Gary Burge: Replacement Theologian
The name of Gary Burge of Wheaton College is familiar to many Christians who teach eschatology that includes the restoration of the remnant of the nation of Israel, but not for positive reasons. His positions on Israel, fueled in large part by his associations with the anti-Israel group Kairos USA, Naim Ateek, Stephen Sizer, and Pro-Palestinianism in general, hardly encourage fuzzy feelings. On the theological front, Burge freely speaks of spiritualizing and reinterpreting Scripture. Not surprisingly, Burge is a convinced replacement theologian.
For as we shall see (and as commentators regularly show) while the land itself had a concrete application for most in Judaism, Jesus and his followers reinterpreted the promises that came to those in his kingdom. – Gary M. Burge, Jesus and the Land, 35
In this quote Burge claims that although the land given to Israel was “concrete” for Jews in ancient times, still the OT covenant promises to Israel were reinterpreted by Jesus. How were they reinterpreted? In an article written for the I. Howard Marshall festshrift, Jesus of Nazareth: Lord and Christ, (edited by Joel B. Green and Max Turner), Burge enlarges on this theme. His piece is entitled, “Territorial Religion, Johannine Christology, and the Vineyard of John 15.” In this article Burge starts off writing about the importance of land ownership in the ancient world (386). His introduction is a restatement of the work of W.D. Davies’ called The Gospel and the Land. Basically, the idea is that in Jesus the “landless” become the “landed” and the other way round. There is very little appeal to Scripture in these pages (e.g. 384-388), and what is used is misused. But he procures a thesis:
For the most part the NT does not view The Land as the object of messianic promise. Typically, Stephen’s speech in Acts 7 seems to reject ‘land messianism’ outright. Revelation and salvation can be found anywhere from Egypt to Mesopotamia, according to Stephen. – Gary M. Burge, “Territorial Religion”, 388
He continues by claiming that the Land is frequently “spiritualized” (his word), giving Hebrews 4 as an example, where, as Burge thinks, the land of Canaan as a type of heaven receives such treatment (Ibid). According to Burge,
John uses the concrete gifts of The Land (Jerusalem’s temple with its festivals, Israelite cities, and holy places) in order to show that what these places promise can be found in abundance in Christ… Jesus replaces the temple and its festivities as the place where God is revealed. Simply put, Jesus is the new “holy space” where God can be discovered. (388).
This sets him up for his study of the Vineyard in John 15. His approach is summarized when he says, “The crux for John 15 is that Jesus is changing the place of rootedness for Israel.” (393, emphasis in original). This means that instead of the land of Israel being the place of “revelation and salvation” and “rootedness”, these are to be found in the “one vine growing in [God’s] vineyard” (393), therefore, “Attachment to this vine and this vine alone gives the benefits of life once promised through The Land.” (394). From this theological springboard we are told that,
In a way reminiscent of diaspora Judaism, Jesus points away from the vineyard as place, as a territory of hills and valleys, cisterns and streams. In a word, Jesus spiritualizes The Land. (395, emphasis in original).
No one will disagree that Jesus is the one vine through whom salvation comes, but whether this leads one to spiritualize the land (and the covenants) is another matter. Not surprisingly, Burge utilizes Mark 12:9 to teach that “Israel’s vineyard is devastated… [and] given to others” (396). (more…)