N.T. Wright: Jesus in 3D

Brian LePort has an interesting post N.T. Wright on the Chalcedonian Definition. For those who don’t know, the Chalcedonian Definition was the climax of the early church’s quest to define the nature of Jesus as both God and man,

perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; … in all things like unto us, without sin; … in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved …

This definition was and still is accepted by the church of Rome and the Eastern Orthodox churches, and most Protestants also consider it a touchstone of Trinitarian orthodoxy. But it was and still is rejected by some Oriental churches as well as by non-Trinitarians.

N.T. WrightWright, as quoted by LePort, writes:

the Chalcedonian Definition looks suspiciously like an attempt to say the right thing but in two dimensions (divinity and humanity as reimagined within a partly de-Judaized world of thought) rather than in three dimensions. What the Gospel offer is the personal story of Jesus himself, understood in terms of his simultaneously (1) embodying Israel’s God, coming to rule the world as he had always promised, and (2) summing up Israel itself, as its Messiah, offering to Israel’s God the obedience to which Israel’s whole canonical tradition had pointed but which nobody, up to this point, had been able to provide. The flattening out of Christian debates about Jesus into the language of divinity and humanity represents, I believe, a serious de-Judaizing of the Gospels, ignoring the fact that the Gospels know nothing of divinity in the abstract and plenty about the God of Israel coming to establish his kingdom on earth as in heaven, that they know nothing of humanity in the abstract, but plenty about Israel as God’s true people, and Jesus as summing that people up in himself. The Council of Chalcedon might be seen as the de-Israelitization of the canonical picture of YHWH and Israel into the abstract categories of ‘divinity’ and ‘humanity.’ I continue to affirm Chalcedon in the same way that I will agree that a sphere is also a circle or a cube also a square, while noting that this truth is not the whole truth.

In other words, the true Jesus is a three-dimensional person in a Jewish real world context, living the life of a real man and doing the works of a real God. But the Byzantine theologians took him out of that context and flattened him into a two-dimensional abstraction derived from Greek philosophical concepts of divinity and humanity. They were not wrong, but they gave us only a small part of the picture.

Sadly most of the church today sees Jesus in the same way. He is worshipped as a static two-dimensional image, even when portrayed in three-dimensional statues, and honoured for the important things he did 2000 years ago. He is not understood as the living God. Nor is he taken as our fully human example, as I posted about him being nearly five years ago.

The world has recently rediscovered 3D cinema. In a few days from now the BBC will offer 3D television for the first time, for the Wimbledon finals. It is time for the church to rediscover the real 3D Jesus, and broadcast him to the world.

Calvin, Preacher of Legalism

John CalvinSome words of Virgil Vaduva, quoted in a post The Toxic Fruit of Legalism by Martin Trench:

He killed fifty-seven people; banished seventy-six. Confiscated property of political and theological enemies; took power by public revolt and despotism; he ruled with an iron fist. … his name was John Calvin; an incredible attorney, stellar theologian, a tyrant and a murderer. …

There is more in Martin’s post, and a lot more in Vaduva’s 2006 article, The Right to Heresy. Vaduva explains how Calvin came to exert supreme power in the city state of Geneva, dominating the elected council in a way rather like how the Ayatollahs dominate the elected government in today’s Iran. And just like the Ayatollahs Calvin and his Consistory ruthlessly enforced public and private morality, with their officers randomly searching people’s bodies and homes for anything which didn’t meet their absolute standards. When the heretic Servetus arrived in Geneva, he wasn’t even given a fair trial before being burned to death.

Now I’m sure that today’s Calvinists would write that they reject this kind of behaviour. After all, so did Calvin, when he wrote, before he arrived in Geneva, in the first edition of his Institutes of the Christian Religion (as quoted by Vaduva – these words are not in later editions but may be footnoted in the Battles translation for which I give the Amazon link):

It is criminal to put heretics to death. To make an end of them by fire and sword is opposed to every principle of humanity.

But when Calvin had acquired the power to do so, he put a heretic to death. “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Calvinists insist that theirs is a religion of grace, not of works, and that that is what Calvin preached. And indeed that is true as far as justification is concerned. But when it comes to sanctification, there seems to be no room for grace in Calvin’s scheme, but only for legalism. Jesus said

If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

John 8:31-32 (NIV 2011)

Paul exhorted the Galatians:

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

Galatians 5:1 (NIV 2011)

But Calvin brought Jesus’ disciples in Geneva (as well as those who believed only outwardly) under a new yoke of slavery, a new law of his own devising. As such his teaching was the very opposite of Christian.

Now I am not suggesting that all of today’s Calvinists are teaching this kind of legalism. Some clearly are not. But it seems very strange to me that, while claiming to be evangelical Christians, they revere so highly someone whose teachings and practice were so antithetical to the gospel message.

P.S. Please don’t think that I endorse the teachings on Virgil Vaduva’s site Planet Preterist, as made more explicit on a linked FAQ page. This site is promoting full preterism, not the partial preterism of Martin Trench which I largely accept. Full preterism includes the teaching that the second coming of Jesus will be

[not] a physical and bodily return of Jesus [but] a return of his spiritual presence

– and that this spiritual second coming took place in AD 70. Thus they have made the same manoeuvre as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and more recently Harold Camping: because eschatological events did not happen in a visible way when their understanding of the Bible says they should have happened, these groups have reinterpreted the events as spiritual and therefore invisible, rather than accept that they may have misunderstood the Bible. That, I would suggest, is one of the clear marks of a false teacher – but not as serious as Calvin’s error of turning Christian freedom into fearful bondage.

Meet the new Dan Brown – me!

#1 biblioblogger (at least for a few more hours) Joel Watts not only calls me “the preeminent U.K. blogger” but also hails me as the new Dan Brown, in a post Peter “Dan Brown” Kirk on the Miriam Ossuary. All this is because of a comment I wrote on one of his previous posts:

So what story shall we concoct around this one? Something like this?

The young Caiaphas seduced and raped a girl called Miriam/Mary, then cast her aside. She had a son, Yeshua/Jesus, and later married a carpenter called Joseph. The boy grew up hating his father and vowing to overthrow the whole priestly caste, and became an anti-establishment preacher. He also married and had a daughter, named after his mother. Caiaphas had his son arrested and crucified, and took his daughter-in-law and granddaughter into his household. The later followers of Jesus covered it all up by inventing the virgin birth story and removing all references to the wife and daughter who had gone over to the enemy.

That could make a good film plot. It would also be entirely fictional!

In his follow-up post Joel quotes the middle paragraph of my comment, without the context in which I make it clear that I was writing fiction. By doing so he aligns himself with the ignorant people who took The Da Vinci Code as fact, and its villain Teabing’s ravings as the truth about Jesus, despite the book clearly being marketed as fiction. Well, what more would I expect from Joel?

The Miriam OssuarySo what was this all about? As Jim West reports, the Israel Antiquities Authority has confirmed as authentic an ossuary (a box for human bones) with an inscription “Miriam daughter of Yeshua son of Caiaphas, priest of Maaziah from Beth Imri”.

Well, as Justin Bieber will forever be reminded when he examines his armpit, “Yeshua” is the Hebrew form of “Jesus”. Also “Miriam” is the Hebrew form of “Mary”. Actually here the language is Aramaic, but the names are the same. It is certain that someone will try to link these names with the best known Jesus and Mary of the time. So I might as well jump in first, as far as I know, with the idea. But both names were very common, and so to identify specific people without any further details is completely fanciful.

Now I’m sure someone could write a best-selling novel around this plot. Perhaps I could. Perhaps I will. Or would I be promoting false teaching if I did so, even in a work of fiction? It might be a good idea to use a pseudonym. Or maybe someone else will write the novel, or even a book or film claiming to be non-fiction. But if so they had better pay me for the storyline, or risk an expensive lawsuit later. This is my idea, and it will remain so until I sell it!

Female Apostles or Female Apostates?

Octavia, Daughter of GodFor me this was the misprint of the week, at least: I was reading a print copy of The Week, a weekly news magazine, and found in it a review of the book Octavia, Daughter of God, which sounds like an interesting story of an early 20th century cult in Bedford, England. Actually I can’t help wondering if this Panacea Society has now become the Beaker Folk of Husborne Crawley: a matriarchal community of pedantic ex-Anglicans obsessed with doilies, and still in Bedfordshire. Or is the author Jane Shaw, a British Anglican priest who is now Dean of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, the real Archdruid Eileen?

The review mentions how the cult’s founder, who called herself Octavia, started by recruiting “twelve female apostates”. Really? Well, these twelve were very likely apostates from the true Christian faith. But I don’t think that is what the reviewer intended. Indeed there is another review of this same book online from the Literary Review, which is extremely similar to the one in The Week but not identical – it lacks the mention of doilies. And the wording in the Literary Review is

soon Octavia had recruited twelve female apostles and many more resident members, establishing a religion with its very own Garden of Eden in the streets of Bedford.

So, female apostles, or female apostates? Or does some sub-editor not know the difference?

Someone else who might not know the difference is David Devenish, whose book Fathering Leaders, Motivating Mission is being promoted through a series of extracts on Adrian Warnock’s blog. In the extracts Devenish answers the question “Are there apostles today?”, and in one of the posts he lists among biblical apostles “Andronicus and Junias”. He repeats the name “Junias” in a later post, showing that this is not just a typo. But he shows no sign of being aware that scholars now agree that this name found in Romans 16:7 is in fact a female one, “Junia”, as in NIV 2011 and explained in a note on the verse in the NET Bible. If Devenish accepts Andronicus as an apostle (which the NET Bible does not), then he needs to accept that the woman Junia was also an apostle.

Devenish argues that there are apostles today, and I agree with him. But can there be women among them? I don’t see why not. Even if the positive example of Junia is discounted, I can see no scriptural argument against them – after all, their ministry is not one of teaching or of leading churches.

But, as I discussed last week in my post Addicted to Arguing? How to persuade others, the best way to make my point on a matter like this is to tell stories. And I have one to tell here. Recently I met an American lady who calls herself an apostle, indeed uses that as a title, Dr Rebecca Murray. Her web page says that

As a Pastor to Pastors, she operates in the apostolic and prophetic realms.

She is also co-pastor of a church in Virginia, USA. And she is a wonderful lady with a huge vision and the gifting to make it a reality. If anyone doubts whether female apostles exist today, they should meet Apostle Rebecca.

Never Say Never, says Justin Bieber

Justin Bieber: Never Say NeverI would normally have said “never” to Justin Bieber: Never Say Never. It’s certainly not a film I would have gone to the cinema to see, not least because I would have hated being surrounded by screaming teenage girls. But on a long-haul flight last week (the trip is why posting has been slow recently) I had the chance to watch this documentary about the Jesus-tattooed teen idol. And I was pleasantly surprised – not by the music and dance, which is not my style, and not by the shots of and interviews with Justin’s teen fans, but by the positive Christian message I found in the film.

It seems this was not accidental. Huffington Post reported a few months ago on how Bieber was being deliberately marketed as a “Christian icon for the tween set”. The article notes how in the film

several scenes show Bieber praying before concerts, and [his mother] Mallette discusses how God brought stability to her life as a single teenage mother.

Well, if the film gives millions of young people worldwide a positive view of the Christian faith, that is something wonderful. But I see something more in the movie, a spiritual lesson about what we can accomplish by faith if we “Never Say Never”. In the words of the film’s tagline, as Christians we need to

Find Out What’s Possible If You Never Give Up.

The basic story is a simple one (spoiler alert if you really don’t know how it ends, so far). Small town kid shows talent on the drums and singing. His mother films him and puts the results on YouTube. (These 2007 videos are on his old YouTube channel – his recent releases are on a newer channel which has now had a staggering 1.7 BILLION views.) A talent manager stumbles across his videos and is impressed enough to sign him up. He sings his way round lots of small venues to get publicity for his first album. The album goes platinum and suddenly Justin is one of the hottest properties in the world. He has a dream to fill the 20,000 seat Madison Square Garden in New York for a concert. People tell him it is impossible. But his manager goes ahead with the booking – and, as reported by Wikipedia as well as in the film, he becomes

The youngest person to ever sell out the garden. … It took 22 minutes for Justin Bieber to sell out the Garden.

Justin refused to give up and achieved his supposedly impossible dream. The film encourages us all to do the same.

So how is this a Christian message? I understand how some people might say that this is secular motivational teaching with a Christian veneer. But then a lot of secular motivational teaching is Christian preaching purged of its overtly religious material. The Christian message here is a simple one: if God has given you a dream, even one which looks impossible, and has called you to make it a reality, then step out in faith, expect his help and blessing, and don’t give up until the dream comes true.

While I have not seen this made explicit, it seems to me that Justin and his mother see his career as some kind of mission from and for God, which they are pursuing by faith. I don’t know if they know the Seven Mountains Mandate teaching which I discussed in a recent post. But Justin has shown in practice how, with the right dream and a lot of hard work, and with what some might see as luck but others as God’s blessing, it is possible even for a young outsider to get right to the peak of the arts and entertainment mountain, to use the position as a powerful Christian witness, and to bring the kingdom of God to that peak.

In the film Justin says

There’s gonna be times where people tell you that you can’t live your dreams. This is what I tell them: Never say never.

If the dreams are from God, then: Amen!

Todd Bentley postpones UK trip

Todd BentleyTodd Bentley has postponed his July visit to Dudley, England, which I wrote about first in this post and then in more detail in this one. Trevor Baker has arranged an alternative conference for the same venue and dates.

There is now the following message on the Revival Fires conferences page:

Letter from Trevor Baker

Todd Bentley informed me on 13 June that he was cancelling coming to Dudley for the “Restoration and Resurrection” meetings.

I know that many of you have made arrangements to be here in Dudley for this weekend. Rather than cancel the event, we invited Bill Prankard to speak over this time. Please do accept my apologies for any inconvenience and disappointment due to Todd’s change of schedule. I am still believing for a mighty time in God’s Presence this July as He releases His resurrection power.

Below is the email I received:
“Dear Partners and friends of the UK and Europe. We here at Fresh Fire Ministries have always valued the presence of God above any conference or outpouring. Recently during our Greater Glory Gathering in Virginia Beach the Lord spoke to Todd about contending for healing, breakthrough and his presence for 30 straight days there beginning June 27, 2011. In obedience to the Lord in doing 30 days straight we have had to cancel our trip to England to make room for what the Lord is doing”

Once again, I do apologise for any inconvenience this may cause.


Todd’s page about this event now includes the same words as in the email he sent to Trevor quoted above.

After this second postponement, I wonder if Todd will ever make it to England!

Addicted to Arguing? How to persuade others

Are you addicted to arguing? Are most Christian bloggers? Am I? Henry Neufeld admits that he might be. But, as I posted a few days ago, the Backfire Effect predicts that we can never win these kinds of arguments. So how can we persuade others to come over to our side on important and controversial issues?

Peter LaarmanHenry links to an essay by Peter Laarman Why Liberal Religious Arguments Fail. This follows a somewhat different approach from McRaney’s article The Backfire Effect but the overall message is the same: it is a waste of time trying to argue others into accepting one’s own position, if those others have already made up their mind on the issue. Laarman focuses on liberal Christians trying to persuade conservative ones to accept for example their stance on homosexuality. But just the same applies to conservatives trying to persuade liberals to accept more traditional or “fundamentalist” positions.

So how do you win others over to your side on such issues? Laarman suggests an answer when he explains how homosexuality is becoming more acceptable in churches, at least within his circle of experience:

Every poll and every wise observer points out that gay-affirming folks have not been winning on account of superior arguments, whether arguments from the Bible or theology or science. They aren’t winning on account of their superior debating skills. They’re winning by being present and visible in faith communities: by coming out in ways that clergy and congregations can’t ignore. Gay people are winning because straight people who love and respect them are coming out right along with them. …

What is the point here? The point is that there IS no point to endless argumentation. Hearts and minds don’t change that way. They change when we share our stories and when we become present in a different way to those whom we wish to influence. The further point is that hearts change before minds do. It rarely works the other way around.

Indeed. The tactics which very many conservative Christians use to uphold their positions, confrontational arguments tinged with intolerance for their opponents, are completely counter-productive. No wonder they are losing the arguments. Indeed they would probably have lost them already if it weren’t for the similar tactics of confrontation and intolerance from some on the more liberal side – not to mention from militant secularists and atheists, whose approach similarly does more harm than good to their cause.

So, the lesson is clear: if you want to persuade others to take your position, don’t argue with them, but tell them stories that will win over their hearts – or, better still, involve them in those stories.

Real Evangelicals are not anti-gay extremists

Are Evangelicals unthinking extremists, filled with hate for homosexuals and others they don’t approve of, as often portrayed by the popular press? Roy Clements argues that real Evangelicals in fact “occupy the middle ground”.

Roy ClementsIn my post last week Do Evangelicals have to condemn gay sex? I linked to an article by Roy Clements What is an Evangelical? This was written in 2005, and so after he resigned as a pastor and a council member of the Evangelical Alliance and “came out” as gay.

It is hard to find a picture of Clements, despite his once high profile. The one I give here appears at a couple of websites, and appears to be dated 2002, but I cannot confirm that this is the right man. Note that I refrain from calling him “Dr” because his Ph.D. in Chemical Physics gives him no special authority relevant to this post.

Clements writes, without clarifying who apart from himself he means by “we”:

We have always regarded ourselves most emphatically as “evangelicals”, and our theological position has not changed in anyway. But we have been denounced as “liberals” because we do not accept the purported “evangelical view” on the gay issue.

There seems to be a determined attempt, at least by some within the evangelical camp, so to embed a particular view of homosexuality within the evangelical identity that there is no room left for dissenters like us. Indeed, the very existence of “gay evangelicals” has been conspicuously ignored in the entire debate. It seems, therefore, an appropriate moment to ask: “What is an evangelical?“. …

In much of the press coverage of the current debate, evangelicals have been portrayed as blinkered and intolerant extremists; and it must be admitted that the recent moralising pontifications of some self-appointed evangelical spokespersons have tended to encourage such a negative image. However, I want to suggest that, when they are true to their tradition, evangelicals are not extremists at all. On the contrary, they occupy the middle ground on these two key axes of Christian debate. It is only those who are currently trying to hijack the evangelical wing of the church and turn it into an anti-gay bandwagon who are extremists. And it is doubtful whether they deserve to be regarded as true evangelicals at all.

Clements goes on to explain how Evangelical identity ought rather to be determined by their stance on “these two key axes”. The first of them is “reason and the Bible”:

Evangelicals are, of course, first and foremost “Bible people”. … However, it is nonsense to suggest that evangelicals take their stand on the authority of the Bible in defiance of human reason. This has never been their position. True evangelicals have always sought to demonstrate that reason and the Bible are in harmony. When conflicts have arisen along this axis, evangelicals have always sought to hold on to both, even if this involves accepting a high degree of intellectual tension or uncertainty. The classic example of this, of course, has been the debate about creation and evolution. Thinking evangelicals … have recognised that it is no part of Christian discipleship to turn a blind eye to discoveries of science which indicate the earth is millions of years old.

Here Clements makes a contrast with “fundamentalists” who “adopt a blinkered literalism toward the Bible which science is not permitted to challenge” as well as with “liberals” who understand the Bible as a fallible witness. He is right to insist on this against the “fundamentalist” party which often tries to claim the Evangelical label as exclusively its own.

The second axis which Clements identifies is that of church tradition and individual conscience, and again he claims that evangelicals hold the centre ground, against “conservative catholics” who rely heavily on the institutional church and “radical protestants … who demonstrate little or no submission to the Christian community”. Now I’m not sure that the latter label is a fair one: radicalism does not imply individualism or a lack of commitment to the local church. But Clements is right to note that Evangelicals “have always tolerated diversity on a wide range of issues which they accept should be regarded as matters of private opinion.” And he is right to complain that Evangelicals are being pushed towards the conservative catholic position of uniformity on controversial issues.

Clements, for obvious reasons, then focuses on one particular controversial issue, homosexuality. He notes that

only a fundamentalist would suggest that, because the Bible has no idea of homosexual orientation, that this modern psychological understanding of what it means to be “gay” has to be rejected.

and that

Only a very conservative catholic would try to force all Christians to follow a single line on an issue by appeal to the decisions of synods or the edict of popes.

Then he concludes his essay as follows:

Yet, for some unaccountable reason, evangelicals are not willing to keep either their minds or their options open over the question of homosexuality. Instead, they are allowing themselves to be aligned with conservative catholics and fundamentalists on the issue. It is, I say, a tragic abdication of our distinctive heritage. There will, of course, always be Christians around who perceive the wisdom of humbly holding the middle ground on the crucial twin axes we have discussed. The question is, will they for much longer want to call themselves “evangelicals”?

Roy Clements raises some very important issues here which need to be heard. Evangelical identity is under serious threat, both from those who want to impose uniformity on controversial issues, and from fundamentalists who want to reserve the name for themselves. Clements probably hasn’t been heard as clearly as he would otherwise have been because of his personal history. But he certainly should be heard.

All will be saved, not just the elect

Calvinists teach that God has divided all the people of the world into “the elect” who will be saved and others who will not. All have sinned; God will have mercy only on “the elect” and condemn the others to the eternal punishment their sins deserve.

One of the main Bible passages used to support this idea is Romans 9-11. But in fact here Paul is teaching something quite different: in the end both “the elect” and the others, those who are “hardened”, will be saved – at least among the ethnic Israelites whom he has in view here. This becomes clear when one reads this section of Romans carefully, as I did when preparing my post Restoring the Kingdom to Israel.

The Apostle PaulPaul starts this section by making a distinction among the descendants of Abraham between “the children of promise”, the true Israel chosen by God, and the descendants of Ishmael and Esau who were not chosen (9:6-13). I don’t see this passage as about eternal salvation at all, but about being called for God’s purposes. More to the point, it is not really about believing and unbelieving Jews in Paul’s time, although it is building the background for Paul’s discussion of this matter.

Paul first brings up the idea that only some Israelites will be saved with a quotation from Isaiah (9:27-28). He moves into explaining how Gentiles and Jews are saved on the same basis, their confession of faith (10:12-13). Then he comes back to the question of whether God has rejected his original chosen people – to which his answer is an unambiguous “By no means!” (11:1, NIV). He teaches that

at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace. 6 And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.

7 What then? What the people of Israel sought so earnestly they did not obtain. The elect among them did, but the others were hardened …

Romans 11:5-7 (NIV 2011)

Now at first sight this looks like strong support for the Calvinist position, that God has chosen by grace an elect remnant, and “the others”, like Pharaoh (9:17-18), are hardened beyond recovery and so bound for eternal punishment. However, Paul is quick to reject this understanding. After quoting the Hebrew Bible to show that “the others” have stumbled, he writes:

Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. 12 But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their full inclusion bring!

Romans 11:11-12 (NIV 2011)

Paul explains his enigmatic hint about their “full inclusion” (Greek pleroma, “fullness”) a few verses later:

Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, 26 and in this way all Israel will be saved.

Romans 11:25-26 (NIV 2011)

Thus he makes it clear that, at some future time, the hardening of “the others”, the Israelites who have stumbled, will be reversed, so that these people, as well as “the elect” in Israel, will be saved.

Now when Paul says “all Israel will be saved”, I don’t think we need to assume he means every individual. This is not universalism of the kind that Rob Bell was unjustly accused of. More likely “all” here means large numbers from all groups, including “the others” as well as “the elect”. Does it mean that Jews who died as unbelievers will have another chance to believe after death? Possibly. But what is very clear is that exclusion from the original group of “the elect” does not imply eternal damnation.

Calvinists like to quote this verse from early in Paul’s argument, as if it proves their point that God hardens the hearts of some people so that they will not be saved:

God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.

Romans 9:18 (NIV 2011)

But, after showing that hardening does not imply eternal damnation, Paul ends his argument with the other side of the same picture:

God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.

Romans 11:32 (NIV 2011)

So what does it mean to be among “the elect”? As I quoted Chris Wright in my March post Election: not to be saved but to save others:

If we are to speak of being chosen, of being among God’s elect, it is to say that, like Abraham, we are chosen for the sake of God’s plan that the nations of the world come to enjoy the blessing of Abraham.

In other words, when Paul writes of the elect in Israel, they are those Jews like himself who were chosen by God to bear witness to the Gentiles. And when he writes of God’s elect or chosen people without specifying Jews (8:33, 1 Corinthians 1:27-28, Ephesians 1:4, Colossians 3:12 etc), he is referring to all who are called to bring God’s message of salvation to the world. Now by that he intends all Christian believers. But, as is clear from the example of the Jews, that by no means implies that others will not subsequently believe and be saved.

Restoring the Kingdom to Israel: when and where?

In my previous post Restoring the Kingdom to Israel I agreed with George Athas, at least in part, that the kingdom of God was restored to Israel through believing Israelites, but argued that the Apostle Paul also envisaged a future time when “all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26, NIV), referring not just to those already believers but also to the “others” who had been hardened. I would suggest that this is when the kingdom will be fully restored to Israel. But I left open two important questions: when will this happen, and will it do so in any particular geographical location?

Now I am certainly not going to make Harold Camping‘s mistake and name any definite day or even year when Israel will be saved. After all, in just this context Jesus said “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority” (Acts 1:7, NIV). But I think we can get some idea of the timing by comparing Bible passages.

Paul writes that “all Israel will be saved” only after “the full number of the Gentiles has come in” (Romans 11:25,26, NIV). Now some, “partial preterists” like my friend Martin Trench as well as “full preterists”, argue that almost all biblical prophecy was fulfilled before or at the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. But I don’t think I could accept that this prophecy about Israel was fulfilled so early, unless it is understood as only about the believing Jews which, as I have argued, contradicts Paul’s clear line of argument.

Jesus also spoke of “the times of the Gentiles” (Luke 21:24). This seems to refer to the period after the destruction of Jerusalem but before the return of Jesus. Many have argued that the word “until” in this verse implies that Jerusalem will be restored at the end of these times, but I understand that the Greek here is inconclusive. Nevertheless it seems reasonable to identify these “times of the Gentiles” with Paul’s period until “the full number of the Gentiles has come in”, and this would imply that only at the end of this period “all Israel will be saved”.

So far, at any time in history, only a small proportion of the Jewish people have ever believed in Jesus. So we have to see the fulfilment of this prophecy as at some time in the future. As for how far in the future, we have no way to tell. But we can get on with evangelising and praying for the Jews, in appropriate ways which do not expect them to abandon their culture but only to adjust their faith.

JerusalemBut does any of this relate to any specific place? In the New Testament there seems to be only that one ambiguous hint that the literal Jerusalem will be restored – and this could refer more to the heavenly Jerusalem (Hebrews 12:22, Revelation 21:10). Nevertheless it is hardly surprising that some people quickly took the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, and its capture of the whole of Jerusalem in 1967, as the fulfilment of this prophecy.

In my previous post I agreed with George Athas in rejecting the identification of the state of Israel with the restored kingdom. But that does not imply that the Jewish state is a mere accident of history. God “made all the nations … and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands” (Acts 17:26, NIV), and that includes Israel. This is not a justification for aggression by Israel towards its neighbours, or for treating non-Israelites within its borders in ways which contravene God’s law (Deuteronomy 10:18-19 – a lesson also for conservative Americans). Indeed it is in no way an endorsement of the policies of the state.

Nevertheless the fact is that under God’s sovereignty the majority of the land of Israel is under Jewish control. And this is in accordance with God’s solemn oath to give this land to the descendants of Israel for ever, “for a thousand generations” (Psalm 105:8-11). If, as some argue, God annulled this promise in A.D. 70, less than a hundred generations after Abraham, then how can he be trusted to keep any of his promises? As one who believes that the Bible, the Old Testament as well as the New, is the authoritative word of God, I have to accept that he fulfils the promises he made under both covenants. Just as Ishmael was not God’s chosen one but God was still faithful to his promises to him (Genesis 16:10-12), so also the Israelites may no longer be God’s chosen people but God will still fulfil his promises to them.

This does not necessarily imply that the land of Israel has any further part in what is not the main strand of salvation history, the story of Jesus and the church. But neither does it imply that that land will be out of the picture. When Jesus returns, will he do so to any specific geographic location? If so, then surely it will be to Jerusalem. And how wonderful it will be when he is welcomed there by a believing Jewish nation, reconciled through the Messiah with believing Palestinians and living in peace in the Promised Land.