Rabbi Mark S. Diamond and President Richard J. Mouw offer reflections
Rabbi Diamond and Dr. Mouw respond to questions
Over 40 Los Angeles-area pastors, rabbis, students, and other members of the Jewish and evangelical Christian faith communities gathered at Fuller’s Pasadena campus on Wednesday, June 8, to discuss “Christian and Jewish Views of Israel.”
Part of an ongoing rabbi-pastor dialogue series cosponsored by Fuller and Southern California’s Board of Rabbis, the luncheon event featured Rabbi Mark S. Diamond, executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, and Fuller President Richard J. Mouw. In his opening remarks, Dr. Mouw encouraged the participants that the forum was a “safe place to talk about these things” and Rabbi Diamond commented that the day’s agenda marked “a key moment in our maturing relationship.”
The program began with Mouw’s reflection on the evangelical perspective of Israel, where he laid out the three most common views held by evangelical Christians. First, Mouw identified Christian Zionism as a stance that views the establishment of the state of Israel in the 1940s as “the beginning of an end-time chain of events fulfilling biblical prophecy.” The basic beliefs of dispensationalism, Mouw pointed out, are the underlying theological assumptions of Christian Zionism.
An alternative approach to Zionism is that of replacement theology, which holds that every promise God made to Israel is now given to the Christian Church. A classic replacement theology text, he said, is 1 Peter 2:9, which uses terminology once reserved for the Jewish people: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God…”
Presenting a third evangelical perspective, Mouw used the grafting imagery in Romans 11:17-18 to propose that there is a new Israel, which consists of Gentile and Jewish believers together. “This suggests that Christians have a deep solidarity with the Jewish people,” said Mouw. “We don’t cut ourselves off.” In that deep solidarity, Mouw remarked, Christians must also see that Palestinian Christians are part of the new Israel, and that we still must call the nation to justice based on the prophecies of Hebrew Scripture.
In his reflection on a Jewish perspective of Israel, Rabbi Diamond said that he sees Israel as a people, a land, and a state. “As our Jewish homeland,” Diamond shared, “Israel is the beginning of the fulfillment of over 2,000 years of dreams.” To conclude holidays such as Yom Kippur and Passover, Jews say, “Next year in Jerusalem!” and a modern prayer for Israel identifies the land as “the beginning of the dawn of our redemption.”
Although he recognizes that it is a young and imperfect nation, Diamond said, “I shudder to think of what the world would be like without the state of Israel.” In response to Mouw’s presentation, he offered a broader definition of Zionism as “the belief that the Jewish people have the right to live in the land of Israel.” This is not to say, however, that holding this belief means one cannot critique Israeli action and policy. Diamond noted that within the Jewish community and in Israel there is “vigorous and passionate debate” over the country’s policies.
Later, Diamond offered suggestions for pursuing peace in the region, warning that we must not resort to “naïve and dangerous stereotypes of each other” nor allow extremists from any tradition to “hijack our faith and pollute the minds of young people.” Instead, as we advocate for a just and lasting solution in the Middle East we must recognize progress when we see it, invest in programs that bring Jews and Muslims together, and make more efforts to travel as Jews and Christians together to the region so we may share experiences and agendas.
“Our quest is challenging, our agenda is difficult, and many adversaries place stumbling blocks in our way,” said Diamond. “Now, more than ever, we need these types of conversations.”
After table discussions among participants and a question and answer time with the two speakers, Rabbi Diamond pronounced that dialogue was l’shem shamayim, using the Hebrew phrase that recognizes a debate as “for the sake of heaven.”
“This discussion serves a higher purpose,” Diamond stated, “And it serves it well.”