“Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” George Santayana
Are you confused by today’s new replacement theology? Do you want to articulate a response to those who embrace it? Due to the number of questions I’ve received on the topic, this article goes into a bit more depth than an earlier post with the same title.**
For most of its history, institutionalized Christianity taught that Israel was replaced by the Church in God’s heart, promises and prophetic plans. This tragically erroneous doctrine is called replacement theology. Replacement theology is but one expression of what is known more generally as “supersessionism.” Supersessionism teaches (mistakenly) that all God’s covenants with Israel are completely expired and superseded by the New Covenant. When supersessionism has flourished in Church history, it has always resulted in Christian anti-Semitism.
Today’s supersessionism differs slightly from traditional replacement theology. It teaches that all God’s covenants with Israel are completely expired because they are now fulfilled in the Person of Jesus Christ. The doctrine is based on an exaggerated and unbalanced, out-of-context application of Matthew 5:17. It also has highly political aspirations. (More on this later.)
The new supersessionism is known as fulfillment theology, Christian Palestinianism, or Palestinian fulfillment theology. It has the same practical effect as replacement theology, disinheriting the Jewish people and Jewish nation-state. This time, however, it is not the Church which directly disinherits Israel; it is Jesus Himself. All prophetic promises are said to consist of intangible, spiritual realities existing inside His divine Person. The Church only indirectly replaces Israel because the Church is in Him.
Fueled by Palestinian evangelicals together with Western Bible scholars, the new supersessionism stokes old flames of replacement theology and anti-Jewish sentiment. It is based on a method of interpreting Scripture that cuts off the Old Covenant Hebraic roots of Christianity. This interpretive approach results in either marginalizing or dismissing whole portions of the Old Covenant as the inspired and authoritative Word of God.
How do we properly interpret the Old Covenant — and avoid falling prey to the new supersessionism? Two principles are key. First, Scripture is to be understood fundamentally according to its straightforward, plain, or literal meaning. Symbolic and deeper meanings may amplify, but do not abolish, the fundamentally more literal meaning. “Land,” for example, fundamentally means a piece of real estate located on this material earth. It may also refer symbolically to a place existing in some spiritual dimension, but such meaning is in addition to, not instead of, its fundamental meaning. There is no replacement or supersession of the original meaning of the word.
Second, the Bible itself shows how the authors of Scripture interpreted Scripture. When new revelation was given it could amplify, but not abolish, preexisting Scripture. A critical test for determining the authenticity and inspiration of proposed new biblical text was its consistency with preexisting biblical text, that which had already been determined to be true. The Jewish authors of the New Covenant knew how to interpret the Abrahamic covenant in light of the later Mosaic covenant, and the Mosaic covenant in light of the later Davidic covenant. They would have believed it impossible for inspired and authoritative New Covenant text to contradict older text. Sometimes New Covenant realities dramatically change Old Covenant realities and practices, as is the case with atonement for sin. In such instances the apostles carefully explain–in the language of their day–how those realities fulfill earlier prophecy to usher in the Kingdom of God.
Christian Palestinian fulfillment theology interprets the Bible according to different, historically anti-Jewish principles. Not surprisingly, it blatantly seeks to undermine Christian Zionism and evangelical support of Israel. Sadly, it is proving somewhat successful at doing so. The new supersessionism is impacting churches and institutions throughout the Western world. Surveys indicate that American evangelicals are now almost evenly split on their stance toward Israel. Nearly half believe the Jewish state has no Bible-based right to exist and does not reflect God’s end times restoration of the Jews.
Christian Palestinianists freely admit their theology was developed largely from their personal pain. Like their Islamist compatriots, they put all the blame on Israel for their suffering and political dilemma.
Christian Palestinians and those supporting them miss the facts. They refuse to address the real cause of the Palestinian plight: fundamental Islam. The widespread human rights abuse perpetrated against them by their own leaders is never part of the conversation. Sadly, if it were, Christian Palestinians probably wouldn’t live long enough to hold the conversation again.
Palestiniains’ problems are real and deserve our prayerful, compassionate attention. Israel is far from perfect. But she isn’t the enemy. And cursing her won’t bring any blessing to her accusers.
By God’s grace, let’s rise above the fray and take a Kingdom perspective. God is in covenant relationship with Jews and ALL who come to Him through Messiah. He wants justice for Palestinians AND Israelis. But biblical justice is based on righteousness, which is based on truth, which is based on the WHOLE truth. Will we stand for it?
** Documentation and sources for statements made in this article can be found in my new book, “Why Still Care About Israel?” See chapter 12, Countering Christian Zionism: Christian Palestinianism. The book may be purchased through lightofzion.org, amazon.com, or any bookstore.