Christianity Today is sharing a discussion between John Piper, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, and David Brickner, the executive director of Jews For Jesus, on Israel and the Promised Land. This discussion is on Christianity Today's web version only. So far, three of the four parts in the series are online and we've decided to review what has been posted to save time. The links are part one, part two, and part three.
Our purpose here is not to take sides but to point out some traditional problems that both John Piper and David Brickner can be vulnerable to. The first problem is to think that placing our first allegiance with Christ and our second allegiance with country is the way to go. I have heard, all to often, from the pulpit that we are to think of ourselves as Christians first and Americans second. I believe this pecking order is an effort to sanctify patriotism and it seems that Brickner adheres to this prioritizing of nationalism. From what he has written, he believes that Israel, despite its lack of faith in Christ, should be a Jewish Democracy, what American born, Israeli activist Jeff Halper calls an ethnocracy--a democracy that is dominated by a particular ethnic group.
Thus, David Brickner would love to see more Israeli Jews come to Christ to show that the nation has repented from unbelief. In contrast to Brickner's position, John Piper christianizes a position that the Jewish Ultra Orthodox group, Neturai Karta (see NK), have. That is that Israel has no right to the land until the Messiah comes. And further reading indicates that Piper is not the nationalist that Brickner is. Here, Piper is seeking to avoid the idolatry that can come with patriotism.
Returning to the rule that we should think of ourselves as Christians first and citizens of a nation second, though lacking Brickners penchant for nationalism, Piper also trips over the same hurdle that Brickner does. The flaw in their thinking is not that we should not consider ourselves Christians first; the difficulty is that we have recognized only two identities rather than three. For not only are we people of a particular faith and citizens of a country, we are all made in the image of God. And if we do not recognize this last identity, we could find ourselves callously killing other image bearers of God for the prosperity and glory of a country.
So instead of seeing ourselves as citizens of another country second behind being believers in Christ, we should see ourselves as Christians first, image bearers of God second, and citizens of a nation third, if that high. Such an order in priorities could reduce the killing of others who are made in the image of God for national pride because such an order strongly ties us to those who live outside of our own borders.
How would this then apply to the Israeli-Palestinian situation? Christians should equally pressure both sides to refrain from attacking and stealing from each other. That is, rather than taking sides based on perceived similarities with one's own country, Christians should act as honest brokers--to do otherwise is to embrace a gang or tribal mentality. This is the only approach that could end the senseless heartbreak and increasing hatred that a reliance on force brings. For when we review recent history, we find that, for both sides, attacking combatants is brutally futile while attacking civilians is highly immoral and criminal. And unlike Brickner's and Piper's point of agreement where they say that one cannot morally equate attacks on civilians, that is attacking Israeli civilians being implied, with defending one's country, attacking Palestinian civilians, the Christian position must oppose reliance on force which has been used as a substitute for trusting in justice.
There is another problem with the discussion between Piper and Brickner. That problem has to do with their description of the Abrahamic Covenant and it applies more to Brickner's position than Piper's. Both leave out a condition for Abraham's descendants inheriting his promise: circumcision (Genesis 17:10). This poses a problem for Christians who read Paul, especially his letter to the Galations because he says a couple of things regarding Abraham. First, Paul declares that it is those who believe in Jesus who are the true descendants of Abraham (Galations 3:6-9, 14-16). And second, Paul states that if a Christian receives circumcision, then one has been severed from Christ (Galations 5:2-4) through whom the blessing of Abraham comes today.
When one interprets the Old Testament passages in the light of the New Testament passages, those who insist on a literal interpretation of the Abrahamic Covenant at every point must decide between admitting the Blessing of Abraham mentioned in the Old Testament undergoes significant changes or that one cannot use the same literal hermeneutical principle to the New Testament where it talks about Abraham. Considering that we are suppose to use the New Testament to interpret the Old Testament, the latter choice would seem out of place. And if the literal condition of circumcision is no longer a part of the covenant, what other literal components have been changed as well?
Finally, in part three, David Brickner states that the state of Israel arose from the Holocaust. This is partially true but it is more partially false. For Modern Zionism actually started in the 1800s, first in the minds of men, and then through an ever increasing immigration. By the 1800s, Jews came to the realization that despite their own personal pledges of allegiance and good citizenship, they would never be accepted as equals by their fellow European citizens who were also Christians. And there were many times when the rejection of the Jews included horrible persecution and even death. When Jews were accepted and treated as allies, it was only temporary and sometimes during a crisis and their fortunes quickly changed. Christians were simply too scared of the "differences" they perceived between themselves and the Jews to react any other way.
If one strongly objects to the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians, as I do, then one must realize that much of the credit for that treatment belongs to the European Christians and their centuries of harsh treatment of the Jews. The Holocaust itself provided an unparalleled zenith for the maltreatment of the Jews.
The above three points are what is so far missing in the discussion between Piper and Brickner regarding Israel and Palestine. One can only hope that these points are addressed in the last part of the series.
|This Month's Scripture Verse:|
Whoever loves money never has enough;
whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.
This too is meaningless -- Ecclesiastes 5:10