Replacement Theology 2

During my final semester of undergrad studies and the year-long interim before grad school, I underwent the arduous transformation of a dispensational premillennialist meeting Reformation Christianity. This was puzzling to my parents, who raised me as a Messianic Jew. It was difficult for my father, in particular, to accept that his son had embraced what he called “replacement theology.” After I had “confessed” Reformed theology, he sent me an article by Walt Kaiser entitled, “An Assessment of ‘Replacement Theology'” (Mishkan No. 21; 1994). This continuing series of posts contains the response I sent to my father.

Benj

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Jesus came to call Israel to repentance, claiming prophetic and messianic status, seeking to usher in the “millennial” age and build his Kingdom. Premillennialists assert that, because the vast majority of ethnic Israel did not believe and gather to Jesus’ movement, the Kingdom plan was put “on hold.” Theologically, this seems as though the Church is a “Plan B,” a hiccup, a gap between the 69th and 70th weeks.

Furthermore, this perspective seems exegetically to miss the crucial nature of the New Covenant. Kaiser devotes a whole section to his assertion that “God never made a covenant with the Church.” He must have missed Matt. 26 (maybe he skipped it because he’s double-triskaidekaphobic)! At the Last Supper, Jesus states, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.”

Let’s consider this scene: remember that this is a Passover meal, and that the Exodus event marks the eklegomenon (“calling-out”) of the twelve tribes of Israel. Let’s also remember Jeremiah’s statement about the former Covenant: Israel and Judah (all twelve tribes) broke it; thus, God will make a New Covenant. (Incidentally, Kaiser is incorrect that no one sees the continuity of pre-Christian Israel and the church; Calvin, for example, and those in his tradition, hold that the Church began with Adam.) In Matt. 26, Jesus is again at this Passover, the holiday of redemption and election, calling out his Twelve, who will judge and lead his ekklesia (“body of called-out ones”). Immediately after they drink from this covenantal cup, he goes out and commits the ultimate, consummate redemptive act, dying in order to bring his elect near to their Elector. Then he is resurrected (echoes of Eze. 37 and Jonah 2) and vindicated as Messianic, Davidic king.

It is impossible to sit down and summarize Pauline theology in a page or two, but here are some observations from a lowly undergrad.

First, most scholars agree that Paul’s writing is fairly evenly divided between theological teaching and application (haggadah and halakhah). Thus, his theological children learn their relationship to God and each other, and then they learn how to live in light of those truths.

Second, it is important to note that Paul rarely uses the word soteria (“salvation”) or its cognates; he devotes much more of his discussion to the participatory aspects of Christianity (being “in Christ,” oneness, adoption as sons, etc.) than to the forensic or legal aspects of Christianity (justification, being declared righteous, etc.). This participationist focus can be summarized thus: Christ’s righteous life and redemptive act allowed the elect, Jews and Gentiles together, to be reconciled to God and each other, and that those who are called to believe become co-heirs to all the blessings due Christ by his act.

Finally, Paul (and most Exilic and Second-Temple Jews) would reject the notion that a large body, composed entirely of non-elect, unbelieving persons, would alone reap the blessings of Messiah’s kingdom in the last days. This notion would be foreign to a Jew. Yet this is precisely what dispensational premillennialists teach![2] On the contrary, Paul sees Christ as the fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise.

No discussion of Israel in Paul’s eschatology can avoid covering Romans 11. Again, it is difficult to summarize Paul, but I would start by discussing the place of this section (Rom. 9-11) in the overall argument of the book. The first five chapters discuss justification and the importance of faith in Christ. Chapters 6-8 pertain to life as redeemed people. 12-16 are once again about the Christian life, this time in light of the Resurrection.

Some feel that Rom. 9-11 is so “out of place” in the letter that they think Paul just stuck it in, like an old sermon or a bunny-trail. However, this is an important part if his argument. It balances out the first 8 chapters, lest the Gentiles in Rome think that they are something special or more beloved than the Jews. The focus is election on the basis of God’s plan, not personal merit. Yes, Paul says, the Jews rejected Messiah as a nation and failed in their mission to be the light to the nations. But now, the Goyim must be the light to Yisra’el, because they are not “done” permanently. God in His Providence hardened Israel so that the nations could be “brought near” (Isa. 57:19) and “grafted in,” and now the Church is to provoke Israel so that it will want to be grafted back in. 9-11 then sets the tone for 12-16, which expound the specific ways in which the Gentile church must now be the light to the Jews and the world, i.e., love their enemies, submit to the government, etc., contrary to the major contemporary Jewish schools of thought. Nowhere does it mention a national kingdom for Israel or any blessing apart from belief in Christ. On the contrary, 10:9 states that acknowledgement and belief in Christ’s lordship is necessary to receive justification, and salvation, which are Messianic blessings.

Paul’s most earnest desire, in which the reader almost sees the tear-drops on the page, is that his brothers be saved. This passage is not meant to exalt Israel in esteem above the Church, but to undercut any Gentile arrogance or theological anti-Semitism.

[2] At least, this is classic dispensational teaching. Some progressive dispensationalists would be open to saying that Messianic/believing Jews will participate in the millennial reign. After I had told him that I was of Jewish descent, a professor once told me that I am no longer part of “Israel” in the millennial sense because I became a Christian in this age. Ryrie’s Dispensationalism clarifies this point further.

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About Benj

I’m a native North Jerseyan, exiled to the land of Phillies fans…an Old Testament professor and former liturgist…husband to Corrie…father to Daniel and Elizabeth…eldest sibling to three, brother-in-law to Josh and Hannah…uncle to Marshall.
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One Response to Replacement Theology 2

  1. Pingback: Best of 2008 and 2009 | think hard, think well

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