No theological arguments after church, please

August 20, 2012

I had a horrible experience in between our 8:30 and 11:00 Vinebranch services yesterday morning. Since I woke up (on this, my day off) still thinking about it, I thought I would share it with you, my faithful readers.

Yesterday, about 9:30, I had just finished preaching, the service was over, and the band was playing the outro. I intended to make my way to the narthex of our chapel to greet parishioners as they left—as I always do. Before I did that, however, I greeted a visitor who was standing near the front of the chapel. He was the special guest—a messianic Jew—who would be speaking to some Sunday school classes in the Vinebranch chapel between services. He had spoken the week before, and I heard from church people that his presentation was interesting.

When I greeted him, I said, “I heard good things about your talk last week.” He thanked me and introduced himself. “Where did you go to seminary?” he asked.

That should have been my first warning, but I took the bait and answered. “Hey, do you have a minute to talk?” he asked me. Again, I should have seen a theological argument brewing, but I took the bait again. Why do I do this? 

What followed was an argument about the modern state of Israel and the Bible. How this happened is a blur to me. I think I said that I believe (along with classic Christian theology) that God’s covenant with Israel is completely fulfilled in and through Jesus Christ. I hope and believe (along with Paul in Romans 9-11) that ethnic Israel’s rejection of the Messiah isn’t permanent, and that many Jews will yet come to faith in Jesus before the Second Coming.

I also said that, unlike him, I don’t see any continuity between the modern state of Israel and Israel of the Bible. Again, to be clear, the covenant with Israel is fulfilled in and through Jesus. It’s not clear to me how an event in the modern world—like, for example, the establishment of the modern state of Israel in 1948—should send theologians scrambling back to their Bibles to revise two millennia of Christian thinking on the subject.

(And, no, I’m not saying that the Church or Christians haven’t been deeply anti-Semitic at times. But the Roman Catholic Church, for example, didn’t need the events of 1948 to know that holding Jews collectively responsible for Jesus’ death was immoral and anti-Jewish.)

Needless to say, he didn’t see things my way. He was proof-texting Zephaniah to me! Zephaniah! Off the top of my head, I couldn’t tell you one thing about Zephaniah. I wish I could, but I can’t. And all I could think was, “Why are we having this argument?”

Why are we having this argument? 

Some of my fellow pastors can answer this question: We were having this argument because it’s 9:35 on Sunday morning, and I’ve just preached my heart out, and I’m exhausted, and I’m in no frame of mind to be having a deep theological discussion.

Over the past eight years or so, I’ve had arguments with parishioners or church visitors immediately after a service about a half-dozen times. In each and every case, I should have told the person, “I’d be happy to talk with you about this later. Call me on Tuesday, and make an appointment when I’m in a better frame of mind.”

In retrospect, it makes so much sense to say this, but I never seem to think of it in the heat of the moment. God help me!

To the credit of my messianic Jewish brother, he followed me out of the chapel and apologized for coming on so strong. But I shouldn’t have let the situation come to that.

Memorize these words, Brent: “I would love to talk about that later. How about giving me a call Tuesday and making an appointment?”

4 Responses to “No theological arguments after church, please”

  1. Jack McManus Says:

    Take a deep breath and let it go…
    Enjoy your day off and don’t let this incident drag your day down any further.

  2. Susan Taylor Says:

    I feel your pain, and have been there before, too, I agree with Jack :-). I do my best to “vaporize aka disappear” (a habit of Coy Hinton developed excellently) as soon as possible after worship or any church ministry or meal. I am not very good at it because I am an “E” in Myers-Briggs type so I get energy from being around people. However, even though I am an “in-preference E”, I am ready for some down time after preaching and a heavy theological discussion never goes well when my brain, spirit, and overall being are spent.

  3. Tom Harkins Says:

    Brent, I certainly agree there are “times and places” to argue or not, and right after church is a “not” time. I always wait a day or two and send my thoughts by email (big surprise!).

    As to Israel, I agree with your characterization of the classic Christian theology stance on Israel. However, I am not sure I agree about a couple of things. First, the fact that we may have to revise our theology a bit based on current events does not strike me as a necessarily good basis to reject some “new view.” You know, of course, that Jesus’ coming “revised” a lot of “traditional” Jewish beliefs about the coming Messiah and coming Kingdom–even on the part of the Apostles.

    Also, I don’t think it is necessary to say, “absolutely all” of the covenant prophesies have to be fulfilled in Christ, even though clearly most are. I find somewhat intriguing the Apostles’ question: “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” Jesus does not answer, “Not going to happen,” even though in his response he does not seem to reference such an event (as far as I can tell, anyway).

    I share your view (I think) that Paul in Romans 11 at least strongly suggests (if not prophesies) that just as the hardening of the Jews led to the salvation of the Gentiles, so the salvation of the Gentiles will ultimately lead to the salvation of the Jews. Interestingly, in v.25 Paul says, “Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.” This almost seems to suggest that there might be an ultimate time of hardening on the part of the Gentiles which will then bring the Jews in (just as the converse was happening in Paul’s day). Obviously not a lot of scripture to base a theology on, but it strikes me as interesting to consider. If there is anything to that notion, then “current events” certainly suggest an “apostasy” by a large section of the “western” Church. So, I guess I would say I will keep reading the newspapers and watching what happens to “inform” my theology a bit (whether corrective or corroborative).


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