Nov 14, 2009

An Overview of Supersessionism

I had two discussions recently that involved the past, present, and future relationship of Israel and the Church. While the following is not exhaustive some might find the following summary of a recent article helpful.

Michael Vlach's recent article entitled “Various Forms of Replacement Theology,” The Master’s Seminary Journal 20 (2009): 57–69, defines and delineates various forms of suppersessionism (“fulfillment theology” and “replacement theology”). “Supersessionism . . . in the context of Israel and the church, is the view that the New Testament church is the new and/or true Israel that has forever superseded the nation Israel as the people of God. The result is that the church has become the sole inheritor of God's covenant blessings originally promised to national Israel in the OT. This rules out a future restoration of the nation Israel with a unique identity, role, and purpose that is distinct in any way from the Christian church” (p. 60). Vlach (following R. K. Soulen and others) goes on to identify three variant forms of supersessionism.

1. “Punitive/Retributive Supersessionism” (pp. 60–1) = A doctrinal/theological that holds that God is punishing Israel by displacing her as the people of God for her rejection of Christ. Adherents include Origen and Luther.

2. “Economic Supersessionism” (pp. 61–3) = A doctrinal/theological approach that holds that God’s plan for Israel’s role as the people of God expired with the coming of Christ when Israel was replaced by the church. Adherents include Barth, N. T. Wright.

3. “Structural Supersessionism” (pp. 63–5) = A hermeneutical approach which holds that much of the Old Testament is largely irrelevant in the formulation of Christian conviction about God’s work as consummator and redeemer. No Adherents are identified clearly in the article.

Vlach further suggests that, “Two terms are important for understanding what some supersessionists believe about Israel. These terms are salvation and restoration. In short, some supersessionists believe there will be a future salvation of Israel, but this salvation does not mean a restoration of Israel” (p. 65). Furthermore, “there are two major variations on the future of Israel among supersessionism. ‘Strong’ supersessionism asserts that Israel will not experience salvation as a nation. Moderate supersessionism, though, holds that the nation Israel will experience a salvation. Thus, the major distinguishing factor among supersessionists is whether they believe in a future salvation of Israel or not. ‘Strong’ supersessionists say ‘No’ to a future salvation of Israel. Moderate supersessionists say "Yes" to a future salvation of Israel” (pp. 65–6).

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