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.

7 Responses

  1. […] blog yesterday, it’s also worth readers considering Richard Bartholomew’s thoughts on NT Wright’s video message. Certainly I would agree with Bartholomew that NT Wright’s […]

  2. Mr Bartholomew,

    If you are referring to His Grace as a ‘Christian Zionist’, could you please define your terms?

    Bless you.


  3. I know that there is more than one type of Christian Zionist, and that Falwell had apocalyptic and dispensationalist beliefs that I doubt you share.

    However, it seems clear that you consider that an ethically sound perspective on Israel should take into account the idea that events since 1948 somehow represent a special manifestation of God’s will, in accordance with promises in the Bible. It may be permissable to criticise Israel on certain points, but a rejection or serious critique of Zionism would be cosmological blunder.

  4. Mr Bartholomew,

    Lest His Grace should be judged guilty of a ‘cosmological blunder’ – which would appear here to be akin to blasphemy against the Holy Spirit – he would be pleased to offer a serious critique or even a repudiation of Zionism if he knew how you were defining the term, which quite purposely he did not deploy in his post.


  5. I loved + Tom’s books, especially Jesus and the victory of God, but disagree with his (and your, I think) view on the theology of Israel.

    + Tom’s position that Jesus’ ministry, death and resurrection have not only fulfilled the Mosaic covenant but have also revoked the covenant made by God with Abraham seems to fly in the face of the Biblical insistence on God’s faithfulness. His comment that there is no longer a special piece of land that is holy, but that all the world is now a holy land misses the point because it (mistakenly in my view) fails to distinguish the distinction in the two covenants’ provisions.

    I’m sure you are correct about those Christians who argue for some sort of dual provision in respect of soteriology, one for Jewish people and one for everyone else.

    But the Bible seems to have an overarching prophetic theme that God will use the physical return of Jewish people to the land promised to Abraham as part of His plan to bring them back to Himself spiritually. That theme recurs time and again in the Hebrew scriptures and is restated in the Christian scriptures, for example, in Revelation and in Our Lord’s own prophetic insight that there would be a time when Jerusalem was no longer dominated by Gentiles.

    For that reason I think that when +Tom’s concludes that ‘God has finally done for Israel what he was going to do for Israel’ he’s missed the mark.

  6. I hardly think “Zionism” needs some special definition from me. From your post it is clear you believe that a critique of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict which primarily blames Israel is not just factually wrong but theologically wrong – and the same goes for Christians like Tom Wright who do not see the State of Israel as having some special spiritual significance. I can understand you might not want to be categorised alongside “Israel is a sign of the Last Days” types, but how is what you wrote not a form of Christian Zionism?

  7. Basically what you are saying if as a Christian you dont accept replacement theology then you are a Christian Zionist

    But with this definition you should then accept that there are many fine and honerable Christian Zionsts along with a few charlatans

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