Analysis of “The New Christian Zionism” (2)

According to the introduction of this book, one of the main aims of the New Christian Zionism (as both a book and a movement) is to displace Supersessionism (26-27). Supersessionim is defined by McDermott as

The view that the Christian church has superseded or replaced Israel as the locus of the covenant that God has made with his people.

McDermott opens the section titled Theoogy and History with an essay which outlines the position he wishes to displace. Remember that this book unfolds under the premise that what McDermott et all are advocating is not dispensationalism.

McDermott opens his essay by discussing what he calls the Big Story. The Big Story, so argues McDermott, is the over arching narrative into which the little stories fit. “Using the wrong Big Story would cause Christians to misinterpret the hundreds of little stories in the Bible, not to mention the earning of the myriads of details from ancient cultures in ancient times (33).” This concept is what is called hermeneutics, and this author could not agree with McDermott more.

He claims that “the story of Israel is central to the story of salvation. The latter is fundamentally is understood and distorted when it omits Israel and her story with God (33).” Pointing to the size of the Old Tesament, and the Hebaic nature of various books, he emphasizes that Israel is important.

After a brief mischaracterization… I mean description… Of the opposing position as trying to turn the story away from Israel and has “dispensed with Jewish law in favor of a church that has left Israel behind (35),” he simply dismisses the exegetical support for that position with a proverbial wave of his hand.

He makes the claim that “in the mid second century, when the synagogue was still very attractive to many Jesus-believing Jews and Gentiles, some of the former were tempted to jettison their new devotion to Jesus, and some were latter drawn to non-messianic Judaism (35-36).” Making this claim with no support from either modern historiography or second century primary sources, one has to wonder where this idea is coming from. Most treatments I have read place this phenomena in the middle of the first century, with the book of Hebrews being the response. It is a generally accepted fact that Jewish Christianity was on a steep decline by the year 100 following the destruction of the Temple in AD 70, but to stretch that another 50 years without evidence is simply irresponsible writing.

He then proceeds to follow the standard Dispensationalist road map proving a structure of systemic anti-Semitism through the church fathers and medieval age. Again stating facts such as “most historians agree that Justin [Martyr]’s version of the Biblical story caught on” with an oblique citation of a single scholar, he progresses to discuss Irenaeus, Origen, and Chrysostom as prime examples of replacement theology. The primary claim against these church fathers is that they taught a form of “economic supersessionism” which “made the history of Israel […] functionally and theologically unnecessary. It suggested that the story of Israel was simply educational, teaching the Gentiles how not to proceed, thus preparing the rest of us for the Second Adam (38, emphasis in original).” This claim is made without any argumentation or support, and rests entirely on assertion.

Furthermore I find his use and citation of these Church Fathers to be dubious. He cites Irenaeus Against Heresies 4.14.3 objecting to the idea that the Mosaic law was earthly as opposed to the eternal realities it pointed to. What he fails to note is that the section he is objecting to is simply a repetition of the teaching of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Irenaeus quotes the same passage of Exodus hat the author of Hebrews does, to make the same point. Perhaps he wishes to accuse the author of the book of Hebrews (which he conveniently leaves out in his opening salvo against Supersessionist exegesis) of making the history of Israel meaningless when he says “[The high priests] serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. (Heb 8:5, ESV)” and then cites the same passage in Exodus to justify it. He also chastises Irenaeus for arguing that “Many precepts were included in the old law because of the Jews’ ‘hardness of heart (37).'” Does he not recognize that Irenaeus is literally just quoting Jesus?

His treatment of Chrysostom is even less balanced than of Irenaeus. He isolates a single sentence from Chrysostom to demonstrate his antisemitism:

Chrysostom (ca. 349-4070, for example, preached that he thought Jews murdered their own children to offer as sacrifices to the devil, and exclaimed, “I hate the Jews.” (38)

However, there are a number of issues here. First, he utterly ignores the context of the statement. I don’t want to justify the statement in any way, however Chrysostom is not advocating a universal hatred for the entire Jewish body. He is referring to a specific group of Jews local to him. These Jews, so reports Chrysostom, were attempting to draw Christians away from faith in Christ, to a return to adherence to the Jewish Law. Chrysostom was not saying “I hate all Jews” as McDermott would have us believe, but instead was saying “I hate these Jews.” Furthermore, McDermott paints a picture of Chrysostom accusing contemporaneous Jews of murdering their children as sacrifices to the devil. First, just as a matter of procedure, McDermott assumes that that was not happening, with no prove or even argumentation to establish that point. Second, Chrysostom was actually saying that they were not sacrificing their children.

Why is it that God put up with you in the old days when you sacrificed your children to idols, but turned himself away from you now when you are not so bold as to commit such a crime? (Homily VI 2.10)

Did you catch that, he was pointing out that in the past, the Jewish people had participated in child sacrifice but his contemporaries no longer are. The fact that the Jewish people had participated in child sacrifice is just that… A fact. This is recorded for us in various places in the Bible (typically they were sacrificed to Molech).

The cited statement by McDermott was from 6.11, the only reference to child sacrifice in the entire Homily is from 2.10. However, McDermott paints a picture as though they were spoken in the same breath. I can only reason that this is a result of McDermott’s poor reading skills, or a desire to portray a reality which is not in fact real. I’m not sure which is worse.

McDermott then proceeds to rehearse the same citations from Luther’s the Jews and their Lies. No one I know of defends Luther’s statements in that essay, and the fact is that Luther and Lutheran theology do not advocate supersessionism as he has defined it. This fact makes it clear that the distinction between anti-Semitism and so-called supersessionism is illusory in the mind of McDermott.

After a brief description of Calvin’s contributions he proceeds rapidly to include the deists. Again demonstrating that he is not actually concerned with theological trajectories, but only amassing examples of people who appear to be arguing that Israel was never intended to be God’s chosen people.

I could continue to engage in this kind of meticulous dissection, but I think I’ve made my point.

In this essay McDermott has demonstrated three major issues.

First, he appears to be unaware of the Biblical precedent of typology, how it is used by the New Testament writers (especially the author of Hebrews), and how it does not make the history of Israel unnecessary.

Second, he clearly associates so-called supersessionism with anti-Semitism. Anyone who does not affirm the idea that the modern nation of Israel is central to God’s salvific plan is advocating both replacement theology and anti-Semitism… Which in his view are one and the same thing.

Third, he repeatedly misuses citations (particularly from the Early Church Fathers) to demonstrate this association. Whether this is something he did knowingly (unethical) or unwittingly (poor scholarship), it is a major issue with the essay.