Professor Larry Pettegrew, the editor and primary author of this volume, is joined by Tim Sigler, David Burggraff, Douglas Bookman, William Nicholson, and Stephen Davey, to demonstrate how “the Christian church, down through the centuries, has forsaken Israel, and why this is a biblical and theological mistake” (p. 5). The study answers two questions: (1) How is it that Israel has become so forsaken in the history of the church? and (2) why does forsaking Israel matter biblically and theologically” (p. 8)? In seeking to provide answers to these questions the authors approach their subject historically and theologically, which provides a thorough understanding of how and why Israel has lost its biblical place among Christians.
Pettegrew devotes and writes Part One, exploring the historical dynamics in which the premillennialism of the early Church Fathers slowly morphed into amillennialism that came to dominate church theology. With this theological transition came a shift in understanding and attitudes toward the nation of Israel as well as individual Jews. Augustine would become the key theologian of this era and his views on eschatology shifted over time. Ultimately, he developed an amillennial position as revealed in his famous book The City of God. His views would be adopted by the medieval church and eventually by Roman Catholicism. When the sixteenth century Reformers arrived, their grammatical-historical hermeneutics resulted in challenging and rejecting many of Rome’s doctrines, but the Reformers maintained Augustine’s view of eschatology. This meant that, in the eyes of both Rome and the Reformers, the church had replaced Israel. Some, such as Luther, even blamed the death of Christ on the Jews and considered them the enemies of God, who not only forfeited their place in God’s plan but deserved to be persecuted by Christians.
Amillennialism laid the ground work for Covenant Theology, a post-Reformation system, which seeks to view all of Scripture through the lens of three God-given covenants: works, redemption, and grace. The authors of Forsaking Israel do an excellent job explaining and analyzing Covenant Theology, as well as providing reasons for rejecting it. The authors believe grasping the teachings of Covenant Theology is essential for comprehending why Israel has been forsaken by much of the evangelical church. But coupled with Covenant Theology is a hermeneutical approach which allegorizes the literal biblical promises to Israel and transfers them to the church as spiritual promises. Those who adopt this hermeneutic believe the Old Testament is to be read in light of the New Testament to the extent that the New Testament has liberty to reinterpret the Old. The result is that leaving Israel out of God’s program, and negating God’s promises to the nation, is justified theologically. It is important then to grasp the difference between the dispensational and non-dispensational lenses that translate to widely different understandings of Israel’s role in redemptive history. The authors argue that supersessionism is wrong because it starts with a theological system (Covenant Theology) and works backwards, reinterpreting the clear teachings of Scripture through the grid of Covenant Theology (pp. 169-172). It is through this methodology that Israel can be dismissed from God’s program.
There is much to commend in Forsaking Israel including a discussion of the various interpretations of the Olivet Discourse (pp. 274-303), an excellent exposition of Romans eleven (pp. 329-347), and handy charts comparing and contrasting the hermeneutical worldviews between the literal/dispensationalism and non-literal/supersessionist/ amillennialism positions. This is a valuable book historically, theologically, and practically.
Forsaking Israel, How it Happens and Why it Matters, Second Edition, Editor Larry Pettegrew (Woodlands, Texas: Kress Biblical Resources, 2021) 405 pp., Hard $15.99
Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor/teacher Southern View Chapel.