Friday, November 28, 2014

The People, The Land and the Future of Israel: Israel and the Jewish People in the Plan of God

Anything involving the Middle East tends to be a hot topic in politics and theology. Much of the interest in the events transpiring in Iraq and Israel can be traced back to dispensational theology which claims that God will eventually restore the Jewish people to their land in a physical kingdom. This theology stands in contrast to covenant theology which argues that the church has replaced Israel and, as a result, the covenants made in the Old Testament have either been fulfilled or are spiritualized in some way. This has the effect of making the promises of God no longer literal. For example, the land promise given to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3 was really a promise made to the church that God would one day claim the entire earth as here (Matthew 5:3 is often argued in support of this).

With that as background, The People, The Land, and the Future of Israel (published by Kregal Publishing), emerges as a collection of essays (originally given as speeches in 2013) centered around what Israel's future actually is. Let me be upfront: this is a work written by dispensational thinkers (and progressive dispensational thinkers) for dispensational thinkers. This work functions as an abridged rebuttal to covenant theology's insistence that the church has replaced Israel.

The work is divided into four sections: Old Testament evidence, New Testament evidence, hermeneutics and theology and church history (all one section), and practical theology. Each section contains about two to three chapters, written by different authors, approaching various issues concerning Israel's future. So how does the book stack up?

As you might imagine from a work composed by different authors, some chapters are better than others. For instance, Bock and Vanlaningham's chapters on Luke-Acts and Romans, stand out as two of the better essays. They argue cogently and persuasively that Israel does in fact have a plan in God's future. Further, I found Craig Blaising's chapter entitled "Israel and Hermeneutics" to be a stimulating read where he shows the inconsistencies present in much Covenant theology.

Other chapters were much more disappointing. For instance, Craig A. Evans writes an extremely disjointed and confusing chapter on "Israel according to the Book of Hebrews and the General Epistles." I was left wondering if he was actually arguing AGAINST Israel having a future! Baffling indeed!

The practical theology section has some shining moments (such as Michael Rydelnik's chapter on "The Jewish People: Evidence for the Truth of Scripture) but as a whole it just feels like a bunch of sermons put together. It fails to really fit the scholarly tone the book presents itself as. On the topic of scholarly, I can't help but feel a bit irritated that we were left with endnotes in this book. I get that Kregal was trying to appeal to a wider audience but I just found it super annoying that I had to keep flipping back and forth to read any citation. Many critical arguments are made within those notes and it just became so taxing to read each chapter after awhile.

One oddity that I both like and am unsure of (yes, I know, I am conflicted) is that at the end of each chapter they give a QR code where you can watch the conference video and an interview with that author. I think this is a cool way to get the reader connected with the author and the conference. However, I can't help put think that this also will date this book. Five years from now, will this book be relevant (will QR codes even be used?)? I don't know, but it does add a certain amount of interaction between the reader and the book. I like that.

So should you buy it? Honestly, I don't think so. The good articles don't justify the price of the book. You can find blogs and other websites that will essentially give you the same material. There is nothing new here. I don't think that this book actually advances the Israel conversation very far. Rather, it is just a distillation of many of these author's larger works. The condensing of their thinking doesn't do much. As a result, I just can't recommend this book.

*Thanks to Kregal Academic for providing me a free review copy in exchange for a fair, unbiased review*

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