Reformed Anti-Semitism or Dispensational Absurdity?
A Consideration of Dispensational Charges
Related to the Role of Israel in the Plan of God
By Dr. Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
Reformed Anti-Semitism or Dispenational Absurdity?
Thomas Ice, author of several dispenational works and director of the Pre-Trib Study Group, is convinced that Reformed theology, and especially its Reconstructionist branch, is anti-Semitic (Ice, “Hal Lindsey, Dominion Theology, and Anti-Semitism,” Biblical Perspectives, 5:1 [Jan.-Feb., 1992]). His argument is fraught with error.
Ironically, the question that should naturally arise in this setting is wholly omitted. That question is: What is “anti-Semitism”? Nowhere in the article does he define “anti-Semitism.” What is worse, he assumes anti-Semitism (or at least its philosophical underpinning) is any theology that does not hold that Jews will one day dominate the world.
What is Anti-Semitism?
On page 82 of Webster’s New Twentieth Century Unabridged Dictionary “anti-Semitism” is defined (appropriately) as: “1. prejudice against Jews; dislike or fear of Jews and Jewish things. 2. discrimination against or persecution of Jews.” This is the only legitimate definition in alleging anti-Semitism. A view of history that lacks a future era in which Jews will be rulers of the world is simply not “anti-Semitism.”
I know of no published Reconstructionist that disdains or seeks to persecute Jewish people. In fact, our view of history holds that one day the Jews will be blessed of God—but on an equal footing with all who know the saving grace of Jesus Christ. Throughout the era of Christ’s rule, creational distinctions will continue to function (male/female hierarchical relationships), but not pre-Cross redemptive distinctions (Jewish superiority over Gentiles).
To demonstrate anti-Semitism, Ice needs to prove malicious intent against Jews because of their race. Being opposed to the policies of the modern state of Israel for its West Bank atrocities or for its socialism or for its anti-Christian laws will not suffice as anti-Semitism. If any Reconstructionists are opposed to the policies of Israel’s government, that is not the same as being opposed to Jews as such. We were long opposed to Russian Soviet governmental policies, but were never prejudiced against people of Russian heritage.
Why Is This Charge Laid Before Us?
What is it that makes Ice set forth this charge? The theological “problem” is the doctrine known either as supercessionism or replacement theology. That is, the doctrine that teaches that the international Church has replaced national, racial Israel as the people of God. Ice comments:
I noted, similar to Rausch, that there was potential for anti-Semitism because of a few statements, but mainly because of their ‘replacement theology’” (p. 1). He continues: “The danger lies in their misunderstanding of God’s plan concerning the future of the nation Israel. Reconstructionists advocate the replacement of Old Testament Israel with the church, often called the ‘New Israel.’ They believe that Israel does not have a future different from any other nation.
He then documents this ‘wicked’ doctrine: “I then quoted Reconstructionist David Chilton as an example of that belief. ‘Although Israel will someday be restored to the true faith, the Bible does not tell of any future plan for Israel as a special nation’” (p. 1). Ice goes on to note that
Lindsey does not say that Reconstructionists are full-blown anti-Semites. He does say that Dominion/Reconstructionists engage in ‘the same sort of rhetoric that in the past formed the basis of contempt for the Jews that later developed into outright anti-Semitism.’ He then warns Christians to ‘not sit idly by while a system of prophetic interpretation that historically furnished the philosophical basis for anti-Semitism infects the Church again (p. 2).
Note that Reconstructionism is faulted as having a similar kind (same sort) of argument (rhetoric) as some in the past held that later evolved (developed) into the sin. That is as strong an argument as he can make.
A few paragraphs later, Ice cites Rushdoony’s charge that the premillennial view of the future of Israel is a “heresy” because of its “exaltation of racism into a divine principle” (p. 2). He then concludes: “These statements are clearly replacement theology and thus theological anti-Semitism, which has historically been the foundation for overt anti-Semitism within Christendom” (p. 2). His argument is: replacement theology is theological anti-Semitism.
The problem is that dispensationalism is redemptively retrogressive. We noted on page 96 above that they were prone to make Zionistic statements. Because we disagree with these, we are labeled “anti-Semitic”—even though we argue that Israel will one day be converted to Christ (Rom. 11:11-25)! According to dispensationalism the millennial kingdom will be fundamentally Jewish in character, even to the point of rebuilding the temple, setting up David’s tabernacle, re-instituting the Jewish sacrificial system, and exalting Jewish believers over Gentile believers. Let us recall just one sample: Herman Hoyt, past president of Grace Theological Seminary writes:
The redeemed living nation of Israel, regenerated and regathered to the land will be head over all the nations of the earth. . . . So he exalts them above the Gentile nations. . . . On the lowest level there are the saved, living, Gentile nations.
Ice’s basic “problem” with Reconstruction thought is that it has no special place for the exaltation of national-political Israel in a special Jewish millennial era. Worse still, Reconstruction theology follows the pattern of virtually all other non-dispensational, evangelical theologies in interpreting the flow of redemptive history supersessionally. That is, we believe that in the unfolding of the plan of God in history, the Christian Church is the very fruition of the redemptive purpose of God. As such, the multi-racial, international Church of Jesus Christ supersedes racial, national Israel as the focus of the kingdom of God. But since the Church is international, it does include racial Israel, as well. All converted nations will be on an equal footing in the Messianic Kingdom in the “Church” age (see for example: Isaiah 19:23-25; Rom. 11:11-25). We believe that Jew and Gentile are eternally merged into a “new man” in the Church of Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:12-18).
Consider Ice’s complaint: “Reconstructionists advocate the replacement of Old Testament Israel with the church, often called the ‘New Israel.’ They believe that Israel does not have a future different from any other nation” (p. 1). In summarizing a charge by Lindsey, Ice writes:
What is the basis upon which Lindsey makes such claims [of philosophical anti-Semitism]? His basis is that historically replacement theology (the church replaces the Jews as the new or true Israel, and Israel has no future as a distinct nation within God’s plan) has been the theological foundation upon which anti-Semitism has been built within the confines of Christianity. Therefore, Lindsey has seen in the 1980s a revival of replacement of theology (the historic cause of anti-Semitism) spearheaded by Dominionist leadership. His concern is that for the first time in our lifetime, there is a decline of those who believe in the Pretrib Rapture and a future for national Israel, often known as Dispensationalism, and a dramatic shift towards replacement theology (p. 2).
Note: Lindsey also saw in the 1980s a countdown to Armageddon that did not come to pass! Hal Lindsey, The 1980s: Countdown to Armageddon (New York: Bantam, 1980).
Turning the Tables
But his ill-founded plaint against supersessionistic, replacement theology and his laying at the feet of Reconstructionists the scurrilous charge of anti-Semitism is a two-edged sword. The “logic” he uses can be and, indeed, has been used to discredit Christianity and the Bible, as well as our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Let us see how this is so.
Ice apparently does not realize that the idea of supersessionism is fundamental to the Christian faith itself. The basic idea of supersessionism is that Christianity has superseded Judaism as the true faith. This is heresy? Supersessionism—which is despised by liberals, as well as by Ice—shamelessly endorses the words of Christ: “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me (John 14:6).
Ultimately, supersessionism is orthodox Christianity proclaiming that “neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Supersession theology is exlusivistic in arguing: “For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3:11). Supersessionism arrogantly proclaims that “there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5). Let me illustrate how this is so from a recent spate of letters and article to the Biblical Archaeology Review magazine.
A Roman Catholic article by Eugene Fisher, entitled “The Church’s Teaching on Supersessionism,” attacks the Protestant view of the necessity of converting from Judaism to Christianity:
For Catholics, the era in which it was possible to espouse any theory that the Christian Church has ‘superseded’ or ‘replaced’ the Jewish people as God’s Chosen People in the history of salvation ended definitively on October 28, 1965. On that day the world’s Catholic bishops, together with the bishop of Rome, Pope Paul VI, signed the declaration, Noastra Aetate (In Our Time), of the Second Vatican Council.
He laments ancient contempt for “Judaism” because it “was posited on the erroneous notion that God had ‘repudiated’ the Jews because of their so-called failure to accept Jesus as the Christ”! Is this not what Ice is saying in essence?
The destruction of the Temple and the Diaspora are not to be utilized polemically as a proof of divine punishment from Jewish ‘failure’ to ‘recognize’ Jesus. Rather, the Jewish ‘no’ is properly understood as a ‘yes’ to God’s continuing call to them. Jewish refusal to convert to Christianity is not to be understood as anything less than a faithful witness to God.
Of a statement by Pope* John Paul II, Fisher comments:
Clearly, such language ... indicates how far Church [i.e., official Roman Catholic dogma] teaching on the official level has come from anything resembling supersessionism or the old ‘replacement’ theologies of the relationship between the Church and the Jewish people. No Catholics who wish to consider themselves in conformity with the Magisterium of the Church can espouse or countenance such views today.
Nor may dispensationalists!
C. Nicky Blackford, a United Methodist pastor, wrote to BAR:
It always saddens me to read of Christians and ministerial colleagues whose theology has not advanced beyond the Middle Ages. Nicola Grenci, a fellow United Methodist minister, wrote in the March/April 1991 issue that the Jews must accept the Christian covenant to be accepted by God. It seems important for me to say that such a god is not the God that most of us worship.... I have not doubt that my Jewish friends have a vital relationship with the God I serve.
Blackford despises supersessionism, as does Ice.
Bruce A. Broterton, United Methodist pastor, also recoils at Christian exclusivism in supersessionist theology:
Our denomination has long fostered a relationship of respect and cooperation with our Jewish brothers and sisters. Such bigoted intolerance and arrogance as Mr. Grenci displayed in his letter would indicate to me that he is seriously at odds with the United Methodist Church.... I can only feel very sad for him and pray that someday he will grow in his ability to tolerate and accept others different from himself” (Ibid.).
Kathleen Marble responded with disgust: “What kind of ‘pastor’ would spew out such hateful bigotry against the Jewish people and the way they worship God? I am not Jewish, but I was brought up to respect all manner of worship, be it Catholic, Protestant, Charismatic, Jewish etc. We all believe in God, whether we call him Allah, Jehovah or just plain God” (Ibid.). Is dispensational-like anti-supersessionism leading to the Antichrist’s One-World Church?!
An excellent letter by Lewis Entze, who defended supersessionism, read:
It seems that the thing currently in vogue in intellectual circles is the seeking and finding of anti-Semitism. It seems the uprooting of anti-Semitism has such priority that, if need be, basic Christian doctrine can be jettisoned. If Pastor Grenci’s... is your worst anti-Semitic letter, you are blessed indeed. The letter stated that God’s cleansing is ‘given in the Christ.’ That is basic Christian doctrine.... Would you consider the Christ to be anti-Semitic if He said, ‘I am the way .... No one comes to the Father but by me” (John 14:6)? I am not anti-Semitic. I feel that anti-Semitism is extremely detestable, second only to denying Jesus Christ as the only Savior” (Ibid.).
Another defender of Grenci’s supersessionism was George E. Mohun:
Pastor Grenci goes on to say that Judaism rejects Christ as the Messiah. That is neither anti-Semitic nor a gratuitous insult. It is a statement of fact. The difficulty with such words as ‘anti-Semitic’ and ‘racism’ is that they lack clear definition while implying an imputing immoral motives and behavior. As such, they make the perfect meat-ax (p. 16).
Lawrence M. Downs defends John Strugnell’s basic alleged anti-Semitic sentiments:
John Strugnell’s great crime, it seems, is in being bold enough to say today what the apostle Paul said 2,000 years ago and what orthodox Christianity has always believed. I quote Mr. Strugnell: ‘The correct answer of Jews to Christianity is to become Christian.’... I realize that such statements are not popular, diplomatic or acceptable to your editorial philosophy, but if that is bigotry, anti-Semitic and contemptible, then all of us who still subscribes to classic Christianity are guilty also (Ibid.).
Robert T. Tuten followed suit: “You are in error to suggest that supersessionism... equals anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism do exist in the world, but they are not defined by supersessionism” (p. 19). Rev. Robert F. Cerar wrote: “You assume that supersessionism is anti-Semitism. I have never heard such a thing before. Really, your continued ranting verges on paranoia. Anti-Semitism is hatred.” Kenneth M. Sears: “To believe that God would supersede the old covenant with a new one is to be no more anti-Semitic than the prophet Jeremiah... (Jeremiah 31:31). Evidently God intended his new covenant with Israel to displace the old. Real anti-Semitism is not a matter of these theological concepts; anti-Semitism is a matter of murderous hatred” (Ibid.).
Thus, supersessionism is orthodox Christianity. Ironically, the anti-supersessionism of Ice and Lindsey is more compatible with official Roman Catholic dogma and liberalism than with evangelical sentiments.
Reconstruction thought does hold to supersession: We believe that the international Church has superseded for all times national Israel as the institution for the administration of divine blessing to the world. We believe the Church is composed of Jew and Gentile merged into one body forever (Eph. 2:12ff). We believe that from now and until the end of history the Church is the sole agency of the redemptive purposes of God. We believe the Church is the fruition of Israel, even though we believe that Jews themselves will one day be converted in mass (Rom. 11:15-25).
Supersessionism is not heresy; neither is it anti-Semitic. In fact, it is orthodox Christianity. The dispensational denial of supersession does border on blasphemy, though. Let us see how this is so. Let us notice that orthodox supersession is deemed anti-Semitic by ecumenical liberalism and modern Judaism. Biblical linguist and liberal scholar James H. Charlesworth, writing in Biblical Archaeology Review, provides a case in point. He lashes out at David P. Crews, an orthodox Christian, who states that Jews cannot be saved apart from trusting in Christ. He recognizes that this is the principle of supersessionism: “Regarding supersessionism: Crews cannot acknowledge that Jews who don’t accept Jesus as the Messiah have not endangered their relationship to God. Thus he enters the world of anti-Semitism.” Notice carefully: to promote the view that Christ is the only means of entry to God is supersessionist. And this is, to the liberal, arrogant anti-Semitism. Ice is so blinded by his dispensational oddities that he does not realize the true nature of supersessionism.
A Christian respondent to Charlesworth complains:
James Charlesworth erroneously states that supersessionism ‘certainly is not typical of Jesus’.... I have visited Israel twice and have many Jewish friends. I am still a strong ‘supersessionist.’ Does this make me ‘anti-Semitic? Hardly.... I am not ‘against’ these people. On the contrary, I am for them—praying daily for their welfare, both temporal and eternal. Am I ‘anti-‘ their belief systems? Absolutely, and so was Christ.
I have been following the continuing argument regarding supersessionism in your magazine for several months. As a practicing Catholic who was born and raised Jewish, this issue has quite naturally grabbed my attention. In James Charlesworth’s response to David Crews, he says that by accepting the doctrine of supersessionism, one ‘enters the world of anti-Semitism’! Earlier letters have made the same point—that the mere acceptance of this doctrine by itself makes one an anti-Semite. This is inflammatory and demonstrably untrue.
I agree. Lindsey and Ice make inflammatory statements regarding anti-Semitism that are demonstrably untrue.
A Jewish writer, Lillian Freudman, engages the supersession view, in an anti-Christian fashion:
“The belief that salvation is only through Jesus Christ is a denial and a rejection of the Torah, of Judaism and of the covenant that God made with Israel.... Many Christian scholars... have long realized that supersessionism... denies the legitimacy of the Torah.... When Christians insist that theirs is, as he writes, the ‘sole true faith’ and consider Judaism ‘as false, but a good try,’ the wise professor [Jacob Neusner] should understand that they are denigrating Judaism. Although some Christians who profess these ideas maintain cordial relations with Jews and may even disavow anti-Semitic behavior, their statements indicate a lack of respect for Judaism and its believers.”
Let us suppose, for sake of argument, that Ice’s “supersessionism=anti-Semitism” logic is valid. Ice feels that since Jews have been persecuted by some Christians, we should look for a sufficient cause for that persecution. Ice finds a causal factor in the doctrine of supersession. But let us consider an even “better” argument for anti-Semitism and intolerance of Jews that provides us with an even more obvious smoking gun, employing Ice’s “logic.”
Ice’s logic goes something like this: (1) Anti-Semitism is evil bigotry that must have some explanatory cause behind it. (2) Some Christians hold that God no longer maintains a special place in His plan for the Jews. (3) These Christians have a sufficient cause for anti-Semitic persecution of the Jews.
Consider this argument, which seems even more plausible, using Ice’s logic: (1) Anti-Semitism is evil bigotry that must have some explanatory cause behind it. (2) Christ taught that God’s wrath and curse were to fall on the Jews and that their Temple was to be utterly forsaken and destroyed. (3) Therefore, Christ is anti-Semitic and all of His followers have a sufficient cause for anti-Semitic persecution of the Jews.
The supersession-leads-to-anti-Semitism argument is quite general and rather nebulous. And wholly erroneous. But here in the very words of the One adored by Christians throughout history, we have very strong language that could more readily be laid as a foundation for anti-Semitism! Consider some of these strong statements by Christ:
Matthew 8:11-12: “And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” A modern no-no!
Matthew 23:32-33, 35: “Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?... Upon you [shall] come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar.”
Of the very heart institution of Israel, Jesus charges in Matthew 23:38: “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.”
Luke 23:28-31: “But Jesus turning unto them said, Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children. For, behold, the days are coming, in the which they shall say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the paps which never gave suck.’ Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us; and to the hills, Cover us.’ For if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?”
Our hypothetical argument presented from the words of Christ could just as easily base anti-Semitic charges on the biblical calling for the wrath of God on the Jews! Jesus affirmed their rejection from the kingdom favor of God to a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth, the desolation of their beloved Temple, the pouring out of their blood for the sins of their fathers, and the call to weep for the wrath to come on them.
Could not the words of either Christ or Paul (e.g., 1 Thess. 2:14-16) be used as the “philosophical basis for anti-Semitism” (Ice’s argument)? A logical anti-Christian could more easily generate an anti-Semitism argument from Christ’s words than from the general theological notion of supersessionism. But, of course, his argument would be wrong. And so is Ice’s.
A Jewish reader of Biblical Archaeology Review is convinced that Christianity per se is anti-Semitic: “Anti-Semitism is the basic foundation of Christianity as preached by its clergy and practiced by its faithful.” Another Jewish reader discredits salvation-in-Christ-alone advocacy:
“I have been reading with dismay, but not surprise, the ongoing discourse in BAR concerning supersessionism. I could not help but think that in ‘less civilized times’ such a discussion would have been a prelude to crusades, inquisitions and pogroms. The there-is-only-one-way protagonists may do well to contemplate the following, which I found in the back of my prayer books by Dr. Abraham Joshua Heshel....”
But there is more: Let us now turn the anti-Semitic argument on Ice and the dispensationalists. We teach that God has rejected Israel as His specially favored nation and that the Jews must come to God through Christ and His Church to be saved. But we also teach that if they turn to Jesus Christ (and they will in mass numbers someday) they will be saved along with us. This is supposedly anti-Semitic. But what may be said about Ice’s theological position? It is purely sadistic and when believed by Messianic Jews is masochistic! Consider the following. Ice writes in another newsletter:
I just returned from a Christian Zionist Conference in San Antonio, Texas at Cornerstone Church. It was great! There were interesting and informative speakers from Israel and many of the leading Christian Zionists including Hal Lindsey. You would have liked it as well.... It should not be surprising to anyone that a dispensationalist, such as myself, is a Christian Zionist, if you know our history. Zionism is simply the desire for the Jewish people to occupy the land of Israel. Christian Zionists are Christians who advocate Zionism.
This is institutional sadism. How so? Because of Ice’s dispensational theology. Consider what he is saying in the above statement: He and other dispensationalists are Zionists because they desire for the Jewish people to occupy the land of Israel.
But while Ice and friends are supporting and encouraging the return of Jews to Israel, what are they expecting to happen there soon, according to their view of prophecy?
An article in a dispensationalist publication is especially interesting in that it is attacking Reconstructionism: “Passages such as Joel 3, Zechariah 12-14, and Revelation 16 indicate that Israel’s worst time will take place immediately before Christ’s physical return to earth at His Second Coming. At that time the armies of all the nations of the world will gather against Israel and Jerusalem.... This future time of trouble for Israel will be so terrible that two-thirds of the Jews will perish (Zech. 13:8-9).” Walvoord agrees that “two-thirds of Israel in the land will perish.”
Hal Lindsey speaks of these coming events, when dealing with Revelation 16: “This chapter closes with multiplied millions of soldiers slaughtering each other in and around Israel.” Pentecost teaches:
The Scriptures teach that the future judgment program will begin with a judgment upon the national Israel.... It is evident from the passage just cited in Ezekiel, as well as the numerous passages dealing with Israel’s restoration, that this judgment will be upon all living Israel, all of whom are to be regathered and judged. Matthew 25:1-30 envisions a judgment on the entire nation.
If one believes this theology, then to urge Jews to return to Israel is sadistic.
Reformed Anti-Semitism Or Dispensational Absurdity?
Dispensational adherants frequently charge reformed theology with anti-semitism. This is due to the reduced role of Israel in the plan of God, as compared to the Zionistic tendencies within dispensationalism.
There are even those who have so vigorously made the charge as to lay the actions of Adolf Hitler at the feet of Christian Reconstructionist theology, a branch of reformed theology.
Such charges are ludicrous, responds Gentry. The charges represent a fundamental failure to understand both the nature of reformed theology and the ethics of anti-semitism.
In this work the anti-semitic charge is carefully assessed and vigorously dismantled. Gentry shows that, in fact, were the methodology of dispensational charges sound, Christ Himself could be labeled anti-semitic!
Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., is a native of Chattanooga, Tennessee, and a graduate of Tennessee Temple College (B.A.), Reformed Theological Seminary (M.Div.), and Whitefield Theological Seminary (Th.M; Th.D.). He is the pastor of Reedy River Presbyterian Church near Greenville, S.C. and is Professor of Bible at Christ College. In addition to his books and pamphlets, he has written scores of articles on various issues, published in: Christianity Today, Banner of Truth, The Freeman, The Journal of Christian Reconstruction, The Presbyterian Journal, Contra Mundum, Calvinism Today, The Counsel of Chalcedon, and Christianity and Society.
Eugene J. Fisher, "The Church's Teaching on Supersessionism," Biblical Archaeology Review, 17:2 (March-April, 1991) 58. Fisher is Director of the Secretariat for Catholic-Jewish Relations of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. This is a one-page article, so all citations from it are from page 58.