Monday, February 20, 2006

Building a theology of the Land #2: “Personal History”
When I was growing up in suburban Texas, every single person I knew loved Israel. We sang songs with Hebrew verses; the occasional shofar showed up in worship services; there were people in our Christian circles who were Jewish ethnically and in their praxis (Passover, diet, style of wedding, etc). There was a general reverence, I think, towards things Jewish—whether stories about Masada or the Fiddler on the Roof. As far as the nation of Israel was concerned, we all thought they were the baddest, toughest cusses on the planet, and we were pretty sure God wanted them on a certain strip of Land in the Eastern Mediterranean. One of my best friends had a dog named Yanni. This was the nickname of Benjamin Netanyahu’s brother Jonathan, a national hero who was the lone Israeli killed during the remarkable raid to rescue the passengers and crew from a hijacked plane in Entebbe, Uganda. (For those not familiar with the way Americans love dogs, naming your pooch after someone is a complement, not a curse!) I imagine many others grew up with roughly the same perspective I had.

What produced this phenomenon in American culture? Lots of reasons, I suspect; Israelis were definitely not Communist; in the 70s and 80s, the best-selling non-fiction (I use that term as the NY Times used it!) book in history, The Late Great Planet Earth had propagated the belief in the rapture, the need for the Jews to own the Land and rebuild the Temple, etc. Post-holocaust sensitivity and knowledge of the hostility of Israel’s neighbors toward Jews also contributed to this support.

As I reflect on this, I’m struck by three things: the first is the very militant nature of this support for the present-day nation-state of Israel among Christians—something I find no support for in the New Testament whatsoever. Second, I don’t remember ever being “drilled” in the Scriptures as to why it was the case that Israel should own the Land; it was just assumed. Perhaps this is in part due to the very complex arguments mustered by dispensationalists. Above all, there are important and encouraging NT teachings that were left behind when we focused on the present-day nation-state of Israel and failed to see the connection between the ancient Land of Israel and something greater...

Over the past decade-plus, I’ve gotten to know the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from a new angle, thanks to a thoughtful teacher in social studies course in high school, an undergraduate degree in International Studies, and getting to know Arabs and Christians from the Middle East. I read books by O. Palmer Robertson, Gary Burge, W. D. Davies, and Walter Breuggemann which addressed the subject. While visiting a friend at Queen’s College, Oxford, I had the privilege of hearing Peter Walker do a lecture on related material (Jerusalem in the New Testament); I also heard Palmer Robertson do something similar at my alma mater on the Land. Such experiences solidified a change I was already undergoing and (I trust) fostered a more mature approach to the issue of the Land and the relevant biblical texts.

In the next post, I’m going to take a look at the NT texts which might address the question of the Land. First up? Matthew 5:5…

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