Theology is the New Politics: How the Millennial Christian View of Israel is ChangingFriday, July 28, 2017
Millennial Christian support for Israel is changing—and for once it’s not all about politics. For many millennials, what’s tripping them up is not the media’s poor coverage of the Jewish state, but the broad spectrum of church theology which is influencing their view of Israel and the relationship between Jews and Christians.
For a growing number of Christians who do not identify with the right wing evangelical movement, the legitimacy of Israel is actually more of a theological question than a political one.
With dispensationalism, new covenant theology, and covenant theology competing with each other, some Christians are becoming increasingly confused as to what to believe about Israel. With every church they attend, and every theology and apologetics book they read, someone makes a different point about Israel, the Jewish people, and the new covenant. When it comes to how millennial Christians see Israel, theology is just as important as party politics. They don’t just want facts, they want biblically-solid theology.
In order for more millennial Christians to engage with Israel on a deeper level, they need theological evidence based on the new covenant that the modern state of Israel actually has a right to exist.
For some Christians who have grown up in church, they may suddenly find themselves in college wondering if they have enough biblical evidence to support Israel’s existence. A Christian college student at American University said in an interview:
“My opinion of Israel growing up was very much shaped by the Zionist stance taken by my church, who were active leaders within the CUFI community, and my parents, who defended the right for Israel to stand as a country with very surface-level reasoning based loosely on scripture.”
Additionally, when asked if being a Christian had any influence on her position, she explained:
“It definitely did when I was a kid before I was able to fully question what I was taught was truth; however, I have yet to find theologically-sound proof that Israel should be a single state used for the protection of the Jewish people under the new covenant.”
This response highlights an interesting perspective that many other Christians on AU’s campus cited in their interviews. They wonder what exactly the new covenant means with regard to the state of Israel. Furthermore, they want sound theological proof that they should support Israel as a Christian, regardless of their political affiliation.
The three major theological viewpoints in modern Christian doctrine highlight different relationships between Christians, Jews, and the state of Israel. Here’s an overview:
- Dispensationalism teaches that in various periods of history, God interacted differently with humanity. Most notably, dispensationalism holds that there is a distinction between Israel (in the Bible) and the Church, i.e. one cannot use them interchangeably when reading Scripture. Essentially, this theology takes Scripture literally, seeing the promises God made to the people of Israel in the Old Testament as being fulfilled in the millennium–not by the Church, but by the people of Israel.
- New covenant theology is considered somewhat of a middle ground on the theological spectrum. It teaches that the Mosaic law was a conditional covenant, but the Israelites could not uphold their end; thus, the law was ultimately replaced by the new covenant which Jesus made perfect with his life, death, and resurrection.
- Covenant theology is structured around the overarching covenant of grace, instituted after the fall of man, at which time there was a covenant of works that promised eternal life. Additionally, this theology teaches that the Church has been spiritually grafted into the tree of Israel, becoming heirs to the blessing of Abraham. It is taught that supersessionism—belief that the Church has replaced the Jewish people with regard to the covenant—is biblically wrong.
Both covenant theology and new covenant theology agree that Gentiles are heirs to the Abrahamic covenant, and that the Church has assumed the role of “spiritual Israel.” One of the main differences between the two is that covenant theology sees Mosaic Law as divided into civil, ceremonial, and moral law, and that with the death and resurrection of Jesus, only the moral law remains. New covenant theology, on the other hand, views the Mosaic Law as a whole, and teaches that anyone who is in Christ is not obligated to fulfill any of these laws.
With these three major theological viewpoints, the difficulty for Christians is understanding the implications of each one as it relates to the modern state of Israel. Many college-age Christians are afraid to talk about Israel because they are unsure what role their faith plays.
The way Scripture is taught and interpreted when it comes to the relationship between the Jewish people, the Church and the modern state of Israel must be better explained. Without this explanation, Christians will lack a clear view of the “big picture” outlined in both the Old and New Testaments.
Educating young Christians about what the new covenant means for Jewish-Christian relations and the state of Israel is the first step in broadening their view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Millennials are hungry for churches to talk about Israel in a way that arms them with theologically-sound information instead of vague statements that skim the surface and only produce more questions than answers. By deepening their knowledge of Scripture through theological and political education, Christians will be better equipped to talk about Israel as a modern state, and be able to defend their stance with theology and cold, hard facts