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Gary Burge: Jesus and the Land


Gary M. Burge, Jesus and the Land: The New Testament Challenge to “Holy Land” Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic: 2010), 176 pages, ISBN 9780801038983.

Affirming the normal human practice of attaching oneself to land—of having a place to call home—Burge recognizes the practical and political challenges this desire poses for both Palestinians and Israelis. In agreement with D. Boyarin’s A Radical Jew: Paul and the Politics of Identity (1994), Burge says that “If the Jewish people are the indigenous people of this land, then the Palestinians are indigenous nowhere. And if the Palestinians are indigenous there, then the Jewish people are indigenous nowhere” (x, xi).

He addresses how he believes Christians can view the “competing land claims” of the Palestinians and Israelis by isolating and offering key questions for an ongoing discussion. What is the relationship between land and theology in the New Testament? What did Jesus and the New Testament writers think about the territorial claims of ancient Israel? Did they retain the view of the sanctity of Jerusalem and its Temple? Were they rethinking the relationship between faith and locale? Or were they confident that a sacred place was still to be held for believers?

Burge, of course, answers these questions. For example, he believes “the early Christians possessed no territorial theology; and “Early Christian preaching [was] utterly uninterested in Jewish eschatology [that] devoted [itself] to the restoration of the land” (59). In his view, for instance, the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews would “never have been inclined to see the politics of Judaea as an appropriate venue for Christian interest” (107). This is because God’s focus is not the Land, but the world. The Land is but a small, though vital, part of that world.

What is the relationship between land and theology in the New Testament?

He also firmly believes that an Evangelical subgroup called “Christian Zionists” has been an ardent promoter of a territorial theology that is “foreign to Christianity since its inception” (114). He concludes by offering what he considers a healthy reminder to all Christians who are affected by this issue: “When Christian theology serves at the behest of political or historical forces in any generation—be it ancient crusades, religiously fueled nationalism, or the call of Christian Zionists—it loses its supreme mission in the world” (131).

While some readers may not feel comfortable with some of his amillennial leanings; nevertheless, his discussion pushes the conversation forward. Now we know the questions we should be asking.

Reviewed by Carolyn D. Baker

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Category: In Depth, Summer 2011

About the Author: Carolyn D. Baker serves as Assistant Professor of English at Mayville State University, Mayville, North Dakota; as Adjunct Professor of Bible and Theology for Global University, Springfield, Missouri; and Pastor for Bible and Discipleship at All Nations Assembly of God, an African Refugee church, in West Fargo, ND.

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