The Gospel of Israel, Introduction
- God created the world and loves it (Gen 1-2).
- People sinned and deserve to be punished (Gen 3).
- God sent Jesus to die for us (Mt, Mk, Lk, Jn) (p.s., he was raised from the dead as well - hooray!)
- Repent, trust in Jesus and you will be saved from sin.
Setting aside the numerous crass theological moves in this summary, notice the jump from Genesis 3 to Matthew's gospel, passing over the vast bulk of the Bible. It is as if we can understand what God's purposes in history are, and what Jesus was all about, without recourse to the story of Israel.
One wonders why God even bothered with 'the Israel part of the story' because, in the minds of many Christians, it is so obviously redundant. At best it provides us with some pretty typological illustrations of what God will later do in Jesus. You have probably heard those sermons on OT texts in which the preacher carefully matches up the OT shadow with the NT reality leaving me wondering why they did not simply cut out the middle man and preach a NT sermon, because the OT seemed to teach nothing that we did not already know before we looked at it.
Something must be wrong with this picture! Why did God bother with Israel? Were they simply an illustration of the church? If so then now that the church has come presumably God has set them aside (that is certainly the traditional Christian belief) - after all, who needs the shadow after the reality has arrived?
But the persistent existence of the Jewish people proves a stumbling block to traditional Christian theology. If they have been jettisoned from the covenant people as Christians have historically claimed then why are they still around? Without a land of their own (for most of the past 2000 years), and in the face of the twin pressures of persecution and assimilation, it really is astonishing that the Jewish people are still with us. Why has God preserved them?
Traditional theologians speculated that God preserved them simply as a warning of what happens to those who disobey God - life under divine curse. However, apart from being utterly objectionable, this belief also struggles to make sense of the beginnings of a change of fortunes in Jewish history since the mid-twentieth century.
So my question is this - what happens if we tell the story of Jesus and of the church as part of a bigger story that takes Israel's past, present and future part in the narrative seriously? And can we do it without becoming Dispensationalists? (I know that this will really annoy some people but I naturally incline towards viewing Dispensationalism as a breeding ground for freaky and over-zealous biblical interpretation! Just a personal opinion :-))
This mini-series of reflections was prompted by Nathan Fellingham's question on the place of Torah in the ekklesia (it will become clear that my views on this are very un-Dispensationalist). So rather than going directly to that issues I want to approach it in a kind of meandering way across the biblical metanarrative. I apologize if some of the observations are bland and obvious but I thought that it was worth stating the obvious at times.
I have no doubt that I will be wrong in my interpretations of some texts but my hope is that the broad contours of the big picture I sketch have some merit as a way of making sense of the place of Israel in God's story.
In fact, I will argue that unless we re-orientate our thinking on that issue we will wound not merely the Jewish people (and this history of Christian mistreatment of the Jews is sickening) but the Church itself. It will be my contention that unless the Church appreciates how it is related to Israel we will not understand adequately who we are, who Jesus is, what our mission is, and what our gospel is.
I cannot pretend that I adequately appreciate these things but I am going to make an effort to do so. Please feel free to help me as I think through these issues by offering your own comments.