Analysis of “The New Christian Zionism” (6)
I originally intended to provide an in depth analysis for the entire book, but having finished it there are a number of factors which lead me to forego doing so for the latter portion of the book.
First, the remaining two chapters focusing on biblical studies are largely a repeated argument, applied to a different author. As I noted in my analysis of chapters three and four, your presuppositions largely determine your conclusions. In this book there is very little attempt to strip away the dispensational presuppositions of the hermeneutic put forward by Craig Blaising. These presuppositions are not demonstrated to be the same as the Apostle’s presuppositions, and because of this I think the interpretations put forward by Willitts (4), Kinzer (5), and Rudolph (6) are largely mistaken. Furthermore, the lack of any treatment of the non-Pauline epistles (especially Hebrews) is disturbing. The book of Hebrews, even more than Paul, is where the Reformed primarily see the hermeneutic of Covenant Theology developed scripturally. Also, understanding that they are attempting to separate themselves from a purely eschatological discussion, the lack of any real treatment of the book of Revelation –only garnering a meager 10 citations, which is significantly less than the citations of the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha– is disturbing.
The theological chapters, although interesting and well written, are not something that my audience would be terribly interesting. I have thus decided to not devote posts to these chapters. As is the case with the biblical chapters, these chapters are largely driven by their presuppositions, and it is a bit of a misnomer to label the section as theological. Never-the-less, I commend them to my readers if this is a subject that interests them.
Finally, as I have repeatedly demonstrated, this book –which makes a claim to be distinct from dispensationalism– is simply a variation of dispensationalism. It is admittedly a novel take on the dispensational hermeneutic, and results in a more centrist understanding of the unity of God’s two peoples and the implications for the nation of Israel… however it still fundamentally postulates two peoples and a emphasis on the geo-physical land as the fulfillment (terminus?) of God’s promise to Abraham.
I do want to conclude with a few thoughts on Darrel Bock’s closing essay. Although McDermott’s essay concludes the piece, I feel that I’ve spend enough time with him on the whipping post. In his closing essay, Bock makes several statements that concern me deeply. As the second person who is identified in this book as one of the founders of the so-called Progressive school of dispensationalism, we should be unsurprised when he forwards the same straw man arguments that we commonly see. On page 305 he repeats the refrain that those who do not hold to a geo-physical land restoration “dismisses the ongoing significance of Israel.” He also, on the same page, laments –albeit in a somewhat veiled way– the loss of literal interpretation by those who do not hold his view. He then provides a brief summary of each essay, which seems accurate enough.
However, what really concerns me takes place starting on page 308:
The second key distinction is that national Israel is not the same thing as believing Israel. Yet the existence of believing Israel (whether conceived only as messianic Jews in distinction from Gentile believers in churches or as Jewish believers as part of the larger church) in distinction from national Israel does not mean exclusion of national or corporate Israel from God’s program, or the hope that unbelieving Jews one day will come to faith in God’s Messiah. Unbelieving Israel has a right to the land because God gave it to all nations and seed of Abraham initially as an act of his grace when he called Abraham to form a nation even before the patriarch trusted God. (Emphasis mine)
I will be honest and say that when I read this, I put the book down and prayed for Dr Bock. Without too much melodramatics, and an attempt to not be bombastic, it appears that Dr Bock has simply not read the New Testament with any clarity.
First, in his parenthetical Bock grants validity to the idea that there might be “Jewish believers as part of the larger church.” This is in contrast to the idea of Jewish Christians (here called Messianic Jews) and Gentile Christians (here called Gentile believers) as the Church. Is he really trying to claim that there are those who are part of the church who are not in any way in Christ? Bock is a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, which means he affirms the following taken from their faith statement:
We believe that all who are united to the risen and ascended Son of God are members of the church which is the body and bride of Christ, which began at Pentecost and is completely distinct from Israel. Its members are constituted as such regardless of membership or nonmembership in the organized churches of earth. We believe that by the same Spirit all believers in this age are baptized into, and thus become, one body that is Christ’s, whether Jews or Gentiles, and having become members one of another, are under solemn duty to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, rising above all sectarian differences, and loving one another with a pure heart fervently (Matt. 16:16–18; Acts 2:42–47; Rom. 12:5; 1 Cor. 12:12–27; Eph. 1:20–23; 4:3–10; Col. 3:14–15). (Article XIII, emphasis mine)
You’ll note that the faith statement does not leave room for these non-Christian believers in the Church. It is deeply disturbing to me that Bock holds to a three fold division of humanity. Unbelievers, those who are in Christ, and those who are in Israel. The Apostle Paul had two categories, in Christ.. and in Adam. Why Dr Bock sees fit to add a third category is beyond me.
Furthermore, and even more concerning, is Dr Bock’s lack of understanding regarding who is Abraham’s seed. He rightly states that the Abrahamic promise was given to Abraham and his seed. The aspect of the promise to Abraham which includes blessing the nations… is still a promise to Abraham and his seed. There are two fundamental ways that Dr Bock has simply missed the point of the New Testament teaching.
Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ (Gal 3:16, ESV).
Paul makes it clear that this Seed who shares in Abraham’s promise is not the physical descendants of Abraham as the biological and national people of Israel. In fact, that is his explicit point in Galatians 3. Rather, these promises, including the promise to be a blessing to the nations, are promises to Christ. God promised that as Abraham’s seed, Christ would be blessed and be a blessing to the nations.
Second, these blessings are shared only by those who are in Christ. This is confirmed by two clear passages.
They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did (John 8:39, ESV).
Christ is speaking to the the Pharisees here. If Dr Bock is right, then they have a legitimate claim as Abraham’s children. That would mean that Christ was wrong in saying that they were not. I’m going to go with Jesus over Dr Bock. Jesus, in contrast to Dr Bock, argues that it is those who do the work of Abraham who are his children. As Jesus also tells us, that work is to believe in Christ (John 6:29). There is, in no reasonable reading of the New Testament, any way to say that those who are not in Christ, who do not believe in him, are doing the work of Abraham. Therefore, as Jesus affirms here, Abraham’s children are those who believe in Christ.
This is confirmed by Paul as he continues his teaching in Galatians 3.
For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise (Gal 3:27-29, ESV).
Paul here is clear. Those who are baptized into Christ, whether Jewish or Gentile, are a single people of God. These people who are in Christ are Abraham’s offspring, and they inherit the promise. It is not unbelieving Israel, who receives the promise of Abraham, but those who are in Christ.
Overall, this book is rife with problems. It fails to establish one of its central claims (that this is not dispensationalism or related to dispensationalism) and in fact the converse is demonstrated. Its historical overviews are full of improper citations, out of context quotes, and straw man mischaracterizations that are approaching slander. The hermeneutic presented, which is consistently applied in the following chapters, is simply progressive dispensationalism, and the lack of real treatment of the central hermeneutical bases for their oppositition is troubling. The theological chapters are largely philosophical (rather than theological) and, although interesting, do little to forward the claims of the book. Finally, the book closes with two essays that demonstrate that the authors simply do not pay close enough attention to the teachings of Jesus or Paul in reference to who is the heir of God’s promise to Abraham.
Time will tell if this movement falls into place as a new flavor of dispensationalism which rivals Progressive Dispensationalism. I suspect that it will ultimately become simply a type of Progressive Dispensationalism that lends itself to more liberal and secular voices.