Christian Zionism

A few months ago Dave over at Not The Religious Type wrote a post titled Your Thoughts on Christian Zionism?.. I have been thinking about it off and on since then. Here are a few excerpts from Dave's post:
Christian Zionism, most think, started with a man named John Nelson Darby, who created Christian Dispensationalism in the late 1800s.  It was popularized by the Scofield Study Bible, which had a massive influence on the development of Christian Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism.

Regarding Christian Zionism, it effectively points to verses that say that God can only bless people who bless Israel, which gets interpreted as "modern-day Jews living within the biblical boundaries of Israel."  It can get pretty in-depth, pushing for the construction of a third temple, for instance.  It can, in some strains, get pretty heavy: some strains argue that conversion of Jews to Jesus isn't necessary, since they're operating on a separate covenant.  However, in the final battles of the last days, most Jews will be wiped out.  (Again, this is only in some strains of dispensationalism.)  The upshot is that Christians are absolutely commanded to support modern-day, political Israel down the line.
That last sentence caught my attention.. I once attended a congregation who embraced that idea.. in essence to go against Israel was to go against God. I recently received a viral email forward from a friend and responded by saying:
I support Israel because they are an ally and a free nation but not because I see them as God’s chosen people.
I guess that is where I have a concern about Christian Zionism. I think that seeing a secular and culturally religious country as an embodiment of the spiritual seed of Abraham flies in the face of the messianic prophetic scriptures that were, in my opinion, filled in Jesus. I thought that John Kim had a good response to Dave's post.. here is an excerpt:
I find Christian Zionism incomplete and dangerous as it chooses sides in a battle where I struggle mightily to see the moral highground. If I were to summarize the conflict here in the brief context of a blog comment, I would cite a quote (I believe from Richard Rohr)- that "Pain that is not transformed is transmitted." There is no denying that both Jews and Muslims have suffered mightily in the hands of the other, and there is little to be gained in debating who has had the rougher go. Unless that pain is transformed, the transmittal back and forth will continue unabated. The question of how to resolve this goes to the heart of how one perceives the Gospel and what it means for God to be incarnate. Needless to say, I don't think Christian Zionism embodies this particularly well.
Lastly I feel a need to issue a caveat.. I may be wrong in my perspective.. many of my friends hold a Zionist point of view.. and many of them have studied this issue more than I have.. I hope that they will read what I have written and respond to it in a helpful way. I am open to discussing the issue and would love to hear what you think.

12 comments:

  1. Like anything, "Christian Zionism" can mean many things to many people. I believe the greater danger is the negative reaction to the more extreme cz positions that results in embracing replacement theology. This is a subject that is probably beyond the scope of a few blog comments, but one passage of scripture comes to mind as a biblical boundary for our thinking.

    From Romans 11:
    Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them. For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches. But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, "Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in." That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.

    Some would say that the church has replaced Israel in His redemptive plan, and that He is basically done with them. They are just one people group among many. Based on Paul's words to the Roman church, and the long list of God's "eternal" promises to the Jewish people, I would find that a genuninely dangerous position.

    "They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you."

    Thats a sober warning.

    Loving the Jewish people, and believing that the miraculous resurrection of the state of Israel is part of God's ongoing redemptive purpose does not mean that we have to support or agree with everything they do as a political entity in the world we live in. I believe that love for God and His people calls us to pray for their nation and its leaders, just as we pray for our own.

    One side note. If any other nation was surrounded by countries who openly state their desire to completely annihilate them from the face of the earth, would there be a serious debate as to whether we should support them?

    Blessings.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks so much for the response Brian. A mutual friend of ours writes this about Romans 11:

    "Paul is here painting a word picture that captures the essence of God's Big God-Story. In God's economy of his historical callings and dealings with humanity...there is essentially one dominant and everlasting covenant (the rich, ancient and well-planted "olive tree") that he has made with us...though there are nuances and admittedly surprising and progressive features to its outworking over the centuries. This belief is grounded in the way that Jesus and his apostles authoritatively rehearsed, interpreted and utilized Old Testament scripture. The covenant that God cut with Abraham...a non-Jew and the father of true faith...is central to this paradigm. Certainly the Law that God gave through Moses can be viewed as another "covenant", but our understanding of its purposes must be nested into the larger "Abrahamic" meta-narrative of redemption. (Galatians 3 and 4 deal with this head on...as does Romans 4.) This also holds true for our understanding of "covenants" that God made with Adam (in the original creation mandate), Noah (in the aftermath of the flood and reaffirmation of the creation mandate) and David (in God's promise to have one of his "sons" sit on his throne forever)."

    I like the idea that there is "essentially one dominant and everlasting covenant". It is not replacement theology - just an understanding that His covenant and his blessing is available to all.. always has been even when one nation claimed exclusive right to it.

    ReplyDelete
  3. As a regular reader of the OT, it is difficult for me to comprehend a God who does not hold a special place in his heart for Israel.

    But when I think of Israel, it is not a place (and certainly not a country) but a people who live faithfully to these words: Hear O Isreal, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.

    ReplyDelete
  4. A FB friend shared John Piper's thoughts on the topic.. here is an excerpt:

    "But neither of these Biblical facts leads necessarily to the endorsement of present-day Israel as the rightful possessor of all the disputed land. Israel may have such a right. And she may not. But that decision is not based on divine privilege. Why?

    First, a non-covenant-keeping people does not have a divine right to hold the land of promise. Both the blessed status of the people and the privileged right to the land are conditional on Israel's keeping the covenant God made with her. Thus God said to Israel, "If you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples" (Exodus 19:5). Israel has no warrant to a present experience of divine privilege when she is not keeping covenant with God."

    ReplyDelete
  5. Yeah when I think of Israel, religiously/biblically, I don't think of the current political state. I can't understand my brothers and sisters that do. I would however agree with the notion that the first commenter put forth

    "If any other nation was surrounded by countries who openly state their desire to completely annihilate them from the face of the earth, would there be a serious debate as to whether we should support them?"

    This I can get behind. So I'm definitely not Zionist, but in a sense I am pro-Israel.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I really don't want to be argumentative, but I am not sure I would totally agree with his take on this. (and perhaps I just don't clearly understand some of what he wrote.) The redemptive plan did not unfold with all of mankind. It was specifically revealed through the Jewish people. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul said this to the gentile believers regarding their state prior to their salvation, "...remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called "the uncircumcision" by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands-- remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ." He goes on to talk about the spiritual formation of "one new man" out of the two. There was an olive tree called Israel, the people of God. A new covenant was made at the cross, and this new covenant was revealed as inviting the gentiles into full partnership in the purpose of God. All of mankind could now become part of the people of God. That revelation actually came a while after the redemptive acts of the death and resurrection of Jesus had taken place. This whole thing was initially perceived as simply a new covenant with the Jewish people. Peter had to have a dramatic spiritual experience to unveil the reality that God was openly welcoming the gentile peoples into His family.
    There can only be a new covenant if there was an old covenant. Otherwise it would simply be "the covenant." The new covenant is the next step in the redemptive plan that has been unfolding for thousands of years. I don't mean for that to demean the awesomeness of the new covenant in any way. It is THE plan. The capstone, the crown jewel. Everything that preceded it was simply preparation for the redemption that Jesus provided at the cross. But its not a new and different plan that replaces the old one. It is the next step in the same plan. God didn't "use" the Jews for a few thousand years, and then toss them aside when it was time to start a new plan.
    But the Jewish people weren't chosen because God somehow liked them better than everyone else. He simply, sovereignly chose them to be a vessel of blessing to all of mankind as the means by which He would reveal His plan and purpose. But, we can't rewrite history and say that the covenants God made with Israel were really with all of us. Their ultimate purpose was for the blessing of all peoples, "In you all the nations of the earth will be blessed", but, God made specific promises to Israel, the Jewish people, as part of the unfolding of His plan for the nations. Eternal promises to a specific people. God called them eternal promises. And Paul's warning in Romans 11 was not simply that we ourselves could be cut off from God's purposes if we fall away in the same way that much of Israel did. He very specifically warned the gentile members of the Roman church against arrogance toward the Jewish members. Drawing principles out of the scripture is a good thing, but we have to be careful that we don't forget the specific application as we glean the enduring principle.

    to be continued...

    ReplyDelete
  7. "I like the idea that there is "essentially one dominant and everlasting covenant". It is not replacement theology - just an understanding that His covenant and his blessing is available to all.. always has been even when one nation claimed exclusive right to it." The new covenant is the "dominant and everlasting covenant." No doubt about it. Its the big one. But, again, God made several promises to Israel that He also called eternal. And that last phrase, "just an understanding that His covenant and his blessing is available to all.. always has been even when one nation claimed exclusive right to it" has a funny ring to it. God was the One who chose Israel. The only reason they claimed an exclusive right to it was that God set them apart from the other nations and made specific promises to them. He revealed Himself and His relationship to them as something unique in the earth. When the time came in the book of Acts for the door to swing open to the gentiles, the Jewish leaders of the church said, "Amen" and joyfully embraced the revealed plan of God. "Even when one nation claimed exclusive right to it" sounds a little bit like God gave them a cookie, God wanted them to share it with the gentile neighbors next door, and they wanted to keep it for themselves. I don't think that is a fair analysis of the biblical narrative. Did the Jews become arrogant toward the gentiles? You bet they did. They were fallen human beings, full of pride and fear, just like the rest of us. But they saw themselves as uniquely set apart unto God because that is the scenario He revealed to them at the time, and nothing was revealed to change that until Jesus came. Well, actually it was after Jesus came, died, was resurrected, and returned to His throne in heaven. I wonder why He didn't announce with His own mouth to His disciples, before His ascension, that the gentiles were being brought into the family? In Acts 1, they asked Him, "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" They were still looking for a conquering king. He didn't bother to correct that expectation, or take a moment to tell them about the gentile thing. He simply said, "It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." Do you ever wonder why He didn't clear up a few things like that between the resurrection and the ascension?

    Anyway...

    Why do I even care about this? Replacement theology is an accusation against the faithfulness of God. He makes promises He doesn't keep. He uses people and then casts them aside when He is finished with them. I will not make those accusations.
    Jesus was a Jewish man. He is a coming back as a Jewish man. And as the remainder of His redemptive plan unfolds (we are still in the middle of the story), the Jewish people have a specific role to play. I don't want to be found in a place of arrogance toward the olive tree into which I have been grafted. I am thankful for all that the Jews have endured through history to be the people of God by which He revealed His plan of redemption. I love my Jewish brethren, and want them to receive the fulness of their inheritance according to the promises of scripture.

    I need to get some work done.

    Blessings.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Thx for the response Brian - I agree that an argument is not something to be desired. Of course I think that most of what you write is about spiritual, not secular/cultural/ethnic, Israel. And I can understand where you are coming from as long as you are not saying that Israelites can be saved apart from Jesus.

    On this we certainly agree..

    "I love my Jewish brethren, and want them to receive the fulness of their inheritance according to the promises of scripture."

    ..as long as we are speaking of the promises fulfilled in the NT.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Another thought Brian about..

    "Replacement theology is an accusation against the faithfulness of God. He makes promises He doesn't keep. He uses people and then casts them aside when He is finished with them."

    ..I think that God kept those promises to Israel in the birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus. Is there a promise that Jesus did not fulfill? But I may not be understanding what you were trying to say?

    ReplyDelete
  10. Replacement theology says that God is done with Israel, and the church has replaced them in God's plan. Its true, the most important promises were fulfilled in Jesus' first trip here. Without personal redemption we are all in big trouble. But, He isn't done with the earth. There is more. His kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, ruling and reigning for a thousand years from Jerusalem. There is a whole lot more to the story. Every knee will bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord. This story is far from over.

    As far as the church goes, I believe the more accurate description of God's perspective is in the grafting picture. Israel was provided a new covenant, and we as gentiles were invited to participate. Again, you have to look at the progression of the NT narrative. In this setting we may be talking semantics, but replacement theology can lead to anti-semitism. Look at Martin Luther.

    As far as the land goes, I am no expert on the subject. What I have read leaves me believing that it is God's desire to give them that land as a part of their inheritance. I don't have all the facts at hand, but I personally believe that the Jews have a right to live in the state of Israel as their homeland, both legally and spiritually. And I believe that the Lord has brought them back to the land as part of His unfolding eshcatalogical purposes.

    I don't buy Dr. Piper's disobedience argument, because their is a significant community of orthodox Jews that are very intense in their pursuit of living according to the law. It won't save them, but they are seeking to walk in obedience to their part of the convenant. The one thing they simply can't do is perform the temple service, for obvious reasons. Based on Abrahams intercessory negotiations with God over Sodom, I don't think that God requires 100% of the people to be in 100% obedience in order to fulfill the covenant requirements. He knew that was never going to happen in this age, and that sort of requirement would make His promise disengenous. Would God like to have full obedience from all the people? Of course He would. But to promise the land to the people on that basis would hardly be fair. Even within the law the sacrificial system made provision for the fact that God knew His people would not walk in full obedience. And what about all the Messianic Jewish believers that are living in the land? Are they not a righteous remnant?

    cont'd below

    ReplyDelete
  11. Now the LORD said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." So Abram went, as the LORD had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother's son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan. When they came to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, "To your offspring I will give this land." So he built there an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him.
    (Gen 12:1-7)

    There were no conditions on the original promise to Abram. Ishmael is also his child, but the Jew's are not the ones trying to drive the Arabs into the sea. They do strike back with a vengeance when they are attacked, but have you don't often hear of an Israeli suicide bomber. I would never endorse everything they do in their own "war on terror", but I also couldn't deny them the right to defend themselves. It would be awesome if they would just pray and the Lord would send angels to fight the terrorists, but I don't know if that is even biblical in light of the OT stories of God's deliverance from their enemies. When the nation of Israel was established, the Jews were desirous of a peaceful co-existence with their Arab neighbors, both within the nation and around it. From the beginning, the Arab nations would have nothing to do with that. The same spirit that motivated Hitler was alive and well in the Middle East. The Palestinians have been hapless pawns in the war games of the nations that surround Israel. If Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Iran, and all the rest were really concerned with the plight of the Palestinians, they would welcome them into their own countries so they wouldn't have to live around those awful Jews. They have plenty of money and plenty of space. The poor Palestinian people are simply weapons of war. Reality is that the Arab peoples have been taught to hate the Jews in a way that we can't comprehend from the comfortable suburbs of middle class America. Peaceful coexistence is not an option for them. The daily news makes that more clear every day.

    Much of this discussion depends on what school of eschatology you buy into. If we are not on the same page there, we are probably going to end up agreeing to disagree. And for now, thats okay. As the plan continues to unfold, we will all eventually land on the same page with Him. One day the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world will return as the Lion of Judah, and He will settle this whole mess once and for all.

    Come Lord Jesus!

    And thats about all I have time for.

    Blessings.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I will have to reread your comments when I have time Brian but my first reaction is thinking that you feel that the Abrahamic promise is to ethnic/cultural/secular Israel. What do you do with Jesus telling the Jews that God could raise up children of Abraham from the rocks (MT 3:9)? Seems that Jesus was not impressed with ethnicity? Again I may be reading too much into what you are commenting?

    ReplyDelete

I love to get comments and usually respond. So come back to see my reply. You can click here to see my comment policy.