Israel Today, a Jerusalem-based publication that describes itself as “the definitive source for a truthful and balanced perspective on Israel” has published a brief critique of Gary Burge, a scholar from Wheaton College who combines a hostility toward Israel with a persistent tendency to get his facts wrong.
While the Feb. 11, 2016 critique of Burge’s supersessionist theology is welcome, the article includes a particularly jarring passage that undermines the legitimacy of the Jewish state and characterizes Israeli Jews in a pretty bigoted manner. It condemns Israeli Jews for their refusal to accept Jesus Christ at their Messiah.
The last two paragraphs of the article, written by Crystal Rudolph, reads as follows:
Jewish Israelis, as the physical descendants of Abraham, do have a biblical basis for having a Jewish State in the parameters of God’s Land promise to Abraham, and the New Testament does not spiritualize it away, as Burge suggests.Jewish Israelis are undeserving of it and they exhibit no righteousness, [emphasis added] yet there will come a day when Israel will turn to Jesus in national repentance, and then they will be clothed in His righteousness (Romans 11:26). God describes Israel in that day: “Then all your people will be righteous; they will possess the land forever,[emphasis in original] the branch of My planting, the work of My hands, that I may be glorified” (Isaiah 60:21).
Read the first sentence of the second paragraph quoted above again.
A plain text reading of this passage indicates that Israel Jews are undeserving of their state because they exhibit no righteousness and will not exhibit righteousness until they embrace Jesus Christ.
Any objective assessment of what Israeli Jews have done for the world simply demolishes the notion that Israeli Jews “exhibit no righteousness.”
Ironically enough, this ugly, bigoted and false assessment aligns closely with the supersessionist theology of Gary Burge, the writer being critiqued in the article.
In the first edition of his book Whose Land? Whose Promise? What Christians Are Not Being Told about Israel and the Palestinians, Burge declares that Israeli Jews are not entitled to live in the land of Israel because of their refusal to accept Jesus as their messiah. Citing John 15:6, which quotes Jesus as saying “Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered thrown into the fire, and burned,” Burge writes:
The people of Israel cannot claim to be planted as vines in the land; they cannot be rooted in the vineyard unless first they are grafted into Jesus. Branches that attempt living in the land, the vineyard, which refuse to be attached to Jesus will be cast out and burned.
In the second edition of his book, Burge softens his language, but the supersessionist refusal to accord Israeli Jews who do not accept Jesus the right to live in the land in light of Christian scriptures is still present. “Branches that attempt living in the land, the vineyard which refuse to be attached to Jesus will be removed,” he writes.
The difference between the assessment of Israeli Jews offered by Burge and Israel Today is one of degree. Burge states that in light of Christian scripture, Jews have no right to live in the land because of their unbelief in Jesus. Israel Today, states that Israeli Jews are still allowed, but not really entitled to live in the land, since they are not righteous because of their disbelief in Jesus.
The notion that Israeli Jews exhibit “no righteousness” is bigotry, pure and simple. That such a sentiment is connected to an expression of Christian piety makes such an expression worse, not better.
To its credit, Israel Today publishes a lot of information about the Arab-Israeli conflict that other publications ignore, but the fact that the publication sees fit to promote such a passage is remarkable, and troubling.
The New Normal?
Contempt for the Jewish refusal to accept Jesus as the Messiah may have been taboo in the first few decades after the Holocaust, but not any more. For example, speaking in a webinar presentation to liberal Protestants in early December, esteemed Protestant theologian Walter Brueggemann quoted Mark Braverman, a Jew who has condemned his fellow Jews for their rejection of Jesus Christ.
During the webinar, Brueggemann said the following:
Mark Braverman is a Jew […] but he makes the case that Jews made a mistake in rejecting Jesus as the Messiah. He makes this case as a Jew and he says that in making that rejection, Jews opted for tribalism. That’s certainly a disputed statement, but I would say that you could see anywhere that you have a high view of choseness, you run the risk of tribalism.
As an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, Walter Brueggemann is part of a community that has previously condemned exactly this type of anti-Jewish rhetoric. If an Evangelical Protestant made such an argument, Brueggemann and his followers would condemn it. Why is Brueggemann even repeating it as if it somehow adds to the discussion? Are we returning to the Middle Ages?
We are now in an era during which the Jewish rejection of Jesus is part of the discussion about how Christians interpret and assess the behavior of the Jewish state.