We are now in Chapter 1 of Barry Horner’s exposition about Christian supersessionism, anti-Judaism, and ethical failure to bless Israel according to God’s plan for history. Please see the previous two entries on Barry Horner (click HERE for the Barry Horner archive).
Chapter 1 of Future Israel is a very helpful contrast in theology. A respected pair of theologians, in fact, two of the most foundational theologians of Christendom and even backbones of Western thought are contrasted with two lesser lights, but two lesser lights who also garner great respect and who far outshine the great theologians on the question of Israel. The foundational theologians are Augustine and Calvin, both of whom failed to be biblical or even Pauline in their stance on Israel. The two lesser lights are Charles Spurgeon and Horatius Bonar, who loved Israel and believed God had not abandoned his Chosen People.
I love Augustine. His Confessions has had as much impact on me as any book in Jewish or Christian history. I prefer the side of Augustine that leans toward free will over his deterministic side (Augustine’s theology was contradictory on this point). What I have loved most about Augustine is his passionate side. He taught me in Confessions to awaken emotional love for God as no one else has been able to teach me before or since.
I love Augustine. And so does God. But Augustine had a pernicious error in his thinking. He was anti-Judaic.
He knows better now. I’ve no doubt God has him waiting tables for Moses and Jeremiah as a sort of redemptive penance.
And Moses reminds him, “Thus says the Lord to the Jews, ‘Even if your exiles are at the ends of the earth, I will gather you and bring you back from there’” (Deut. 30:4). And Jeremiah reminds him, “Thus says the Lord to the Jews, ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore, I have continued to extend faithful love to you” (Jer. 31:3).
Augustine needs to be reminded of these things, because, as one historian put it, “…modern students of Jewish-Christian relations typically attribute the theological foundations of the medieval church’s Jewish policy to Augustine” (Jeremy Cohen, Living Letters of the Law, as cited in Horner, pg. 5). The medieval church’s Jewish policy includes crusades to kills Jewish and Muslim people, ghettos in which Jewish people are forced to live, the blood libels which led to killing so many Jews, the Inquisition in which Jews were tortured and killed, and so on.
Who says theology is unimportant?
Could a Berber theologian writing from Hippo (in what is now Algeria) really say things that would lead others to devise iron maidens and the rack? Could supersessionism lead to purges, mass murder, and genocide?
Now, mind you, Augustine never encouraged such atrocity. He simply said things like:
Thus God has shown the Church in her enemies the Jews the grace of his compassion . . . therefore he has not slain them, he has not let the knowledge that they are Jews be lost in them . . . lest they should forget the law of God, and their testimony be of no avail in this matter of which we treat. (The City of God, 18:46, cited in Horner, pg. 4).
Let, therefore, no Christian consider himself alien to the name of Israel . . . The Christian people then is rather Israel . . . but that multitude of Jews, which was deservedly reprobated for its perfidy, for the pleasures of the flesh sold their birthright, so that they belonged not to Jacob, but to Esau. (Expositions on the Psalms, Vol. 5, as cited in Horner, pg. 5).
And what of Calvin, the great man of the Reformation? I have no doubt Calvin is a good enough man he would be appalled at how his name and writings are virtually revered on par with scripture in Reformed circles. Calvin knows better than to believe many points of his theology now, as even a good Calvinist should agree. But of all his errors, it is his failure to see the truth about Israel, the priestly people of God, that must grieve him most now, if the blessed awaiting the resurrection are able to grieve.
Horner cites Paul Johnson, the widely read historian, as saying that while Calvin was more favorable to the Jews than Luther (everyone should know about Luther’s hateful rhetoric against Jews and the mentally disabled), nonetheless Calvin had all the Jews expelled from the Calvinist cities and the Calvinist Palitinate.
“Hello, I am John Calvin, God’s representative here in Switzerland, and savior of theology from the Dark Ages. Pardon me, Mr. Goldstein, but you cannot live here among us Christians. By the love I bear Jesus Christ I expel you and your obsolete nation which no longer bears the seal of God’s covenant,” (NOT a quote, but it does sum up the essence of Calvin’s hypocrisy I would say).
What sorts of things did Calvin say?
…since there has been no restoration of this people, it is certain that this prophecy ought not to be restricted to seed according to the flesh. Fopr there was a prescribed time for the Jews, when the Lord purposed to restore them to their country, and, at the end of seventy years, a free return was granted them by Cyrus. Then Hosea speaks here [1:10-11] not of the kingdom of Israel, but of the Church . . . (The Book of the Prophet Hosea, as cited in Horner, pg. 7).
And as Christ has pulled down the wall of partition, so there is now no difference between Jews and Gentiles, God plants us now in the Holy Land, when he grafts us into the body of Christ (The Book of the Prophet Jeremiah, as cited in Horner, pg. 7).
I absolutely love Barry Horner’s comment on Calvin’s interpretation of these texts. It is the epitaph that belongs with all supersessionist readings of the Bible:
These instances clearly display the fruit of a subjective, impositional hermeneutic that appears to be more presuppositionally than exegetically driven. It is as if Calvin leapt from the plain meaning of the text right into Augustine’s supercessionist lap. Our chief concern in this regard is that such a course is historically shown to be fraught with shameful results concerning treatment of the Jews.
Theology leading to racism? You better, you better, you bet.
But the contrast between Augustine and Calvin and a few of their later followers, Charles Spurgeon and Horatius Bonar, is telling. It is possible to be a Christian, even of the Augustinian/Calvinist stream, and reject the anti-Judaism of Augustine and Calvin.
Horner provides us with some excellent citations from Charles Spurgeon:
We cannot help looking for the restoration of the scattered Israelites to the land which God has given them with a covenant of salt (The C.H. Spurgeon Collection, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, XXXIV, 1887, no. 2036: 545).
…for be it never forgotten that Jesus was a Jew (ibid.).
I think we do not attach sufficient importance to the restoration of the Jews . . . if there is anything promised in the Bible, it is this. I imagine you cannot read the Bible without seeing clearly that there is to be an actual restoration of the children of Israel (ibid., I, no. 28, 1855, 382).
That’s what we are always telling people: you can’t open your Bible without seeing Israel’s continuing role as God’s people. But hey, who are we and who is Spurgeon, to criticize the Bible reading methods of your average anti-Judaic theologian?
And Horner gives us many gems from Horatius Bonar, the 19th century Scottish hymn writer and participant in the great revivals of that period in Scotland. But let me close with a hymn that Bonar wrote in honor of Israel, and let me thank Barry Horner for making this hymn known to me. I could almost develop again a taste for singing 19th century songs accompanied by a pipe organ if hymns like this were on the order of service:
Forgotten! No; that cannot be;
All other names may pass away;
But thine, Israel, shall remain
In everlasting memory.
Forgotten! No; that cannot be,
The oath of him who cannot lie
Is on thy city and thy land,
An oath to all eternity.
Forgotten of the Lord thy God!
No, Israel, no, that cannot be,
He chose thee in the days of old
And still his favor rests on thee.
–Lamp and Light Hymns, as cited in Horner, pg. 11).