What Makes the Average Christian Zionist Tick?

I’ve often asked myself what is at the core of Christian Zionist theology. The most obvious answer is based on the first three verses of the twelfth chapter of the book of Genesis in the Bible:

The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and whoever curses you I will curse and all families of the earth will be blessed through you” (Gen 12:1-3).

No doubt Christian Zionism gets its teaching about Jewish entitlement to the Land of Palestine from this passage but this doesn’t really answer the question as to why Christian Zionists so fiercely hold to the idea of unconditional support for the Zionist State of Israel.

Christian Zionists definitely belong to the more conservative factions of the Christian faith. As such they continually berate what they have long seen as their arch nemesis in the western world. That arch nemesis is not the faith of Islam, (though it definitely comes in a close second) but is in fact the philosophy of Secular Humanism. The Secular Humanist basis of Zionism in Israel, however, doesn’t dampen the enthusiasm of Christian Zionists for a state where this secular philosophy is mandated as obligatory by the state and worship of God is optional. This despite the obvious need for Israel to obey their responsibilities to God as outlined in the covenant of the land that God made with the people of Israel at Sinai.

Some point to Eschatology, the study of the end times, as the driving force behind much of the fervour of Christian Zionists but I think that in the case of the average Christian Zionist, that analysis is still wrong.

The real answer lies in the section of scripture quoted above, “I will bless those who bless you and whoever curses you I will curse.” At its core, Christian Zionist dogmatism is based on the simple desire to avoid a curse from God and hopefully replace it with a blessing. That is, Christian Zionism is based on fear of punishment and hope for reward.

Even in churches where the graciousness of God is preached with great zeal, it is found that human nature is such that a message from the pulpit (the place of real power in the church) that evokes feelings of shame and condemnation, strikes a deeper cord, more often than not, than a message of unconditional acceptance. The latter, seemingly too good to be true, and the former, far more common and reliable in its truth. A person can give you ten compliments, but one single criticism can sting with far more intensity than the feelings of affirmation arising from the ten endorsements. The fear of punishment and hope for reward are major driving forces for Christians despite continued preaching that God unconditionally accepts us by grace. A mountain of preaching on grace can be undermined by one sermon that tells us that God’s view of us is performance oriented.

In the U.S. in particular the religious right, performance oriented concepts of salvation and acceptance by God are rife. The overwhelming majority of conservative Christians in the U.S. are Arminian in their understanding of the “free will/predestination” debate. Without doubt, the Arminian position opens itself up to a legalistic version of the faith in the majority of cases. Legalistic Christianity is hopelessly vulnerable to doctrines that encourage performing in order to gain a blessing from God and avoid a curse. The demand that the section of scripture quoted above should be interpreted such that any who oppose or even criticise the current Zionist State of Israel will be under a divine curse and those who unconditionally support the Zionists will get a blessing, zeroes right in to the shame based centre of legalistic faith.

The Christian Zionist obsession with Israel is in the main, I believe, not based on any concept of “love” for Israel that is consistent with the Bible’s idea of love. God’s love for us is unconditional, not being motivated by the fear of punishment or hope of reward. As His children and His followers, it is our destiny to love as He does. Christian Zionist “love” for Israel will evaporate in the ultimate fulfilment of our destiny.

Craig Nielsen