Replacement Theology

The Danger of Replacing Israel (Part 2)

In the previous installment, we considered the origin and nature of Replacement Theology, which involves understanding the church to be the new Israel or the spiritual Israel, or otherwise taking the concept of Israel (the people, the nation, or the land) in some non-literal sense when we encounter it within the text of Holy Scripture.

We briefly examined the development of this doctrine up to the time of the Reformation. This is where we will take up our historical journey in this article.

Replacement Theology—a Significant Issue

Someone might, first of all, be wondering whether Replacement Theology is really an issue deserving of this much of our time. The answer is that, indeed, it is.

As Replacement Theology is once again growing steadily in the churches of our day, we might wish that it were simply an aberrant concept—a recognizably false teaching that was of recent origin, and easily dismissed as having a limited influence.

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The Danger of Replacing Israel (Part 1)

Masada, 2020

As Bible-believing Christians, we must maintain a keen focus on the importance of Israel—from its biblical past, through its strategic present, to its prophetic future.

And, indeed, we must always remember that God still has a future for Israel! Proclaiming this truth—and acting on it—is the very reason The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry came into existence almost 83 years ago.

The tendency to replace Israel—counting the church as the new Israel or the spiritual Israel, or otherwise taking the concept of Israel (the people, the nation or the land) in some non-literal sense—is a trend that is growing rapidly in our time. But it is not a new concept by any stretch of the imagination.

Proponents of this form of interpretation can, in fact, reference a vast web of theologians and statements which span much of the history of the church—going back near its beginning—as support for their view.1

However, the fact that there is such a body of evidence also allows us to test the results of this strain of doctrine.

Over the course of three installments, I hope to show what Replacement Theology is, how it began, and what type of fruit it bears. We will do this by examining church history to the time of the Reformation, then from the Reformation onward—concluding with a practical case study of how this worked out in the life, ministry, and influence of one of the greatest Reformers in the history of the church.

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“Replacement Theology” - Is It Wrong to Use the Term? (Part 9)

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This is the final post in this series, the purpose of which has been to ask whether “replacement theology” and “supercessionism” correctly describe what some theologies, covenant theology especially, do with the nation of Israel and its OT promises in teaching fulfillment through “transformation” into Christ and the church. I am not saying that every CT (or NCT) will want to see themselves undercover of these names, only that the names fairly describe this aspect of the way these good people interpret the NT’s use of the OT.

We have seen that replacement theology exists. I have shown that some CT’s actually use the term “replace” (or “supercessionism”) to describe their approach in their own works, and that they recommend books that unashamedly use it. More anecdotally, I have encountered this opinion many times in conversations.

Of course, replacement theology is not confined to orthodox Reformed covenantalism, but they are the ones whose books and lectures I know best. In this tradition, it is common to view the history of Israel as primarily a structural learning device; a tool for teaching the Christian church through narrative and type; a “means to an end” as R. Scott Clark put it.

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“Replacement Theology” - Is It Wrong to Use the Term? (Part 8)

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My stated intention in these posts is to try to settle whether or not it is proper to speak in terms of theologies of supercessionism or replacement theology. It is not my design to argue for the opposite view (which I have done many times before). I am coming towards the end of my article, with probably one post left to go. I said that I wanted to take a look at two OT passages to discover how those holding to one or more forms of supercessionism handle them.

Jeremiah 31:31-37

The first passage is the famous New covenant prophecy in Jeremiah 31:31-34. It involves a prediction of cleansing and salvation for Israel and Judah and their reunification. The passage is repeated in Hebrews 8:8-12. But attached to the original prophecy is a crystal clear guarantee that if man can tinker with the ordinances of creation,which stand fast (Psa. 33:9), “then the seed of Israel shall also cease from being a nation before Me forever.” (Jer. 31:36). That sounds like a rock solid affirmation of the perpetuity of the existence of Israel as a nation!

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“Replacement Theology” - Is It Wrong to Use the Term? (Part 7)

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Gary Burge: Replacement Theologian

The name of Gary Burge of Wheaton College is familiar to many Christians who teach eschatology that includes the restoration of the remnant of the nation of Israel, but not for positive reasons. His positions on Israel, fueled in large part by his associations with the anti-Israel group Kairos USA, Naim Ateek, Stephen Sizer, and Pro-Palestinianism in general, hardly encourage fuzzy feelings. On the theological front, Burge freely speaks of spiritualizing and reinterpreting Scripture. Not surprisingly, Burge is a convinced replacement theologian.

For as we shall see (and as commentators regularly show) while the land itself had a concrete application for most in Judaism, Jesus and his followers reinterpreted the promises that came to those in his kingdom. (Gary M. Burge, Jesus and the Land, 35)

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“Replacement Theology” - Is It Wrong to Use the Term? (Part 6)

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I finished the last installment by stating that in viewing the Bible from a certain redemptive-historical perspective (a common one I might add), the only conclusion that one can come to is that the church has always existed, and that therefore elect Israel in the OT was the church of the OT to which now the Gentiles have been added in the NT era.

Remember these words from Sam Storms:

[Paul] clearly states that there is but one olive tree, rooted in the promises given to the patriarchs. In this one tree (i.e., in this one people of God) there are both believing Jews (natural branches) and believing Gentiles (unnatural branches). Together they constitute the one people of God, the one “new man,” the true Israel in and for whom the promises will be fulfilled. This one people, of course, is the Church. (Sam Storms, Kingdom Come, 195)

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"Replacement Theology" - Is It Wrong to Use the Term? (Part 5)

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Incipient Supercessionsm

So far I have tried to show that replacement theology exists and that it is a coinage of at least some covenant theologians, and also that it can take the shape either of direct replacementism (i.e. the church replaces Israel), or else conceptual replacementism (aspects of Israel’s promises are superseded by antitypes in the church). However, there is no shortage of men who vehemently deny that their theology is replacement theology. Sam Storms has stated,

Replacement theology would assert that God has uprooted and eternally cast aside the olive tree which is Israel and has planted, in its place, an entirely new one, the Church. All the promises given to the former have been transferred to the latter. But this is not what Paul says. He clearly states that there is but one olive tree, rooted in the promises given to the patriarchs. In this one tree (i.e., in this one people of God) there are both believing Jews (natural branches) and believing Gentiles (unnatural branches). Together they constitute the one people of God, the one “new man,” the true Israel in and for whom the promises will be fulfilled. This one people, of course, is the Church. (Sam Storms, Kingdom Come, 195; my emphasis)

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"Replacement Theology" - Is It Wrong to Use the Term? (Part 4)

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A Little More on the Reality of “Replacementism”

Theologian R. Kendall Soulen opens his book about supercessionism in church history with an explanation of what supercessionism is:

According to this teaching, God chose the Jewish people after the fall of Adam in order to prepare the world for the coming of Jesus Christ, the Savior. After Christ came, however, the special role of the Jewish people came to an end and its place was taken by the church, the new Israel. (The God of Israel and Christian Theology, 1-2)

This description matches our basic definition of supercessionism as “the switching out of “old Israel” with “new,” true Israel.” I think I have already proven that this teaching exists. I add to previous quotes this one from the Adventist theologian Hans LaRondelle. He is referencing Matthew 21:43:

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