This week, Christianity Today’s website featured the first round of volleys between David Brickner, the head of Jews for Jesus and John Piper, author and pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. The question being debated is “Do Jews Have A Divine Right To Israel’s Land?” Here is Brickner’s post, here’s Piper’s response.
The question is not merely an academic exercise in Biblical hermeneutics about modern Israel’s divine right to exist. It also speaks to ethnic Israel’s continued existence both in the diaspora as well as those living in the land of Israel; we’re now approaching a point where nearly half of the world Jewish population now resides in the State of Israel. The question also speaks to the identity of Jewish believers in Jesus like me.
This is not a simple “true/false” question. I contend that the way in which you answer that question – the ideas and Scripture you use to support your one-word answer – have told me some very painful stories about my identity in the four decades that I have been a Jewish believer in Jesus.
- Replacement (Supercessesionist) Theology has insisted that my religious/ethnic identity as a Jew no longer matters now that I am a Christian. Though it is true that the big C Church is now participating in the mission of proclamation given to Israel, she does so because she has been grafted in to Israel (Rom. 11:17-20), not because God took a chainsaw and stump grinder in order to eradicate Israel from His eternal plans. Replacement theology has long fed anti-Semitic sentiment, and is no friend of the Jewish people. If i had I lived in Europe during WWII, my faith in the Lord Jesus Christ would not have saved me from being put onto a cattle car and shipped to Auchwitz. Replacement theology taken to a demonic extreme fueled some of the ideology that allowed Nazism to flourish. Few Messianic Jews are fans of this theology. It is again on the rise in the Evangelical world with the ascendancy of the neo-Calvinists. Piper is a leading voice in this tribe.
- Messianic Judaism has tried to tell me that if I become a part of the Church, I will lose my Jewish identity. Jewish identity is formed in community with other Jews, and informed not only by the teachings of Scripture, and is typically shaped by post-Biblical practices endorsed by rabbis and other authorities. In the diaspora, Messianic Judaism typically takes its cues from synagogue patterns and liturgy. In Israel, Messianic congregations run the gamut from gatherings that function as Hebrew-speaking churches to those that are close cousins in style to Jewish Orthodox gatherings. One important note about Messianic congregations in Israel is that the issues of Jewish identity and lifestyle have been somewhat resolved because they are living their faith in a land that has set itself to the Jewish rhythms of observance. I left the American Messianic world two decades ago because I felt uncomfortable being a part of tiny congregations that seemed to exist in a strange DMZ between the mainstream Church and the Jewish world. As a result of this decision, I gained an extensive understanding of Gentile Christianity, but the identity concerns I heard years ago from the Messianic Jewish community about being a part of the church have been proven valid. My husband and I did what we could, unevenly at best, to maintain and pass on Jewish identity to our kids, but it is a lonely, odd job to do that out of the the context of a supportive faith community. It is no small thing to value a Jewish person attending a church. I am grateful that we’ve been in congregations that do value and support my husband and I. But it is another thing entirely to worship my Messiah in a distinctively Jewish way, live into the Jewish feast cycle (Leviticus 23) rather than Christmas-Easter-Mother’s Day-Father’s Day, and participate fully in the riches of Jewish life because this is my birthright as a daughter of Abraham.
- Christian Zionism has loudly insisted that I am only valuable because “getting Israel saved will cause Jesus to return at last”. Though this theological posture toward both the state of Israel and the Jewish people is certainly an improvement over Supercessionist thinking, it objectifies Jews, treating them as a means to an end. Or, more aptly, The End. I have taken a grateful but guarded position with some of these folks, because I have felt “used” by them, as if I was a trophy. With others, I sense genuine friendship and care, though I can not embrace their theology.
I firmly believe that the Jews have a divine right to our homeland. I have compassion for the Israeli Arab (Palestinian) population, and am believe that they, too have a prophetic calling and purpose in the region.
A visitor to Yad Vaashem, the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, exits the building to a plaza that offers a breathtaking view of Jerusalem and beyond. The powerful nonverbal message is that we stand here now because that travesty that decimated Jewry happened two generations ago. Israel’s continued fragile existence surrounded and vastly outnumbered by antagonistic, human-rights violating nations (Syria, Egypt for starters) is all mercy, as Brickner noted. Piper states that that Israel may (italics his) have a human right to the land, but that the nation’s divine right is both conditional and irrevocable. I do not have a quarrel with the Biblical accuracy of those statements, but I do have a serious beef with his application, which comes down to these words: “While Israel rejects Jesus as her Messiah, neither God’s mercy nor his justice offers compelling warrant for her possessing the Land.”
In other words, John Piper is stating that until world Jewry comes to faith in Christ, they do not have a divine right to the land. His theology has disconnected his idea of future redemption from God’s present mercy to his Chosen People in a way that violently violates Romans 11. When the former Phariseee Saul-now-Paul wrote his friends in Rome, he explained his ministry motivation: “...if somehow I might move to jealousy my fellow countrymen and save some of them.” (Romans 11:14 NASB).
Piper’s words and harsh application will not move any Jewish person to jealousy. Ever.
And they made me, a Jewish believer in the Jewish Jesus Piper confesses, very, very sad as well.