“Israel Matters”: Samford Theologian Rethinks His Views
By Richard Friedman
BJF Executive Director
If you’re interested in a ringside seat as a prominent Birmingham-based Anglican theologian goes through a profound and positive evolution regarding his thoughts about Jews and Israel, then there’s a new book for you and others interested in Christian thinking about the Jewish people and the Jewish state.
“Israel Matters: Why Christians Must Think Differently about the People and the Land” is the title of a relatively new and thought-provoking book by Anglican evangelical theologian Gerald McDermott, who is currently affiliated with Birmingham’s Samford University.
In his book, McDermott challenges his own previous view that Jews, in God’s view, became a peripheral people when as a people they did not accept Jesus as the Messiah and, as a result, their relationship to their land and the land itself lost its significance.
McDermott also revises his view that Jesus, the ascendancy of Christianity and the Church replaced Israel and the Jewish people as God’s covenantal partners.
He also examines his tendency at one time to accept the false claims that modern Israel was established on land “stolen” from Arabs, that Israel oppresses Palestinians, and that Zionism — which maintains that the Jewish people have a right to sovereignty in some portion of their biblical homeland — is a racist ideology.
With grace and humility, and an easy-to-read style despite tackling complex subjects, McDermott writes that as a result of his continued biblical studies, willingness to consider things in new ways, and multiple visits to Israel, that he was wrong on each account.
In addition, as part of his journey — a journey marked by some heavy-duty rethinking and rereading of both the Old and New Testaments — he also evolved from being dubious about Christian Zionists to becoming one himself. (The term Christian Zionists refers to Christians who are passionate supporters of Israel and ardent defenders of its biblical legitimacy.)
Having served as Executive Director of the Birmingham Jewish Federation for 35 years in one of our nation’s most heavily evangelical Christian states, and watching with fascination the positive transformation of Christian attitudes and support for Jews and Israel, this book is a handy primer — and a GPS for understanding McDermott’s dramatic evolution.
If you are interested in learning more about how Christians think about Jews, both biblically and today; how they’ve come to reconcile Jewish non-acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah with their Christian belief that he is and that acceptance of him is the one true path to salvation; and how Christians have come to be among Israel’s most ardent supporters, then this book is for you.
Two suggestions: The book might have been strengthened by a brief explanation of why Jews don’t consider Jesus to be the Messiah (see below link) and a note that most Jews consider “Messianic Jews” — those who say they are Jewish and accept Jesus as their Messiah — to be Christians, not Jews.
Nonetheless, these suggestions do not detract from McDermott’s excellent and thoughtful book which I enjoyed reading and which reminded me that we are lucky to have this outstanding theologian and writer here in Birmingham.
Click for more on the book “Israel Matters: Why Christians Must Think Differently about the People and the Land.“