Photo: Jamie-Andrea Yanak/Associated Press
Todayâ€™s Washington Post observes the widespread support for Israel and for Jews among evangelical Christians. The piece is titled, â€œAmong Evangelicals, A Kinship With Jews.â€ The paper quotes excerpts from an interview with Mark Noll that should raise the eyebrows of anyone who cares about the gospel.
Mark A. Noll, a professor of Christian thought at Wheaton College, a center of evangelical scholarship in Illinois, said evangelicals are beginning to move away from supersessionism — the centuries-old belief that with the coming of Jesus, God ended his covenant with the Jews and transferred it to the Christian church.
Since the 1960s, the Roman Catholic Church and some Protestant denominations have renounced supersessionism and stressed their belief that the covenant between God and the Jewish people remains in effect.
Evangelicals generally have not taken that step, but â€˜among what you might call the evangelical intelligentsia, questions of supersessionism have come onto the table,â€™ Noll said. â€œItâ€™s in play among evangelicals in the way that it was in mainline Protestantism and Catholicism — but wasnâ€™t among evangelicals — 30 or 40 years ago.â€
What Noll refers to here is not the belief among many evangelicals that there will be widespread conversion of Jews to Christ at some point in the future (along the lines of Romans 11:26). What Noll refers to is the idea that the Jews have a favored status with God apart from Jesus. This favored status consists in their election by God to be in covenant with himâ€”a covenant that God made with the patriarchs all the way back in Genesis beginning with Abraham.
This idea has been popular among mainline Protestant for some time, and it holds that Godâ€™s promises to bless Israel are still in effect for the Jews even though the Jews by and large do not embrace Jesus as their Messiah. In other words, because of the covenant with Abraham, the Jews can have salvation apart from faith in Jesus the Messiah. The shocking thing that Noll brings forth is how this idea is making inroads among the â€œintelligentsiaâ€ of evangelicalism.
But what Noll doesnâ€™t address is the somewhat ironic fact that many conservative evangelicals, who would otherwise affirm that there is no salvation apart from faith in Jesus the Messiah, make the claim that non-Christian Jews have a favored status with God even though they do not embrace Jesus as their Messiah. This is in fact what the Post article is all about. These sentiments characterize the remarks of a Southern Baptist pastor who was interviewed:
â€œI feel jealous sometimes. This term that keeps coming up in the Old Book — the Chosen, the Chosen,â€ says the minister, who has made three trips to Israel and named his sons Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. â€œIâ€™m a pardoned gentile, but Iâ€™m not one of the Chosen People. Theyâ€™re the apple of his eye.â€
Comments such as these are unfortunate because they actually detract from the central truth that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, and all the blessings of the covenant with Abraham can only be obtained through faith in Jesus. The blessings of the covenant only come to those who believe in the crucified and risen Messiah, and any Jewish person who does not believe in this Messiah has broken the covenant and is liable to judgment. If one wants to drink from the rich root of Israel (Romans 11:17), they must do so by faith in Jesus the Messiah.
These Gospel truths have a profound impact on how Christians should feel about the middle-east conflict today. The secular state of Israel today may not claim a present divine right to the Land as long as they reject the Messiah and are thereby covenant breakers. Until the mass of Jews convert their allegiance to Jesus the Messiah, God will not bless them according to the terms of the covenant. That is why every evangelical who anticipates a â€œfuture for Israelâ€ in the Holy Land also anticipates a mass conversion of the Jews before that blessing comes. So even traditional dispensationalists are inconsistent when they claim that the Jews have a right to the land now.
This does not mean, however, that there are no reasons to be supportive of the secular state of Israel. It is the only democracy in the region (Iraq, nothwithstanding). You will hear me from time to time expressing support for Israel on this basis because I think democracies promote justice. But I will never argue that God is obligated to bless anyone apart from Christ. That idea simply does not appear in the Scriptures anywhere.
For more on this topic, I recommend John Piperâ€™s sermon â€œIsrael, Palestine, and the Middle East.â€
In many ways, there is not much that is “fresh” about N. T. Wright’s Paul: In Fresh Perspective. The book consists largely of a rehashing of material that he has already written about elsewhere. Continue Reading →
John Piper has written a letter announcing that he has prostate cancer. The letter is available here on the Desiring God website.
Those of you who read my blog know how much I love Dr. Piper and how important his ministry has been in my life. I hope you might be willing to join me in praying for him, his church, and his family.
Can someone tell me how a USC win in the Rose Bowl would have been a three-pete? People seem to be forgetting who won the 2004 championship. Great game, Texas! Geaux Tigers!
HT: Ray Bowman
Stephen L. Carter of Christianity Today expresses a bit of cynicism concerning evangelicals who hold to Originalism as a judicial philosophy (see â€œThe â€˜Judicial Philosophyâ€™ Dodgeâ€). He thinks the very notion of having a judicial philosophy is a â€œslipperyâ€ business at best. All the talk about opposing judges who â€œlegislate from the benchâ€ and supporting judges who interpret the Constitution according to â€œoriginal intentâ€ is just code for oneâ€™s position on abortion. For Carter, the popular distinction between Originalism and the â€œLiving Constitutionâ€ approach is nonsenseâ€”â€œnot merely nonsense, but nonsense on stilts.â€
Carter may be correct that some evangelicals support justices based on outcomes and not based on actual judicial philosophy. But this is a far cry from saying that the distinction between Originalism and the â€œLiving Constitutionâ€ approach is nonsense. Carter is not giving enough credit to those of us who really do hold to a consistent Originalist philosophy and who see the deconstruction of traditional texts to be one of the central threats to morality and justice in our society. For us, original intent is more than just a â€œcatchy phrase.â€ It is the only moral way to interpret texts (see Vanhoozer, Is There a Meaning in This Text?).
Iâ€™m a bit at a loss to understand where Carter is going in this piece. Ostensibly, he is trying to show that both liberals and conservatives can be disingenuous in their taking up the mantle of a judicial philosophy. Yet, both of the (somewhat strange) hypothetical scenarios he dreams up to make his point seem to be directed against those who hold conservative political views. It makes him sound like one of those â€œabove-the-frayâ€ types who take up the rhetoric of critiquing both sides but end up just criticizing the conservatives (think Jim Wallis, and all major media outlets).
Carterâ€™s opinion on Bush v. Gore also makes me wonder where he is coming from. He writes, â€œYet it is not only liberals who hand down results that seem inexplicable except as exercises of arbitrary will. As I have mentioned in these pages before, the Supreme Court’s 2000 decision in Bush v. Gore certainly seems cut from the same cloth.â€ Here, Carter echoes the rhetoric of every left to center-left politician who has every complained about the results of the 2000 Presidential election. Not only is he tipping his hand with respect to his politics, but heâ€™s also missed the logic of Bush v. Gore.
If he thinks that Bush v. Gore is a trouncing of the original intent of the Constitution, then he doesnâ€™t understand Bush v. Gore. Contrary to popular misconception, the decision in that case was not just a willy-nilly vote among nine justices on who they think should be President (with President Bush edging out Gore 5-4). Gore was suing to have ballots recounted only in counties where he thought he could uncover some more votes. This of course means that ballots cast in Democrat-filled counties would have been given more careful consideration than ballots in other counties. This was obviously a violation of the â€œequal protectionâ€ clause of the fourteenth amendment. Seven of the nine Justices recognized this violation and said so in their opinions. Only five of the seven could agree on how to address the violation, and that was to stop the recount in the Democrat-filled districts. If Gore would have sued for a statewide recount, there likely would not have been a fourteenth amendment violation.
But I digress . . .
My main point is that Carterâ€™s piece is off base. He needs to give us Originalists a little more credit.
For those of you who read my blog, you may remember my two previous posts on the elders at John Piperâ€™s church who were proposing that certain unbaptized persons be accepted into their fellowship as members (read them here and here). You may also remember my post in December in which I disagreed with this decision on the part of the elders (read it here). I am happy to learn that the elders have withdrawn the motion (click here to read the notice on the churchâ€™s website).
Bethlehem still needs our prayers, however, as the issue is still not resolved. This is evident in the statement posted on the churchâ€™s website:
The elders realize that the issue cannot be dropped because the majority of the elders still favor the motion, including almost all the pastoral staff, and because that conviction puts most of the elders and staff in conflict with at lease one literal reading of the Bethlehem Affirmation of Faith.
This puts the majority of the elders (including John Piper) in the position of being in disagreement with the doctrinal statement that they are duty-bound to uphold. When there is such a conflict as this one, either the doctrinal statement has to change, or the elders have to change. Otherwise, the integrity of the churchâ€™s leadership is compromised. Itâ€™s evident that the elders donâ€™t want that to happen.
Iâ€™m sure the elders who are in disagreement with the statement are wondering how long they can remain elders in good conscience while disagreeing with the churchâ€™s doctrinal statement. They have already tried to change the statement, and that didnâ€™t work because it split the elder board. Iâ€™m sure they are now pondering and praying about what to do next. Iâ€™m going to pray too.
Olivia Judson, an evolutionary biologist at Imperial College in London, writes an interesting Op-Ed in todayâ€™s New York Times titled, â€œWhy I’m Happy I Evolved.â€ The essay is interesting because it puts on plain display the incoherence of atheistic Darwinism. She writes:
Some people want to think of humans as the product of a special creation, separate from other living things. I am not among them; I am glad it is not so. I am proud to be part of the riot of nature, to know that the same forces that produced me also produced bees, giant ferns and microbes that live at the bottom of the sea.
It is not at all clear to me how being part of the so-called â€œriot of natureâ€ provides any significance at all for the human being. In Judsonâ€™s worldview, the â€œforcesâ€ that bequeathed to us the â€œbeesâ€ and the â€œgiant fernsâ€ are not intelligent or benevolent, but a random arrangement of materialistic causes and effects. How can merely being a part of this biological morass be a source of pride for any person? Itâ€™s all random with no meaning whatsoever according to the Darwinistâ€™s worldview. Judson goes on:
For me, the knowledge that we evolved is a source of solace and hope. I find it a relief that plagues and cancers and wasp larvae that eat caterpillars alive are the result of the impartial – and comprehensible – forces of evolution rather than the caprices of a deity.
How can evolution, which depends on the random mechanisms of chance and time, provide â€œsolace and hopeâ€ to any person? What solace is there in knowing that one is nothing more than the sum total of his or her biological matter? What hope is there in the idea that when my biological matter ceases to exist, I cease to exist? The â€œimpartialâ€ forces of evolution grind a person into a meaningless oblivion.
Perhaps Judsonâ€™s problem is not so much with the idea of design in nature, but with the idea of a Designer over nature. Why else would she charge the Deity with directing all things by â€œcapricesâ€ and not by a wise and benevolent will? Maybe it is because even she recognizes that not all is right with the world, even though it is being controlled by the â€œimpartialâ€ forces of evolution. She continues:
More than that, I find that in viewing ourselves as one species out of hundreds of millions, we become more remarkable, not less so. No other animal that I have heard of can live so peaceably in such close quarters with so many individuals that are unrelated. No other animal routinely bothers to help the sick and the dying, or tries to save those hurt in an earthquake or flood.
If we are all just cogs in the evolutionary wheel, how is helping the sick and the dying a virtue? Doesnâ€™t the â€œwonderâ€ of evolution consist in the fact that the fittest survive and the weakest donâ€™t?
There is more here to critique than I have space or time to deal with. The point is that the Darwinist has no leg to stand on when he or she begins to talk about meaning and virtue. Those two things simply cannot exist in their worldâ€”if they are to be consistent within their own worldview. As Judson shows in this article, many Darwinists are simply inconsistent.
Yet I am hopeful when I see such inconsistency because I think that it shows that even the most committed materialistic Darwinist cannot get away from the fact that God has set eternity in their hearts and that there is more to this world than just matter, chance, and time. As the apostle Paul writes, â€œwhat may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualitiesâ€”his eternal power and divine natureâ€”have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been madeâ€ (Romans 1:19-20).
My hope and prayer for people like Olivia Judson is that their unbelief will collapse under the weight of the inconsistencies of their position and that they will be driven to a true knowledge of the Maker of all things.
Since it is New Yearâ€™s Day, I figure there is time for one last holiday post. World Magazine takes an entertaining look at Santa Claus and makes the argument that jolly old St. Nick should be enlisted in the Christian cause. The article is titled, â€œSlappy holiday: Why not take the Santa Claus tradition a little further?â€ If you are a theologue, then you will likely find this piece quite amusing.
HT: Carl Miller, the SixPointCalvinist
Christianity Today has run an article on what U.N. officials have called “one of the worst human-rights crises of the past century.” The article is titled “Deliver Us from Kony” and is about the butchery and inhumanity of a guerilla paramilitary group known as the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in northern Uganda. The leader of the LRA is Joseph Kony.
The worst of the LRA’s crimes have been perpetrated against children, whom the LRA routinely kidnaps and forces to serve in their ranks.
Perhaps the greatest atrocity is teaching these children that they spread this carnage by the power of the Holy Spirit to purify the “unrepentant,” twisting Christianity into a religion of horror to their victims. It is spiritual warfare at its very worst, and it could not be more satanic. . .
[Warning: The rest of this section contains graphic descriptions of brutality.]
Under threat of death, LRA child soldiers attack villages, shooting and cutting off people’s lips, ears, hands, feet, or breasts, at times force-feeding the severed body parts to victims’ families. Some cut open the bellies of pregnant women and tear their babies out. Men and women are gang-raped. As a warning to those who might report them to Ugandan authorities, they bore holes in the lips of victims and padlock them shut. Victims are burned alive or beaten to death with machetes and clubs. The murderous task is considered properly executed only when the victim is mutilated beyond recognition and his or her blood spatters the killer’s clothing.
CT includes a brief section on what American Christians can do to bring an end to this conflict. What all of us can and should do is pray.