14 May 2008 marked the 60th anniversary of the birth of the modern State of Israel. The fundamental problem in the long-running Israel/Palestine dispute is that Jews in the newly formed Israel stole land from the indigenous Arabs, taking it by force. Insofar as Britain and the international community provided the authority, they did so in the face of understandable opposition from those adversely affected. The horrendous fact that Christian evangelicals have to face now is that this theft, with all its subsequent misery for hundreds of thousands of people, was done in their name. Scofi eld Dispensationalism was strong in the 1940s and still lives on, represented in a number of popular Christian books that promote Christian Zionism.
Our belief in future blessing for the Jewish people and our commitment to their evangelisation, neither of which are challenged in the books here reviewed, has for many become mired in a confused eschatology rooted in bad exegesis, resulting in an obsession with land which the New Testament cannot sustain. This is not to deny the tragedy of the world’s treatment of Jews over centuries. Unfortunately millions of conservative evangelicals have supported a solution that has involved replacing one tragedy with another. Millions support Christian Zionism.
The writers of Light Force try to provide a Christian answer to the political conflict. The first edition (I read the American version) was an absorbing read and I look forward to seeing the second. In Light Force, Brother Andrew (of God’s Smuggler fame) tells of his personal journey of understanding, starting at the usual stereotyped dispensational beliefs about Israel, through to meeting Christians of all hues, which led to some understanding of the pressures Christians in Israel live with day to day. Most of the focus on Christians is on Arabs in Lebanon, Bethlehem and Gaza. The book gives a good introduction to the complex situation in Israel. It focuses mainly on issues of reconciliation between Jew and Arab, arguing that this should be possible and is most likely among Christians who are already one in Christ Jesus.
The book is an emotional read, challenging Christian Zionism at the level of personal experience. Even Moslems who hate Jews become real people as we see them being confronted by Brother Andrew and asked to forgive and make peace. I just wish Andrew’s role had been less hyped up.
Stephen Sizer’s Zion’s Christian Soldiers? is quite different in style to Andrew’s book, requiring more application from the reader, but it also challenges Christian Zionism. Sizer compares covenantalism and dispensationalism. He explores the relationship between the old and new covenants and shows the danger of taking contemporary events to be the realisation of biblical prophecy. He examines the question of who the Israel of God is, and emphasises the centrality of Christ in the Bible message and the oneness of His people. The land is considered both in its importance in the Old Testament and the relative silence about it in the New, where God’s kingdom on earth is international and His people look for a better inheritance.
Successive chapters are given to the place of Jerusalem, the temple in current Christian Zionist thought, and the inherent pessimism of dispensational rapture theology: matters which we may regard as of little interest except that they drive much of American evangelicalism, and in consequence American foreign political policy. Sizer counters such error by pointing to the centrality of Christ in the Bible’s progressive revelation, a message of hope for the world, a message that encourages the Christian to faithfulness. The book concludes with a sermon by John Stott. If you regard Israel as a fulfilment of prophecy, read this book. Iain Gill The Monthly Record, [The Free Church of Scotland] June 2008, p. 12. pdf version of review
“Reading this book was a huge shock to me, and not a pleasant one. I had no idea that the biblical hermeneutics on the word ‘Israel’ had such extraordinary implications. So how we interpret the Scripture in terms of that one word ‘Israel’ really does seem, in some circles — to quote Stephen Sizer — to ‘justify a pre-emptive global war against the “axis of evil”‘ (page 19).
I almost felt like a man who discovers a lump under his arm and then finds on examination that it is malignant and life-threatening. But you must do the reading for yourself. It is too important to leave to second-hand opinion. How is this word ‘Israel’ used in the Bible, and what implications does that have for our fragile world?”
Rico Tice, Associate Minister, All Soul’s Church, Langham Place (author of Christianity Explored & Song of a Stranger: Daniel)
The Audio Book with Seminar Notes
You can listen to or read six presentations based on the chapters of the book as well as print outlines useful for personal and group Bible study.
“I am glad to commend Stephen Sizer’s ground-breaking critique of Christian Zionism. His comprehensive overview of its roots, its theological basis and its political consequences is very timely. I myself believe that Zionism, both political and Christian, is incompatible with biblical faith. Stephen’s book has helped to reinforce this conviction.”
Revd Dr John Stott, Rector Emeritus, All Soul’s, Langham Place, London, the principal framer of the Lausanne Covenant (1974) and founder of the Langham Partnership International (author of more than 40 books including Basic Christianity, The Cross of Christ, The Contemporary Christian, Evangelical Truth and New Issues Facing Christians Today, and eight New Testament expositions (Acts, Romans etc.) in the ‘Bible Speaks Today’ series published by IVP).
Hal Lindsey appears to have been one of the first. His reading of Revelation 12:14-17, ‘The woman was given the two wings of a great eagle, so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the desert’ takes the passage to refer to ‘some massive airlift’ transporting escaping Jews from the holocaust. ‘Since the eagle is the national symbol of the United States, it’s possible that the airlift will be made available by aircraft from the US Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean.’
Lindsey does not explain why ‘the eagle’ should mean the United States, rather than Germany or the Czech Republic for instance. Nor does he explain why in Revelation it refers to modern aircraft, while in Exodus 19:4, Deuteronomy 32:11-12 and Isaiah 40:31 it does not. This is hardly evidence for a consistent ‘literal interpretation’.
Mike Evans has caused an even bigger splash with his latest offering, The American Prophecies:
Is America in prophecy? Yes, it is. Evans insists
“As a Middle East analyst and minister who has worked closely with leaders in that region for decades, I tended to be sceptical of attempts to come up with schemes to plug America into prophetic interpretations. I have often referred to such teachers as “Pop Prophecy Peddlers.” But, after thousands of hours of research, I am totally convinced that America is found in prophecy, and I believe you will, too, after reading [my] book.”
Even the reviewer for Amazon observes that actual quotes from Scripture are rather sparse.
Controversially, Evans goes on to claim
“September 11 would never have happened if America had fought the same bigotry in the 1990’s rather than trying to appease it. Millions of Jews would be living today if anti-Semitism had not been ignored in the 1920s and 1930s. The Great Depression, as well as other American tragedies, happened because of America’s pride and challenge to God Almighty’s plan.”
The danger with this kind of prophetic speculation is that it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is how D.S. Russell summarises the dilemma:
“One rather frightening by-product of this process of interpretation is that it is easy to create the very situation which is being described so that the interpretation given brings about its own fulfilment. Russia, for example, is to be destroyed by nuclear attack – and scripture must be fulfilled! It needs little imagination to understand the consequences of such a belief, especially if held with deep conviction by politicians and the military who have the power to press the button and to execute the judgment thus prophesied and foreordained.”
If you feel you need an antidote, check out Zion’s Christian Soldiers for instant protection and lasting relief.
For further examples of wacky theology see:
Why can’t I get this song by Jackson Browne out of my mind? Maybe its the hope rising within me that with the election of Barak Obama, we will see a change in US policy toward the Arab-Israeli conflict. Maybe there will be a renewed commitment on the part of the US administration to cooperate with the United Nations and achieve a multilateral solution as envisaged in the Road-Map to Peace. Just maybe.
Or maybe it reminds me of those lovely people who feel they need to hide behind their anonymous blogs to express their warped and cowardly views. Or maybe its because of the words of Jesus who said:
“Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. All those who do evil hate the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But those who live by the truth come into the light so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.” (John 3:19-21).
One day everything will be exposed to the light of Christ and I can’t wait for that day. What ever the reason, just check out the videos that follow the lyrics and lets not be intimidated by those men in the shadows.
“I’ve been waiting for something to happen
For a week or a month or a year
With the blood in the ink of the headlines
And the sound of the crowd in my ear
You might ask what it takes to remember
When you know that youve seen it before
Where a government lies to a people
And a country is drifting to war
And there’s a shadow on the faces
Of the men who send the guns
To the wars that are fought in places
Where their business interest runs
On the radio talk shows and the TV
You hear one thing again and again
How the USA stands for freedom
And we come to the aid of a friend
But who are the ones that we call our friends–
These governments killing their own?
Or the people who finally cant take any more
And they pick up a gun or a brick or a stone
There are lives in the balance
There are people under fire
There are children at the cannons
And there is blood on the wire
There’s a shadow on the faces
Of the men who fan the flames
Of the wars that are fought in places
Where we cant even say the names
They sell us the president the same way
They sell us our clothes and our cars
They sell us every thing from youth to religion
The same time they sell us our wars
I want to know who the men in the shadows are
I want to hear somebody asking them why
They can be counted on to tell us who our enemies are
But they’re never the ones to fight or to die
And there are lives in the balance
There are people under fire
There are children at the cannons
And there is blood on the wire.”
Jackson Browne (1986)
No one in Christian circles this side of the Atlantic has done more than Stephen Sizer to raise alarm bells about a ‘formidable and dangerous movement’ called Christian Zionism whose geopolitical peril he locates in the core conviction that ‘God blesses those nations that stand with Israel and curses those who don’t.’
What this conviction has meant, especially ominously since 9/11 2001 when the ensuing War (or Crusade) on Terror added copious grist to the Christian Zionist mill, is that the entire Muslim world is ‘cursed’, while Israel and her western allies are blessed. For a Christian Zionist there can never be an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel and nor must Israel ever be forced to abandon her illegal settlements in the West Bank, let alone her claim to Jerusalem as her indivisible capital. Christian Zionists expect no peace in the Middle East until Jesus Second Coming, so all efforts to obtain a peace there are pre-doomed to failure. That some important aspects of thus Christian Zionist worldview have neatly dovetailed with that of the Neo-conservatives in charge of US foreign policy in the Middle East since 2000 is well known, as is the fact that the evangelical Christian vote was vital to Bush’s victory in 2004.