Tag Archives: replacement theology

The “Replacement Theology” of Eric Metaxas?

Eric Metaxas, If You Can Keep It, encourages our culture to consider the legacy of American exceptionalism. I like a lot of what Metaxas has to say. But does he take us down the right road theologically?

Eric Metaxas, If You Can Keep It, passionately encourages our culture to consider the legacy of American exceptionalism. I like a lot of what Metaxas has to say. But does he take us down the right road theologically?

While your hot dogs are grilling and you wait for the fireworks…

There is much talk about “replacement theology” in the church today, as I am exploring in this summer’s blog series on Christian Zionism, concerning how national Israel relates to the Christian church. However, as the Fourth of July is nearly upon us, I wanted to briefly tackle a more pressing kind of “replacement theology” that dangerously threatens Christianity today. There is a disturbing trend among some Christians, who, in a sense, see the American nation as somehow “replacing” either the church or national Israel, or possibly both, within the plan and providence of God.

Popular Christian author and public intellectual, Eric Metaxas, has written a new book based on a saying attributed to Benjamin Franklin at the 1787 Constitutional Convention. When asked, “Well, Doctor, what have we got? A Republic or a Monarchy?,” the elder statesman replied, “A Republic, if you can keep it.” Metaxas’ If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty, is a spirited defense of American exceptionalism, the idea that the American nation has a special, unique and even divine calling in world history.

Now, let me first say that I highly recommend Eric Metaxas to you as an astute public thinker. His Socrates in the City interviews with other thinkers are very helpful and stimulating. He has written one of my favorite biographies of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. But when I read two reviews of Metaxas’ latest book, first by Wheaton College historian Robert Tracy McKenzie, and the second by the Masters College  historian, Gregg L. Frazer,1 a question was raised in my mind.

In If You Can Keep It, Metaxas’ reviewers note that the author makes a number of historical errors that hamper his otherwise noble thesis. One of the most egregious errors concerns a common misreading of Massachusetts Bay governor John Winthrop’s 1630 sermon, “A Model of Christian Charity.” Metaxas misreads the famous line by Winthrop, that “we shall be as a city on a hill,” to be a reference to the American nation for all time. However, the original context of Winthrop’s sermon is concerning the witness of Winthrop’s particular Christian community, going back to the teaching of Matthew 5:14. In other words, Winthrop is teaching about the church, not about America as a nation.

Think about it: By replacing the church as the “city on a hill” with the American nation, does this not radically change the message of Matthew 5:14?

Furthermore, Metaxas proclaims that Founding Father, John Adams, was a “theologically orthodox Christian.” However, an observant reader in colonial American history will know that Adams rejected a number of core tenets of orthodox Christian faith, such as the deity of Christ, the atoning work of Christ for salvation, and the belief in the Triune nature of God.2 Adams also preferred the Hindu Shastra as the best source for “orthodox” theology.

Think about it: Does remaking the great patriot, John Adams, into an honorary evangelical Christian really help Metaxas’ case? Does not this mishandling of historical data, at the very least, confuse the reader?

So, while I am very sympathetic to Metaxas’ call to virtue and the role of Christian values in public life, his reworking of some details of American history raises this  disturbing question: Is Eric Metaxas promoting a kind of “replacement theology,” whereby the American nation replaces either the church or national Israel in the message of the Bible? For starters, read those two book reviews, previously linked above, read Winthrop’s sermon, or even allow Eric Metaxas to make his own case. Examine the evidence, think about it as you enjoy your hotdogs and the fireworks this weekend, and then come to your own conclusion.

Notes:

1. The Masters College is affiliated with the ministry of Southern California pastor and teacher, John MacArthur.

2. Concerning Adam’s views on the Trinity, popular evangelical speaker and writer, David Barton, has also made the same error on numerous occasions, suggesting that Unitarians prior to 1839, like John Adams, actually believed in the Trinity. Really??? Is not the whole point why Unitarians have historically called themselves “Unitarian” is because they reject the Trinity?


Christian Passion About Israel: Can We Talk?

Is the secular nation state of Israel a fulfillment of Bible prophecy? Veracity tackles a "hot potato."

If I had to name one, persistent, mind-boggling issue that has divided so many conservative, evangelical Christians, it would be this one: Israel.

Unlike, say the creation vs. evolution controversy, women in ministry, etc., that some categorize as conservative vs. liberal splits, the question of what to think and do about national Israel defies simple labels. There is tremendous pressure from the surrounding culture to go in very opposite directions. On one side, are those who view Christianity as complicit in enabling, and even consciously encouraging, centuries of antisemitism. On the other side, are those who view Christianity as terribly narrow and closed-minded, urging Christians not to try to share their faith with the Jewish people.

Nowhere does the issue become more focused and heated among believers, than when it comes to the subject of the land of Israel, and the current Jewish nation state that exists there in the modern Middle East. To one extreme, are those who view any criticism of the nation of Israel as being hateful and antisemitic. On the other extreme, vocal support of the nation of Israel at the expense of spiritual concerns is sometimes viewed as a compromise on the centrality of Christ, diminishing the need to have Christ, and Christ alone, for salvation.

Israel can be deeply polarizing.

Call me naive, but I am a big believer in the need for Christians to have better and more civil conversations with one another, on emotionally-charged subjects like Israel.  Otherwise, the consequences can be devastating. If Christians are unable to have frank and open dialogue with one another, without resorting to name-calling, then this brings ill repute upon the message of the Gospel to a watching world. In an effort to promote such open and brotherly discussion, I will soon embark on a multi-part blog series on the question of “Zionism,” and its relationship to Bible prophecy1.

As I have been studying Romans 9-11 over the past year or so, the theme of how a Christian should respond to “Zionism,” the Jewish desire to return to their ancestral homeland, pops up over and over again in my conversations with fellow believers. Keep an eye out for this upcoming blog series…. and keep your Bibles, and your minds, and your hearts open.

Do you want to get the conversation going? How about two movies that illustrate the tension in the discussion?

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Replacing Replacement Theology?

Clarence Larken (1850-1924) was an American Baptist pastor who developed charts like these that depict a dispensationalist view of the End Times. If you click on the image to expand the detail, you will see how Larkin divided the church on the left from Israel on the right. Contemporary followers of Larkin accuse "replacement theology" of wiping out Israel's place in Biblical prophecy.

Clarence Larkin (1850-1924) was an American Baptist pastor who developed charts like these that depict a dispensationalist view of the End Times, as popularized in the immensely influential Scofield Reference Bible. If you click on the image to expand the detail, you will see how Larkin divided the church on the left from Israel on the right. Contemporary followers of Larkin sometimes accuse “replacement theology” of wiping out Israel’s essential place in Biblical prophecy.

What is “replacement theology?”

About twenty years ago, I had the opportunity to visit the Holy Land. I looked out over the Sea of Galilee. I climbed part of the great mountain fortress of Masada. I witnessed orthodox Jews praying at the Western Wall. I walked the streets of Jerusalem down the Via Dolorosa, the Israeli flag flying high and proudly over several of these streets. It was a breathtaking experience.

However, the exhilaration was soberly offset by a conversation I had with the bus driver for our tour group. Like many other Palestinian Christians, his family had lived in the land for centuries with their Jewish and Muslim neighbors, mostly at peace. However, the events of the past 60+ years between the Israelis and their Arab neighbors have resulted in persecution for his family. He never went into the details, but I was always puzzled by what he meant by that.

Later on in the tour, when our group came to a stone gate in East Jerusalem, our bus driver nervously pointed out the bullet holes where Israeli and Jordanian fighters clashed with one another during the electrifying 1967 Six Day War. On the one hand, I felt then the thrill of the Israeli victory and reclamation of the ancient city that was discussed in this previous Veracity post.

But I had become also deeply troubled: what side was our Christian bus driver’s family on during that bitter conflict, or were they simply caught in the middle of the violence (like in this recent piece of news)? As I am writing this in July, 2014, Israel and Gaza’s Hamas have for weeks been involved in a deadly exchange, and Christians like this Baptist church in Gaza are vulnerable to the crossfire.

What is a Christian to think about the prophetic promises regarding national Israel, while also considering the challenges faced by Palestinian Christians living in the contested land in Middle East today, like my bus driver? What does the Bible have to say?

The study of Bible prophecy is a complicated subject and passions run very, very deep when people talk about “Israel.” Most evangelical Christians believe that “Israel” has a special place in God’s future plans, but there is a growing widespread confusion as to what this really means. So I must admit that I get conflicted when some Christians begin to talk about  the errors of “replacement theology.”  What is being meant when people speak of “replacement theology?” Granted, some criticisms are indeed valid, but a quick survey of what you find on YouTube can be rather troubling. Here is the ever colorful television personality Jack Van Impe:

Well,… uh, ok… now… what in the world is this guy talking about??????????
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