“I am glad to commend Stephen Sizer’s groundbreaking 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.” — Rev. Dr. John Stott
The seeds of this book were sown over forty years ago when, as a young Christian, I devoured Hal Lindsey’s best-selling book, The Late Great Planet Earth, and heard in person his mesmerising lectures on eschatology. It seemed as if the Bible was literally coming true before our very eyes.
The Jews, God’s ‘chosen people’, were back in their promised land in 1948. Apparently, the prophetic clock was now ticking. God had miraculously delivered them again in 1967, giving victory over their Arab enemies. Jerusalem, their eternal capital, was now at last, once again, under Jewish sovereignty. The temple would soon be rebuilt. The prophetic signs were being fulﬁlled on the front pages of our newspapers. The world seemed to be rushing towards a cataclysmic end in the final battle of Armageddon.
The threat of nuclear war, the fear of world domination by atheistic Communism, as well as Palestinian extremism, were seen as futile attempts to annihilate the Jewish people and destroy the State of Israel. The moral responsibility of evangelical, Bible-believing Christians was clear – stand with God’s ‘chosen’ people, because God was on the side of those who ‘blessed’ Israel.
Alongside these convictions there was also a strong desire to visit the Holy Land to see for myself where Jesus walked. It never occurred to me that there might be an indigenous Palestinian church, except for the small but growing assemblies of Messianic believers spoken of in revered but hushed tones.
Christian Zionist friends helped me plan my ﬁrst pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1990. On their advice, a Messianic guide called Zvi led our group. With the intifada at its height, it did not appear strange that he was unwilling to meet us at our hotel in Arab East Jerusalem. The sight of heavily armed Israeli soldiers, encounters with occasional stone-throwing Palestinian children, and Zvi’s advice that some of the archaeological sites on the West Bank were ‘unsafe’ for tourists fuelled my latent prejudice against Palestinians.
Our memorable tour began with a visit to Yad Vashem, the Shoah museum. This helped explain the Israeli preoccupation with security. They could not rely on the West any more now than they had done in the 1930s. During the week, Zvi enthusiastically showed us how the new State of Israel was turning a barren and deserted wilderness into a land ﬂowing with milk and honey. We visited the Kibbutz at En Gev in the Golan with its armour-plated tractors, and to Masada to see where the heroic Zealots took their last stand against the Roman invaders in 73AD. It is here that Israeli soldiers take an oath: ‘Masada shall not fall again.’ Apart from Jerusalem, it has become the most popular location for Jewish tourists and Christian Zionists visiting Israel. It is ironic that a place where 960 Jews committed suicide 2,000 years ago has become a modern symbol of Zionism.
Two encounters that week led me to the beginning of a radical change of perspective. The ﬁrst came on the Via Dolorosa, at the Lithostrotos, the Roman pavement below street-level at the Sisters of Zion convent. A member of the party asked Zvi an innocuous question about the Palestinians. He responded by giving us all a piece of paper with the heading, ‘Who are the Palestinians?’ Ignoring the signiﬁcance of the archaeological site before us, he proceeded to ‘prove’ that there was no such thing as a Palestinian. They had no unique history, culture or language. They were Arabs who had entered Israel in the early twentieth century to threaten the ﬂedgling State of Israel. Zvi was adamant; the Arabs should return to Arabia. The Jews had a divine right to Eretz Yisrael which extended from the River of Egypt to the Euphrates.
The second encounter came in a meeting later that week with Canon Riah Abu El Assal, then Archdeacon of Nazareth. In a simple presentation, and with great humility, he explained how he was a Christian Arab Palestinian Israeli. He spoke of the historic presence of an indigenous church in Palestine long before the founding of the young State of Israel. He shared with us his joy at just receiving back his Israeli passport. He had been banned from travel abroad for four years without explanation or charges ever having been made. At the end of his presentation Riah warmly shook hands with Zvi and we left Nazareth. But my bubble had burst. We had met a real-life Christian Palestinian. They did exist. And so began the stream of questions that would not go away.
Back in Britain I began my search to make sense of the historical and theological issues behind the Palestinian–Israeli conﬂict. Discovering our common interest in Palestine, Canon Garth Hewitt invited me to join him on a concert-tour of Jerusalem and West Bank churches in early 1991. Garth has written many songs about the search for peace between Jews and Palestinians. He has a rare talent for empathizing with people and being able to express in song their pain and suﬀering, their faith and hope. Conditions for travel were diﬃcult, with tensions high due to the intifada and Israeli security measures. On this and subsequent tours, my convictions were further shaped by deepening friendships with Palestinian Christian leaders at Sabeel, Bethlehem Bible College, Wi’am, Musalaha and World Vision.
Between 1993 and 1997, growing interest in pilgrimages gave the impetus for postgraduate research into the impact of pilgrimages on the Christian community of the Holy Land. My findings, which led to an MTh from Oxford University, revealed deep-seated prejudices and stereotyped caricatures of Palestinians and a lamentable lack of contact between pilgrims and the indigenous Christians. The presence of tens of thousands of Western Christian tourists and pilgrims in the Holy Land at any one time has great potential for good. Ironically, for the most part, however, it does great harm. This is because most Western Christians visiting the Holy Land follow a predetermined itinerary purposely designed to bring them into contact with a Jewish Israel perpetuating a myth of the Zionist dream being fulﬁlled, avoiding any encounter with the indigenous Palestinian church apart from brief but supervised visits to souvenir shops.
In 1995, Garth Hewitt and I made a second concert-tour of churches in Israel and the Occupied Territories. This also provided the inspiration for Garth’s book Pilgrims and Peacemakers, based on interviews with Jewish and Palestinian peacemakers. One episode in the book highlights an unusual personal application of the Parable of the Good Samaritan. After a rather tense visit to Gaza when I had naïvely accepted a lift in a yellow-plated Israeli car into the heart of Gaza city to speak at an Anglican service, we decided a short break would be good, and I oﬀered to show Garth the beautiful scenery of northern Galilee. It was February, and by mid-afternoon the light was fading as I drove a borrowed minibus up the winding road past Mount Hermon and into the snowy slopes of the occupied Syrian Golan Heights.
Above the snow-line we encountered a group of young Israeli army conscripts. They were cold, wet and tired and wanted a lift. We nervously avoided stopping and carried on driving up into the darkness. With hopes of showing Garth the isolated UN post at Quneitra fading, we turned round and headed home. As we turned a corner our headlights caught the shape of one of the young soldiers lying in the road and his companions attempting to revive him. Wet and cold, he appeared to have hypothermia. Garth helped them lift the semi-conscious soldier into the minibus and we continued to descend before being met by an army vehicle that took the unknown soldier to hospital. Despite my anger at the arrogant Israeli settlers and soldiers I had encountered in Gaza the day before, I realized that these young conscripts, just seventeen years old, were as vulnerable, needy and human as my Palestinian friends. It reminded me of Elias Chacour’s profound statement that forms part of the presentation he gives to groups visiting his university which brings together Jewish, Christian and Muslim faculty and students: we are not born Jews, Arabs or British; ﬁrst of all, God makes us babies in his image.
Beginning in 1995, I began to write a series of short articles about the destructive influence of Western Christians in their typically one-sided support for Israel and antipathy for Palestinians. The ﬂak received gave an indication of the depth of feeling within British evangelicalism on the Arab–Israeli issue. Despite further criticism, and even the occasional anonymous threat, the articles began to ﬂow, and more importantly, were published. The haunting images from my increasingly regular journeys to Israel/Palestine and the many unanswered questions became the stimulus for doctoral research lasting seven years, which traced the historical roots of Christian involvement in the Palestinian–Israeli conﬂict. It also included an examination of the biblical and theological justiﬁcation for Zionism, and an analysis of the political consequences of such partisan support.
In 2002, I was awarded a PhD by Middlesex University and Oak Hill Theological College. The fruits of that research were distilled into this book, first published by InterVarsity Press in 2004. It was, I believe the first to incorporate ‘Christian’ and ‘Zionism’ in the title. Since then, the book has been translated into Arabic, Farsi and Spanish as well as excerpts in Chinese and German.
My research revealed that proto-Christian Zionism (or more accurately Restorationism), not only preceded Jewish Zionism by at least 50 years, but also that today, at least nine out of ten Zionists in the world are Christians. It is therefore more accurate to say that Zionism is primarily a Christian ideology rather than Jewish one. Indeed, in 2012, Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu admitted, “I don’t believe that the Jewish State and Modern Zionism would have been possible without Christian Zionism.”
Following its publication in 2004, I have had the privilege of lecturing on Christian Zionism at universities, seminaries and theological colleges in Europe, most counties in the Middle East and North Africa, Iran, South Africa, China, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, the USA and Canada. Some of these presentations are available on video, as well as more recent articles, freely accessible from my website.
Having also engaged with, and debated Christian Zionists, it is now my conviction that ‘Christian Zionism’ is actually an oxymoron with no biblical justification but rather an expression of white supremacism and colonialist nationalism. In its most extreme form, it is a deviant heresy in which the church of Jesus Christ is merely a parenthesis to God’s continuing purposes for national Israel. Tragically the indigenous church in Palestine, and indeed wider Middle East, is close to extinction. Islamic extremism, Jewish Zionism and Christian indifference all exacerbate this, but Christian Zionism has probably had a greater detrimental effect than the other three causes combined.
Perhaps naively, what I did not appreciate when I embarked on this journey was the lengths some will go to defend Christian Zionism and intimidate, denigrate and even seek to incriminate those who question their agenda. Attempts were made to have my PhD revoked and InterVarsity Press were repeatedly criticised for publishing my books.
At times it has been a lonely journey. For over 20 years, churches, charities and mission agencies with which I am associated have also been targeted. However, despite threats, intimidation and spurious allegations, it is heartening to discover a growing number of religious, academic and political leaders speak out in solidarity.
I am therefore most grateful that Wipf & Stock have agreed to republish this book, along with its sequel, Zion’s Christian Soldiers? which examines in more detail the relationship between Israel and the Church in the Bible.
My motivation for this book lies in the conviction, deeply held, that for Western Christians, to ignore or stereotype their Palestinian brothers and sisters, now threatened with extinction, is not only deeply oﬀensive, it is surely a contradiction of our faith, and ultimately immoral before God. It is nothing less than to perpetuate the evil of the Levite in the Parable of the Good Samaritan who walked by on the other side.
In Psalm 122 we are told to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, I want to close by quoting a verse of one of Garth Hewitt’s songs, ‘Ten Measures of Beauty’ with which I invariably end my presentations on Christian Zionism, as it best expresses my heart’s desire.
“May the justice of God fall down like fire and bring a home for the Palestinian
May the mercy of God pour down like rain and protect the Jewish people
And may the beautiful eyes of a holy God who weeps for all His children
Bring the healing hope for his wounded ones for the Jew and the Palestinian.”
Stephen R. Sizer
“I believe Stephen Sizer is one of the most authoritative scholars in the world on the vital issue of Christian Zionism. He is a very important voice speaking out against this destructive movement that is killing us [Palestinians] through its theology.” — Canon Naim Ateek
“Stephen Sizer’s Christian Zionism: Road Map to Armageddon? is essential reading for any Western evangelical trying to understand the religious dimensions of American support for Israel. Sizer writes as an insider within the church, not as a critic watching from afar. And he shows with exacting clarity how evangelical eschatology has now embedded itself in a modern political ideology. One quick read of this book will change anyone’s perspective on the Middle East permanently.” — Professor Gary M. Burge
“Congratulations on Christian Zionism. The index alone makes my mouth water, since this is the scholarly treatment to counteract the rabid prophecy pack for which I had been searching. I couldn’t be happier that this is published. You and I see eye to eye on this issue. . . . Yours is a true prophetic voice so badly needed in the current prophecy frenzy. And when this mania also affects national and international policy, the danger takes on larger proportions.” — Professor Paul Maier
“Stephen Sizer’s work on Christian Zionism is the most important and comprehensive on the subject to date and should be read by all students of the Middle East and by Christians concerned about a just resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Christian Zionism raises vital theological and political challenges that must be addressed head-on by Christians in the West, particularly evangelicals. The impact of this terribly misguided movement is increasingly putting Christians in the Middle East at risk, and it seems a far cry from the witness and message of Jesus Christ.” — Dr Donald Wagner
“This study of Christian Zionism, based on Stephen Sizer’s doctoral thesis, is of seminal significance. It provides a fascinating survey of the history of Christian Zionism and an in-depth analysis of the theology of this highly important and influential movement.” — Rabbi Professor Dan Cohn-Sherbok
Published by Wipf & Stock