To remind you, the literal readers of Scripture, I called Mr. Roots, to identify them with the oldest part of the olive tree (of Romans 11) and the second group, the Scripture spiritualisers, I called Mr. Shoots, identifying them with the newest parts of the olive tree.
"I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you." (Genesis 12:2-3)
Mr. Roots would look at the plain meaning of these verses, which tell him that the descendants of Abraham - the Jews - are to become a great nation, living in a land promised to them by God as a permanent habitation and out of whom there would be great blessings to the world, through Jesus.
Mr. Shoots would agree with the bit about Jesus as the means by whom all peoples on earth will be blessed, as none doubt that Jesus was a physical descendant of Abraham. But ... as for the rest ...
Who are the great nation?
Colin Chapman, appeals to the Book of Revelation, quoting from Revelation 7:4, the "144,000 from all the tribes of Israel", though not explaining who exactly is being referred to. Kenneth Bailey says that what is being referred to here are the "Jews and Gentiles who through faith in Christ have been made righteous".
What is the promised land?
Colin Chapman talks of the "new heaven and a new earth" from Revelation 21:1. He also re-translates Matthew 5, "Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth", as "inherit the land", remarking that "those who will inherit and possess the land and dwell securely in it for ever are the poor in spirit - presumably of any nation - who mourn and are meek." C.J.H. Wright talks of the "rest we have entered with Christ". Kenneth Bailey substitutes "the world" for the land, as "the inheritance of the righteous". R T France talks of the "ingathering of the Christian community from all nations". Matthew Henry talks of a "heavenly Canaan" promised, again, to the spiritual descendants.
The general consensus among the Mr. Shoots out there seems to be that the promised land is just another name for heaven.
Whose God will He be?
Colin Chapman looks forward to Revelation 7:9 to the "great multitude ... standing before the throne". The general consensus has God transferring His attention and love from Jews to the spiritual descendants, the Christians. Jews would now be no more loved or cared for than any other nation on earth.
Now these are all clever people, with a multitude of theological qualifications and decades of Christian service between them. But that doesn't make them infallible. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 1:27, "But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise. ..." We mustn't be fazed by cleverness because, after all, most of the brightest brains of our age are still dead in their sins (i.e. non-Christians). Equally, we mustn't neglect our brain cells out of laziness or neglect. Balance is what we need, head and heart, word and spirit.
The fact is that Mr. Shoots is not on particularly steady ground. They are not necessarily speaking with the authority of New Testament Scripture. Jesus and Paul have very little to say about the land promises to the Jews. There are no direct quotations and most theology is derived from "reading between the lines". These issues will be dealt with a little later in these articles. All that I wish to say at this stage is that nothing is totally cut and dried. Which is why we need a helper.
God doesn't abandon us to our physical limitations, otherwise only clever people would be able to figure out what He's saying to us and, let's face it, cleverness doesn't necessarily equate to godliness! So He provides all Christians with a helper, the Holy Spirit, to help us discern the truth. We may not have the academic degrees and the educational advantages, but the Lord can speak to us, nevertheless. If we are truly open to His promptings, He provides us with checks in our spirit, when things are right and when things are wrong.
Ask God to guide you into the truth, specifically ask Him for a real conviction, so that you can have a solid foundation on which to build. Now's a good time to stop reading and pray. Ask Him to reveal your deepest motivations, because the issues discussed in these articles are so important and we've got to get it right!
(This is an abridged extract from Steve's book How the Church Lost the Truth)
A Lib Dem candidate who was due to stand in the upcoming election...