Having known some Jewish friends across religious and political spectrum, it is hard to reconcile Dispensationalist’s literal understanding of Israel. (Note that this understanding has come to impact American Evangelicals’ understanding of U.S. relation with Israel. Therefore, it is no longer just a mere theological question, but one that has political and public-policy implications).
First, if “Israel” meant the physical “State of Israel” as we know it, then American evangelicals must understand that many within the State of Israel would not be “Israel.” For the State of Israel is comprised of citizens across political, religious, ethnic spectrums. Who then, is the true “Israel?” Is it the Ultra Orthodox Jews? Is it the Reform Jews? Is it the so-called “Russian-Jews” (for some were not by heritage Jews at all when they immigrated to Israel), what about the Arabs who are Isareli citizens? What about unbelieving Jews that are Israeli citizens?
If Dispensationalist understanding of “Israel” – at least in part – meant the physical state of Israel, its theology does not hold up, for dispensationalists must necessarily distinguish the real “people of God” from that of the non-Jews and unbelieving Israeli citizens. Confusing a religious Israel with the modern physical State of Israel as a political entity is incoherent in itself.
Secondly, Dispensationalist’s dichotomy of “Israel,” one to mean the physical state of Israel, another the church, is bizarre. Almost, if not all dispensationalists insist on the Israel/Church distinction. Despite Progressive Dispensationalists’ softening of the Israel/Church distinction, this strand of Dispensationalists still believes that God’s promises to Israel is that to the physical state of Israel. This interpretation seems quite far fetched, for Pauline theology speaks of the breaking-down of the wall between the Gentiles and Jews, and that we are fellow citizens and members of God’s household (Ephesians 2). How then can the dispensationlists erect a wall that God had already torn down?
Are the dispensationalists, as a group, truly “literal” in its interpretation? If they insist on their understanding of the “literal” interpretation of the Scriptures, especially and specifically on the distinction between the church and the State of Israel as “God’s two separate peoples” with two different sets of promises and destinies, then I must argue, there are then two meanings of “literal interpretations.” Is covenantal theology less literal? I beg to differ. What then, is being “literal?”
Dispensationalists’ Israel/Church distinction is far fetched, and they must reconcile the problems and inconsistencies their “literal interpretations” present to them. In addition to the extant traditional theological debate regarding the distinction, I would like to pose the political/public policy/foreign affairs question as well. If dispensationalists truly believe in that the State of Israel as a physical earthly separate entity that inherits a set of God’s promises and hence a different group of God’s people if you will, then who in the State of Israel is the recipient of that covenental promise? If the Dispensationalists further break it down into separate groups within the State of Israel, we are going beyond more than just a Israel/Church distinction. (I am interested in knowing how they would do that and on what scriptural basis, not to mention that the two-destiny theory lacks scriptural basis). In fact, such a proposition would result in perhaps multiple destinies and different promises God give to His people, if we follow the dispensationalists’ logic.
Then, I wonder, if such a dichotomy/distinction is warranted at first place.