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Christian Zionism: The Opiate of Some People.

If ever there was a doctrine floating around the Christian world that rightly gets the tag of “opiate of the people”, it is Christian Zionism. If ever a doctrine has kept a people in a drunken “spiritual” stupor so as to blind them to the real historical and material causes of a conflict, Christian Zionism is that doctrine.

The doctrines of today’s Christian Zionism are not put together by any of the University trained  Christian teachers or theologians of any of the three major denominations of the Christian faith. So insulated from Biblical scholarship are the prophets of Christian Zionism, that they can publish books like John Hagee’s “Jerusalem Countdown” without the slightest concern for what type of critical review they might get from trained  theologians. This is because trained theologians consider books like that just mentioned to be basically a joke in so far as their attempts at Biblical exegesis go as well as the fact that the leaders of the Christian Zionist movement generally consider trained theologians to be the enemy.

Many conservative evangelicals and Pentecostals have an innate distrust of the formal academic study of theology. They fear that such study will undermine their simple “child like” faith in God’s word and turn them into cloistered academics who no longer love Jesus. They consider many of the mainstream theological colleges and seminaries to be hopelessly liberalized and hence demonic. They generally take the words of “mega pastors” to be inspired almost on a similar level to scripture. These Pastors have concocted a parallel reality for their flock with regards to the telling of history, science, politics, economics and religion. This parallel reality is drummed into the faithful unerringly.

The reality that the rest of us deal with is pure delusion in their eyes. Trying to have any reasonable dialogue with such believers takes patience to say the least. Most trained theologians seem to prefer to stay out of the firing line of the culture wars that rage through the west, particularly in the U.S., until the last minute. A few scholars have, however, started to stand up and be counted in the debate that Christian Zionism has created in the Christian church. Stephen Sizer has probably been the most active with a number of books on the subject being written by him. The prolific scholar N.T. Wright and Professor of New Testament at Wheaton College, Gary Burge have also joined the fray to some degree.

A few comments from them will suffice. Gary Burge says of Christian Zionism that:

“No New Testament scholar has written in its defense. Its advocacy groups such as Christians United for Israel and Camera, are generally run by political activists. Its books come from the pens of popular television preachers or lobbyists. I have been invited to debate some of their leaders and find myself with people who have no training in theology. How can such a widespread movement in the Church be successful without a thoughtful theological undergirding?” (2010,  p. 123)

The Anglican Bible scholar N.T. Wright says of Christian Zionism that it is:  “the geographical equivalent of a soi-disant  ‘Christian’ apartheid, and ought to be rejected as such.” (1994,  p 53 – 77)  and more recently he added in a discussion of eschatology:

“For some, alas, the very phrase ‘second coming’, and even perhaps the word ‘eschatology’ itself, conjures up visions of the ‘rapture’ as understood within some branches of (mostly North American) fundamentalist or evangelical Christianity, and as set out, at a popular level, in the ‘Left Behind’ series of novels by Tim F. LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, and the theology, if you can call it that, which those books embody. That scheme of thought, ironically considering its fanatical though bizarre support for the present state of Israel, is actually deeply un-Jewish, collapsing into a dualism in which the present wicked world is left to stew in its own juice while the saints are snatched up to heaven to watch Armageddon from a ringside seat” (Paul: Fresh Perspectives, 2005, p. 141).

References:

Wright, N.T. (2005). Paul: Fresh Perspectives. First Fortress Press. MN, U.S.A.

Burge, G. (2010). Jesus and the Land:  The New Testament Challenge to “Holy Land” Theology. Baker Academics, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Wright, N.T. (1994). Jerusalem Past and Present in the Purposes of God. Baker Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan

Craig Nielsen

ACTION FOR PALESTINE

No Biblical basis for Unconditional support of the Zionist State of Israel

A theme that runs right through both Old and New Testaments of the Bible is that the gracious promises of God are not there to inspire us to act with arrogance, considering ourselves to be more worthy of God’s favour than others once we have made the initial step of acknowledging the mercy of the Almighty or to endow us with a sense of entitlement that gives license to indulge ourselves in our own personal agendas regardless of who we hurt in the process. The words of John the Baptist should ring loudly in the ears of those who wave Israeli flags at evangelical gatherings:

“Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our Father”. For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham “(Luke 3:8).

Here John the Baptist is simply repeating a major theme of scripture, that is,  claims of unconditional favour and support by God for Jewish people simply on the basis of their lineage to Abraham are invalid. Simply being Abraham’s descendant does not give any Israelite an entitlement to God’s blessing and escape the ethical requirements of God’s covenental relationship with the Jewish people. This theme holds particularly to the concept of the promises of land to the Jewish people. In chapter 8 of the Gospel of John, Jesus confronts His fellow Jews who also believe they have a privileged position with God due to their status as Abraham’s descendants, but Jesus rebukes them as well.

Jewish territorial theology can either be a blessing (for those who understand that God’s promises require humility and patience in waiting upon the Lord), or a curse (as in the case of those who see those promises as a justification for selfishness and the brutal grasping of what they see as their own personal entitlement).

Christian Zionists see only the promises of God to give the land to Israel and ignore the ethical demands that are inextricably linked to those very promises. Hence they see no need to criticize the Zionists unethical pattern of acquiring more and more territory in Israel-Palestine. But scripture tells a completely different story. The prophets Isaiah, Micah and Ezekiel condemn the actions of those who use the promise of land to dispossess the Jewish or Gentile inhabitants of the land:

“Woe to you who join house to house, who add field to field, until their is room for no one but you and you are alone living in the midst of the land.” (Isa 5:8)

“Woe to you…who covet fields and seize them, houses and take them away, who oppress householder and house, people and inheritance” (Mic 2:1-3)

““You are to distribute the land among yourselves according to the tribes of Israel. You are to allot it as an inheritance for yourselves and for the aliens who have settled among you and who have children. You are to consider them as native-born Israelites; along with you they are to be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel. In whatever tribe the alien settles, there you are to give him his inheritance,” declares the Sovereign Lord” (Ezekiel 47:22-23 )

A good case in point regarding the proper understanding of God’s gracious promises comes in the case of the birth of Isaac, the son of Abraham and Sarah that was promised to Abraham by God. As the story is told in the book of Genesis, Sarah was barren and Abraham had no heir and no one to pass on his name. Though in their nineties, God promised a son to the elderly couple but in verse after verse of the Old Testament scriptures we see how Abraham foolishly tried to grasp at this promise (even sleeping with his wife’s maidservant Hagar), causing no end of pain and misery to everyone in the process. But the promises of God can not be obtained by the selfish and greedy attempts of humanity but must be waited for with patience and faith. So too the promises with regards the land of Canaan. Just as Abraham could not force the promises for a son to become a reality, so the Jewish people can not take it into their own hands to take the land of Canaan for their own purposes. The land is not theirs, it is God’s land. They are His tenants (Lev 25:23)

In the book of Genesis we see Abraham willing (quite disturbingly to our modern minds) to give his only son to the Lord rather than disobey the Lord’s command even though the boy was promised to Abraham by that very same word. So too Israel’s connection to the land can only come when it is accompanied by obedience to God. Obedience to God’s ethical responsibilities in the land trumps mere possession of the territory itself.

The Christian Zionist position regarding the current Zionist state of Israel lacks the support of any rigorous Bible study. Professor of New Testament at Wheaton College states that with regard to Christian Zionism:

“No New Testament scholar has written in its defense. Its advocacy groups such as Christians United for Israel and Camera, are generally run by political activists. Its books come from the pens of popular television preachers or lobbyists. I have been invited to debate some of their leaders and find myself with people who have no training in theology. How can such a widespread movement in the Church be successful without a thoughtful theological undergirding?” (2010,  p. 123)

The Anglican Bible scholar N.T. Wright says of Christian Zionism that it is:

” the geographical equivalent of a soi-disant  ‘Christian’ apartheid, and ought to be rejected as such.” (1994,  p 53 – 77)

Christian Zionist theology cannot be taken seriously. To unconditionally support the Zionist state of Israel on some imagined Biblical grounds is pure heresy in both Christian and Jewish tradition.

References:

Burge, G. (2010). Jesus and the Land:  The New Testament Challenge to “Holy Land” Theology. Baker Academics, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Wright, N.T. (1994). Jerusalem Past and Present in the Purposes of God. Baker Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan

Craig Nielsen

ACTION FOR PALESTINE


Israel-Palestine: A Christian Response to the Conflict

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