of physical Israel as the chosen people of God, meant also the deliverance of the true people of God, the church of Christ, the elect, out of the bondage to Israel and Jerusalem, . . .4
A further heresy clouds premillennial interpretations of Scripture–their exaltation of racism into a divine principle. Every attempt to bring the Jew back into prophecy as a Jew is to give race and works (for racial descent is a human work) a priority over grace and Christ’s work and is nothing more or less than paganism. . . . There can be no compromise with this vicious heresy.5
The Road to Holocaust
Replacement theology and its view that Israel is finished in history nationally has been responsible for producing theological anti-Semitism in the church. History records that such a theology, when combined with the right social and political climate, has produced and allowed anti-Semitism to flourish. This was a point made by Hal Lindsey in The Road to Holocaust, to which reconstructionists cried foul. A book was written to rebut Lindsey by Jewish reconstructionist Steve Schlissel. Strangely, Schlissel’s book (Hal Lindsey & The Restoration of the Jews) ended up supporting Lindsey’s thesis that replacement theology produced anti-Semitism in the past and could in the future. Schlissel seems to share Lindsey’s basic view on the rise and development of anti-Semitism within the history of the church. After giving his readers an overview of the history of anti-Semitism through Origen, Augustine, Chrysostom, Ambrose, and Jerome, Schlissel then quotes approvingly Raul Hilberg’s famous quote included in Lindsey’s Holocaust.
Viewing the plight of the Jews in Christian lands from the fourth century to the recent holocaust, one Jew observed, “First we were told ‘You’re not good enough to live among us as Jews.’ Then we were told, ‘You’re not good enough to live among us.’ Finally we were told, ‘You’re not good enough to live.'”6
Schlissel then comments approvingly upon Hilberg’s statement,
This devastatingly accurate historical analysis was the fruit of an error, a building of prejudice and hate erected upon a false theological foundation. The blindness of the church regarding the place of the Jew in redemptive history is, I believe, directly responsible for the wicked sins and attitudes described above. What the church believes about the Jews has always made a difference. But the church has not always believed a lie.7
The truth, noted by Schlissel, is what his other reconstructionist brethren deny. What Schlissel has called a lie is the replacement theology that his preterist reconstructionist brethren advocate. Their form of replacement theology is the problem. Schlissel goes on to show that the Reformed church of Europe, after the Reformation, widely adopted the belief that God’s future plan for Israel includes a national restoration of Israel. Many even taught that Israel would one day rebuild her Temple. For his Reformed brethren to arrive at such conclusions meant that they were interpreting the Old Testament promises to Israel literally, at least some of them. This shift from replacement theology to a national future for Israel resulted in a decline in persecution of the Jews in many Reformed communities and increased efforts in Jewish evangelism. Schlissel notes:
the change in the fortune of the Jews in Western civilization can be traced, not to humanism, but to the Reformed faith. The rediscovery of Scripture brought a rekindling of the Biblical conviction that God had not, in fact, fully nor finally rejected His people.8
Yet Schlissel is concerned that his Reformed brethren are abandoning this future national hope for Israel as they currently reassert a strong view of replacement theology.
Whatever views were maintained as to Israel’s political restoration, their spiritual future was simply a given in Reformed circles. Ironically, this sure and certain hope is not a truth kept burning brightly in many Christian Reformed Churches today, . . . In fact, their future conversion aside, the Jews’ very existence is rarely referred to today, and even then it is not with much grace or balance.9
This extract establishes that the “spiritualized” notion of “Israel” in Rom 11:25, 26, was known to and rejected by the body of Dutch expositors. . . .
Since the turn of the century, most modern Dutch Reformed, following Kuyper and Bavinck, reject this historic position.10
Reconstructionist Schlissel seems to think that part of the reason why many of his Reformed brethren are returning to replacement theology is due to their reaction to the strong emphasis of a future for Israel as a nation found within dispensational premillennialism. Yet, dispensational premillennialism developed within the Reformed tradition as many began to consistently take all the Old Testament promises that were yet fulfilled for Israel as still valid for a future Jewish nation. Schlissel complains:
just a century ago all classes of Reformed interpreters held to the certainty of the future conversion of Israel as a nation. How they have come, to a frightening extent, to depart from their historic positions regarding the certainty of Israel’s future conversion is not our subject here. . . . the hope of the future conversion of the Jews became closely linked, at the turn of the century and beyond, with Premillennial Dispensationalism, an eschatological heresy. This, necessarily, one might say, soon became bound up and confused with Zionism. Christians waxed loud about the return of the Jews to Israel being a portent that the Second Coming is high. It thus seemed impossible, for many, to distinguish between the spiritual hope of Israel and their political “hope.” Many Reformed, therefore, abandoned both.11
As it should be, the nature of Israel’s future became the watershed issue in biblical interpretation which caused a polarization of positions that we find today. As Schlissel noted, “all classes of Reformed interpreters held to the certainty of the future conversion of Israel as a nation.” Today most Reformed interpreters do not hold such a view. Why? Early in the systemization of any theological position the issues are undeveloped and less clear than later when the consistency of various positions are worked out. Thus it is natural for the mature understanding of any theological issue to lead to polarization of viewpoints as a result of interaction and debate between positions. The earlier Reformed position to which Schlissel refers included a blend of some Old Testament passages that were taken literally (i.e., those teaching a future conversion of Israel as a nation) and some that were not (i.e., details of Israel’s place of dominance during a future period of history). On the one hand, as time passed, those who stressed a literal understanding of Israel from the Old Testament became much more consistent in applying such an approach to all passages relating to Israel’s destiny. On the other hand, those who thought literalism was taken too far retreated from whatever degree of literalness they did have and argued that the church fulfills Israel’s promises, thus there was no need for a national Israel in the future. Further, non-literal interpretation was viewed as the tool with which liberals denied the essentials of the faith. Thus, by World War II dispensationalism had come to virtually dominate evangelicals who saw literal interpretation of the Bible as a primary support for orthodoxy.After World War II many of the battles between fundamentalism and liberalism began to wane. Such an environment allowed for less stigma attached to non literal interpretation within conservative circles. Thus, by the ’70s, not having learned the lessons of history, we began to see the revival of many prophetic views that were returning to blends of literal and spiritual interpretation. As conservative postmillennialism has risen from near extinction in recent years, it did not return to the mixed hermeneutics of 100 years ago, which Schlissel longs for, but instead, it has been wedded with preterism in hopes that it can combat the logic of dispensational futurism. Schlissel’s Reformed brethren do not appear to be concerned that, in preterism, they have revived a brand of eschatology which includes one of the most hard-core forms of replacement theology. And they do not appear convinced or concerned that replacement theology has a history of producing theological anti-Semitism when mixed with the right social and political conditions. In fact, Schlissel himself preached a sermon a few years ago in which he identified James Jordan, a Reformed preterist, as advancing an anti-Semitic view of Bible prophecy.12
What one believes about the future of Israel is of utmost importance to one’s understanding of the Bible. I believe, without a shadow of doubt, that Old Testament promises made to national Israel will literally be fulfilled in the future. This means the Bible teaches that God will return the Jews to their land before the tribulation begins (Isa. 11:11-12:6; Ezek. 20:33-44; 22:17-22; Zeph. 2:1-3). This has been accomplished and the stage is set as a result of the current existence of the modern state of Israel. The Bible also indicates that before Israel enters into her time of national blessing she must first pass through the fire of the tribulation (Deut. 4:30; Jer. 30:5-9; Dan. 12:1; Zeph. 1:14-18). Even though the horrors of the Holocaust under Hitler were of an unimaginable magnitude, the Bible teaches that a time of even greater trial awaits Israel during the tribulation. Anti-Semitism will reach new heights, this time global in scope, in which two-thirds of world Jewry will be killed (Zech. 13:7-9; Rev. 12). Through this time God will protect His remnant so that before His second advent “all Israel will be saved” (Rom. 11:36). In fact, the second coming will include the purpose of God’s physical rescue of Israel from world persecution during Armageddon (Dan. 12:1; Zech. 12-14; Matt. 24:29-31; Rev. 19:11-21).If national Israel is a historical “has been,” then all of this is obviously wrong. However, the Bible says she has a future and world events will revolve around that tiny nation at the center of the earth. The world’s focus already is upon Israel. God has preserved His people for a reason and it is not all bad. In spite of the fact that history is progressing along the lines of God’s ordained pattern for Israel, we see the revival of replacement theology within conservative circles that will no doubt be used in the future to fuel the fires of anti-Semitism, as it has in the past. Your view of the future of national Israel is not just an academic exercise. I beg everyone influenced by this article to cast your allegiance with the literal Word of God lest we be found fighting against God and His Sovereign plan. W
1 For a definition of terms and labels used in this article consult the Glossary in Thomas Ice & Timothy Demy, editors, When the Trumpet Sounds: Today’s Foremost Authorities Speak Out on End-Time Controversies (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1995), pp. 473-4.2 David Chilton, Paradise Restored (Tyler, TX: Reconstruction Press, 1985), p. 224. 3 Ibid.
4 Rousas John Rushdoony, Thy Kingdom Come: Studies in Daniel and Revelation (Fairfax, VA: Thoburn Press, 1970), p. 82.
5 Ibid., p. 134.
6 Steve Schlissel & David Brown, Hal Lindsey & The Restoration of the Jews(Edmonton, Canada: Still Waters Revival Books, 1990), p. 47. For a survey of the history of anti-Semitism in the Church see David Rausch, Building Bridges: Understanding Jews and Judaism (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988), pp. 87-171. 7Ibid., pp. 47-48. 8Ibid., p. 59. 9Ibid., p. 42. 10Ibid., pp. 49-50. 11Ibid., pp. 39-40.
12 Steve Schlissel, The Jews/Jordan & Jerusalem, an audio tape obtained from Still Waters Revival Books, 4710 – 37A Ave., Edmonton, AB T6L 3T5, CANADA.