This is part three of a four-part discussion between Bethlehem Baptist Church pastor John Piper and Jews for Jesus executive director David Brickner on the relationship and attitudes American Christians should have toward Israel. See Brickner's initial letter and Piper's first response.
Thank you for your insightful comments on a number of the issues brought up in my first letter to you, many with which I happily agree. We both uphold the need and priority of Jewish evangelism as integral to world mission. We both affirm the ongoing election of Israel (the Jewish people) and God's faithfulness to his covenant people and his promises. We both look forward to the second coming of Jesus and his glorious restoration of all things, including his people Israel. I do want to take issue with two of your comments before voicing my main concern.
To your assertion that the Abrahamic covenant is conditional, I will simply quote my friend and teacher Walter C. Kaiser Jr.: "Promise and blessing still precede the command to obey and to keep the commands of God. Obedience is no more a condition for Abraham than it is for the church living under the command 'If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love' (Jn. 15:10) or 'If you love me, you will obey what I command' (Jn. 14:15)."
Second, I read the context of 1 Corinthians 3 as primarily referring to boasting about different human leaders. It does an injustice to the text to take Paul's hyperbole to then relate to Israel's covenant promise concerning the Land. This results in minimizing the particularity of Israel's election in the midst of the universality of the nations' eschatological ingathering. You are taking away with one hand what you give with the other—when Israel gets all, she actually gets nothing. (Regardless of whether she may, as you point out, end up in the land that was promised.)
However, these disagreements are secondary to my concern over an ongoing problem in the church today. Christians often have a great depth of theological understanding regarding Israel in the past. Many also have a keen interest and firm convictions regarding Israel in the future. Yet when it comes to present-day Israel it seems biblical thinking often takes a back seat to political expedience on both sides of the current conflict.
Christians today desperately need an informed theology concerning present-day Israel. I don't see where your recent response addressed my point concerning the remnant today and the implications of the growing number of Israeli believers in Jesus. Although I know you didn't intend this, your quote from Ryle that "they are reserved and preserved" makes it sound like we are in a pickle jar kept on a shelf somewhere! No. The apostle Paul insisted, "God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew." "Not rejected" does not mean he has shunted them off to the side for use at a later time. Israel today is marvelous evidence of God's continuing covenant faithfulness, his amazing sovereignty over world affairs, and the great power of his mercy despite human disobedience. The remnant in existence today is also "chosen by grace."
The birth of the modern state of Israel did not occur in a vacuum but sprang from the ashes of the Holocaust, where one third of the Jewish people were systematically annihilated simply because they were Jews. Evangelicals need to think more deeply about the implications of the Holocaust and its connection to Israel today. I believe Israel is in possession of the Land today by divine mercy, a mercy flowing out of the horrors of the Holocaust and to the ultimate defeat of all other efforts at Jewish genocide past and present. This can only be the hand of God in history despite Israel's current unbelief. Present day anti-Semitism is proof that Israel remains at the nexus of the cosmic conflict between God, who keeps his promises, and Satan, who wants to make God a liar. We shouldn't allow history to interpret the Bible, but we must allow the Bible to speak to recent and current history, not just ancient history and the future.
Unfortunately, the current posture of many evangelicals has been to jettison the overarching biblical picture of God's love for both Israel and the nations and to choose sides between Palestinians and Israelis, further fueling the present passions of pain and conflict. This is wrong.
Beginning with the household of faith, Christians must implore the people of the Land on behalf of Christ to be reconciled to God and then to one another. Christians need to formulate a full-orbed theology of reconciliation and Israel/Palestine can be the laboratory. As we apply biblical truth to the conflict today, the world will truly see the power of the gospel. To this end I know we both remain deeply committed. May our dialogue help encourage Christians to retake this biblical and gospel-centered middle ground. Let us believe in the ongoing promises of God to the Jewish people and re-double our efforts to proclaim this Good News to Israelis, Palestinians, and all humanity.
Your Jewish brother in Jesus,
Coming Monday: Piper responds.
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