What’s wrong with Christian Zionism?

by Richard on July 8, 2011

One of the things that caused a fuss arising out of the Conference last year was the decision to examine the compatibility of ‘Christian Zionism’* with Methodist teaching. At the Conference this year it was reported that this examination was ongoing and we’ll have to see what the outcome of this work will be.

However, an article turned up in my twitterfeed the other day that could well save the church some work. The Institute on Religion & Democracy is a right-leaning US think tank which defines its purpose as to “lead the fight rallying Christians to champion biblical, historic Christianity and its role in democratic society, and to defeat revisionist challenges”. It takes exactly the positions you’d expect on, for example, war and marriage. Well, as I say, I came across an article from the IRD the other day headed Anti-Zionism Escalates at BPFNA Conference. (BPFNA=Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, an organisation of which the IRD clearly disapproves)

To understand what is wrong with Christian Zionism, one only needs to read the terms in which the IRD offers its criticism of the BPFNA. For example, the Baptist speaker they single out is sneered at because he used to protest the U.S. House Committee on Un-American Activities. (Who knew that McCarthyism was still alive and well?) A good part of what you need to know about what’s wrong with Christian Zionism is to be found in IRD’s defence of it:

  • the reliance on weird apocalyptic theories
  • the identification of the modern state of Israel with the Israel of the Bible
  • the zealous hatred of Islam
  • the clear links with a right-wing political ideology
  • a reliance on strange interpretations of the Bible, especially the apocalyptic material such as Daniel and Revelation

It is very significant that most of the Christian community in the Holy Land has rejected Christian Zionism explicitly. The Jerusalem Declaration of 2006 is clear

Christian Zionism is a modern theological and political movement that embraces the most extreme ideological positions of Zionism, thereby becoming detrimental to a just peace within Palestine and Israel. The Christian Zionist programme provides a worldview where the Gospel is identified with the ideology of empire, colonialism and militarism. In its extreme form, it places an emphasis on apocalyptic events leading to the end of history rather than living Christ’s love and justice today.

We categorically reject Christian Zionist doctrines as false teaching that corrupts the biblical message of love, justice and reconciliation.

A similar declaration by the Methodist Church would get my vote.

* Not to be confused with Zionism, which is a different thing.

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

1

Kim 07.08.11 at 10:36 pm

You might have added what I call its “philosemitic antisemitism”, as in said “weird” end-time scenario, Jews are ultimately expendable, pawns in the eschatological denouement, indeed unless converted, bound for hell. In turn Israelis can regard such Christian Zionists as allies only on the grounds of temporary expediency, along the lines of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend.” There is, however, another saying worth bearing in mind: “he who sups with the devil should have a long spoon.”

2

Joseph W 07.08.11 at 10:51 pm

I’m a Christian, I’m a Zionist, and I don’t see myself or most Christians I know who support Israel, in this scenario.

3

Methodist Preacher 07.08.11 at 11:27 pm

Nor me

4

Kim 07.08.11 at 11:28 pm

I’m glad to hear it, Joseph. But it’s not a caricature. Perhaps this brand of Christian Zionism is primarily an American phenomenon.

5

Tony Buglass 07.08.11 at 11:34 pm

Perhaps being a Christian who also happens to be a Zionist isn’t the same as a Christian Zionist?

6

PamBG 07.08.11 at 11:45 pm

I’m a Christian, I’m a Zionist, and I don’t see myself or most Christians I know who support Israel, in this scenario.

I expect that most Christians coming out of typical denominations, whether conservative or liberal, would not see themselves in this scenario. Which has been my whole point about “Christian Zionism” not being the same thing as “Christians who are Zionists”.

Also, there are very “Christian Zionists” (as opposed to “Christians who are Zionists” heretofore referred to as AOTCWAZ) whom I know who believe that Jewish people will be included in the coming of the Kingdom of God without first converting to Christianity.

Which is why I have not understood the sometimes zealous approval of “Christian Zionism” (AOTCWAZ) here.

The IRD represents everything that is theologically wrong with right-wing American theology. And it is NOT a small movement. I wouldn’t know how to prove it, but my bet is that there are probably more Christians who hold to IRD views in the US than there confessing Christians in the UK.

7

PamBG 07.08.11 at 11:46 pm

I meant to say above, “would NOT see themselves in this scenario”. Richard, could you edit the above post for that correction before there is another flurry of misunderstanding? Thanks.

8

Richard 07.09.11 at 12:06 am

I’ve made that change, Pam

Kim, it might be more prominent in the US, but Christian Zionism is alive and well in the UK too. I first came across it in the 80’s through a friend who joined a small church that pushed this ‘front and centre’. The right wing politics are toned down, but all the other characteristics are there, especially the obsession with “end times” stuff. And I can think of a (Methodist) chapel where the congregation has bought heavily into this agenda and there are hymns that can’t be sung there because of it. Or spend a little time watching either GodTV or Revelation TV. And look at who the major advocates of Christian Zionism are: John Hagee, Pat Robertson, Chuck Misler, Hal Lindsay, Jerry Falwell, David Pawson…

I rest my case.

9

Robert 07.09.11 at 1:36 am

There’s a lot of it in Christian Zionism, though they don’t all fit the stereotype. I do wonder how much influence the idea would have without the type of preacher you allude to giving it so much publicity.

Even without the weird apocalyptic stuff you still have the idea that the Bible is some sort of guide to current history, rather than a collection of books which were written to adress the situations their authors and editors found themselves in rather a lot of years ago. Then there’s the idea that certain things are going to happen, and then Jesus will come. That’s all too weird for me!

The identification of modern Israel with the Israel of the Bible always seems to be there.

10

PamBG 07.09.11 at 3:16 am

The identification of modern Israel with the Israel of the Bible always seems to be there.

I’d say that’s true since not equating the two seems to automatically get people angry and enraged and screaming antisemitism.

11

Bene D 07.09.11 at 8:14 am

I recall Talk2Action highlighting some of the outstanding work a chap by the name of Andrew Weaver did re: the IRD.

http://www.talk2action.org/story/2006/2/21/123844/326

12

Kim 07.09.11 at 9:01 am

The identification of modern Israel with the Israel of the Bible always seems to be there.

Yes, Robert. And that is the point that that needs to be addressed by Christians who may not be “Christian Zionists” but who yet claim to be Christians who are Zionists. To point: What is the status of “the land” for you ? Is it of continuing theological significance? Here, in very-brief, is what the New Testament has to say about the land and its future.

Jesus says nothing abut the future of the land — apart, of course, from insisting that the meek will inherit it and predicting the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple as God’s judgement on Israel.

Paul speaks of the privileges of his fellow Jews in Romans 9:4-5 — but he does not mention the land. Which is hardly surprising as, for Paul, Christ is the telos of the whole Torah. See Galatians if you need convincing that, implicitly, to insist on the restoration of the land as part of the gospel would mark one as an opponent of Paul, one who preaches “another” gospel. For Paul all the promises of Yaweh are fulfilled in Christ. Full stop.

I Peter (1:3-5 — kleronomian [inheritance] — and see 2:9-10) and Hebrews (4:1-3 — katapausin [rest]) are emphatic in claiming that Christ is the restoration of the land. And, of course, Christ is is now the Temple too.

In Revelation (21:1), the promise of the land is reconfigured as the promise of ouranon kainon kai gen kainen [a new heaven and a new land/earth].

And Acts — it has been described as the new book of Joshua, but now the land is the whole world — and the conquest is peaceful. Even James the Just, at the so-called council of Jerusalem, recognises that Israel’s national restoration finds its fulfilment in the ascended Jesus (15:15-18 - citing Amos 9:11-12 LXX!).

I shouldn’t have to add — but I will — that Christ being the telos of Torah does not entail that God is done with the Jewish people. Never! As Romans 9-11 makes absolutely clear. So no supersessionsm!

And, again, I shouldn’t have to add — but I will — that the theological assertion of the identification of the land with Jesus cannot be used to deny the present state of Israel its right to a safe and secure political existence among the family of nations.

13

Methodist Preacher 07.09.11 at 10:16 am

“* Not to be confused with Zionism, which is a different thing”

Can you explain how “Zionism” is a different “thing”?

What do you understand by Zionism?

14

Richard 07.09.11 at 10:27 am

Yes, I can. But I’m helping at a coffee morning, so you’ll have to bear withme

15

Kim 07.09.11 at 10:56 am

Can you explain how “Zionism” is a different “thing”? — i.e., different from “Christian Zionism”.

I would have thought that’s a no-brainer.

OED: “Zionism: a movement for the development and protection of a Jewish nation in Israel” [presumably a political movement for a Jewish state in that geographical area commonly known as Israel]. Is the OED, with my gloss, about right?

Rather obviously, not all Zionists are Christians (or all Christians Zionists). And evidently Christians who support the movement may be Christians who are Zionists without necessarily being “Christian Zionists”.

16

Joseph W 07.09.11 at 11:13 am

Here’s a very helpful article on Christian Zionists and Christians who are Zionists:
http://procz.wordpress.com/2010/07/05/christians-and-zion/

17

Zack 07.09.11 at 11:20 am

Not wanting to wade into a debate with you theological heavyweights as I’m more at home with the Beano than the Bible but surely as Richard pointed out ‘Christian Zionists’ bare no real relation to actually Zionists of which there are many varied strands on all sides of the political spectrum, though the ones I have met have been largely of the Left.

But they are undeniably Christians, albeit an offshoot so surely their unpleasant rightwing crackpottery is a result of their interpretation of Christianity and that is the real problem. Their position on Israel and the IP conflict is merely a sideshow and used by the various fringe elements on the margins of the conflict to support each others claims.

Surely if you wanted to seriously criticise them you should get straight to the heart of the matter which is a strain of illiberal authoritarianism which has manifested itself in Christianity and of course the other major religions throughout history.

18

PamBG 07.09.11 at 12:43 pm

But they are undeniably Christians, albeit an offshoot so surely their unpleasant rightwing crackpottery is a result of their interpretation of Christianity and that is the real problem.

Agree.

Their position on Israel and the IP conflict is merely a sideshow and used by the various fringe elements on the margins of the conflict to support each others claims.

Absolutely. “Merely a sideshow” being a very good way of putting it.

Surely if you wanted to seriously criticise them you should get straight to the heart of the matter which is a strain of illiberal authoritarianism which has manifested itself in Christianity and of course the other major religions throughout history.

I believe that The British Methodist Church has absolutely tried to do that. To the great consternation of the people who think that “sola scriptura” means something like “I am allowed to read the bible in total ignorance and apply my own understanding to it without the interference of people who have done decades of studying and who therefore are obviously disqualified by their biased and liberal scholarship.” Biblical studies seems to be one area where there is always a great groundswell of individuals who are convinced that the more you study, the less you know. Perhaps someone will come along in a minute to explain why this is.

19

Tony Buglass 07.09.11 at 7:32 pm

” …the more you study, the less you know. Perhaps someone will come along in a minute to explain why this is.”

Rather, it means that you know a lot more, but it’s the wrong stuff. The wrong stuff is head-knowledge that makes you disagree with “Me” (where “Me” is the biblical fundamentalist who doesn’t want his opinion challenged). The right stuff is obviously heart-knowledge or faith-knowledge which makes you agree with “Me.”

I do remember attending a District Candidates Committee when I was offering for the ministry, and meeting some folk whom I had met a few times at local Renewal Days, and their earnest entreaties “Don’t let them spoil your faith!” To be fair, Methodist theological colleges at the time had a reputation of being very liberal, and deconstructing evangelicals who seemed to those of us on the evangelical wing to come out of college believing very little. But I had just spent a good year at Cliff College, had seen enough of the subject to know I had to learn to read the Bible in its original languages and against its original contexts, and was pretty sure that would inform not spoil my faith. Last Thursday was the 30th anniversary of my ordination; two theology degrees and 5 circuit appointments down the road, I still reckon I was right.

20

Bob Gilston 07.09.11 at 7:51 pm

Tony - When I came back to the church in my mid thirties (I’m now in my seventies) I was fairly evangelical. I have always said that over time Methodism has knocked that out of me. Until recently I was somewhat fearful that my theology was a bit mixed up and that I wasn’t getting it right. I have to say that since reading Richard’s blog regularly I am more confident about what I believe because of the rigorous debate that goes on here.
Thanks to all of you who post here regardless of whether I agree with what you post because I believe God speaks very clearly through the debate that ensues.

21

PamBG 07.09.11 at 8:26 pm

There was a “young” man with me at theology college (”young” as in early 30s, married with children) who had his entire church praying that he would fail theology college so that he didn’t lose his faith. (”Fail”, fat chance, he’ll be a PhD and I’d bet on him to be a big influence in his generation.)

He said to me that he never expected to lose his faith but he also never expected theology college to be a profound experience of faith building and an experience of strengthened spirituality. That was also my experience of theology college. The Methodist Church required us to be in prayer groups together, much like the old “Classes”, we were required to attend Chapel once a day and we were constantly reminded that we would vow out our ordinations to pray daily.

I also want to also add here that I went to Wesley House Cambridge and that we were regularly (but not frequently) on the receiving end of verbal attacks by other Methodists with respect to our supposed liberal godlessness.

I am deeply indebted to the Methodist Church in Britain for the faith formation that I got during my Local Preachers training as well as my training in ministry. I am even more deeply grateful for the compassion, kindness and goodwill that I have encountered along the way in British Methodism. Almost to a fault, whether high church or low church, liberal or conservative theologically, individuals I have met in person have demonstrated to me their joy in Christ and the Fruit of the Spirit by their love, peace, patience, kindness, etc.

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