As I write these words, I am sitting less than one mile from the Old City in Jerusalem. Yesterday my group spent 12 hours learning, walking, exploring, dare I say bustling through the Old City observing everything from the Holy Sepulchre to the Temple Mount. It was a combination of both culture shock and the collision of my faith with the historical details that have informed it for the past decade. As I prepared for this day, many said to me that I would never read the Bible in the same way. They were wrong: I will never approach my faith in Jesus, the Christ, in the same way. Yet, I still push back against archeological integrationism that necessitates this trip to inform my faith. Academic elitists have said that I will never read the Bible in the same way and–up to this point–have mildly held my ignorance of the Holy Land with disdain. It is as if I have been worshiping the Christ with a veil and that the Holy Land would remove that veil in my own teaching, preaching, and spiritual walk. Archeological integrationism says that one must know the Holy Land because in order to understand the Scripture, one must understand the nuances and particularities of the Jewish nation. In order to understand your Bible, some will say, you must understand the Holy Land and the Jewish culture, at least to some degree.
For example, the logic goes something like this: how will you know what it means to go “up” to Jerusalem if you’ve never understood Jerusalem to be at a higher sea level than its surrounding areas? How will you know Jesus’s power over nature without understanding the Sea of Galilee as being a sea that would often become tumultuous rather quickly? I appreciate these comments, but let’s be clear–archeological insights can inform your faith only if those insights promote greater Christlikeness. I don’t want to just understand the Bible more by my trip to Israel; I want to be more like the risen, Messiah. Here’s my point: archeological understanding of the Holy Land should color the understanding you have of the Christian faith, thus promoting greater Christlikeness in that understanding.
The goal of visiting Israel is emphatically not to only understand your Bible better. The goal is to become more like Jesus through our understanding of the Bible. If our understanding of the Holy Land does not advance our conformity to the image of Christ, then we are accumulating facts that are going to be a long-term liability to our faith. As I sit here, there are dozens of people walking the streets of Jerusalem who know the topography of Israel better than I do. That’s okay. But does their understanding lead them to greater Christlikeness, or does it not? That I don’t know.
Great caution comes in holding a trip to the Holy Land as being necessary to further advance one’s understanding of the Bible. Pagans can understand the Holy Land and promote archeological intregrationism. If you take anything away from this post, take this away: our goal is not to understand your Bible better by going to Israel. Our goal is to better understand our God and his co-equal, co-eternal son, Jesus the Christ who was crucified in this city in which I write this post.