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Robin Parry is the husband of but one wife (Carol) and the father of the two most beautiful girls in the universe (Hannah and Jessica). He also has a lovely cat called Monty (who has only three legs). Living in the city of Worcester, UK, he works as an Editor for Wipf and Stock — a US-based theological publisher. Robin was a Sixth Form College teacher for 11 years and has worked in publishing since 2001 (2001–2010 for Paternoster and 2010– for W&S).

Sunday, 3 August 2008

The Gospel of Israel, Introduction

What is the gospel? The way that I have always heard people tell the story goes something like this:
  1. God created the world and loves it (Gen 1-2).
  2. People sinned and deserve to be punished (Gen 3).
  3. God sent Jesus to die for us (Mt, Mk, Lk, Jn) (p.s., he was raised from the dead as well - hooray!)
  4. 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.

Robin

13 comments:

Teresita said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Teresita said...

Robin Parry 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?

In Galatians 6:16 Paul introduces the term "Israel of God"

And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.

This states explicitly the theology of the Church he taught in Romans 9:6-7 "...For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children..." and continuing in vv. 30-31 That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith. But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness.

Specifically, Paul taught that there is one body of sinners set aside by God. Before Christ was come, this body was a nation and a race, the "chosen people" who were granted the priveleges of a close relationship with God (such as the oracles), but requiring a strict code of behavior to show forth their status as set apart...to manifest their holiness in other words.

Their rituals and sacrifices were to exist as a foreshadowing of the perfect sacrifice at Calvary, with God himself as both victim and priest, which cleared the way for the People of God to include those outside of the genetic inheritance of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.

So the stories of the Old Testament are not merely window-dressing, they are the stories of the People of God and so they truly belong to us. Our story does not begin on Christmas day, but in Genesis 12 when God calls Abraham to forsake his life in Ur and journey to Canaan.

boxthejack said...

As someone who has banged on against Christian Zionism ad nauseum it is particularly important that I don't dispense with Israel because it's inconvenient.

It does seem that there is something ethnic about the Israel Paul talks about in Romans. But I believe that the ethnic and legal admission criteria have been jettisoned. We are part of Israel, and glory be to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Reading Romans 9-11 in the light of Galatians - the big deal is that God has a Covenant People who are to embody his personhood, serve as his priesthood, and thereby to be the light of the world. A Royal Priesthood in Peter's words.

The big deal is that God's mission is fulfilled through people, his people. Israel and the Greater Israel of the church are intercessors for all creation, just as through Israel all nations are to return to God. We don't exist for our own sake, or even simply for God's glory narrowly understood, but as the means of restoration.

David Reimer said...

Do you know Hendrikus Berkhof's Christian Faith? It probably does one of the better jobs at offering an account of the place of Israel in Christian theology.

The first volume of John Goldingay's OT Theology has an interesting account of "Israel's gospel" from an "Alttestamentler".

But you probably knew that already.

FWIW. YMMV. etc., etc. Looking forward to seeing your thoughts!

David Reimer

Robert said...

Excellent observation! I think dispensationalism is the basic belief set that lead to your four step explanation of the Gospel. I'm glad to see you calling us to re-think this and the importance of the Hebrew Scriptures for what they are trying to say on their own. I have seen some things really twisted to make them fit neat typological Christian illustrations.

Jim Deardorff said...

"Why did God bother with Israel?"

One could as well ask, Why did El bother with the Canaanites? Why did Chemosh, the God of the Moabites, bother with Moab? Or why did Ashtoreth bother with the Sidonians? Why did the great Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, who was turned into a Creator god, bother with the Buddhists? Why did Cernunnous bother with the Celts? Why did Zeus bother with the Greeks? Etc.

Is it not fair to ask these questions? It just turns out that the God of Israel was more persistent and apparently more interactive with his worshipers than were the other gods. Thanks to Paul and, later, the writer of Matthew, this god became incorporated into Christianity as an entity of similar image as mankind rather than as the Universal Consciousness.

Virgil said...

It seems like Paul dealt with some of those issues of Israel throughout Romans fairly well. As Jew himself, he seemed to have thought that Israel was a means to a better covenant, one not of animal sacrifices, one which would bring about the reconciliation of all things in Christ.

Maybe our understanding of what happened in the beginning (the description of creation and fall) may lead us to some expectations that are unrealistic?

Robin Parry said...

All

It is great to see everyone jumping ahead to the NT. I think I will hold my tongue on such issues until I get that far in the series.

Obviously one issue at the heart of several comments is whether God has redefined Israel around faith in Christ (i.e, is the church Israel/a new Israel/renewed Israel?) and, if God has, where that places Jews who do not believe in Jesus (are they no longer Israel?).

I will address that issue in a later post (if I forget please remind me).

Robin

Robin Parry said...

David

I have not read that HB book. I will bear it in mind. The most helpful book I read was "Postmissionary Messianic Judaism" by Mark Kinzer (Brazos Press, 2005). I had more or less come to the position he defends before I discovered it but the book clarified and consolidated my reflections.

Robin

Robin Parry said...

Jim

I don't quite follow your objection.

My point was simply that if Israel is unnecessary and God could have jumped straight from Adam's sin to a solution in Jesus then why did he bother with Israel?

The fact that he did bother with Israel suggests to me that Christians make a mistake to leap from Gen 3 to Matt 1.

Robin

Teresita said...

Robin Parry: My point was simply that if Israel is unnecessary and God could have jumped straight from Adam's sin to a solution in Jesus then why did he bother with Israel?

Because it was not a deus ex machina bare solution thrown out there for us to just take it or leave it. Christ as King makes no sense without the history of actual kings in Israel and Judah. Christ as Messiah makes no sense without desperate conditions through which Israel looks for a Messiah. Not only did the Word of God have to become man-flesh to become the bridge between the human and the divine, but it must have been a man foretold in prophesy to establish the pedigree. And prophesy requires a whole infrastructure to allow it to exist, including a book, a nation, and a people. We don't see quite the same thing in Zoroastrianism or Hinduism or Buddhism.

Robin Parry said...

Teresita

But I think that you are making my point - that Israel was not unnecessary. Right?

Robin

James Pate said...

I like your point about Israel's change of fortunes in the twentieth century. That's why I have a problem with "The holocaust was God's punishment for the Jews' sin" argument, whether the sin in question is the Jews' rejection of Jesus or of traditional Judaism. Most Jews STILL reject Jesus and traditional Judaism, and they're doing quite well. Israel is a powerhouse as far as nations go!