May 23, 2013

Texas Evangelical Pastor Decries Dispensationalists’ Support for Israel

Bob Roberts, Jr. speaking at the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference in Bethlehem in March, 2012. (Photo Credit: Camera.org)

Bob Roberts, Jr. speaking at the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference in Bethlehem in March, 2012. (Photo Credit: Camera.org)

By Jeff Walton (@JeffreyHWalton)

This is the first of two articles on the 2013 Churches for Middle East Peace Advocacy Conference

Evangelical Christian support for Israel is often based on cultural conclusions reached apart from scripture, according to a prominent Southern Baptist pastor engaged in interfaith dialogue and Middle East peace advocacy.

“Why is it that we Evangelicals and Arabs are so much at odds and in such disagreement? Frankly, it comes down to this theology called dispensational premillennialism,” assessed Pastor Bob Roberts of NorthWood Church in Keller, Texas during a keynote address at the annual Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) advocacy conference in Washington, D.C. “For us [this] looks like Left Behind. They’re not just novels for us, they are our theology.”

Roberts, who previously adhered to dispensationalist theology – and support for the state of Israel – now rejects both dispensationalism and U.S. support for Israel.

“Take your people over there until they become embarrassed they were on the wrong side,” Roberts advised to church activists confronting support for Israel in churches.

CMEP is an ecumenical advocacy organization composed primarily of Mainline Protestant and Orthodox churches, including some Catholic orders. The Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the United Methodist General Boards of Church and Society (GBCS) and Global Ministries (GBGM) are all members of the coalition. The decision to spotlight Roberts, who appeared at the Bethlehem Bible College Christ at the Checkpoint conference last year, signifies the mostly oldline coalition’s interest in broadening their support to allies in other traditions.

Amiable and folksy, Roberts shared about his congregation’s experience building schools, orphanages, agricultural projects and other humanitarian ventures in Afghanistan.

“The result is that I became very close friends with those imams,” Roberts explained, adding that those friendships gradually affected how he saw the world.  “Had I not discovered the world and understood the world outside of an American and Texas context, I never would have understood how the Gospel goes into a place – what it looks like for Jesus to be a positive word and a blessing to people verses something that is negative , destructive and counter particular cultures.”

Roberts did not address reasons apart from eschatology for which American evangelicals might support Israel. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life estimates that no more than 10 percent of U.S. evangelicals are devoted to dispensational premillennialism, a significantly lower percentage than the strong majorities who still express support for Israel.

“A lot of times we come to conclusions that really go beyond Biblical interpretation and go to cultural understanding of how we respond to specific things. The number one thing I am always asked is ‘why do you evangelicals love the Jews so much, but you despise us Arabs and Muslims so much?’”

Declaring that “dispensationalist theology builds a wedge between you and the Arab world,” Roberts revealed that he did not shift his theology on the second coming of Christ because of scripture, but rather because of relationships.

“I began to realize that all the things I built into scripture – that my tradition added and my background added – what that did is it forced me to look hard at ‘what does the Bible really say?’. I also began to discover something else that I never really understood: the impact theology has on foreign policy. How people relate to one another and get along. It’s just massive.

Roberts encouraged the gathered church activists, set to lobby members of Congress the following day, to “bypass Congressional staffers who see the U.S. role in the Middle East as one-sided defense of Israel.”

Describing his own experience taking 15 pastors to the West Bank, Roberts advised the mostly oldline Protestant audience not to approach the West Bank as a political issue.

“You aren’t going to change these people, I am,” Roberts said of interactions with Evangelicals who support Israel. “And I won’t be able to change the old guys, it’s the younger guys.”


9 Responses to Texas Evangelical Pastor Decries Dispensationalists’ Support for Israel

  1. John Erthein says:

    Dispensationalism is the favorite whipping boy of the anti-Israel lobby in our churches. But as the article notes, most evangelicals who support Israel are NOT dispensationalists.

    • raybnnstr says:

      John, that is so true. Most evangelicals I know are pro-Israel but don’t have a clue what dispensationalism is. I think what it comes down to is that churches like this one are swayed by the Muslim propaganda machine, but instead of admitting that, they prefer to associate being pro-Israel with something as outre as dispensationalism. Give them enough time, maybe they can prove Jesus was a Palestinian and not a Jew.

      When I hear an evangelical pastor claiming he is getting all huggy with imams, I’m betting that the imams are enjoying a good laugh behind closed doors. “Those stupid infidels! Give them a good sob story and you have them in the palm of your hand!”

  2. So in other words, we’re supposed to get along with the people that bombed the US on 9-11 and the Brits on their subway system, just for examples? If this guy wants to get along with terrorists, my hat will be off to him, if he can succeed! My support is for Israel simply because they are God’s people. (That would be the God of the Old Testament, not the ‘god’ of the Quran) That’s what I thought. This pastor is obviously deluded. Perhaps he should join one of these mainline denominations he was addressing!!!!

  3. nmterry says:

    When a brother feels the need to change his position on important yet non essential doctrine, why is it he feels the need to demean and diminish the honest non essential doctrines of others? It’s like he’s saying I’m too embarrassed about changing my mind so I’ll deflect the attention onto those I once agreed with by demeaning them…..it’s just bad for the faith no matter where you fall on the issue. Shame on him.

  4. True, there is a lot of anti-Isreal also on the right Pat Buchnana has a following and so does Ron Paul who are anti-Isreal.

  5. Not certain if Evangelicals are as supported of Isreal as people believed. Gary North is teaming up with Ron Paul who defintely complains about Jewwish influence in the Republican Party like the Neo-Cons or Shelton Addison. They are coming up with a homeschooled program. war Ii though.

  6. […] Note: This is the second of two articles about the 2013 Churches for Middle East Peace advocacy conference. To read about the keynote address by Pastor Bob Roberts, please click here. […]

  7. LoveIsrael.com says:

    I support Israel because it is the birthplace of God.

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