Last week Dr. Gary Burge, professor of New Testament at Wheaton College, debated one of my closest mentors, Dan Juster, on the subject of Dialogue on Replacement Theology. This took place at the controversial biannual conference Christ at the Checkpoint in Bethlehem.
I did not expect to like Dr. Burge. He doesn’t believe that Israel is a fulfillment of biblical prophecy. However, I must admit that he presented his argument with a depth of humility which could not be ignored. There was a very good sense of fellowship in Messiah that manifested despite fierce disagreements in theology.
I found myself drawn to Dr. Burge as one believer should be towards another, but still, I found serious error in his theology and exegesis, particularly regarding Acts 1:6 and Galatians 3:16.
As I listened to his sharing, I took notes of key areas of concern. I had hoped for a rebuttal of about 1,000 words, but when I finally stopped typing, I had a mini-book of well over 7,000!
Let me be clear. I am not seeking to attack Dr. Burge, but reach him. I was very moved by much of what he said, but my hope—as he is a key voice in the evangelical world—is that can be reached. I know that sounds arrogant—of course he, like me, doesn’t believe that he needs to be reached—though I am sure like me, he is still learning, even as he teaches. To be clear, these blogs should not be perceived as a personal attack on Dr. Burge, but a challenge to his theology. My prayers are with him.
His ‘Conundrum’ in a Nutshell
Let me present these opening paragraphs as an introduction, as I think they sum up Burge’s entire presentation.
Dr. Burge seems to think that we, Messianic Jews and Christian Zionists, believe that all Jews will inherit eternal life based on ethnicity. He cannot separate the Land promises given to our forefathers from Yeshua’s promise of eternal life. He sees Abraham’s blessings as eternal life, and therefore if we claim that Israel is entitled to the Land while still in unbelief, the Jewish unbelievers will enjoy heaven as well—and he is offended at the notion—not that Jews will go to heaven, but that they will be saved apart from faith in the Messiah.
Of course none of us teach that. We believe that Yeshua is the way, the truth and the life, and no one comes to the Father but by Him (John 14:6). If he could simply see that there were blessings and favor to Israel on earth (such as the Land) based on God’s sovereign election, not Israel’s goodness (Rom. 3:1-4a), blessings that were not connected to eternal life, his conundrum, as he referred to it, would be resolved.
There are two paths of blessing through Abraham—to his natural decedents (blessing in this life, including the Land of Israel) and his spiritual seed (eternal life to those who believe, including the Jews). If Burge had this understanding, he might be able to see that God has indeed re-gathered Israel in our day in her own land. But sadly he cannot see God blessing natural Israel in any way, apart from explicit faith in Yeshua.
Ezekiel, as we will see later, presents both in Chapter 36 and 37, Israel returning to the Land and only after that, coming to faith. Sadly, Burge’s Fulfillment Theology deletes all future promises in the Old Covenant—believing everything was fulfilled in Messiah.
The following blogs will be a critique of Replacement and Fulfillment Theology as presented by Dr. Burge. I will seek to post one blog each day over the next several days. I will post the video of Dr. Burge at the end of each blog out of fairness to him. I would love to hear from you all.