Israel Matters Review

August 7, 2017 — 1 Comment

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.”[2] 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.

Patrick Schreiner

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I teach New Testament at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon. I am married with three children. This blog, against all wisdom, includes anything I am interested in. That includes movies, music, theology, culture, hermeneutics, the Gospels, and politics. Feel free to comment and let me know you are reading or that you have found something helpful. I reserve the right to delete unhelpful or rude comments. Many of these posts are simply things I find interesting and therefore I am not asserting I agree with everything I link to.

One response to Israel Matters Review

  1. The option you discuss sounds similar to what I’ve read of remnant theology. Have you ever read much about that understanding? I feel like it makes by far the best sense of the talk of Israel in Romans (especially 11). The two extremes you mention seem to be to be the result of the church having an incorrect view of early church history (I believe largely because the church in Rome ignored Paul’s warning not to be arrogant).

    Neither makes any sense when you think about who the earliest disciples of Christ were, even after Pentecost. They were faithful Israel. Gentiles being part of the church was such a foreign thought initially that God had to send Peter a vision to get him to accept it (and speaking in tongues was used to confirm Cornelius), though the prophets spoke of the reality of it well before.

    The church isn’t the gentile people of God that either replaced Israel or is God’s people only for an age. It is faithful Israel that the faithful of all nations are grafted into.

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