Tag Archives: justice

The New Christian Zionism

“A survey of 2,000 American Evangelical Christians released Monday found generational differences among participants in positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with older evangelicals offering more unconditional support of Israel than those under 35.

According to the survey, American evangelicals under 35 are less likely than their older counterparts to offer unquestionable support for Israel, and are more likely to hold positive views of the Palestinians.” (Haaretz, 12/4/17)

For many years evangelical Christianity has been known to be highly Zionistic. Undoubtedly this is due, at least in part, to the influence of dispensationalism on5138 conservative Christians. Studies show, however, that Zionistic attitudes among American Christians are waning. Is this due to trends in dispensationalism? Trends in social media, e.g. we have a better view of what Palestinians are experiencing? Or is it something else?

The New Christian Zionism, edited by Gerald McDermott, does not attempt to answer those questions, however in light of Christian Zionism’s waning popularity, McDermott and a host of biblical scholars, theologians, and ethicists attempt to make a case for Zionism which is not dependent upon dispensationalism.

So what was the old Christian Zionism? Basically it was the dispensational view which puts Israel and the church on two separate, but parallel tracks. All the promises given to Israel will literally be fulfilled by the Jewish people group (ethic, national, territorial Israel), and not by a “spiritual” church.

What is the new Christian Zionism? Here I quote McDermott:

The New Christian Zionism asserts that the people and the land of Israel represent a provisional and proleptic fulfillment of the promises of the new world to come. So Jesus brought a new era to the history of Israel but without abolishing what came before, and he predicted that his people and land would be central to that new world. This is why the New Christian Zionism speaks of fulfillment and not supersessionism.

In making their case for this NCZ McDermott shows that Christian Zionism goes back two thousand years , and before the 19th century it had nothing to do with dispensationalism.

McDermott’s introduction is followed by four essays dealing with the biblical material (from a non-dispensationalist standpoint). Craig Blasing attempts to show that the NT affirms the OT expectation of an ethnic, national, territorial Israel in God’s plan. Joel Willits shows that the restoration of the land of Israel is fundamental to Matthew’s story of Jesus. Mark Kinzer argues that eschatology in Luke-Acts is tethered to the holy land. David Rudolph shows that Paul is looking forward to a renewed earth that is centered in Israel.

Jerusalem

The next section deals with some issues that people have brought up against Christian Zionism, often other Christians! Mark Tooley addresses mainline protestant objections to NCZ. Rebert Benne address the objection that Israel is an unjust political state oppressing Palestinians. He turns to Reinhold Niebuhr’s work to defend Israel. Some of the most interesting chapters follow Benne’s. Robert Nicholson addresses the objection that Israel is violating international law by controlling the west bank. He argues that 1)International law is unclear, and where it is clear, Israel is not in violation and 2)Israel’s legal standards are higher than all of its neighbors and many leading western countries. Shadi Khalloul, an Aramean Christian, argues that while Israel is far from perfect, it is far from unjust in its treatment of minority groups.

The last set of essays are written by Darrell Bock and Gerald McDermott, they both chart some possible ways forward for NCZ.

My favorite chapter was by far Nicholson’s chapter. Most likely because he addresses some objections I often hear – namely that Israel does not deserve the land beause it is violating the Mosaic covenant. Nicholson makes a strong case for the difficulty of making that claim. Second, Christian Zionism has lost a lot of support because many western Christians who pay attention to international politics are under the impression that Israel is in violation of international law in its treatment of Palestine. Nicholson, addresses whether or not there were any violations of international law in the taking of territory during the Six Day War. In trying to answer this question he gives his readers a history lesson. He provides 8 essential pieces of background for determing the legal and political context of Israel’s supposed violation of international law:

  1. Israel’s actions in the Six-Day Ware were conducted in self-defense in reponse to overwhelming aggression from surrounding Arab countries.
  2. The “Palestinian” territories that Israel captured in the war did not belong to anyone else under international law.
  3. Israel planned to exchange the captured territories for peace.
  4. The law of occupation may not apply to the West Bank and Gaza. (Because they are “disputed” territories.
  5. Israel has substantially performed its obligations as a belligerent occupier.
  6. The presence of Jewish civilians insde the West Bank does not constitute a war crime under the Geneva Conventions.
  7. Israel has substantially pefromed its obligations under United Nations Security Council Resolution 242.
  8. Palestinians have legal and political autonomy.

Nicholson concludes by saying that “An objective reading of the situation must conceded that Israel has in fact complied with international law. That Israel is routinely thought to be in violation stems more from ignorance of the laws involved and prejudice against Israel than the facts on the ground.” (280)

So where should Christians who are hesitant about Christian Zionism go from here? Bock makes an important and wise suggestion:

Israel is still responsible to God for how she responds to covenant obligations. To endorse Israel and a national place for the nation is not to give her carte blanche for everything she does. Christian Zionism is not a blind endorsement for Israel. It does not give the nation a pass on issues of justice or moral righteousness. She is still called to live responsibly as a nation like other nations. Rather, Christian Zionism merely makes the affirmation that Israel has a right to a secure homeland, which she should govern and occupy morally and responsibly. (309)

Now you may not find yourself agreeing with Bock’s or any of the other author’s conclusions, nevertheless, you should still give this book a shot. Given our political climate, evangelical (in all senses of the word) Christians really need to think through these issues carefully. To do so would be not only politically disastrous, but potentially spiritually as well.

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A Penal Substitutionary Doctrine of Atonement (Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview Pt. 1)

I just picked up the 2nd edition of William Lane Craig & J.P. Moreland’s Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (PFCW) – I immediately flipped over to the chapters dealing with philosophical theology – and in some cases what I would call 5187Analytic Theology. The chapter I gravitated towards first was the chapter on Atonement. I’m currently in a seminar on contemporary theories of atonement and I know Craig has recently been busy working on the topic. So, I wanted to see what they had to say.

Unsurprisingly the chapter on the doctrine of atonement is primarily a defense of penal substitution (PSA). They define PSA as:

The Doctrine that God inflicted on Christ the suffering we deserved as the punishment for our sins, as a result of which we no longer deserve punishment. (613)

They helpfully nuance this position saying that this definition leaves open the question whether or not Christ was punished for our sins. They say that one option is that Christ was indeed punished on our behalf and another option is that the suffering Christ experienced, had it been experienced by us, would have been a punishment.

In other words, Christ was a not punished, but he endured the suffering that would have been our punishment had it been inflicted upon us.

With this definition in mind they treat two objections:

1)The Incoherence Objection

This objection states that given an expressivist theory of punishment, it is conceptually impossible for God to punish Christ for our sins.

There are several options one could take in light of this objection. First one could deny the expressivist account. Second, one could say that God does not condemn Christ himself, but that God condemns sin. Finally, one could say that God in fact censures Christ, propose that our guilt is imputed onto Christ. The contemporary analogy to this doctrine of imputation would be cases in civil law which involve vicarious liability. For example, a case in which an employer incurs liability for acts committed by her employee.

Craig and Moreland conclude that the advocate of PSA can agree Christ was not punished, deny an expressivist account, or argue for the compatibility between PSA and expressivist accounts.

2) The Injustice Objection

“It is always unjust to punish an innocent person. Christ was an innocent person. God is always just. Therefore, God could not have punished Christ.” Thus goes a standard critique of PSA.

Again, the defender of PSA has several options. First they could adopt a consequentialist account of justice. If so, the act of punishing one innocent person, is justified because it prevents the guaranteed damnation of the human race. Second, they might argue that issues of justice are determined by God himself. Third, they could argue that, given divine command theory, God does not issue commands to himself, so he ha not moral duties to fulfill. Finally one might want to argue that Christ in fact had our guilt imputed onto him, so it actually is just to punish Christ.

Review of the Chapter

I really appreciated the clarity that Craig and Moreland brought to the issues involving PSA. This includes their definition of PSA which allows for a version of PSA to obtain even if Christ is not strictly punished for our sins. However, one critique I have of this chapter is that for some reason (their conservative evangelical background) they decided to focus solely on PSA. Not only that, they state (not argue) that essential, and indeed central to any biblically adequate theory of atonement is PSA. They offer no argument for that claim. While I am inclined to believe in some doctrine of PSA, they offer no reasons for why we should think PSA is the essential or central model of atonement. There may be reasons for why this is true, but they don’t say why.

Finally, I am left wondering, what we should do with biblical passages which mention that we have died with Christ. If punishment for sin is death (2 Cor 5 & Gal. 2), then it seems like in our “dying” with Christ we have experienced some sort of punishment. Are these passages figurative? Or should we take them in some sort of realist fashion? I’m inclined to say that it is the latter. And if in fact, we have died with Christ, experiencing the punishment for sin, would we still be able to call such an account PSA? I’m not sure… That’s just some food for thought.

Calvin on the Injustice of Oppression by Those in Power

But there is still more; that is, that the image of God is engraved in all people. Therefore not only do I despise my [own] flesh whenever I oppress anyone, but to my fullest capacity I violate the image of God. Therefore let us carefully  note that God willed in this passage to point out to those who are in authority and who receive esteem, who are richer than others and who enjoy some degree of honor, that they must not abuse those who are under their hand; they must not torment them beyond measure. They must always reflect on the fact that we are all descended from Adam’s race, that we possess a common nature and even that the image of God is engraved on us…

(John Calvin: Writings On Pastoral Piety, trans. Elsie Anne McKee, 260-1.)

Jonathan Edwards Week – Edwards and Atonement (Pt. 2)

Yesterday we took a brief look at a quote from Edwards that has been spun into a rather interesting theory of atonement (namely one that Edwards would never had agreed to). Today, I felt like we should look at what Edwards really believed about atonement. Here is Edwards in his own words:

If it be allowed that it is requisite that great crimes should be punished with punishment in some measure answerable to the heinousness of the crime because of their great demerit and the great abhorrence and indignation they justly excite: it will follow that it is a requisite that God should punish all sin with infinite punishment, because all sin, as it is against God, is infinitely hateful to him and so stirs up infinite abhorrence and indignation in him. (Works, 2:565)

We take it that it is required that crimes should be punished with a punishment equal to the heinousness of the crime. Thus it follows that sin against God (an infinite being) merits infinite punishment. Not that Edwards does not mention “justice” in this passage – rather Edwards main argument that sin deserves to be punished hangs on the fact sin is hateful to God and that it stirs up abhorrence and indignation to him. Sin is punished not out of a pure act of justice, rather it is punished because it is offensive to God’s holiness. Sin is not an abstract violation of justice rather it is an affront to a personal and holy God.

This punishment must be meted out upon the one guilty of the sin – no one can take the punishment for someone else, not even God for that would be unjust. Thank goodness for substitutionary atonement! The punishment can be meted out against one person if that one person somehow really is a substitute for the guilty. Mind you, this needs to be more than just a legal substitution, it needs to be a metaphysical substitution for the substitution to be real and not a legal fiction.

In Original Sin Edwards says,

Some things, existing in different times and places, are treated by their Creator as one in one respect, and others in another; some are united for this communication, and others for that; but all according to the sovereign pleasure of the Fountain of all being and operation. (OS 405)

In other words God regards John Doe at T1 and T2 as one being, even though materially they are not, thus metaphysically it is true that John Doe at T1 is the same person as John Doe at T2. Edwards applies this same logic to penal substitution. Edwards believes that God regards the believers as one with Christ and so, ontologically, the believer is one with Christ.

Atonement & Creation – Notes on Matthew Levering’s LATC15 Presentation

Here are some notes on the first plenary session of the Los Angeles Theology Conference….

Satisfaction theories can only be understood in the context of the doctrine of creation.

Nicholas Wolterstorff’s Critique of Satisfaction

  • In the sermon on the mount Jesus rejected the reciprocity code of justice – i.e. he rejects a retributive model of Justice
    • If someone does you a favor you owe them a favor
    • If someone does you evil you owe them “evil” in return
  • Jesus teaches us to return evil with good.
  • Wolterstorff argues that Anselm’s satisfaction theory reverts back to a reciprocity code of justice – Anselm assumes that the justice of God requires satisfaction.
  • How could Jesus teach against retributive justice yet participate in retributive justice on the cross?
  • Question for Wolterstorf – Where does the code of reciprocity come?
    • Levering – The reason for the enduring nature of the reciprocity code is that it is inscribed or grounded in the creative order.

Atonement & Creation & The Contribution of Thomas Aquinas

  • Aquinas makes a distinction b/w commutative justice & distributive justice. Commutative justice cannot apply to God. Distributive justice remains – this is what we are called to.
  • Can it really be said that God owes anything to humans? (i.e. distributive justice) Surely God has no obligations to us.
    • How can there be distributive justice in the creator?
    • Aquinas – God does owe creatures what is necessary for their flourishing.
    • Aquinas – the primary debt God owes is to himself…
      • In giving creatures what he owes for their flourishing God is essentially giving himself what he owes as a good and wise creator.
    • Creation is profoundly imbued with structures of justice – this is a gift of God.
      • Gift and Justice cannot be separated

Creaturely Justice & Retributive Punishment

  • Just as the creator owes a “debt” to his creatures – his creatures become debtors to one another but also to God. God holds first place for God is supremely excellent
    • This is both a debt of justice and a debt of love.
  • When humans turn away from divine love and fail to fulfill the debt of justice, we fail to live up to what we are created to. It is a rebellion against the order of justice between the rational creature and God.
  • Humans were created for a graced union with God – rebellion attacks this order. Thus we fall into disorder and slavery to Sin.
  • The order of creation is such that when we rebel against this order we lose the justice we were created for.
  • Sin carries its own punishment b/c of the disorder it brings.
    • The sinner can accept this punishment and make it satisfactory
      • He/she must accept this punishment freely
      • This brings healing and reconciliation
      • This is an acceptance of the order of justice – i.e. the created order of justice
    • Aquinas is not separating the stain or the guilt from punishment – the act of sin makes man him deserve punishment.
      • In justice the rational creature owes God a debt of love and service.
      • To restore justice in this situation means to restore justice within the creature and to heal the disorder
        • The punishment – heals the disorder…
      • If this is the case then there is nothing retributive about punishment…

Jesus Death as Satisfaction for Sin

  • In the case of atonement no satisfactory sacrifice was strictly necessary, God could have forgiven without satisfaction.
    • God didn’t have to fulfill the reciproticy code?
  • But why then does God send the son to die for sin?
    • God does so because it sets us free from the slavery of sin – and God shows more copious mercy than if he had forgiven sin without satisfaction.
      • It shows us how much he loves us and dignifies us.
    • How does Jesus death count for us?
      • Vicarious suffering & vicarious humanity – because Christ and his body are one mystic person.
      • His death was far more than was necessary to cover the sins of the whole human race.

Conclusion

  • Jesus came to bear our sin and restore order. It is because Jesus has fulfilled retributive justice that his followers no longer need to pursue it.
    • We don’t need to exercise the code of reciprocity here on earth.
  • Wolterstorff’s argument that retributive justice does not apply to God ignores scriptural data.
  • Although creation is pure gift – it can be said that God does owe his creature something
    • Gift and justice are related
    • Creatures must offer love, worship, and service to God
    • When we turn away from the creator the result is existential disorder and death
  • In self-giving love the Father sends the son to go through this retributive justice on our behalf – not because of a thirst for revenge – but as an act of pure love.

Penal Substitution? Two Objections and Responses

Penal substitution takes a lot of flack these days. Many of the objections that come up against PSA have focused on this theories assumptions about what justice is.  However, many of these objections are based upon what we tend to think justice is. But as Donald Macleod has said,

It would be certainly perilous to judge the cross by the wisdome of a prevailing culture. From the standpoint of divine revelation the logic must go in the exact opposite direction, allowing the cross to be itself the judge of the culture. This is what Luther meant when he declared, cruz probat omnia (the cross is the test of everything)…

Some object that PSA portrays God as bound to some abstract notion of justice. As if he were ruled by some universal law of justice…

But this gets God and justice all mixed up. God’s righteousness, his justice is not external to who he is. It is not something that exists outside of God. Righteousness is what God is. To say that God acts justly or that God requires penal subsitution (or satsifaction) is to say that God is simply acting out his nature. God acts justly, not because he is required to, God acts justly simply because God just is just….

Some object that PSA operates outside of a biblical understanding of justice. The classical idea of justice is that people get what they deserve – reward if they are good, punishment if they are bad. Biblical justice is about protection, salvation, and solidarity – its about God’s covenental commitment to his people’s well-being.

Again this is simply wrong. This objection is grounded in a modern aversion to justice as retribution (justice certainly is much bigger in scope than mere retribution, but retribution can certainly be a part of what justice is). This objection also splits God’s covenental commitment into two categories that are non-existent in scripture. God’s covenental commitment to his people is not only about God overseeing the well-being of his people  its also about his own righteousness. These two things cannot be separated. Because of God’s righteousness God is justified in punishing when the covenant with him is broken. There is no split between God’s righteousness and his covenant.

Now Penal Substitution has been objected for various reasons, justice only being one of them. As we can see, these two simple objections miss the mark when it comes to atonement and justice.

Enough is Enough – Thoughts on Justice, Compassion, and Eric Garner

I held off on blogging about Ferguson, it was a matter too weighty to deal with merely a blog post. Aside from shaking my head at the entire situation, I didn’t have any words to express my feelings, so I didn’t even try. But enough is enough, now that the Eric Garner case has made it to the forefront of America’s mind I can’t help but address the entire situation.

Protests in Manhattan after the Eric Garner case fails to go to trial.
Protests in Manhattan after the Eric Garner case fails to go to trial.

In case you don’t know what happened, here is the report by the New York Times:

On Wednesday [12/3/13] a Staten Island grand jury ended the criminal case against a New York police officer whose chokehold on an unarmed black man led to the man’s death… the fatal encounter in July was captured on videos and seen around the world. But after viewing the footage and hearing from witnesses, including the officer who used the chokehold, the jurors deliberated for less than a day before deciding that there was not enough evidence to go forward with charges against the officer.

The video is readily available online, and honestly when I saw the video I was enraged, sickened, and saddened. My heart dropped to the pit of my stomach as I watched the Eric Garner being choked out after having a civil conversation…

Every time you see me, you want to mess with me. I’m tired of it. It stops today… I’m minding m business officer, I’m minding my business. Please just leave me alone. I told you the last time, please just leave me alone. Please. Please, don’t touch me. Do not touch me. [garbled] I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. [Transcript of Garner’s words.]

Eric Garner Chokehold

In light of all of this I want to point all of us to two scriptures. One from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament.

Psalm 9:7-12

The Lord reigns forever;
he has established his throne for judgment.
He rules the world in righteousness
and judges the peoples with equity.
The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed,
a stronghold in times of trouble.
10 Those who know your name trust in you,
for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.

11 Sing the praises of the Lord, enthroned in Zion;
proclaim among the nations what he has done.
12 For he who avenges blood remembers;
he does not ignore the cries of the afflicted.

Luke 10:29-37

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

As you read the passage from Luke I want you to:

Imagine being that beaten Samaritan (a despised race) and left for dead. You see a priest and other religious folk walk right past you. That’s how those who feel emotionally trodden feel when Christians mentally walk past them, talking about what now seem to be trivial matters, not noticing that some of their black counterparts are breaking under the weight of these issues. – Issac Adams

Justice and Compassion. That is God’s heart. I pray that we as Christians we stay in tune with God’s heart and reflect it to the world.