Recently, I have entered into a discussion with a person who follows a theology called Christian Zionism. It seems to be a variation of John Darby’s Dispensationalism, which places great emphasis on the Great Tribulation and Rapture of the Church, but wants to influence Middle Eastern politics. Lately, this person has been referring to members of the Episcopal and Catholic Churches as followers of something called “replacement theology,” which he claims to be anti-Semitic.
I have rarely encountered end times theology in the Episcopal Church, but I have read Barbara Rossing’s excellent book. Rapture Exposed. But I am still unsure of how to best respond.
What is the Church teaching on the end times?
How can I best respond to this charge of “replacement theology?”
What would be the best way to respond to a person who believes in Christian Zionism?
The Rev. Charles Hawkins answers:
Replacement theology is another name for the theological notion of supersessionism. Supersessionism is the belief that God's covenant with the Christian Church has superseded or replaced God's covenant with Israel. R. Kendall Soulen,The God of Israel and Christian Theology, (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996) outlines different varieties of supersessionism, I commend it to you.
Many contemporary theologians (including many Anglicans) think in terms of the extension of God's covenant not the replacement of the covenant. There are, however, contemporary theologians who are explicitly supersessionist. Supersessionism sounds to my ears to be anti-semitic.
As for Roman Catholics, the Catechism reads: "The covenant that God made with the Jewish people through Moses remains eternally valid for them." The catechism is clearly not supersessionist. There are, however, Roman Catholic theologians who do seem to imply a "replacement theology."
Dispensationalism is interesting in this regard. Dispensationalists believe that God's dealings with humanity fall into seven dispensations. The dispensations are sequential. The fifth dispensation was Mosaic Law. This was followed by the dispensation of Grace. On the surface, this looks like replacement theology, but the sixth dispensation is followed by the Millennial Kingdom, which includes a prominent role for Israel. Donald Wagner wrote an article published in the Christian Century detailing some of the recent history of dispensationalism. You can read his article herehttp://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=216
Dispensationalism and its anti-semitism is convoluted. Prominent dispensationalist, John Hagee is a case in point. While supporting the founding of the modern nation of Israel, he also believes that the Holocaust was God's plan. Time Magazine ran an article on this subject: see,http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1816791,00.html.
In short, you don't have to be a dispensationalist to avoid supersessionism. Further, dispensationalism has its own problems with anti-semitism.