Christian Zionist Attack on Bishop Tom Wright

Tom Wright, the Bishop of Durham, is one of the UK’s most respected evangelical Anglican intellectuals, and, as “N.T. Wright”, he is a scholar to be reckoned with in historical Jesus research. On Easter Sunday he gave a short exposition on the theology of the Resurrection, which has brought him under attack from Christian Zionists; Cranmer leads the charge, with ammo from the Anglican Friends of Israel:

 …the Bishop of Durham tells ‘pilgrims’ that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection have nullified the covenant God made with Abraham and his descendants over the land we now call Israel – the Replacement Theology thinly cloaked throughout the pilgrimage now surfaces.

In Replacement Theology, the restoration of Israel becomes not a fulfilment of an overarching Scriptural discourse, but an irrelevance at best, and, at worst, a terrible mistake: the return of the Jews to their ancient land is not a sign of God keeping his promises but an illegal assault of colonial interlopers.

Wright’s YouTube talk was posted at Journey to Jerusalem, a blog run by Christian Aid to create a “virtual pilgrimage” of the “Holy Land” over the period of Lent. Apparently the blog’s postings do not reflect well on Israel, and so, inevitably, anti-semitism must be the reason:

The Church, both Roman Catholic and Protestant strands, has historically maintained that due to the fact the Jews rejected Jesus as their Messiah, God saw fit to pour out his wrath upon them in AD70, destroying their temple and extinguishing their nation, leaving them to exile and oblivion. St Augustine was so persuaded, as was Origen, Tertullian, Eusebius, Ignatius of Antioch, Jerome, John Chrysostom – the Council of Nicea in 325AD purposely changed the celebration of the Resurrection from the Jewish Feast of First Fruits to Easter in an attempt to disassociate it from Jewish feasts. The Council stated: ‘For it is unbecoming beyond measure that on this holiest of festivals we should follow the customs of the Jews. Henceforth let us have nothing in common with this odious people…’

Replacement Theology is therefore seen to have an enduring heritage. But it is insidiously anti-Semitic. And it is concerning that the otherwise laudable charitable efforts of Christian Aid should be tarnished with the belief that, because of their rebellion against God in their rejection of Jesus, God has replaced Israel with the Church, and so the Church now inherits all of the blessings promised to Israel.

…In the context of Christian Aid’s rejection of the scriptural discourse of the Covenant between Abraham and God, the reasons for their embrace of the Palestinian narrative become clear: it is the only one which fits their theology. But the distortions and imbalance necessary to sustain this narrative, together with the abandonment of a key scriptural theme – the faithfulness of God’s promises – demonstrate the shortcomings of Replacement Theology.

In fact, Wright doesn’t say anything as tactless or provocative as God having “nullified the covenant God made with Abraham and his descendants” – instead he talks about the whole world now being a “Holy Land” rather than just one area in the Middle East. That’s a perfectly normal and unremarkable understanding of Christianity – followers of Judaism, of course, will beg to differ, but that’s just one of the areas of disagreement that make Judaism and Christianity into two different religions (despite the clumsy fudge of “Dual Covenant” theology, which was rejected by the Christian Zionist Jerry Falwell in 2006). It doesn’t therefore mean that the modern state of Israel has to be opposed, but it does mean that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be assessed according to the same criteria as other conflicts in the world. Ironically, it is Christian Zionism which favours a particular “narrative” for theological reasons.