The “standard narrative about Christian Zionism,” is a “result of bad exegesis and zany theology,” writes Anglican theologian Gerald R. McDermott in The New Christian Zionism: Fresh Perspectives on Israel & the Land. Developed from a 2015 conference hosted by the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), this recent book belies such stereotypes with solid Christian Zionism apologetics appealing to both layman and expert alike.
McDermott in his contributions to the book’s chapter essays debunks the common assumption that “all Christian Zionism is an outgrowth of premillennial dispensationalist theology.” In reality the “vast majority of Christian Zionists came long before the rise of dispensationalism in the nineteenth century.” Additionally, “many of the most prominent Christian Zionists of the last two centuries had nothing to do with dispensationalism.”
“Much if not most of modern Christian Zionism in the United States originated primarily in mainline Protestantism,” IRD President Mark Tooley historically documents in particular, a surprise for many modern readers. “Christian Zionism in the United States has long since migrated from mainline Protestantism to evangelicalism” as the Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA) illustrates. Now a “leading proponent of anti-Israel divestment,” MFSA’s founders included liberal Methodist bishop Francis J. McConnell, a strong Christian Zionist in the 1930s. “By the start of the twenty-first century, liberal Protestantism had not only abandoned Christian Zionism; it was denouncing it as a heresy,” Tooley notes.
Religion professor Robert Benne focuses on the Christian Zionism of Reinhold Niebuhr, the Christian realism luminary who “wrote copiously in many journals about Israel.” The winner of a 1969 honorary degree from Hebrew University, he had an “extraordinary sensitivity to and compassion for the suffering of Jews across the world.” Even by World War I, the “young Niebuhr already supported the ‘Zionist approach to Palestine’s ultimate settlement.’”
Scriptural scholars like Craig Blaising examine how the New Testament actually affirms God’s covenant in the Old Testament or Hebrew Tanak to give the Jews a homeland in Israel. “It is best to see the New Testament in continuity with the Tanak in presenting a narrative of the divine plan that includes an ethnic, national, territorial Israel, positioned within an expected worldwide kingdom of nations,” he writes. The “crucifixion and resurrection of the Christ did not stand contrary to the previously revealed consummate plan and purpose of God for Israel and the nations.”
Blaising’s colleague Joel Willets examines specifically the “intensely Jewish” gospel of Matthew. “A proposal suggesting that Matthew not only preserved, but also promulgated, the traditional Jewish hope for territorial restoration will probably strike many as verging on the preposterous,” Willets writes. Yet the “turf orientation of Matthew’s narrative theology” demonstrates an “abiding land consciousness in line with the traditional Jewish territorial hope.”
Examining Luke’s writing in his gospel and the Book of Acts, Mark S. Kinzer in turn notes that Luke’s “story continually reverts back to Jerusalem” while Acts 1:8 “characterizes Rome as being located at ‘the ends of the earth.’” “For Luke, Rome may be the capital of a Gentile empire that rules much of the earth, but it was neither the center nor the true capital of the world. That honor belonged to Jerusalem alone,” Kinzer notes. “Since the hope for Jerusalem’s redemption resounds at the beginning of the Gospel, but is not in fact attained in the course of the events recounted in Luke’s two volumes, attentive readers recognize that Luke’s story is incomplete.”
New Testament Professor Darrell Bock and Philos Project Executive Director Robert Nicholson morally qualify the Tanak’s land covenant to Israel for the Jews. “To endorse Israel and a national place for the nation is not to give her carte blanche for everything she does,” Bock writes; “She is still called to live responsibly as a nation like other nations.” “Some Christian Zionists find unthinkable the idea that Israel could be wrong in some of its policies,” notes Nicholson’s chapter on Israel’s “Call to Justice in the Covenant,” but God “subjected the land promise to a series of conditions.”
These conditions reflect the Jewish “concept of a righteous Creator who executes justice among his creatures—and demands justice in their relations with each other,” Nicholson notes. His deft rebuttal of criticisms of Israel centered on its control over territories won in the 1967 war and their Palestinian populations demonstrates that Israel indeed respects this “elemental principle that animates biblical history.” For example,
while many people today believe that Israel conquered Palestinian land in 1967, the reality is that Israel pushed Jordan and Egypt out of the original Mandate for Palestine, dislodging them from their own illegal occupation of Palestinian Arabs.
Former Israeli Defense Forces paratroop officer Shadi Khalloul concurs with Nicholson in a chapter analyzing Israel’s non-Jewish minorities. Israeli citizens “from all genders and religions enjoy a higher quality of life than in most developed nations and even in some Western social democracies,” Khalloul writes. He highlights his community in Israel of:
160,000 Arabic-speaking Christians of Aramaic-Syriac roots whose families go back to the land long before Islamic occupation in the seventh century. Their lives in Israel today differ markedly from those of Christians who have lived for centuries in dhimmitude (second-class) status under Arab-Islamic regimes or secular nations with an Arab or Islamic majority. They also differ markedly from the pitiful lives of Christians today in Iraq, Syria, Egypt and Lebanon.
While “Israel today is a provisional sign of the end time that in its restoration points to the eschatological restoration of creation to come,” McDermott and his colleagues forswear any particular prophetic insight. “That the emergence of modern Israel is a fulfillment of prophecy seems plain…But how all this is working out, and will work out, is a mystery we must not think we can penetrate with any precision.” The book’s intricate, insightful analysis nonetheless convincingly argues that “[r]ather than merely a voice from the past, she [Israel] is a living presence in the church and will be the center of the world to come.”Google+