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Saturday, November 07, 2015

John Piper Gets Political

In a previous post, I pointed out the various ways John Piper’s supersessionist leanings cause him to read things into Romans 2 that the apostle Paul does not say, largely in aid of convincing Christians that we are “true Jews”. As a result, Piper makes murk of the clear distinction in scripture between Jews, Gentiles and the church of God.

I also pointed out that a preference for a supersessionist reading of the Bible frequently goes hand-in-hand with a very defined political position on the modern nation of Israel and its right to occupy the Holy Land, specifically, that those rights could use some major curtailing.

Chicken and Egg

Which of these notions is chicken and which is egg I can’t really say. Does bad theology breed a tendency to bloviate about the Palestinian crisis from the platform, or do strong political opinions force their way into the pages of scripture whether or not they belong there? Who knows?

Either way, I really can’t wait to see what Piper will do with Romans 11. That chapter is about the clearest and most unequivocal declaration possible of God’s settled intention to restore national Israel to blessing and prominence on this world’s stage.

In real time, it took John Piper nearly five years after preaching on Romans 2 to work his way through the book to the eleventh chapter, but sure enough, he doesn’t fail to deliver. Just as reliably, he’s got strong opinions to share about the Middle East.

Peering into the Future

Since in Piper’s view Christians are heirs to all the very literal, earthly blessings promised to the Jewish patriarchs and to King David — blessings having to do with national dominion and rule — it is not surprising that he fails to make much of the church’s heavenly calling. Instead, he locates our hope of glory in the Holy Land during the coming millennial reign of Jesus Christ, mixed in with Jewish believers:
“6.  By faith in Jesus Christ, the Jewish Messiah, Gentiles become heirs of the promise of Abraham, including the promise of the Land. [emphasis mine]

In the words of Romans 11:17:

‘You [Gentile], although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree’

that is, they become part of the redeemed covenant people who share the faith of Abraham. The reason, as Paul put in Romans 4:13, is that:

‘The promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith.’

So all who are united to Christ, Abraham’s Offspring, by faith are part of the covenant made with him and his offspring.”

Different Peoples, Different Roles

No serious Bible student would dispute the fact that both Christians and believing Jews have their place in the future plans and purposes of God. Both have their roles in the coming kingdom. Both share the faith of Abraham. Both are nourished by the olive tree of Judaism. Both are covenant peoples, redeemed by the blood of Christ.

Where we part ways is in Piper’s persistent conflation of Old and New Covenants. The believing Jew of a future day has numerous very specific national promises still to be claimed that have nothing to do with the hope of the church. Piper continues:
“Here’s the most sweeping statement of this truth — Ephesians 2:12:

‘Remember that you [Gentiles] were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ … So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.’

Therefore Jewish believers in Jesus and Gentile believers will inherit the Land. And the easiest way to see this is to see that we will inherit the world which includes the Land. Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians will not quibble over the real estate of the Promised Land because the entire new heavens and the new earth will be ours.”

Let’s Not Quibble ...

I am quite sure there will be no quibbling over the real estate of the Promised Land, but not for the reason Piper thinks. The tribes of Israel already have their millennial homeland divided up for them by God, as Ezekiel clearly spells out. I’m curious where John Piper, as a Gentile, plans to make his home in the future nation. Does he prefer the northern part of the Holy Land? Maybe he is planning on becoming an honorary member of the tribe of Naphtali. Or if he prefers the south, maybe the tribe of Zebulun will take him in.

Piper’s mish-mashing of Christians and Jews makes mincemeat of the last quarter of Ezekiel’s prophecy and steals blessings from God’s earthly people to which he can lay no legitimate claim.

Meanwhile, as a citizen of heaven, I will have other things to do with my time than attending services on the Temple Mount. There are angels to be judged. There is the whole issue of “reigning” with Christ to be realized. The Father’s house has many rooms. There’s exploring to be done.

Now a servant goes wherever his Master sends him, so we can’t rule out that Christians may have responsibilities to carry out on the millennial earth. Maybe in the process we’ll even run across John Piper still trying to decide whether he’s from the tribe of Dan or Benjamin.

This Land Is Your Land ...

Enough of that. Back to Piper’s “the land is ours” mantra:
1 Corinthians 3:21-23:

‘All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future — all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.’

All followers of Christ, and only followers of Christ, will inherit the earth, including the Land.”
This is magnificently misapplied. Paul’s subject in 1 Corinthians 3 is divisions within the church, and those who appropriate sectarian names that don’t belong to them during our present church age, such as the name of Paul himself or his fellow servant Apollos.

For that matter, the name “Jew” might be misappropriated in precisely the same way.

To declare to this planet’s future ruling class corporately, “The world is yours” is not to say that every square inch and every future activity conducted thereon belongs equally to all, as if our future destiny is a sort of heavenly kibbutz. One might as well claim the seats to the right and left hand of the Lord Jesus in glory on the basis of this verse. Yet we are told these seats are reserved. Paul is simply reminding believers that we have no reason to be petty or territorial in view of a hope that vastly transcends that which we see before us today.

If Christians and Jews enjoy the Holy Land of a future day on an equal basis, how is it that there will be those with authority over ten cities and those with authority over five? It matters not a whit whether you take the concept of authority over cities allegorically or literally: if Shimon the Faithful Jew has been given authority over ten whatevers, then Helmut the True Believer cannot be granted authority over the same ten.

Any attempt to lay claim to citizenship in the future land of Israel on the basis of this verse is truly bizarre.

Bring On the Politics

As promised, having established to his own satisfaction (by constantly repeating it without offering evidence) the Jews are Christians and Christians are Jews, Piper draws all the expected political inferences:
“Therefore, the secular state of Israel today may not claim a present divine right to the Land, but they and we should seek a peaceful settlement not based on present divine rights, but on international principles of justice, mercy, and practical feasibility.

This follows from all we have said so far, and the implication it has for those of us who believe the Bible and trust Christ as our Savior and as the Lord of history, is that we should not give blanket approval to Jewish or to Palestinian actions. We should approve or denounce according to Biblical standards of justice and mercy among peoples. We should encourage our representatives to seek a just settlement that takes the historical and social claims of both peoples into account. Neither should be allowed to sway the judgments of justice by a present divine claim to the land. If you believe this, it would be helpful for your representatives to know it.

We are not whitewashing terrorism and we are not whitewashing Jewish force. Nor is there any attempt on my part to assess measures of blame or moral equivalence. That’s not my aim. My aim is to put the debate on a balanced footing in this sense: neither side should preempt the claims of international justice by the claim of present divine rights. Working out what that justice will look like is still a huge and daunting task. I have not solved that problem. But I think we will make better progress if we do not yield to the claim of either side to be ethnically or nationally sanctioned by God in their present conflict.”
To be fair to Mr. Piper, he stops well short of obvious anti-Semitism here. And I even have some sympathy for his point. There are evangelicals who are so convinced the modern nation of Israel is “God’s people” that you’d think the nation had already repented, been purified and the coming Davidic monarch was seated on his throne in Jerusalem.

Withholding Blanket Approval

This is not the case. The Jews who will be blessed to divide up the land in millennial Israel are surely the children, grandchildren or distant descendants of some of those living in Palestine today. That does not entitle their parents, grandparents or ancestors to “blanket approval”, as Piper aptly points out. They have no “divine right” to the land currently, and most of them are not claiming one.

That said, we need to be very wary of those who would twist scripture to encourage Christians to sympathize with the Palestinian cause or to view terrorism as understandable because it is carried on in the name of an oppressed people. Piper doesn’t go that far, thankfully. But others do, and they use the same semantic tricks with the Bible to give themselves cover for declaring the State of Israel illegitimate.

In fact, as far as his political conclusions go, “international principles of justice and mercy” sound just fine to me, provided we have even the slightest good faith reason to believe that Israel will receive anything of the sort from those in this world who stand in judgment on them. In principle at least, Piper and I are very nearly on the same page about that.

The difference is that I don’t need to mangle the book of Romans to get there.

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