Israel Matters: Why Christians Must Think Differently
About the People and the Land
Gerald R. McDermott
A review by Dwight A. Moody
This is a book I really wanted to like and promote. Its title expresses a conviction that I have had for a long time. Since 1973, at least.
That is the year I landed in Tel Aviv for the first time.
During the next ten months, I attended an Hebrew language ulpan, worked as a breakfast cook, read George Adam Smith and Yohanan Aharoni, studied geography, geology, history, and Bible, endured the Yom Kippur War, bought a Vespa and traveled to every inch of the land—to places a pilgrim or student or tourist could not get close to today. But most of all I explored every part of the old city of Jerusalem: Jewish Quarter, Christian Quarter, Muslim Quarter, and Arminian Quarter, and the stone wall that surrounds all of it.
I have been back many times! I love Jerusalem. I support Israel. I honor Judaism. I admire the Jewish people.
And I believe strongly that Israel matters, Jerusalem matters, Judaism matters—just not in the way McDermott proposes.
He and I are caught in the same vice grip of ideologies: between a religious vision called Dispensationalism that sees the 1948 establishment of the modern state of Israel as the defining sign of the end of the age, on the one hand; and another religious vision called Supercessionism, that claims all the promises of God to Abraham and his descendants have been transferred to those who actually embraced Messiah Jesus—in other words, the Church—leaving Jews without promises and without land.
On the other side of the ideological ledger is a secular vision called Zionism. It sees modern Israel as legitimate and significant just as any other modern state and thus worthy of a safe place to call their own and a secure future to nurture their national aspirations (especially in the aftermath of the Holocaust).
Like McDermott, I find all three of these falling short of what is needed: a biblical, theological, and historical grounding for our instinct that Jerusalem, Israel, and the Jews really matter, and matter is a unique and compelling way.
We are not approaching the end of the age and there is something eternally significant about Israel. God did not transfer the promises from Abraham to Jesus. And yes, the Jews deserve a place to call their own, just like any other group (like Kurds, for instance!).
I wanted McDermott to make a strong case, but he doesn’t. What case he makes is done by erecting straw men and blowing them down. Like this: Many have taught that Jesus and Paul, he asserts, wanted to start a new religion, wanted to ditch Judaism and launch Christianity.
But frankly, I’ve never heard this idea in my life—not in Sunday School or church, not in college or seminary, not in a book or lecture, not even on radio or television. Where is this taught and by whom? McDermott knocks down this interpretation of Jesus and Paul, and rightly so; but it is a nothing claim and thus nothing to refute.
And on another matter he is wrong, it seems to me: namely, his distinction between the Abrahamic Covenant with the Hebrew people and the Mosaic Covenant with the Hebrew people. The latter is abrogated by the death and resurrection of Jesus, he claims, but the former is not. Thus, the promises (of people, land, and blessing) that constitute the Abrahamic Covenant are still “in effect”, we might say.
I don’t think God’s relationship with the Hebrew/Jewish people can be segregated into what God promised through Abraham and what God promised through Moses (or David, or Jeremiah, or Ezra, for that matter). Again, I don’t know who and where this is being taught, certainly not any place that I have been.
McDermott is right about some things, important things: Jesus and Paul were thorough-going Jews, practicing the elements common to their religion in the first century of Common Era. And throughout western history, a few Christian thinkers and leaders were convinced the Jews would eventually return to the Promised Land.
And he is right that Christians should not support the nation of Israel right or wrong—Israel should be held accountable to the same standards of justice, equity, and transparency that all other nations are held to. This I believe.
At the end, McDermott is right about his core claim: there is something distinctive about Jews, Judaism, and Jerusalem. Israel matters, yes, but his articulation of how that is and why is simply not compelling.
I am still searching. Can you help me?