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Why I am no longer a Christian anti-Zionist

The gifts and promises of God are for the Jews too, so why not the promised land?

My title has a double negative because I am reluctant to call myself a “Christian Zionist.” The overwhelmingly negative connotation of the term “Zionist” today – after the UN General Assembly in 1975 equated Zionism with racism – closes off further conversation, contrary to my hopes for this article. My own view has changed in the last decade or so. I was taught in seminary that the church was the New Israel and that God’s covenant promises were now completely and spiritually fulfilled in Christ and his church. This is an anti-Zionist position.

I now question the anti-Zionist contentions that the establishment of Israel as a nation state in 1948 has nothing to do with God’s covenant promises to Abraham and his descendants. The idea that Israel is no longer theologically significant because these promises are all fulfilled in Christ and the church of all nations has replaced Israel as the object of God’s promises, is called supersessionism. My modest claim here is that Reformed Christians have good reasons for questioning supersessionism. We should consider whether the establishment of Israel as a nation state in 1948 may in fact be connected to God’s covenant promises to Abraham and his descendants. Here’s why:

The Apostle Paul

Supersessionists risk calling the Apostle Paul a liar when he says this about Israel: “As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Rom. 11:28–29). We must take Paul’s agony and spiritual wrestling about God’s promises to his fellow Jews seriously. Furthermore, while Gentiles are incorporated by faith in Christ into the lineage of Abraham’s descendants (Gal. 3:7-9), the New Testament never says that the Church replaces ethnic Israel and becomes the “New Israel.” Rather, Paul’s point later in Galatians 6:15-16 where he uses the expression “Israel of God,” and especially in Romans 9-11, is that Gentiles become participants in the promises to Israel. Gentile Christians do not replace Israel, they join the remnant of believing Israel; they are ingrafted as “wild olive shoots” onto the natural olive tree of Israel. And apropos to Christian anti-Zionism: Paul warns us Gentiles against the danger of arrogantly rejecting our dependence on this Jewish root in Romans 11:18-24. Beginning with the Songs of Mary and Zechariah in Luke 1, the New Testament repeatedly reminds us that Jesus came to deliver his people, i.e., Israel.

The Reformed Tradition

Reformed theology teaches the unity of God’s covenant of grace. Christ fulfills God’s covenant promises to Abraham and his descendants, but fulfillment is not replacement. The Reformed tradition takes the Old Testament seriously as God’s word. Therefore, many orthodox Reformed scholars in the seventeenth century believed that some future deliverance was expected for ethnic Israel. God always keeps his promises! And Reformed people in The Netherlands demonstrated that they practiced what they believed by providing refuge and safe haven for God’s old covenant people, notably during the Holocaust.

Anti-Semitism

Hard supercessionism has contributed to a long-standing malignancy in the history of Christianity – anti-Semitism. Today, hatred for Jews is increasingly matched by hostility to Christians. In the Middle East, our dear brothers and sisters in the Lord, many from communities that have existed since the days of the early church, are being slaughtered by some of the same jihadist forces that have vowed to destroy the State of Israel since its founding.

If God’s covenant promises are inviolable (according to the Apostle Paul!), and the promise of land is integral to God’s promise to Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3 and repeated references in the OT prophets), then all I ask of those who read this is that they consider the possibility that our covenant God may have had a redemptive as well as providential purpose in Israel acquiring nation status in 1948.

For those who wish to pursue this further in a spirit of openness, I heartily recommend Gerald McDermott’s Israel Matters: Why Christians Must Think Differently about the People and the Land (Brazos Press, 2017)

Author

  • John Bolt

    John is the Jean and Kenneth Baker Professor of Systematic Theology, Emeritus, of Calvin Theological Seminary.

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