Facing Replacement Theology

Replacement Theology is changing the evangelical church. Paul Scharf spoke with four evangelical leaders about how to handle this growing influence.
Have the blessings God promised to the Chosen People of Israel been redirected to all believers in the church? Will the church receive the prophetic future God promised the Jewish people repeatedly throughout the Old Testament?

People who answer yes to these questions hold to a position referred to as Replacement Theology, or Supersessionism.1 This influence is growing today; and it’s important to ask, “What should we who love Israel—and God’s future plan for Israel—do about it?”

Many churches today appear less focused on the elements of Dispensational Theology, which is rooted in understanding “the distinction between Israel and the church,”2 based on literal, biblical interpretation. In contrast, Supersessionism uses allegorical, rather than literal, interpretation when dealing with Israel’s future.

Is it possible to get a pulse on what is actually happening in our Christian circles?

For answers, we turned to four experienced Christian leaders who are highly qualified to address these questions from the historical, theological, global, and practical perspectives.

From the Front Lines
Dr. Jimmy DeYoung, Jr., president of Prophecy Today, is a prophecy teacher and Middle East expert. He provides content as a radio host through Prophecy Today Weekend and Prophecy Today Daily—“examining current events in the light of God’s prophetic Word” and carrying on the work of his late father, Jimmy DeYoung.

He reaches people on more than 400 radio stations weekly, along with operating prophecytoday.com’s Internet radio livestream. In those roles, including conducting prophecy conferences, he interacts with many types of people. “I think the biggest indication is, over the years, churches are changing,” DeYoung stated.

“There are a lot of inquiries that come to the program. There are people who listen who don’t understand why we focus on the Jewish people so much. People need an explanation—why is this important to us? I think you are seeing that more and more.

“That may mean we need to alter some of our methods—and take a step back in order to better serve some listeners. It really gets back to teaching basic theology,” DeYoung said.

But there are still great opportunities for solid Bible teaching. “We’re picking up stations,” he observed. “We stay consistent with what we teach.”

A Seismic Shift in the Seminaries
“I think what we’re seeing more of is, within our theological realm, that people are intimidated,” said Dr. Charles Dyer, professor-at-large of Bible for Moody Bible Institute and host of The Land and the Book on Moody Radio.

“They want to be accepted as scholars; and the basic thing is, ‘Well, you cannot take the Bible literally, or you’re not scholarly.’ Now you have the foundation for Replacement Theology,” Dyer said.

Dr. James Fazio is dean of Bible and Theology and professor of Biblical Studies at Southern California Seminary. He is also finishing a doctorate in history at Queen’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in which his focus is on John Nelson Darby, a 19th-century Plymouth Brethren leader who is considered the father of modern Dispensationalism.

Fazio sees Replacement Theology’s growing popularity as much more of a seismic shift than a simple growth spurt. “Dispensationalists,” he said, “have always claimed the majority position based on the grass-roots following—the church following. Dispensational Theology was very accessible. It was popular. That script has flipped. What was going on in the academy yesterday is what is bearing out in the church today.”

Fazio noted that, for many years, the influence of Reformed Theology has been growing in seminaries and in Christian publishing and “has now trickled down, and it is sweeping across the churches.” He sees this as a marked change from the middle of the past century. Many dispensational schools were still flourishing then—but the last of the preachers trained in that time are now concluding their ministries.

“I think [Replacement Theology] is growing because of what’s coming out of seminaries,” Dyer stated. “Those who are graduating know very little of the Bible. They grew up in churches that didn’t teach the Bible. Sadly, what I’m seeing in churches is the Bible is being taught less and less.”

Fazio also sees a parallel between the leftward movement in our culture and movement away from the literal interpretation of Scripture.

“Today, Dispensationalism—that dreaded word and the stigma attached to it—is very much like capitalism. That word is anathema to most people—even if we need it and rely upon it for how we function as a society. That shows the power of the cultural sway. The movement that is sweeping across the churches is absolutely Reformed, amillennial—and it has displaced premillennial Dispensationalism.

“If we think that we can just get in churches and have sort of a popularist movement, we don’t have the next generation. We have a fleeting moment,” Fazio said.

What’s Going on Around the Globe?
Fazio sees a cyclical aspect to this type of philosophical swing and believes that a commitment to literal interpretation might also move to another point on the globe, such as African nations or other developing countries.

“Hopefully,” he said, “we can really invest in developing and training pastors in such areas and shaping the minds of the next generation. But I don’t think those minds are going to be coming from North America.”

Dr. Woodrow Kroll, who served for 23 years as the president and Bible teacher for the Back to the Bible radio ministry, has placed his biblical teaching into 14 languages for pastors in those places through the HELIOS Projects (an outreach of Woodrow Kroll Ministries); and he believes these men can become dispensational Bible teachers.

“They don’t have things to unlearn,” he said. “The best way is to get them into the Word. In the process, they’re going to learn that the church is different from Israel.

“If we can get to the pastor, he can get to his people—and truth spreads through people,” he said. “If we can get to [pastors] and teach them dispensational truth, they’ll pass it on to their congregation and their family.”

Finding a Path Forward
Fazio sees Dispensationalism as resulting from “a hermeneutical method that leads to a literal understanding of past, present, and future.”

“I believe Dispensationalism has lost the majority, and it is not recovering it,” said Fazio. “That was a cultural phenomenon, and it was a fleeting phenomenon. To me, that is quite alright—seldom is the majority right. I don’t think we need to bemoan the fact that we’ve lost the popular consensus in the church.”

But what can we do if we notice these trends impacting our own local churches?

Rather than getting depressed about what’s happening, Dyer said believers need to “throw themselves into the Word of God to get to know it, and then communicate it and do so as effectively as they can.” He added, “That’s the only answer for the world right now. To the extent that [you] can have an impact—do what [you] can to try and encourage people to get into the Word of God.”

Fazio agreed. “It begins with biblical literacy—simply knowing the Bible.” He believes pastors need to evaluate whether they are “teaching the Scriptures or teaching your system” and said “expositional teaching” is absolutely the greatest means we have to turn this scenario around.

“‘The whole counsel of God’ [Acts 20:27] is given to us,” Fazio emphasized. “You have received it. It’s not your job to pick and choose what you think is relevant.”

Kroll concurred. “The more we are topical in our preaching, the less we are going to be preaching dispensational truth.”

“Frankly,” said Fazio, “I think Dispensationalism is the only really open-handed, clear way of dealing with all 66 books,” adding, “I believe if a pastor actually teaches from Genesis to Revelation, he is going to end up more dispensational than he started.”

Dyer stated likewise: “To the extent that we expound the Word of God—all the Word—the dispensational approach, understanding the future for Israel, is what helps the whole Bible make sense.”

“If we stick to Scripture, the argument is very strongly in our favor,” Fazio said. “It’s pretty clear—it’s very compelling.”

Dyer agreed: “If you take the Bible at face value, you end up with a future for Israel. That, to me, is the bottom line.”

DeYoung summed it all up: “Your eschatology determines your theology.”

“There is a future for Israel,” Dyer stated. “It’s grounded in the promises God made to the patriarchs. God doesn’t back out of the promises. He never replaces Israel with the church. There is still a future for Israel—connected with the Second Coming of Jesus.

“People want to know what the future holds,” he added. “We have the answer. People are interested. We don’t have to dumb down the message. We just need to make sure we’re clear in what we say.”

ENDNOTES
    1. For a fuller treatment on Replacement Theology, see Paul Scharf, “The Danger of Replacing Israel” (three-part blog), foi.org/2021/09/24/the-danger-of-replacing-israel-part-1.
    2. Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism, rev. ed. (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2007), 48.

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