John Piper

John Piper

This is the conclusion 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 parts one, two, and three.

Dear David,

Let's get the relatively minor disagreements and misunderstandings out of the way, so we can celebrate the grand agreements.

I don't regard 1 Corinthians 3:21–23 as hyperbole the way you do. "All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's."

I think the Christian inheritance of all the created universe is the implication of our being "heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ" (Rom. 8:17). It's the point Jesus made in Matthew 5:5: "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." We will even judge angels (1 Cor. 6:3).

And it is remarkable that the "world" is the inheritance of the Christian Corinthians (1 Cor. 3:22) and the inheritance of Abraham and his offspring: "The promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith" (Rom. 4:13).

When I say that Abraham's inheritance is not only Israel, but the world, and that the Gentile Christian's inheritance is the world, including Israel, you say that I am "minimizing the particularity of Israel's election" and that I "take away with one hand what [I] give with the other."

I did say, and I do believe, that Israel, as a people, "will finally have [the Land] as a special dwelling place." By the word "special," I mean to preserve Israel's particular role in God's plan. But when I say Israel gets the world thrown in along with the Promised Land, I don't see why you say, "You are taking away with one hand what you give with the other." How is adding the world in any serious way a subtracting?

The only thing I take away is the "no trespassing" signs to those outside Israel, and the barbed wire on the borders for those inside. The Promised Land belongs to Israel in a special way, and belongs to all the "sons of Abraham" (Gal. 3:7) as well. God will honor the particularity of ethnic Israel's inheritance and the universality of spiritual Israel's inheritance. He will do it without taking anything good away from either. Surely it will not be true that "when Israel gets all, she actually gets nothing."

On the issue of the conditionality of the Abrahamic covenant, I agree with you that "obedience is no more a condition for Abraham than it is for the church." And I would simply add: and no less. All who belong to the visible church or to visible Israel, but who do not confirm their faith with obedience, will perish. To Israel and to the church, Jesus says, "Repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent" (Rev. 2:5). Final salvation is conditional for the church on the obedience that comes from faith, as for Israel. No more, no less.

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But let us celebrate our common convictions about the wonder of present day Israel—both the nation and the remnant. I'm sorry that Ryle's language proved misleading, namely, that present day Israel is "reserved and preserved" for a great future destiny. Neither he nor I imply that Israel is "in a pickle jar kept on a shelf somewhere." Both he and I agree with you that on the way to this future destiny (of conversion and inheritance), Israel is a "marvelous evidence of God's continuing covenant faithfulness." Yes. Amen!

On the 60th anniversary of the birth of the modern state of Israel (May 7, 2008), I celebrated the astonishing apologetical power of the sheer existence of Israel. I drew attention to Anne Rice, the vampire novelist who some years ago turned from 30 years of atheism because of Israel. Even her more recent misgivings about institutional Christianity don't nullify the validity of her discovery. She said, "I stumbled upon a mystery without a solution, a mystery so immense that I gave up trying to find an explanation because the whole mystery defied belief. The mystery was the survival of the Jews. … It was this mystery that drew me back to God."

God's purposes for Israel are not on hold. They are active daily. He is moving in this world with sovereign power over all nations in order to accomplish his saving purposes for Jew and Gentile. "As regards the gospel, they [Israel] are enemies of God for your [the Gentiles] sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable" (Rom. 11:28–29).

To give this a sharp and radical point, this means that the people of Israel exist today, as they are, "for the sake of" the Palestinians. For the sake of Iranians, Egyptians, Jordanians, Lebanese, Syrians, Americans. And woe to us (Arab or American) Gentiles, if we become arrogant toward Israel, failing to see in her both the root of our salvation and the truth about our condemnation.

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"Whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law [Israel], so that every mouth may be stopped [all Gentiles], and the whole world may be held accountable to God" (Rom. 3:19). So let all the Gentile world take heed: "Do not be arrogant toward the [unbelieving Jewish] branches. If you are, remember it is not you [Gentiles] who support the root [of Abraham's promise], but the root that supports you" (Rom. 11:18).

And as for the remnant—the gloriously ever-increasing remnant—of Jesus-receiving Israel, yes, these too are evidence of God's covenant keeping faithfulness with all Israel. As Paul says in Romans 11:1–2: "Has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite. … God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew."

Both unbelieving Israel and believing Israel are the work of God's mercy this very day. Both point to Jesus, crucified and risen, as the only hope of the world. Israel—at enmity with her God and reconciled to her God—are at the center of world history. Each witnesses in her own way to Savior of the world, Jesus Christ.

So yes, David, yes, I am with you: "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 brother, indeed,

John Piper