The Unfortunate Usage of ‘Replacement Theology’
July 21, 2011
I want to clarify something through providing a little nuance that I think could go a long way. Have you ever heard of the terminology Replacement Theology? This is a rhetorical device used by mostly classic Dispensationalists against amillennialists; it is really a caricature which is meant to convey the idea that all amillennialists believe that the church has replaced Israel, and the promises God made to His covenant ‘Nation’ of Israel. I was just watching two brothers, one, Dr. David Hocking (a bombastic, booming, Bible teaching brother who was one of my teachers while I attended Calvary Chapel Bible College back in 96-97), and then the other, Pastor Jack Hibbs (of Calvary Chapel Chino Hills, CA); I watched them on this ‘HisChannel’ broadcast here. To be clear, I highly appreciate Hocking, love him as a brother in Christ, the Lord has used him mightily in my life in the past, and even recently David and his wife both personally prayed for me just prior to my cancer surgery back in May 2010. So by doing this post, or highlighting Hocking and Hibbs, I am not trying to bad-mouth or denigrate either; instead, as a brother in Christ I simply want to provide an important clarification about how they (as representative of many others in their circles, and I mean pastor/teachers) mis-use the label of replacement theology — which unfortunately, then, ends up being caricature.
It is true that in the history of the church some amillennialists have engaged what has been crudely labeled as ‘replacement theology’; but this is not the case for all, and many Reformed amillennialists today are not replacement theologians whatsoever, they see a place for the remnant of ethnic Jews in God’s unfolding salvation history into the eschaton (per Romans 9–11). Here is what ‘replacement theologian’ (per the caricature that Hocking and Hibbs unfortunately engage) writes about the history of amillennialism on this point:
[A]millenarians disagree about whether Israel does have a role, while others say Israel will have no distinctive future. However neither camp sees this issue as ultimately determinative of one’s millennial view. Some postholocaust Jewish writers, as well as certain evangelicals, have argued that denying a future role for ethnic Israel and equating the church with Israel is at the root of contemporary anti-Semitism. It must be pointed out that even those Reformed amillenarians who do not see a distinct future for ethnic Israel have held out the likelihood of the conversion of large numbers of ethnic Jews before the return of Christ. [Kim Riddlebarger, “A Case For Amillennialism,” 180-81]
Riddlebarger helps to substantiate my above point about the divergence amongst amillennialists themselves on the future place of a remnant of ethnic Jews. One point, that is important to note, according to Riddlebarger, all amillenarians hold out that ethnic Jews will be being saved and coming to their Messiah right alongside the Gentiles (per Romans 9–11). The statement I just quoted from Riddlebarger is in the intoductory paragraphs of his chapter which represents his exegesis of Romans 9–11; this is how he concludes his chapter:
[I]s there a future for ethnic Israel? Paul’s answer was yes. And the presence of a believing remnant was proof. But the future salvation of Israel is not connected to a future millennial kingdom. It was connected to the end of the age. When all Israel is saved, the resurrection is at hand. [Riddlebarger, 194]
For Dr. Kim Riddlebarger, as a Reformed Covenant Amillennialist, he sees a progressive intensification of the salvation of ethnic Jews (the remnant in Romans) that crescendos just prior to the coming of Jesus the second time (and then the ‘Land’ promise is not referencing a literal 1000 year period, but instead the ‘Land’ promise is fulfilled in the New Heavens and Earth, the New Jerusalem, the ‘Heavenly Zion’, at which time both ethnic Jews and Gentiles will participate together as one people of God through the Son of David, true Israel, Jesus Christ as their head [cf. Eph. 2:11ff]). So at least for Riddlebarger, he bucks the caricature, used by both Hocking and Hibbs, of being into Replacement Theology. For many amillennialists it is not that the church replaced Israel, and the promises made to her; instead, it is that Jesus expanded Israel in Himself as the fulfillment and point of the Abrahamic Covenant (‘The Father of MANY Nations’).
I wish Hocking and Hibbs, and all those of like-mind, would be more careful in communicating this to those unsuspecting souls who listen to them. I have sent emails to Hocking on this, but so far no response (maybe I should try again). Unfortunately I have heard this taken to the extreme, by those in the same circles as Hocking and Hibbs; meaning that some of these teachers communicate that anyone who is an amillennialist (without qualification or even a post-trib premillennialist for that matter), and teaches ‘replacement theology’, that their salvation is highly suspect — I am not kidding!
Getting back to my original point: not all amillennialists are into ‘replacement theology’, and in fact it could be argued that most today are not at all! There are instances in the history of interpretation where this label might fit, but it is really un-Christian to characterize in the way that Hocking and Hibbs have done (and all of those they represent). And so I felt motivated to write this post, and provide a little clarification on the unfortunate usage of the language of Replacement Theology.