Over at TGC I did a review of Gerald McDermott’s new book Israel Matters. I conclude with the following.
McDermott presents two ways on this issue: supersessionism or New Zionism. But why are those the only options? I offer my most significant critique by proposing a third way: “fulfillment.” This avoids clunky statements like “the church replaces Israel” and also provides more information about what it means that “Israel matters.”
Fulfillment avoids two misunderstandings: (1) that Jesus came to set aside old promises, and (2) that Jesus simply came to say the old promises continue in the same way. Jesus didn’t come to abrogate the law or to simply affirm it; he came to fulfill it. The New Testament authors argue that Jesus fulfills the law and the identity of Israel, and the church is an outgrowth of this fulfillment. The tension between the new and the old is illustrated and encapsulated in the word “fulfillment.”
These positions can be put on a spectrum:
Christ Abrogates the Law ––––––––– Christ Fulfills the Law –––––––– Christ Affirms the Law
To put these positions in the terms of this book, the “abrogate” position maps onto supersessionism, and the “affirm” position maps onto New Christian Zionism.
Supersessionism ––––––––– Fulfillment –––––––– New Christian Zionism
It seems to me that McDermott falls into the trap that Jesus avoids in Matthew 5. The law is neither simply abrogated nor affirmed, because the environment has completely changed: Christ is here, and that makes all the difference.
McDermott’s proposal has some attractive features, but I think he falls too far on the affirming side of the spectrum. By using the third way of “fulfillment” we can still affirm that Israel matters, but then we can ask, “In what way?” All our answers must come only after we’ve grappled with our Christology, the triune nature of God, and the biblical storyline.