Four years ago, a conference of Palestinian Arab Christians was sponsored by Bethlehem Bible College and called by the provocative title, “Christ at the Checkpoint.” The Messianic Jewish community in Israel and leaders of Christian Zionist organizations responded with great alarm. First, they voiced concern over the very strong replacement theology thrust of the conference: the Church is now the fullness of the ongoing meaning of Israel and that physical, literal “Israel” no longer has a special destiny in the plan of God. This was coupled with a clear political agenda to undercut Christian Zionism. The conference was very well done with media, highly regarded speakers, etc. Some Messianic Jews and Christian Zionists attended and sought dialogue in the midst of this. In 2012, I attended, largely to have dialogue and loving confrontation, especially with some of the leading Christian theologians that were setting the theological direction. I also went to support the Israeli speakers such as Evan Thomas, Richard Harvey and Wayne Hillsden, pastor of King of Kings, who gave an impassioned defense of a theology of continued Jewish election (chosenness).
Progress Being Made
I believe that progress was made in this new version of the Christ and the Checkpoint Manifesto: Any challenge of the injustices taking place in the Holy Land must be done in Christian love. Criticism of Israel and the occupation cannot be confused with anti-Semitism and the delegitimization of the State of Israel. This year I was invited to speak to the issue of replacement theology. Then Gary Burge (well respected Professor of New Testament at Wheaton College) was to also make a presentation after which we would receive questions and answers. Here is my report on the conference and the presentation. First of all, the Palestinian Christians are dear brothers and sisters who still maintain a culture of honor. The conference was done with great order and professionalism. The leaders drawn from the Christian world included heavyweights such as Geoff Tunnicliff, the Executive Secretary of the World Evangelical Alliance; Billy Wilson, the President of Oral Roberts University, and too many others to name. I could not have gone but for the confirmation of our leadership team here in Israel. I am submitted to them for my work in the Land.
Yet, there was great resistance to my participation from some Israeli leaders. Some thought I would just be used to further the political agenda of CATC. Some of the e-mails and a blog from England actually came to a level of ungodly attack and accusation. Some of the CATC folks really have a very strong political agenda to undercut Christian support for Israel. Others are more oriented to real dialogue and true unity with the Messianic Jewish community. Of course, there are political implications to Kingdom of God principles, but our orientation must not be primarily political. Through prayer, revival and outpourings of the Spirit, our politics can change. In addition, I think some on the Messianic/Christian Zionist side can almost make an idol of Israel; while the same can be true for others concerning Palestinian identity and nationalism. In both cases, the clear preaching of the Gospel is either avoided or very distorted. This can set up an enormous clash. I knew that in seeking truth in the Middle East, with the special election of Israel and the special calling also of the Arab nations (see Isaiah 19:24-25), the spiritual warfare is intense. Therefore the call to prayer is urgent. When I got up to speak, I found myself trembling. I believe this is the first time I experienced a trembling under the anointing. I have seen others in this situation, but it was a first for me. So much prayer was being offered. It was as if I was carried along.
I began with identifying with the enormous suffering of the Palestinian Christians. I noted that we Jewish people also had experienced enormous suffering. (I felt almost that doing theology was too much at this point, and that we needed to just pray; but I was charged to give a presentation.) I then said that we must not do theology from our pain, or it will be skewed. There is no doubt that the pain of the Palestinians orients them toward a theology that refuses to acknowledge the special election of their “oppressors.” Unless we recognize the reality of this pain as issuing from genuine trauma, we cannot gain a hearing for our theology. I referred to Jewish atheism as a response to the pain of the Holocaust as well; but again asserted that we can only do theology rightly on the basis of the Bible and that every text must be given its full weight of meaning according to its original context—regardless of our present circumstances. Next, I wanted to shatter the myth that belief in the election of Israel is just a recent aberration of dispensational theology. I read from the Roman Catholic Catechism (674) and its amazing compilation of Scripture that was put together to repudiate replacement theology and to affirm the election of the Jewish people. Only after did I note from where this came. People were amazed. Many had never heard that this largest of institutional Christian bodies had repudiated replacement theology and that this is now official Catholic doctrine. I then went on to teach Romans 9, the first verses and Romans 11. Then I made the case that the gifts and call in Romans 11:29 had to include destiny in this Land. However, I was clear that this did not give Israel a right to treat the Palestinians poorly if they were willing to live in peace with the Jewish people. Also, I read Ezekiel 36 on God calling us back to the Land before we are to be born again (v. 24-32). When I was finished I called for prayer and spiritual warfare to deal with the fact that the real oppression here is because two religions, Judaism and Islam, both declare that God has no divine Son.
Many Voiced Agreement
The dialogue with Dr. Burge was good. He repudiates replacement theology but really struggles with the Land promise (he teaches that while the New Covenant (especially Romans 9-11) teaches the continuing validity of Jewish covenant identity, this no longer includes the validity of God’s promises concerning Jewish position of the Land). I can only say that it was as if the atmosphere changed. After the talk, Palestinian Christians came from every side and thanked me for the presentation. How long this will last, I cannot know, but there was a new openness! However, the greater effect might be with the leaders who connected with me around coffee and meals. Many voiced agreement with my presentation and some want to further the dialogue in future venues. One wants to make a video with a more balanced perspective that will be a bridging narrative that both reflects what the Palestinian Christians have suffered, but also what the Jewish people have suffered and why they have a destiny in the Land. Meetings with folks such as the leader of the World Evangelical Alliance and a leading Coptic Orthodox Bishop (Egyptian Church) were very fruitful and there was significant accord. The relationship with Dr. Gary Burge was very good as we spent time together afterwards. I should note that Pastor Oded Shoshani gave a strong word on the reasons for Israel’s actions on the basis of the constant attacks against them and the need to defend the nation. I think there is a new openness for continued dialogue with my Palestinian brothers and sisters. Replacement is still a great temptation.
I felt as if I threw a rock in a pond and the ripples will continue. I have had overwhelmingly good responses from Messianic Jewish and Christian Zionist leaders for my presentation with only three negative ones, and two of those negative ones were thoughtful and reasonable. Only one was nasty and not according to the spirit of Yeshua. So let’s continue to pray and believe for good things. I think a lot of good will ultimately come from this. I should note that there is a group of Arab Christians who are more positive to Israel. We must be thankful for them as well.