May 18, 2009

Evacuation Theology

By Jim Fletcher

A reader suggested this week that I write a piece on Replacement Theology and Preterism.

Good idea!

This sick worldview is the bane of the Christian world right now, especially in the United States. In short, Replacement Theology suggests that God is finished with the nation of Israel and the Jews, and has “transferred” those promises to “the Church.” Preterism is a close cousin and alleges that “end-times” events were fulfilled almost exclusively with the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

It boggles my mind to weekly find new adherents of these unscriptural views. Of course, Replacement/Preterist folks accuse us of holding unscriptural views. Subsequently, we must determine what we believe about Scripture and whether allegory and symbolism rule over the plain-sense meaning of Scripture. Also be alerted to the fact that even “plain-sense meaning” is analyzed, parsed, and twisted in this new culture that questions what “is is.”

If I read the first five books of the Bible, then also study the books of the prophets, I will see a clear story of God forming the nation of Israel, to be a light unto the nations. He wanted a holy people who would tell others about Him. Further, one can see plainly that He has had a plan for them since before the creation of the world. This plan involves a worldwide dispersion due to the ancient Israelites’ unbelief (on this we can agree with Preterists, etc., although they and their spiritual kin, liberal Christians, seem to relish in this aspect of Israel’s story; it allows them to ignore the brutality of modern Palestinians).

God tells us that after a lengthy scattering in countries around the world, the Jews will be re-gathered into their ancestral land, which was promised to them forever. This re-gathering, I would stake my life on, is the greatest happening of our time. Of course, the critics loathe this view. They say modern Israel is a coincidence of history, a mistake, an injustice to the Palestinians. Or, they ignore it.

But one cannot ignore Israel. The Jews have re-entered history.

The Jews have re-entered history!

Remember that. Write it down somewhere. Repeat it endlessly whenever you hear a critic of Bible “literalism.” Open your mouth and say this when you hear a professor, pastor, or pagan deny Israel and the Jewish destiny.

“Please tell me, if the Bible isn’t true, why have the Jews re-entered history?”

Bible critics and prophecy critics are in a frenzy to out-do each other. Rob Bell, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Michigan, and an in-demand author, recently told Christianity Today’s Mark Galli that some Christians practice “evacuation theology.” This presumably is his term for the same thing Brian McLaren derisively describes as “an eschatology of abandonment.” This is the idea that Bible prophecy students — Rapture adherents — are so sick of this world, they don’t want to do anything constructive and would prefer instead to long for Jesus to come back.

On the Mars Hill website, under the “Narrative Theology” statement, we find these thoughts:
“In Israel's disobedience, they became indifferent and in turn irrelevant to the purposes to which God had called them.

“We believe the day is coming when Jesus will return to judge the world, bringing an end to injustice and restoring all things to God's original intent. God will reclaim this world and rule forever. The earth's groaning will cease and God will dwell with us here in a restored creation. On that day we will beat swords into tools for cultivating the earth, the wolf will lie down with the lamb, there will be no more death, and God will wipe away all our tears. Our relationships with God, others, ourselves, and creation will be whole. All will flourish as God intends. This is what we long for. This is what we hope for. And we are giving our lives to living out that future reality now.”
First, notice that Israel has become “irrelevant.” How arrogant of Mars Hill! But it explains their seeming dislike of the Jewish nation.

Secondly, it appears that at least on the surface, Bell’s Mars Hill community “longs for” and they “hope for” Christ’s return. It’s debatable if they view His return the same way we do, but it at least appears they also long for the same thing they accuse others of focusing on to the extent the world’s problems are abandoned.

Gary DeMar, perhaps the most outspoken preterist today, does terrific work where American heritage teaching is concerned. However, he has a real problem with prophecy teaching. In his book, Last Days Madness, DeMar makes the following amazing statement:
“The Old Testament prophecies of Israel’s restoration had been fulfilled in the return from the Babylonian captivity.”
He goes to great lengths to marginalize the miraculous re-entry of the Jews into history — in our lifetime — by discussing how wrong Christians were in various eras, when they contended they lived in the last days. He also makes a big deal out of the “Fig Tree” imagery in the Bible.

It is therefore quite shocking that he ignores the dozens of clear passages in the Bible that speak of Israel’s future restoration as a national entity. Further, God makes it clear that one of DeMar’s main bugaboos — Israel’s unbelief and rejection of her Messiah — will be dissolved in the last days.

I am always interested to see how critics attack Rapture theology, Israel support, etc. Usually, they attack personalities; there must be a ton of Hal Lindsey dolls out there with needles sticking out of them.

All this of course misses the point that there is a common thread through Scripture in which God reveals the general theme of His plan for the redemption of creation. A key element of that plan is the restoration of Israel and the final act of world history.

Replacement Theology, Preterism, and a general moving away from Israel all are hallmarks of modern evangelicalism. Tragic. We will explore this more in the weeks to come.

Until then, as a believer grafted-in to the faith, I marvel at Israel. I marvel at her God.