The Jews, Modern Israel and the New Supercessionism: Resources for Christians by Calvin Smith. King’s Divinity Press, 2009.
My outlook on this book went from expectancy to disappointment to moderate enthusiasm. A collection of essays on Israel in the Bible and the issue of Israel’s claim to the land, it is neither academic, to my disappointment, nor a real treatment of the issue of supercessionism (also spelled supersessionism). It is, instead, an adaptation of papers from a conference reacting to the tendency in British Christianity to oppose the state of Israel.
I have to say, it is encouraging to read British evangelicals supporting Israel. As a basic book for people learning the Biblical and theological reasons for Christians to support Israel, The Jews, Modern Israel, and the New Supercessionism is a far better primer than the oh-so-common sensationalist volumes out there. And for those who like to keep a small library of books on Christian views of Israel, this is certainly one to add to the collection.
The stated purpose for The Jews, Modern Israel and the New Supercessionism is to provide an accessible refutation to supersessionism while avoiding an extreme Christian Zionist stance. The authors do substantiate the continuing role of Israel in New Testament theology, as in the lead essay by Andy Cheung, “Who is the ‘Israel’ of Romans 11:26?” They discuss at length the issues of Israel’s sovereignty over the divine land grant. It is good to find friends amongst the Christians of Britain in a time when there are too many there like Stephen Sizer who associate Jesus-faith with support of Muslim warmongering.
My disappointments with the book are many. It is sad to find in a book self-styled as a refutation of supersessionism the following statement, “Clearly, Jesus supercedes the old covenant” (p. 39). Why is this “clearly” so? Why not see Messiah’s coming in continuity with the “old” covenant?
The book is not post-missionary, which would be a posture that I prefer, but it does mark an advance in thinking I can only hope will be caught by churches everywhere. The foreword is written, after all, by the CEO of a Christian Mission to the Jews, Mitch Glaser of Chosen People Ministries. And as a book clearly in support of the endeavor of Christian missions to the Jews, we find typical simplistic assessments of the meaning of the gospel for Israel.
For example, on page 150, Tony Pearce rehashes the naïve argument that the sacrificial laws of Torah should convict every Jew of their need for Jesus. He says, “Modern Judaism does not deal with the sin problem in the way the Torah requires,” and goes on to explain that Jews should have a sacrificial altar somewhere in the world today if they really believed the Torah. As one who used to use a similar argument myself, I am embarrassed for him that he has not grasped the meaning of the sacrificial system in Leviticus (it was about cleansing the Temple of the defilement of Israel’s sins, not about cleansing the sinner). I would love to ask him, “How does the prophet Daniel fit into your simplistically neat equation of the Levitical sacrifices and salvation?” After all, Daniel never once offered the blood of an animal to God at the Temple.
In a further misunderstanding of the Messianic Jewish post-missionary stance, Smith makes a direct a reference to Mark Kinzer and his Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism. Even in attempting to summarize Kinzer’s thesis, Smith finds it impossible to avoid missionary language: “Mark Kinzer, calling for Messianic integration into the Jewish religious community, who should aim to win converts to Yeshua by example” (pg. 131). Dr. Kinzer would be surprised to find out someone thinks he is “making converts.” In the same chapter, Smith uses the terms “Messianic Christian,” “Jewish Christian,” and “Messianic Jew” interchangeably. It seems to me that some important issues remain to be thought out in the author’s choice of nomenclature and missiology.
These disappointing tendencies in The Jews, Modern Israel, and the New Supercessionism are symptomatic of the book’s failure to really address the core issue of supersessionism. British evangelical support for the state of Israel is a great thing. But what is really needed in Christendom is a recognition of Israel’s continued calling to Torah life in Messiah. That is, a book that really addresses supersessionism should affirm what the church has long denied: Jews are called to keep the Law as a way of life, including Jews who follow Jesus as Messiah. Only when evangelical Christians recognize that Israel must not be asked to say no to God in order to say yes to Jesus, to use Kinzer’s winsome turn of phrase, will the conversation truly advance.
Meanwhile, lovers of Israel, I recommend this book as part of your library on Jewish-Christian relations. But alongside this volume, please have copies of books that delve more deeply into the issues: Soulen’s The God of Israel and Christian Theology, Dauermann’s Jews and Christians Together, and Kinzer’s Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism.