Barry E. Horner, Future Israel: Why Christian Anti-Judaism Must Be Challenged (Nashville, Tenn.: B & H Academic, 2007). Pp. 394. Reviewed by John A. Battle.
Barry Horner, pastor and author, believes that the conservative Christian church of our day—in particular, the Reformed branch of that church, to which he belongs and with which he is most familiar—has mistakenly absorbed the false notion that the Christian church has replaced the nation of Israel as God’s chosen people. Consequently, there is no longer a special place of blessing or privilege for the Jewish people or nation. This belief, “replacement theology,” as it is called, became predominant in the early church by the fifth century, and was accepted and passed on by the early Protestant Reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin, as well as most of their successors. Horner contends that this teaching is non-biblical, and that it has led to historical anti-Semitism and its horrific consequences.
Having come to an appreciation of the Reformed faith by his own study and reading, Horner is convinced that strong exegetical arguments support the doctrines of grace. On the other hand, he says, the arguments supporting amillennialism and replacement theology do not share that strength; nor is replacement theology required by the Reformed doctrines of salvation. That being the case, he has maintained his premillennial beliefs, along with the belief that national Israel is still the “beloved enemy” of God and his people. He states that his particular study of Ezekiel, Hosea, Zechariah, and Romans has confirmed him in this opinion. Scattered throughout the book are lengthy discussions of these passages, along with substantial quotations from earlier sympathetic writers, such as Jonathan Edwards, David Baron, Horatius Bonar, C. H. Spurgeon, J. A. Seiss, H. C. G. Moule, J. C. Ryle, and C. E. B. Cranfield. He also produces statements that favor portions of his argument from such authors as J. B. Lightfoot, G. C. Berkouwer, and W. D. Davies.
Future Israel is organized fairly well; however, there is much repetition, and a more succinct case would, I think, be more effective. After a personal testimonial, Horner begins by quickly surveying the history of replacement theology, starting particularly in the time of Augustine. Christian hostility to Judaism and the Jewish people, Horner consistently maintains, was largely due to the replacement theology enshrined by Augustine in his City of God. The Christian church is the kingdom of God promised in the covenants of the Old Testament; the unbelieving Jews have no part in the covenants now; nor does the future hold any promise of a national restoration.
Over a hundred pages follow in which Horner traces the history of anti-Semitism in Europe and the New World. He spends much time showing the connection between replacement theology and the anti-Jewish stance of European Catholics and Protestants, including the extreme statements of Martin Luther. These attitudes helped set the stage, not only in Germany, but throughout Europe for the general persecutions of the Jewish people for many centuries, and may have led to the complicity of many nominal Christians to their terrific sufferings in the Holocaust. He also traces the history of the Zionist movement, the establishment of Israel, its relations with various types of Christians, and its threats from fanatical Islamic states. He points out that evangelical Christians, especially premillennial ones, have been the best friends of Israel.
The central portion of the book deals with hermeneutics, the interpretation of Scripture, especially as it touches upon the relation of the Jewish people and nation to prophecy and the church in our dispensation. Horner particularly summarizes the anti-Jewish nature of much of this hermeneutics, as it spiritualizes and allegorizes promises to the nation, while it treats the judgments and condemnations literally. A more consistent hermeneutic will recognize both the material and the spiritual nature of the promises to Israel.
Horner then builds his positive case for a “pro-Jewish” theology. He discusses several passages of Scripture, especially Romans 9-11 and its Old Testament links, arguing that the land of Israel is still promised to the Jewish nation. As he examines these key passages, he interacts with representatives of replacement theology. I believe chapters 9-11 are the theological heart of Horner’s book. Although in their unbelief they have been scattered across the globe, God still recognizes them as his chosen people, and promises to restore them to faith and possession of their land. In the mean time, Christians should recognize them as “beloved enemies” (Rom 11:28). Just as we might regard unsaved members of our own families, so we should regard unsaved Jewish people. We have been grafted into the stock of Israel; all Israelites are our “brothers” in that sense; they belong to our adopted family; we need to witness to them in love, and pray for and work for their salvation.
The final chapter is an appeal to Christians to recognize our position as the “prodigal son” in Jesus’ parable, but that, when the Jewish nation returns to faith in the last days, the positions will be reversed. At that point, we should not be reluctant to receive the believing Jews back into their own family. As Paul says in Romans 11, we should not boast against the cut-off branches. He concludes with encouraging examples of effective Jewish evangelism.
Several appendices add valuable content to the book. Two of them deal with the theologies of Jonathan Edwards and J. C. Ryle as they relate to the Jewish nation. The third discusses grace and law, as related to the Abrahamic covenant. The fourth summarizes the writings of Melanie Phillips, a British journalist and author of Londonistan, who relates the growing anti-Semitism in the Church of England to replacement theology and the growing power of Islamic militancy. The final appendix is a lengthy annotated bibliography of books related to this topic—a very helpful list. The book also contains three indices, for authors, subjects, and Scriptural references.
Being a Reformed premillennialist myself, I find much in Horner’s book with which I agree. I think his discussion of Romans 11 is especially helpful. Also, I was not aware of the extent of anti-Semitism in the history of the Christian church, even in its Protestant branches. When learning in seminary of the work of Luther, for example, I heard no mention of his virulent attacks on Jewish people and their liberties.
I do have a couple criticisms. While not being too specific, it appears that Horner believes that the system of Jewish worship in the Old Testament will be reestablished in the future millennium. I believe that this idea is not necessary, that the promises of that restitution were conditional in that time. Since Jesus Christ’s sacrifice, there is no need to reestablish animal sacrifices and the related worship. Horner seems aware that his position could be classified as dispensational, but he does not clearly define what he means by that term, and whether he includes himself in that category. He does not discuss eschatological details that might clearly indicate dispensationalism, such as the timing of the rapture. It would have been helpful for him to show the relation of his opinions to these well established systems. This is especially true if he desires to harmonize Reformed theology with premillennialism and a positive attitude toward the Jewish nation.
Another criticism is that he seems to judge the truth of a doctrine on the basis of whether or not it is “pro-Jewish” or “anti-Jewish.” If the doctrine under investigation results in hostility to the Jewish nation, then it must be false. A stronger argument is whether or not the doctrine is based on solid exegesis. The results of a doctrine, especially if that doctrine can be abused, do not prove its truth or falsity. The Israelites were to exterminate the Canaanites; that does not mean the revelation given to them by God was false. Replacement theology, as such, does not require hostility to Jews or persecution of Jews; rather, it was abused to lead to those evils. In a similar way, the fact that a doctrine makes it harder to witness to Jews is not proof that the doctrine is wrong. Horner does make a good point, that Paul and other in the Bible are “pro-Jewish” in their sentiments and approach.
In spite of these criticisms, I believe the main purpose of the book is well achieved. The exegetical discussions of the biblical passages are helpful; the history of the relation of the church to the Jewish people is enlightening; and the exhortations to love and witness to our “older brothers” are inspiring.