Saturday 7 June 2014

What is replacement theology?

This blog post has arisen to attempt to answer some proponents of Christian zionism. I am well aware that my answer will be far too short and inadequate to offer a full treatment of this subject, but hopefully it will offer some lines of thought for consideration. Many years ago I visited the Yad Vashem holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, which I found deeply moving. As a Christian I have always been touched by the needs of the downcast and also for the ancient people, the Jews. After all, according to the flesh our Saviour was born a Jew and Romans 9:1-5 is clear: Paul writes: "I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit—that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen".

However, at that memorial site, I mused the reason for the Jewish suffering at the hands of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. The holocaust began with Hitler's "Mein Kampf" (My Struggle) which was Hitler's autobiographical manifesto which shaped his political ideology. This book led to the formulating of the Nazi vision, which led to the Holocaust and other unspeakable sufferings. In short, Hitler had the wrong doctrine, which led to the wrong vision, which led to disaster. We as Christians cannot assume that our doctrine is in accord with sound principles of biblical interpretation. It made me think that I had also better make sure that I held to the right biblical doctrine, because this will shape my vision in Christian service. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians in 1 Thess. 5:21-22 "but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil".

My first appeal in any theological engagement is that we must all do this with humility, with teachability and honesty. I am about to critique opponents of a so called "replacement theology" and it is not uncommon to get a strong reaction when you do so. My question is "why is that?". We need to make sure that when we react, that we do so with fruit of the Holy Spirit and not in the flesh; my experience over the years has taught me that sometimes vociferous opponents are trying to convince themselves, as much as others, because their doctrinal footing is unstable.

Let me attempt to give an initial and brief summary of replacement theology. This term replacement theology is a pejorative term or label used by those Christians who hold to a dispensationalist framework to understand the Bible, against those who do not hold to the same ideas as them, especially in relation to a special "supposed" plan for the Jews and the political state of Israel. The phrase "supersessionism" is another term used to identify this doctrine. It would be asserted that those who hold to a replacement theology teach that the church has replaced Israel with the church and that the state of Israel has no place in God's prophetic purposes. While this would be simplistic, it at least opens up the dialogue.

Those Christian groups that hold to a strong value system to support the Jews, the State of Israel and so forth, commonly hold to a dispensationalist approach to the Bible, one that is pre-millenial and almost always an Arminian understanding of salvation. Those that hold to the supposed "replacement theology" generally speaking hold to a reformed, Calvinistic and covenantal approach to theology, one that takes sound doctrine and biblical exegesis very seriously. I write supposed "replacement theology", because I do not think that this term is sufficient in its assertions. In essence we are considering two very different hermeneutics to interpreting the Bible. Our doctrine shapes our vision, which then motivates our mission, which will be either be faithful or unfaithful to the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the head of the church (Ephesians 1:22-23).

I have several questions to begin with, followed by three book recommendations.

1). Is a dispensational view to the Bible valid? This approach was pioneered by John Nelson Darby in the 19th Century and this approach to biblical interpretation is a relative newcomer on the block. Has the church misunderstood the Bible through centuries until the 19th Century and Darby's new ideas? This is not acceptable in my view.

2). Does God have one people or two? My answer is that the Lord has only ever had one people, the people of God. The church has not so much replaced the Jews, but the purpose of God has expanded in its scope beyond the Jews, following the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

3). Does a dispensational framework hold to a form of replacement theology itself? Why do I say that? In my experience, the dispensational zeal for the Jews, in effect ends up replacing the church with a new found vision for the state of Israel, a political theology, and at times a recovery of the Jewish OT ceremonies, feasts and practices.

Here are three book recommendations for those who would like to explore a different viewpoint to the widely assumed dispensationalist opinion.

1). William Hendriksen "More than Conquerors: An Interpretation of the Book of Revelation".
2). O. Palmer Robertson, "The Christ of the Covenants".
3). D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, "Romans 2:1-3:20, The Righteous Judgment of God".


James said...

Hi Kevin
I presume this blog post isn't aimed at me, since I am a Calvinist non-dispensationalist. I wonder whether you were aware that the likes of John Owen, Robert Murray M'Cheyne, JC Ryle and CH Spurgeon all believed in a literal restoration of the Jewish people to the land of Israel? Also, comparisons of even the more extreme versions of CZ with Adolf Hitler are at best insensitive in the context of talking about views of Jewish people.

Finally, I would still ask you to evaluate the evidence marshalled against Stephen Sizer by Rev Nick Howard ( This deserves your particular attention, because Nick Howard is not a Dispensationalist either, and in fact is a big fan of OP Robertson!

Kevin Bidwell said...

This blog post is absolutely not aimed at you James.

In the light of all the discussion on Zionism I thought it would be worthwhile posting something relevant. My blog has a drip feed-effect with hits around the world. This blog is a little part-time hobby of mine, to sow the seeds of sound doctrine. Who knows what effect it will have?

I am not comparing Hitler to extreme versions of one particular doctrine. It is a lesson for all of us that we must pay heed to our doctrine and ourselves because our doctrine shapes our vision and our mission. It is a generic lesson.
Again, I hope that helps.

If you are in Sheffield it would be great for you to worship with us at Sheffield Presbyterian Church.

In the work of the gospel,

Kevin Bidwell

James said...

Thanks Kevin. I find it troubling that you are still sidestepping the issue of Stephen Sizer's anti-Semitism. If you don't want to answer the question that's fine, but you should at least say so rather than skirting around it.

Rich said...

No doubt many Dispensationalists express their eschatology through Christian Zionism and a strong rejection of Replacement Theology, however many Christian Zionists are not Dispensationalists at all.

Replacement Theology, or Supersessionism was not something the Puritans believed. It is over-simplistic and a little arrogant to claim Calvinists hold RT whilst Arminians do not because we have a better grasp of hermeneutics. I am a Calvinist who wholeheartedly rejects replacement theology as unreformed Roman Catholic teaching that even the RC's have now formally rejected.

Dispensationalism is not the dominant view in British churches, maybe in America, but not Britain.

I would encourage getting hold of The Restoration of Israel by Erroll Hulse (he was a key player in the YRMF), The Puritan Hope by Iain Murray, Has God really finished with Israel by Mark Dunman, The God of Israel and Christian Theology by R. Kendall Soulen and The Jews Modern Israel and the New Supersessionism by Calvin Smith (ed).

Rich said...

Erroll Hulse's book The Restoration of Israel is out of print, but second hand here

Kevin Bidwell said...


With greatest respect, I have to admit that I am concerned about your accusing Stephen Sizer regarding antisemitism. According to Matthew 18 we must go to a brother and point his sin where need be. Have you personally done this? If not I suggest that you do so via his website.
We do not support antisemitism of any kind. We do not foster it, we do not agree with it. Your suggesting that I am skirting around the issue is becoming a little trite. I suggest that you come to talk to me at the next YRMF meeting in Leeds or come down to Sheffield to worship with us at church and we can talk "face to face". I look forward to it rather than via blog comments.

In the work of the gospel,


James said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
James said...

Hi Kevin

As it happens, yes I have dialogued directly with Rev Sizer in the past - an endeavour that I found largely fruitless. With greatest of respect, however, I believe your appeal to Matthew 18 is inappropriate in this context, for the reasons that Don Carson outlines here:

For the moment, however, let's run with your use of that passage. You will know, if you have read Dr Sizer's books, that he publicly accuses CZs, in strident terms, of a variety of political and theological calumnies. Can I assume that, when he came to address your meeting, you encouraged him also to talk to his Christian brethren directly?

peter roberts said...

I'd agree it's somewhat naive to invoke Matt 18 for a minister's public theological position, other texts bear on this. It suggests Paul's example in reproving errorists he hasn't met or personally admonished was inappropriate.
As to Sizer's views and as to whether he has become anti-Semitic, events have somewhat overtaken him, with his posting of the 9-11 Israel conspiracy links. There has been plenty of other evidence before now of partiality and very dubious statements and practice from his public pronouncements and practice. Amongst them, his meeting with Holocaust deniers, his describing Jewish believers in Jesus, 'an abomination', his involvement with Al-Etejah TV (a channel launched by Hizbollah) etc etc
More here:

Kevin Bidwell said...

Dear Mr Peter Roberts,

Thank you for taking the time to make a comment on this blog. While you have made comment on Rev. Sizer, you will note that the actual blog post is challenging a dispensational approach to interpreting the Bible. While I wholeheartedly agree with the evangelising of the Jews, as of all peoples, and also that Romans 11 makes much that the church does not boast against the Jewish people.

However, I do not subscribe to Christian Zionism and to the rebuilding of a physical Zion called the State of Israel as a biblical mandate.

The Book of Hebrews makes it pertinently clear that the ceremonial law has been completely fulfilled through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Can I ask you a biblical question? What is your line of interpretation for the Book of Hebrews in relation to the necessity or otherwise of a third Jewish Temple?


Kevin Bidwell