Israeology: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology
By Arnold Fruchtenbaum
: Ariel Ministries
Reviewed by Dr. Will Varner
7.2 (Fall 1996) : 266-268
The fruit of Fruchtenbaum's research for a doctoral dissertation at New York University, this massive work comes from a leader and one of the finest scholars in the Hebrew Christian/Messianic Jewish movement. At the forefront of this movement as it has sought for about two decades to define itself, Fruchtenbaum has contributed Jesus Was a Jew in 1974, Hebrew Christianity: Its Theology, History, and Philosophy in 1974, and a monograph devoted to eschatology, The Footsteps of the Messiah in 1982. He presently directs Ariel Ministries.
He "affectionately dedicated" Israelology to Charles C. Ryrie on whom he is somewhat dependent in his books, but that does not mean he always agrees with him and Dallas Seminary professors in their position on the role of Israel in the divine plan. In fact, their weakness in the matter of Israel's present role led to his producing this volume.
The author defines "Israelology" as "a subdivision of Systematic Theology incorporating all theological doctrines concerning the people of Israel" (2). "Israel is viewed theologically as referring to all descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, also known as the Jews" (2). Fruchtenbaum holds to this definition of Israel consistently throughout the Scriptures, a conviction that sets him apart from most theologians, even some of the premillennial persuasion. This single point is the "crux interpretum" on which his construction of an "Israelology" stands or falls. That is probably his greatest contribution to theology in this work.
In chapters 2-7, the author explains and critically evaluates the "Israelology" of three other theological systems: postmillennialism, amillennialism, and historic premillennialism, called "covenant premillennialism" in this work. His three-hundred page critical evaluation of the three sees a common flaw. They all have an inconsistent hermeneutic in understanding the meaning of "Israel." They differ from one another in the degree of inconsistency, but the same basic flaw renders them all incapable of expressing a biblical "Israelology."
Dispensationalists already familiar with the flaw in these systems will profit most from chapters 8-10 where Fruchtenbaum has five hundred pages explaining and evaluating the traditional dispensational view of Israel's role, past, present, and future. He writes, "Dispensationalism has developed a well-thought out Israelology insofar as Israel Past and Israel Future is concerned— Chafer's statement on the Jews is a good example of this—but it has been weak in developing a comprehensive theology of Israel Present" (415). He critiques—sometimes favorably and sometimes not—the works of Chafer, Walvoord, Pentecost, and Ryrie of Dallas Seminary; McClain and Hoyt of Grace Seminary; and Feinberg of Talbot Seminary. He does not have an exclusively future fulfillment of the new covenant for Israel (634-36), an issue on which the listed dispensationalists disagree. Yet he rejects the ideas of progressive dispensationalism (e.g., Blaising, Bock, Saucy), because he does not agree with the progressives that Jesus currently occupies David's throne. A weakness of the book is its failure to address issues raised by the progressives, something the author could have included in his 1992 revision. This reviewer suspects that he would apply his criticisms of covenant premillennialism to progressive dispensationalism.
Chapter 10 has Fruchtenbaum's contribution to the discussion, "A Dispensational Israelology," which argues persuasively for including "Israelology" as a subdiscipline of systematic theology. The three-hundred page chapter deserves publication in a separate volume. He adds nothing new under Israel past and future, but develops original material regarding "Israel Present." He addresses with thoroughness and insight such issues as the Jewish believer's present relationship to the law of Moses (640-79), the identity of believing Jews in this age (Hebrew Christians or Messianic Jews, 745- 62), and the present role of the State of Israel in God's plan (494-98). Further, he has an excellent summary of how Romans 9–11 handles these issues (720-44).
This reviewer can see room for some improvements in the volume. The author could have given some space to dispensational writers prior to Chafer who tried to interpret Israel's role in the divine plan. He never mentions the "Old Scofield" authors and their theological colleagues, nor does he notice the writings of such Hebrew Christian giants as Adolph Saphir and David Baron or the great British authors Canon Lukyn-Williams and John Wilkinson. Wilkinson's work Israel My Glory was a very good attempt at constructing a "theology of Israel." Besides these, some current Messianic writers in Israel (e.g., Menachem Benhayim and David Stern) deserve at least some mention. Their failure to be labeled as "dispensationalists" does not mean they have nothing to contribute to the subject. Also missing are those affirming a "dual covenant view"—i.e., that the message of the gospel is not for Jewish people since they have their own covenant with God—even though they address directly the present salvific status of the Jewish people.
The volume has four excellent appendices (857-1012). In three of them Fruchtenbaum describes his interaction with two different perspectives regarding the degree Jewish believers should maintain their "Jewishness." He supports a middle position between the "Messianic synagogue" approach and the "local church" approach. Those interested in this, the current hottest topic in Hebrew Christianity, will find these pages very informative.
Undoubtedly, some will find various positions of the author a bit too novel. Readers of David Cooper's books, published between 1930 and 1950 by the Biblical Research Society, will recognize Cooper's influence on Fruchtenbaum in some of these interpretations. Nevertheless, those who neglect Israelology's contributions in these areas will incur intellectual risk. The book has much to inform evangelicals about in a greatly neglected field, the present role of a people who are the main characters in the Bible.