The Unfortunate Usage of ‘Replacement Theology’

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.


26 thoughts on “The Unfortunate Usage of ‘Replacement Theology’

  1. By the way, it should be noted, the illustration I use in the post was obviously put together by someone who follows this unfortunate caricature symbolized by the usage of the language ‘replacement theology’. My problem with this language is that it is used, usually, in a sloppy manner w/o qualification or nuance. And this is just not Christian!


  2. Bobby,

    Sadly however not all Amils are like Riddlebarger! Note even N.T. Wright’s overt Supersecessionalism… Btw, check out Stephen Smalley’s commentary: The Revelation To John, etc. (IVP). This is Amil. I have it myself, so I still read other views.

    Also note, the un-Christian manner of many of the non-Dispensational writers! Like old John Gerstner’s book: ‘Wrongly Dividing..’ etc.


  3. Fr Robert,

    You are right, not all amillers are the same; but my clarification was simply to highlight that not ALL amillers can be labeled “replacement theologians” or something. This is not careful, and thus, in a hastily generalized way, paints the whole camp in the same color.

    Yes, there is enough critique to go around. I can’t stand Gerstner’s approach! He is not a credible voice for me.


  4. Yes, Christian humility is a small measurement in theology too often sadly. I am reminded of 1 Cor. 13:12-13! Don’t get me wrong here, we need to be about or after a “biblical” theology, and there’s plenty of bad Christian (so-called) doctrine to go around, but we will also only “know in part” in this life!


  5. Fr Robert,

    Yes, I agree with you about Christian humility and “biblical” theology. And we all do know only part, of course some of us are closer to the “part” than others 😉 .

    Yep, you know I like Calvin!


  6. PS.. I forgot to note, Calvin’s sources often appear to be, Augustine, Chrysostom and Jerome, for many of these sermons at least. Yes, Calvin was certainly an Augustinian! But he also uses it appears his moderns: of Erasmus, Melanchthon (one of his favs), Bucer and Bullinger.


  7. Bobby, My “parts” are always close to right! lol At least my Calvin parts! 🙂 But seriously, I have always been deeply affected by Calvin! In fact, it is with St. Paul, Calvin and Luther I fly closest to the flame!


  8. Yes, Calvin is quite Augustinian; who wasn’t in that era? 😉 And I knew he highly appreciated Melanchthon.

    Luther and Calvin, from that era, are my favorites too!


  9. I noticed you didn’t get any Amills to answer your question. I would most likely be in agreement with Riddlebarger. I like his perspective. I just need to study the whole issue of Israel more. Clearly, there has to be some futurity in Rom. 9-11 in Paul’s mind, but one gospel, one new covenant in Christ, one new man for all. I cannot go with the classic Dispensational treatment of Israel.


  10. Jon Sellers

    How about a Progressive Dispensationalism? (See Blaising & Bock fine book) Which btw, fits closly to the Historical Pre-Mill position. Also btw, the American Reformed Gordon Clark was historic pre-mill. Check it out Jon. A few other American Reformed 20th century Pre-Mill pastors are interesting: James Montgomery Boice, Francis Schaeffer. And then too the great George Eldon Ladd. Also another American writer, Clarence Bass, note his book negative to dispensationalism ‘Backgrounds to Dispensationalism’ (Eerdmans, 1960). I have spent some time on this subject myself!


  11. Jon,

    On this point I appreciate Riddlebarger, but again, he is a Federal Covenantal Westminster Faculty White Horse Inn Calvinist 😉 … in general I don’t agree with him. But I wanted to lift him up as an example of an amiller who does not fit the label of “replacement theology.”


  12. It would be easier to agree with Riddlebarger in good conscience if he wasn’t a “Federal Covenantal Westminster Faculty White Horse Inn Calvinist” wouldn’t it. 😉


  13. Fr Robert, that’s a good link. I’ve had a fruitful exchange myself with Bill Evans here at the blog (not this one) in the past. Our book has chapters in it, esp. from Marcus Johnson and Jason Goroncy, that will add to the theological points on union with Christ in Calvin’s theology and the vicaroius humanity of Christ respectively (not to mention a good chapter on this from Julie Canlis [in Calvin] and one from Myk applying the insights of vicariousness to infant baptism and the mentally hanicapped).


  14. Fr Robert,

    Btw, I am more in line with the way that Jensen himself tried to steer that discussion in his comment thread. Too often these kinds of things devolve into trying to defend John Owen vs. Calvin vs. Torrance etc; in the end, who really cares, with all due respect. We need to do our due diligence in accurately representing the history of interpretation, but at the end of the day what matters is the conceptual/material stuff that ends up being communicated. Is it scriptural, or not? That’s how I see Jensen’s agenda in that thread, and it’s one that I have adopted myself. It’s about being constructive theological and biblically. People get too caught up, IMO, in the minutiae of whether Calvin parsed this way or that; the more important thing is what did he parse, and how does it help provide a fruitful grammar for understanding scripture and revelation or not? That’s what’s important in this to me. I think Calvin’s unio mystica unio cum christo is a much more fruitful line (pace Partee Billings Canlis et al) to follow than the later Reformed orthodox appropriation of it.


  15. Bobby,

    I also can see the very important aspect to Calvin’s spiritual doctrine of the union of and In Christ, but with Calvin, his whole theology is based upon the doctrine of “knowing”, or the sure and certain knowledge or belief in God Himself! This is his basis of faith. So here is both ‘the sure and certain’ in and of God Himself (revelation), but of God ‘In Christ’! So here is that ‘unio mystica unio cum christo’. And the union is always mystical because it rests on the mystery of grace in God, again in Himself! And here too, we can call it spiritual union, or unio spiritualis, but always by and in the Spirit of God Himself also. And again, for me anyway this comes back to the very doctrine and place of God as sovereign, especially for Calvin, and for the Bible itself! So for me again anyway, this is also central in Augustine, and also the whole Augustinian truth. And again, per Calvin and the biblical revelation itself. So the Reformers, and most certainly Calvin himself, and too Luther are simply on the biblical track of God and His revelation, as St. Paul says: “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Cor. 4:6, ESV)


  16. I think Calvin is a prism, faith as knowledge of God is definitely part of that prism; as is unio mystica etc. I follow Calvin, Luther et al (and then even some moderns 😉 who I think are in their ‘spirit’). I’m not as concerned with whether that comes from an Augustinian, Athanasian, Calvin[ian], Luther[an], Barth[ian], or Torrance[an] angle; just as long as what is communicated jives with the jive of scripture (respectfully I say “jive”).


  17. Bobby,

    I am within that Reformed/Reformational “prism”, but here is also that “catholic” faith too! But I am a certain Augustinian here for sure. All Christians simply must seek a biblical, yet too catholic faith. But again, the true Faith is Historical!

    Btw, Bernard Lohse’s book: Martin Luther’s Theology, Its Historical and Systematic Development (Fortress Press, 1999), is simply grand! Lohse, the leading Luther scholar in the 20th century was ‘the Man’ on Luther! We have forgotten Luther sadly in the mainstream of Evangelical Christianity!


  18. I’ll have to p/u Lohse someday, I’ve heard of him before. I’ve read Oberman on Luther, and consider him to be quite ‘the Man’ on Luther and that period too!


  19. Bobby,

    I have Oberman also, his book is more bio like, but Lohse is fully theological. Btw, it’s OP I think? But the old English Methodist, Philip Watson’s book: Let God be God, An Interpretation of the Theology of Martin Luther. Is just a great Luther book and read! Its just 203 pages, but surely packed! And it is fully foot-noted, at the end of the chapters. This just might be one of the best Luther books ever! Watson was one time Principal of Wesley House, Cambridge. And then there is another good older English writer, Arthur Skevington Wood, another Wesleyan, I have his book: Captive To The Word, Martin Luther, Doctor of Sacred Scripture. There is a benefit to being older! 😉 I have both those books in hardback with dustjacket, and first editions. Not so much collectable as firsts, but just nice being so! Yes, I got them years back, and in England. I am missing the UK these days! 🙂 Btw, I have a real gem of Skevington Wood’s: The Burning Heart, John Wesley, Evangelist.


  20. Bobby,
    I am a Jew and also a sister in Christ. Are you aware that Luther’s writing at the end of his life are widely recognized as having a direct influence on the holocaust?? Meaning, Luther, having obtained a near-prophet status in Europe, inspired the holocaust through his anti-semitic (the common meaning of hatred of the Jews, rather than it’s literal meaning of from Shem) writings. Justification by faith, which is Luther’s most ascribed to doctrine, was given to us by God through Paul. Paul was for killing Messianic Jews before his conversion. Once he understood justification by faith, he certainly never advocated the murder of millions of Jews or of any one person for that matter. I personally look to Paul as someone who I can listen to for spiritual guidance, but will not give that same respect to the man named Luther. There are very few people who have my maiden name, simply b/c most of them were killed in Poland.
    I recently listened to a pastor speak of replacement theology as being on the spectrum toward social darwinism/ nazism, and has it’s roots in Satan’s hatred of the Jew. I would agree.
    Blessings, tami


  21. Hi Tami,

    Yes, I am aware of Luther’s unfortunate slippage towards the end of his life. And I am also aware that the Nazi’s misused Christianity, in general, for their purposes (like making Jesus basically a non-Jewish German etc.). I don’t think Luther would have advocated for the holocaust anymore than the Apostle Paul would have.

    Well the pastor you recently listened to only illustrates the caricature of the reality that I am trying to provide nuance for in this post; which it seems you have not read or paid adequate attention to. Like I nuanced, the language of replacement theology is inaccurate in describing many many amil and covenant premil exegetes. For myself, as the latter, the Jew will always be special in God’s plan of redemption; indeed so special that the humanity Christ forever embodies is particularized as the Jew from Nazareth. The Christian ethic places ultimate value on all of life (not just Jewish), because of the Jewish humanity of Christ for all (which fulfilled the Abrahamic Covenant making Abram, Abraham (so plural), the ‘Father of many nations’). For some the church replaces Israel, but even for most of these types, the Christian ethic, as I just described is still vibrant and present. For me, my approach is not ecclsiocentric by christocentric; which means that Jesus is the true Israel, both ethnically and spirtually; and his particularization as the point and purpose of the nation of Israel (i.e. to mediate the Messiah see Galatians 3 and ‘the seed’ argument), is in fact the point an purpose of all creation (see Romans 8:18ff).

    You have misunderstood my point and nuance in the post, Tami; indeed, it seems as if you have glossed right over what I wrote and only used the title of my post presumptuously, and as an occasion to make your point while ignoring mine. Your approach is not very good form.


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