Darrell L. Bock and Mitch Glaser, ed. Israel, the Church, and the Middle East: A Biblical Response to the Current Conflict. Kregel, 2018. See here to purchase the book.
This book comes out in celebration of the state of Israel’s seventieth anniversary. Scholars and a lawyer contribute essays to this publication.
Here are some of my reactions to the book:
A. I will get my controversial criticism out of the way first: I thought that the book was one-sided. Its overall message seems to be that Israel is in the right, whereas the Palestinians who are critical of Israel are in the wrong. The way that peace can arrive in the Middle East, this book appears to imply, is if Palestinians become Christians and thus acknowledge the Jewish people’s right to the land. Occasionally, there was an acknowledgement of Palestinians’ grievances. Michael Brown referred to works that support a one-state solution while still offering ideas as to how Israel can make peace with the Palestinians. A footnote refers to Darrell Bock’s statement that Israel does not have a right to do anything she wants. But this was very occasional. One contributor said that Christians who criticize Israel are hurting Christian attempts to evangelize to Jews. But do not evangelicals hurt their witness when they side with Israel, as Israel inflicts pain and death on Palestinians? This is not to suggest that the book lacks arguments that deserve consideration: about Israel’s current inclusion of Arabs into the political system, about Israel’s contribution to science, and about misdeeds among certain leaders in the Arab world. Still, the book could have been more balanced, in seeking to approach the conflict in a Christ-like manner.
B. More than one essay in this book argued that the land promises to Israel are still valid in the eyes of God, meaning that Israel has a divine right to her land. There are indications within the Hebrew Bible that God’s covenant with Abraham is everlasting. Prophecies paint a picture of Israel playing a prominent role when God establishes God’s reign on earth. Passages in the New Testament appear to indicate that Israel has a right to her land. The book cited a number of them, but one that comes to mind is Jesus’ reference to the time of the Gentiles coming to an end (Luke 21:24). Does that not imply that Gentile domination over the land of Israel will end, and the Jews will possess sovereignty over their land? And Michael Rydelnik adeptly argues against interpretations of biblical passages that argue that the land promises have been spiritualized under the New Covenant. The case that this book made was fairly effective. Still, questions can be asked. Are there not institutions that are called everlasting in the Hebrew Bible that Christians no longer observe literally? Phinehas’ priesthood (Numbers 25:13) and circumcision (Genesis 17:13) come to mind. The New Testament arguably spiritualizes Old Covenant rituals and concepts that are called everlasting or perpetual. What makes the land promises any different?
C. The book is informative about a number of issues. One essay surveys the belief that the land promises are still binding within the history of Christian thought. Another essay profiles Messianic Judaism in Israel. Another essay provides an extensive survey of evangelical attitudes towards Israel. The argument is made that more Christians than classic dispensationalists support the state of Israel. And the chapter about Palestinian Christians was not only informative but also was moving.
D. Michael Brown’s essay is thoughtful, even if it is inconclusive. Essentially, he discusses Joel 3:2, which speaks against dividing the land of Israel, and he asks if that implies that God would disapprove of a two-state solution. Brown refers to different interpretations of that passage, but he also interacts with other theological issues. For example, do the Jews residing in Israel have a right to the land, when many of them reject Christ? Either they are secularist, or they are religious and persecute Messianic Jews. Brown concludes that they have the land by God’s grace.
E. The book did well to have a concluding chapter by Darrell Bock that summarized the previous chapters.
F. The book could have used more editing. There were some grammatical errors and missing words. One of the graphs made no sense: Is not thirty-six percent larger than seven percent? Why, then, is the seven percent bar higher than the thirty-six percent one?
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My review is honest.