Synagogue shooting in Poway and Replacement Theology, ideas do have consequences

A recent event and its chronological closeness to Holocaust Remembrance Day, or Yom Hashoah, prompted this specific blog. The recent event was a synagogue shooting that occurred in Poway, California. A young man went into a synagogue and started firing on the people inside, killing and injuring individual Jews who had come to worship. Now, this isn’t the first time that a synagogue shooting has occurred here in the United States. In fact, incidents of synagogue shootings are up statistically from previous years. What was significant about this shooting was the background of the young man who did it - so significant that the Washington Post noted it in their article. He was in the tender of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. And he wrote a manifesto where he repeated elements of an anti-Semitic theology called “Replacement Theology.”

A few disclaimers need to be given here as many of my apologist friends are of a reformed theological persuasion and I believe to them to be godly proclaimers of the gospel of Jesus Christ and individuals with a love for the Bible. I also do not believe that every member of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church desires to bomb synagogues or hurt Jewish people. In fact, I would not be surprised to learn that most of them would like to see Jewish people embrace Jesus.

However, to argue that there is no connection between Replacement Theology and the conduct of this young man is to ignore the fact that ideas in theology have consequences. I’m not sure that theologically or logically I can make the argument that there is no connection between theological ideas and the activity of individuals. So let us say that this is a moral act that had theological underpinnings which need to be discussed.

One of my concerns with some of the thinking that goes on in the reformed theology camp is its reliance upon systematic theology above and even against biblical theology. Biblical theology is very clear that the promises given to Israel were given specifically to Israel, not to the church, and it distinctly distinguishes between the Church and Israel. One way to look at this is that Israel and the Church are two aspects of the people of God; this view may give an option to my more reformed friends that will allow them to preserve a level of reformed thinking but still be biblically accurate.

Let me begin by illustrating a few of the distinctions made between Israel and the Church that indicate they cannot possibly be the same entity.

Israel Israel is a nation chosen by God and sustained by covenant promises (Deut. 7:6-9).2 In God’s program for Israel, His witnesses comprised a nation (Isaiah 43:10).
The Church The Church is a called-out assembly of believers who have been baptized into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). In God’s program for the Church, His witnesses are among all nations (Acts 1:8).


Since the composition of and programs for the Church and Israel are distinctly different, they cannot possibly be the same entity. My reformed friends need to come to grips with this basic reality in whatever way possible. I’m sure there must be a way that they can do this theological activity.

My second concern is an over-reliance upon the church fathers. My concern here is that the church fathers did carry with them the infection of anti-Antisemitism. An over-reliance upon their documents without critically applying biblical theology imports anti-Antisemitism into the church. Let’s look at a few quotes by some of the church fathers. One of the most influential church fathers was Augustine of Hippo. He states clearly, “How hateful to me are the enemies of your Scripture! How I wish that you would slay them (the Jews) with your two-edged sword, so that there should be none to oppose your word! Gladly would I have them die to themselves and live to you (Confessions 12.14)!” Of course, he’s not the only church father to make exceedingly anti-Semitic remarks. 

John Chrysostom is noted for his flaming anti-Antisemitism. In his work, Against Jews, he writes, “The synagogue is worse than a brothel…it is the den of scoundrels and the repair of wild beasts…the temple of demons devoted to idolatrous cults…the refuge of brigands and dabauchees, and the cavern of devils. It is a criminal assembly of Jews…a place of meeting for the assassins of Christ… a house worse than a drinking shop…a den of thieves, a house of ill fame, a dwelling of iniquity, the refuge of devils, a gulf and a abyss of perdition… I would say the same things about their souls… As for me, I hate the synagogue…I hate the Jews for the same reason (Hay 28).”

You can see the problem with importing the theology of the church fathers wholesale without a critical ear. It would be an oversimplification to say that Replacement Theology in the anti-Semitic sentiments of the church fathers caused the synagogue shooting in Poway, California. But what we can say is that these anti-Semitic ideas are antithetical to a sound Biblical theology of Israel and the Church, and that some way must be found to steer clear of Replacement Theology. We must weigh the words of the church fathers on a different scale than the words of Scripture. I would urge all Christians, including my more reformed friends, to join me in this great enterprise.


Hay, Malcom. Thy brother’s blood: the roots of christian anti-semitism. Hart Publishing, 1975.