The Case for Enlargement Theology by Alex Jacob

13/10/2011

The two main contenders in Jewish-Christian relations are Replacement Theology and Two Covenant Theology. Both have their inherent weaknesses, and Alex Jacob’s thesis is that a third way exists that remains faithful to the teaching to Romans 9-11. He works for CMJ (UK), a Christian Ministry to Jews.

The author writes from a clearly evangelical perspective which he sets out in the first section. He goes on to examine Romans 9-11 in detail with each section consisting of a commentary and some remarks on what he terms Enlargement theology. I confess that I have skimmed this book as I prepare preaching Romans 9-11, and have not therefore followed the exegesis in detail. The main points are summarised as follows (pp 171-3)

  1. Romans 9-11 is an integral part of the ‘Gospel of God’ outlined in Paul’s letter to the Romans. This is a helpful argument for the unity of the letter and the consequence importance of the context for understanding the place of Israel with regard to the church.
  2. Paul shows unswerving passion for and commitment to Israel. Israel is central to God’s purposes, where Israel here refers to the physical descent from Abraham.
  3. Paul shows a clear rejection of Two Covenant theology. Contemporary two covenant theology emerged as a response to the Holocaust. While it is an emotionally attractive position for those engaged in Jewish-Christian dialogue, it cannot be supported from Romans 9-11. Christians who hold a high view of Scripture must therefore find another paradigm for conducting Jewish-Christian dialogue.
  4. Paul shows a clear rejection of Replacement Theology. Paul consistently argues against the idea that God has rejected Israel, or that he has transferred the promises of Israel to the (Gentile) church. Israel has stumbled but not beyond recovery.
  5. God’s purposes are being worked out through a threefold understanding of God’s people. There is ‘unity within diversity’ and three distinct groups within God’s calling: unbelieving Israel, believing Israel, and the Gentile believers in Jesus.

He also offers a ‘beginners guide’ on the CMJ website here. As I don’t support either Replacement or Two Covenant theology, I agreed with Jacob’s reasons for rejecting them. It would have been good to see more engagement with the standard Reformed option, One Covenant or Remnant theology. While that may be because it is not a significant voice in Jewish-Christian Dialogue, it leaves a theologically coherent position absent from the debate. With the caveat that I have not followed the close exegesis, I have to say that find the ‘three people’ solution to be hard to swallow given the time and attention given in the NT letters to getting the church to act as one body. As I did not have time to look at the section that justifies this take on ‘unity’ from the doctrine of the Trinity, I cannot comment on whether it is persuasive.

In the end I suspect the sticking point between us comes down to what answers are given to this question: to what extent should a Jewish believer in Jesus Christ leave behind his or her Jewish identity? Are they a Messianic Jew, or a Jewish Christian?

The Case for Enlargement Theology
by Alex Jacob
ISBN: 978 0 955179 08 2
Publisher: GLORY TO GLORY 272pp

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