MacArthur’s Millennial Manifesto – Rejoinder #1

Replacement Theology

For a bit of background, see my introductory review of Sam Waldron’s book, MacArthur’s Millennial Manifesto – A Friendly Response.

Replacement theology, or what is also termed supersessionism, is the view that the Christian Church has replaced, or transcends, the nation of Israel in God’s redemptive purposes so that the Church has become Abraham’s spiritual seed and fulfills the covenant promises God made to Israel. An extended definition can be located here.

Sam doesn’t care for the label “replacement theology.” He makes this patently clear in the first chapter of his book [5-7]. He considers the label “replacement theology” to be a pejorative leveled by those who dissent from his view of amillennialism. Sam would rather think of his theology as being a continuation of Old Israel in the New Israel, the Church [7]. In a manner of speaking, his view of Old Israel/New Israel is like the caterpillar becoming a butterfly. The butterfly doesn’t exactly replace the caterpillar, but is rather a new phase of existence for the caterpillar.

I find his objection to the label “replacement theology” to be odd, seeing that the term describes his theology and is a legitimate, historical description of his position. Many theologians in Sam’s camp have employed the term to describe their theology. In fact, Sam mentions Marten Woudstra, Bruce K. Waltke, and Hans K. LaRondelle as examples and says he is “open to the idea” there are some of his contemporary ilk who speak in terms of the Church “replacing” Israel [31-33]. But his insistence, none the less, that the term “replacement theology” is a pejorative and results in a hermeneutically insensitive view that the Church has simply and willy-nilly replaced Israel in God’s promise [6] is not a compelling reason to reject the term in my mind. In a way, I am reminded of how Norman Geisler, who objected to the historical doctrines of Calvinism, yet wanted to cling to a few Calvinistic tenets, created an entirely new word, calminian, in order to define his views of salvation.

In all fairness, however, Sam doesn’t create new words and concepts empty of any historical meaning. He attempts to qualify his position in terms of fulfillment theology or continuation theology. Yet, no matter what term a person will choose to utilize so as to define his theology, if you teach that the Christian Church fulfills, continues, transcends, reforms, reconstitutes, absorbs, or whatever, the promises God made to Israel to establish the nation in their land in an eschatological kingdom that will reign over the entire earth, and the Christian Church is understood to have fulfilled all those prophecies and has become now the “New Israel,” you are still saying the Church replaces Israel. All of the qualifications you make to your terminology doesn’t change that detail.

Now, probably one of the key reasons Sam reacts so adamantly against his theology being label “replacement theology” is because he wishes to separate himself from the shameful legacy of Antisemitism in church history due in part to replacement theology. One of the shadows to darken Christ’s Church has been the severe mistreatment of the Jewish people for the last 1800 years in the name of Christianity, and a lot of the persecution was fueled by the idea the Church had replaced Israel as God’s people. Sam tries to minimalize the connection between Antisemitism and replacement theology, but the facts of history documented by both secular and Christian historians won’t allow for such a disconnection.

H. Wayne House writes in his article, “The Church’s Appropriation of Israel’s Blessings” found in Israel: The Land and The People, that the concept of the church taking Israel’s place in the prophecies of the Old Testament, is largely found only after certain events took place in the early church. Namely,

(1) after the Jewish people ceased to be the primary source from which the theology of the NT sprang. (This is particularly true after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.);
(2) after those who had learned from the apostles had died and new problems faced the largely Gentile church, such as having to deal with the confusion between orthodox Jewish Christians and heretical Jewish-Christian sects;
(3) after several non-Jewish Christian authors began to adopt the Antisemitism of their pagan counterparts. (That began to happen after the Bar-Kokhba defeat in 135 A.D. when Christians and Greek communities were massacred by the Jewish followers of Simon bar-Kokhba); and
(4) after the hermeneutics found in the NT was replaced by Greek allegorism. (Israel: The Land and The People, p. 79, also, 86, 87).

As the Christian Church grew and became more prominent through the centuries, theological Antisemitism festered. It was seen in the polemical sermons of many early church fathers like John Chrysostom and his Homilies Against the Jews and the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 decreeing that all Jews were to wear a distinguishing mark on their clothing. The Antisemitism even took the form of art in the iconic image of Ecclesia and Synagaga in stained glass windows and statues. H. Wayne House explains,

At the entrance of some cathedrals in Europe, one may observe female statues that are the personifications of Ecclesia (the Church) and Synagoga (The Synagogue). One notices that Ecclesia wears a crown, holding her head in a triumphant pose. On the other hand, Synagoga — her head bowed, having lost her crown, holding a broken staff, and wearing a blindfold — stands defeated and rejected. These personifications symbolize the consensus of the church from the middle of the second century A.D. to the present day, with few exceptions. (House, “The Church’s Appropriation of Israel’s Blessings” in Israel: The Land and the People, p. 77)

I would imagine some may argue that much of this Antisemitism was perpetrated by the Roman Catholic Church-state, but even the Reformers are guilty of Antisemitic ideas because a lot of replacement theology was kept intact as they brought over the amillennial eschatology of the Roman Catholic Church to their Protestant theology.

It is easy to see why they did this because the Reformer’s hero, Augustine, who in my opinion had the correct views regarding salvation, the fundamental debating point between Roman Catholics and Protestant Reformers, was also the developer of amillennialism as the eschatology of replacement theology. Laying aside Augustine’s amillennialism until a later post, suffice it to say, though Luther and Calvin and other Reformers returned the Christian Church back to the correct understanding of salvation, their reform of eschatological theology was not on the immediate agenda. Hence, the Antisemitic mindset lingered in the background.

There have been many reformed theologians who followed in the years after the Reformation who have written some rather harsh words against the Jews. Loraine Boettner is one who comes immediately to mind. I have personally benefited greatly from his book, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, but when he defends postmillennialism in another of his books, The Millennium, his cruel words against Israel make him sound like a Protocols of the Elders of Zion conspiracy nut. He all but says the Jews had the Holocaust coming to them (See his The Millennium, pgs. 314, 315, 319, and 321).

Now, lest anyone thinks I am calling Sam and other Reformed Baptists and Presbyterians Antisemitic Nazis because they adhere to amillennialism or postmillennialism as derivatives of replacement theology, I am most certainly not. I respect many of those brothers, and if a knife fight broke out with some emergent types, I would trust these Reformed guys to have my back. My contention is primarily with historical clarity.

Additionally, many readers may think this historical survey is irrelevant. I need to deal with the text of scripture, for that is where the debate truly exists. I concur, and the bulk of my future rejoinders to Sam will interact with exegetical and biblical considerations. But let’s face it: Theology matters. The amillennial eschatology has historically been understood as replacement theology. There is no way getting around that point. Moreover, the history that has resulted from the theology of replacement/supersessionism/New Israel = the Church, has had some disastrous consequences over the centuries and that cannot be diminished just because one is unliking of the terminology.

I would certainly welcome readers to research the facts themselves. Sam mentions two important works tracing the history of replacement theology, Ronald E. Diprose’s book, Israel and the Church, as well as Michael Vlach’s book, Has the Church Replaced Israel?.  One additional work is Barry Horner’s Future Israel: Why Christian Anti-Judaism Must be Challenged.


7 thoughts on “MacArthur’s Millennial Manifesto – Rejoinder #1

  1. Here’s the thing for me—I’m a Premelinial (yes I spelled that wrong) Calvinist. I don’t agree with this gentleman regarding replacement theology or whatever he wants to call it. I guess I’m not so sure about Dr. MacArthru’s sermon title that led to the writing of this book. Perhaps it was intended to be toungue in cheek but while I disagree with replacement theology, I would never tell a brother or sister in Christ that if they believe that they have no self respect. In my opinion, that was a bit over the top.

  2. I agree that historical clarity is important. That is why I took issue with Dr. Horner’s contention that there were Judeo-centric pre-mils in the church between the Apostles (which is not to say they were, but to leave the question hanging) and the Reformation. Sadly the earliest anti-semitic writings we have from the Church fathers are from a pre-mil standpoint.It is also important not to lump all a-mil and post-mil people together. Broadly speaking the Continental Reformed tradition has seen no future for national Israel, while the Puritan tradition (and some Puritans such as Thomas Goodwin were pre-mil) has seen a future for national Israel. Until the Reformation NO-ONE THAT WE KNOW OF held anything other than what could be called a true replacement theology. Theodore Beza, Calvin’s successor, was the first man (probably post/a-mil) whose writings have come down to us to suggest that God had not finished with national Israel.Here’s a thought. Dispensationalism makes a distinction between the Church and Israel. Thus from your point of view, if the Church is said to be Israel now, the Church has replaced Israel. But from my POV, the Church is in continuity with Israel (Jewish Messiah, Jewish Apostles, Jewish Scriptures, and yes that includes Luke). And a core of ethnically Jewish members in every generation.Yes, I would agree that some people ARE replacement-minded. But don’t tar us all with the same brush. I think that Dispensationalism has helped us to tweak our theology.But don’t use the ‘Romanists are a-mil’ argument. I’m already fed-up with the old ‘The Jesuits invented Futurism’ one. Romanists are Trinitarian as well. And I’m sure you’ve already met people who argue that we ought to reject the Trinity because of that…

  3. Fred,Excellent historical perspectives. In my mind the Biblical arguments for replacement theology all lie on the surface. When you dig deeper and take the language of Scripture seriously, you cannot avoid the fact that Israel has the place of priority in God’s plan of redemption. Gentiles benefit from redemption because God choose to bless the world through the creation of an unlikely nation of people to bear his promises.After the dust settles it becomes apparent to me that replacement theology (whether a-mill or post-mill) is rooted more in historical theological developments and its deep seated traditions than in honest exegesis of the text. This is where it pays to apply Thomas Kuhn’s paradigms to theology. The supercessionist consensus simply refuses to be bucked in the face of contrary evidence.

  4. As long as you think of the Church and Israel as two distinct groups of people with two distinct purposes of God fulfilled within them, you will consider that non-dispensational theology teaches that the Church "replaces" Israel. now pay attention. It is really very simple to summmarize our position thus: The church does not REPLACE Israel… we ARE Israel…There is no such thing as a non-believer who is Israel. One is either Israel- God's chosen, saved by Faith in Israel's Messiah, or he is a covenant breaker – condemned for the sin of rejecting God and his plan of salvation. Period. While it may be that Paul was emphasizing that an ethnic remnant will always be Israel, in Rom 11, Paul was clearly teaching that the gentiles were GRAFTED in…in to what? The only answer is…wait for it…ISRAEL!The reason dispensationalists cannot 'dispense' with the term "replacement" theology is that they start with the presupposition that the church and Israel are two distinct peoples. Therefore, when a covenant theologian speaks of NT saints enjoying the blessings promised to Israel, they cannot help but think that this theologian is speaking of the Church replacing Israel. (That some reformed theologians have thoughtlessly used the term "replace" does not mean that they accepted the same presupposition that the two groups are distinct in God's plan of salvation.)It is clear you are not paying attention to what Sam Waldron is saying… This is not a quibble over terminology. It is a question of hermeneutics. Covenant theology challenges the hermeneutical presupposition of dispensationalism that the Church and Israel are two distinct peoples – a notion unheard of until just 200 years ago. This presupposition is the sina qua non of dispensationalism….[notwithstanding the claim by dispensationalists that they have an exclusive claim to the idea that they employ a more consistent application of the literal- (literalistic is more like it!)grammatical-historical method of interpretation]. in other words… without this unbiblical and artificial distinction, the dispensational hermeneutic falls apart faster than the proverbial house built upon the shifting sands…

  5. As long as you think of the Church and Israel as two distinct groups ofpeople with two distinct purposes of God fulfilled within them, youwill consider that non-dispensational theology teaches that theChurch "replaces" Israel.(Fred) Ed, thanks for the response. I think you have succumb to a typical myth about dispensational theology, that dispensationalism teaches Israel and the Church have two distinct purposes. Though I would recognized that they are distinct groups, I don't believe there are two purposes for them. The church does not REPLACE Israel… we ARE Israel...(Fred) This is a presupposition brought to the text by your CT. CT holds to two separate groups in Israel: the 'OT' Church, or the "true Israel," AND physical Jews, descendants of Abraham by genealogy. Though I would recognize this distinction exists, the promises given to Israel of restoration are not repealed or fulfilled in a spiritual way just because that distinction is recognized. Thus, those land promises which are a big chunk of the NC, are not done away with just because the gentiles have been grafted in to Israel due to the salvific aspects of the NC. Hence, it is not inaccurate to say CT is replacement theology due in part to these presuppositions. Sam even begrudgingly admits as much though he later attempts to employ his caterpillar-butterfly analogy as his definition of replacement. There is no such thing as a non-believer who is Israel. (Fred) This is where I believe you are mistaken. The new covenant was made with all Israel, not just some chosen group with in Israel. In fact, Jeremiah's words were specifically given to an audience who were in rebellion for not keeping the previous covenants made with God. What does he tell them? That God will given them all a new heart to keep God's law. Believers don't need a new heart. That promise includes all Israel, not just believing Israel who were already saved by faith in the Messiah. While it may be that Paul was emphasizing that anethnic remnant will always be Israel, in Rom 11, Paul was clearlyteaching that the gentiles were GRAFTED in….ISRAEL!(Fred) Agreed, but notice the chapter concludes that ethnic Israel will be restored, because as Paul writes in 11:29, the gifts and the calling of God is irrevocable, meaning in context, the promises made to Israel to have a kingdom with their Messiah as the ruler. In other words, a restoration. Continued on in next comment…

  6. …continuing with EdThe reason dispensationalists cannot 'dispense' with theterm "replacement" theology is that they start with the presuppositionthat the church and Israel are two distinct peoples. Therefore, when acovenant theologian speaks of NT saints enjoying the blessings promisedto Israel, they cannot help but think that this theologian is speakingof the Church replacing Israel. .(Fred) I think it may help you to read more widely on this subject than probably you have. You are sort of stuck (as are many CTers I have encountered over the years blogging) on errant notions of what is and isn't dispensationalism. As I noted in my post, Replacement theology is an historic term, and you are going to have to live with the fact it is.Not that its the most edifying material on the planet, but check out those Roman Catholic theological sources I listed. From the period after Augustine until even now, Roman Catholicism understood the Church to be a replacement for Israel. Their writings almost read word-for-word as Covenant Reformed material. That is because Reformation eschatology wasn't reformed as it should have been at the time. None the less, the fact many (just some) reformed theologians have spoken in terms of replacement, demonstrates that Sam is not entirely accurate with his assessment of the theological development. Covenant theology challenges the hermeneutical presupposition of dispensationalism that the Church and Israel are two distinct peoples.(Fred) You are correct that it certainly is a question of hermeneutics, as I go on to demonstrate in further articles I wrote interacting with Sam's book. You can also consider my recent survey of eschatology proper tagged in the side bar of my blog under "studies in eschatology." As for the Israel/Church distinction being unheard of until 200 years ago claim, again, it may be helpful for you to read more broadly on this subject than what you have. That claim is easily challenged with a review of the relevant literature. This presupposition is the sina qua non of dispensationalism….[notwithstanding the claim by dispensationalists that they have an exclusive claim to the idea that they employ a more consistent application of the literal- (literalistic is more likeit!)grammatical-historical method of interpretation].(Fred) Yes, you are correct again. My concern has always been to be faithful to the biblical text. Though I don't doubt your desire to be as equally as faithful as I wish to be, I do think CTers are more accommodating to theological Reformed traditions than exegeting the passage correctly. Generally their exegesis is interpreted according to the theological tradition, rather than the other way around as it should be. in other words… without this unbiblical and artificial distinction, the dispensational hermeneutic falls apart ….(Fred) Assuming that dispensational hermeneutics did adhere to this unbiblical and artificial distinction, you probably would be right.

  7. Pingback: Studies in Eschatology | hipandthigh

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