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 is the last in a series of posts containing the response I sent to my father.
As to the evangelistic and social implications of “replacement” theology, I think that a modern Christian focus on national Israel imposes several major problems on the church and on preaching the gospel to Jews.
First, dispensationalists tend to politically support the modern state of Israel, but for religious reasons. You know that I am very pro-Israel in my political leanings, even contrary to some in my party, which mostly favors non-interventionist foreign policy. I support Israel because I believe that they are treated unjustly and treated despicably by their neighboring nations and the world at large.
However, this does not mean that I put my religious “eggs” in Israel’s basket. The rise of dispensational eschatology, as stressed by Walvoord and Dallas, can be closely correlated to the rise of Israel in the last half of the 20th century. But what happens to dispensationalism if (mē ginoita!) Iran acquires nuclear weapons and wipes Israel off the map? I must give credit to the dispensationalists who warn against prophecy conferences and those kinds of speculations, on the grounds that the last days could still be many centuries away; John Master, for whom I have tremendous respect, told me that he never gets invited to prophecy conferences any more because he is a “party-pooper,” warning (as Jesus did) against such speculations. Again, I don’t use these examples as proof of the incorrectness of dispensational eschatology, but merely as some of its outworking.
Second, with regard to evangelism, Tom Wright hits the nail on the head in his article, cited by Kaiser. An excessive emphasis on the future kingdom undercuts the severity and the urgency of the plight of Jews, who are just as lost as any other unbelieving sinners. In some of my experiences with the Messianic movement subsequent to moving out of your home, I have felt that Jews and Gentiles in that movement tend to dangle the millennial kingdom in front of unbelieving Jews as a sort of theological carrot to prove that true Christianity is not anti-Semitic.
Conversely, I have also experienced what I refer to as “Judeocentrism,” or Jew-worship. When people from my dispensational university or from dispensational traditions find out that I am ethnically Jewish, they gasp in pleasant surprise! “Oh, you are Jewish? That’s great!” (as if I did something to merit my “favored” birth). Some people at PBU and places like it really do treat Jews differently, and I think this is just as contrary to Pauline theology as anti-Semitism. The beauty of the gospel is that through Christ’s act, all can be saved and be one in him and his kingdom, irrespective of ethnicity, foreskin, pork-consumption, or any other cultural or ethnic distinction.
I hope that you do not think that I am abandoning my Jewish heritage; I weep along with you and Paul for our Jewish brothers, and I keep the feasts in the tradition of your home. I seek a better understanding of Messiah and this new life he has given us.