A couple weeks back I posted the link to this in “The-Ologys”, but after re-reading it tonight decided to post it in (2) parts on the front page: I believe its an important article and message.
From Monergism: The Threat of Christian Zionism by Nathan Pitchford
If the phenomenal success of the bestselling Left Behind series indicates anything about the prevailing eschatological mindset across a wide swath of the evangelical landscape in modern America, then we would do well to pause and consider.
Where is this fascination with the sensational, and frequently outright bizarre, interpretation of the significance of current events coming from? What is driving the obsession to see end-time prophetic events transpiring in every headline? What connection does this mindset have with the implacable opposition to any measure taken for peace in the Middle East which would leave the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, the West Bank, or any part of Jerusalem outside of the complete control of the modern state of Israel? More importantly, what ideologies, theological convictions, or ways of understanding the bible lie beneath these phenomena, and how much of an impact are they having on the theological moorings of the Church today? I suspect that the impact is significant enough to warrant a strong warning statement about the movement known as Christian Zionism, and the hyper-Dispensationalism which drives it, from the leaders of the evangelical Church.
Unfortunately, however, it has not received the united front of resistance with which other threats to the health of the Church have been met with, such as Openness theology and gender-role confusion. Is this because many Evangelical leaders share enough theological convictions in common with the more extreme examples of the movement that they are loathe to give a clear denunciation? Or do they simply not perceive the errors as being a significant or widespread enough a danger to warrant the time and effort of a thoroughgoing rebuttal? Whatever the reason, there seems to be a general lack of attentiveness to a very rampant problem in Evangelicalism. Perhaps it is time to make clear just what Christian Zionism is (as well as all its theological bedfellows), what convictions are driving it, and what results it is tending towards in the thoughts and practice of the contemporary believer.
What is Christian Zionism?
Simply speaking, Christian Zionism is support for the Jewish movement to regain possession of their ancient homeland, which derives from a Christian theology and understanding of the Bible. In the most basic of terms, this Christian theological support comes from a literalistic reading of such passages as Genesis 13:14-15, where God promises to Abraham, “All the land which you see, I will give it to you and to your seed forever”. When this motif is conflated with such passages as Genesis 12:3 [spoken to Abraham], “And I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse the one who curses you…”; and Joel 3:2, “And I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat, and I will judge them there because of my people, even my heritage, Israel, because they scattered them among the nations and because they divided my land”; the obvious implication is that, anyone who fails to support modern Israel in all her struggles with her various enemies, or anyone who approves of a treaty by which the boundaries first promised to Abraham are divided between Israel and her neighbors, will be under God’s curse, and the object of his eschatological judgment. The glaring problem with this simplistic reasoning, of course, is that it fails to take into account the biblical qualification as to who is intended by Abraham’s “Seed,” and what is indicated by the land which he was promised (for the former, see Galatians 3:16; 3:28-29; Romans 4:11-17; for the latter, see Galatians 4:26; Hebrews 11:9-10; 12:22-24).
Of course, if there were only a handful of minor passages that this understanding affected, it would be somewhat inflammatory to call it dangerous, or even severely misguided. But the simple fact is that it affects one’s interpretation of a whole class of prophecies. For example, consider the following prognostication, involving a broad range of scriptural testimonies:
The situation in Lebanon portends that Israel may soon be involved in another war. Now that Israel has withdrawn from the buffer zone in south Lebanon, the situation may quickly escalate to military confrontation with Syria. There are a number of Bible prophecies that may be speaking of the situation just ahead. It’s important to have an understanding of these because fulfilled prophecy is one of the most powerful proofs of the veracity of the Bible. God has revealed the significant details of His plan for human history before they happen. This prophecy regarding the destruction of Damascus could occur very very soon, and we will be able to point to it as yet another evidence that the Bible is absolutely reliable, and that the things that God has spoken will soon take place.
Here is an outline of how I understand it:
The war will include Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and the Palestinians.
Syria – Isaiah 17:1, Zechariah 9:1 Zechariah 11:2-3, Jeremiah 49:23-25
Lebanon – Zechariah 11:1 Zechariah 9:2-4
“Palestine” – Isaiah 17:3 Zechariah 9:5 Zephaniah 2:5 Ezekiel 25:15-17 Isaiah 14:31-32
Jordan – Isaiah 17:2 (Aroer) Zephaniah 2:8-9 (Ammon)
Damascus will be utterly annihilated. Isaiah 17:1 Jeremiah 49:23-27 The extent of the destructions hints that nuclear weapons may be involved; how else would an entire modern city “cease to be a city”?
The Palestinians will join the Syrians and foolishly make a grab for territory. They will see the obliteration of their ally Damascus and “writhe in anguish.” “The king will perish from Gaza” – Gaza is the place where Arafat’s headquarters are. Zechariah 9:1,5 “I will eliminate the pride of the Philistines.” Zechariah 9:6
Lebanon, Syria, and perhaps Jordan will burn. Zechariah 11:1-3
As a result of Israel’s destruction of Damascus, their national status will become emaciated because of intense international condemnation and outrage. Isaiah 17:4,12
These circumstances will compel Israel to begin looking to the Lord. Isaiah 17:7
Possibly, as a result of this war, Israel will obtain large portions of territory from Lebanon, Syria and Jordan (land that had been promised to them by God.) Zechariah 10:9-10 Jeremiah 49:1-2 Isaiah 54:2-3 Obadiah 1:19-20 (Bob Westbrook) [http://www.trumpetsounds.com/horizon.html].
This is just one example of many that could have been cited. This forecast has obviously been framed on the basis of the author’s interpretation of a wide selection of biblical prophecies. His understanding of Israel’s contemporary political significance does not come from a few isolated passages, but is part and parcel of an entire worldview supported by his interpretation of a wide spectrum of the biblical testimony. So if he is wrong at all, he is wrong in a way that affects his understanding of a great many passages of scripture. Even apart from the inherent dangers in becoming unhealthily absorbed in finding the next fulfilled prophecy in every headline, or in the possibility of a wrong hermeneutic leading to a truly aberrant theology, this point raises the stakes on its own terms. Assuming that each of these passages does have a legitimate meaning and application which is vital for the believer’s continuing growth in grace, it becomes a problem of no little import when they are wrested from their original intent in order to buttress one’s pet theories. In other words, the problem is not merely positive, in asserting things that are not true and helpful; it is also negative, in circumventing those things which ought to be derived from all the passages in question, and which would have much fruitful impact in a Christian’s life.
The Christian Zionist movement is also dangerous for another reason: not only does it involve one’s understanding of a large percentage of the scriptures, but it also affects a large percentage of American Christianity. This is not a fringe movement, even in its more extreme varieties, but is embraced by a wide selection of Christians from various denominations within Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism. Nor is it just in vogue among the unlearned and uninfluential masses, but it also has a voice among the religiously and politically powerful. Christian Zionists not only have a great capacity to influence the thinking of the Church, they also have a significant pull in Washington D.C. And if the decisions for which they are lobbying are supported by a faulty premise, there may well be unwise and uninformed choices made in politics on an international level, and with disastrous results. There is a tragic possibility that many of the war prophecies which the Christian Zionists are awaiting may prove to be self-fulfilling, as the contingency which predicts them obstinately opposes any Middle East peace treaties which involve any compromise, with a voice powerful enough to be heard in Washington and Jerusalem.
As a case in point, consider John Hagee, one of the most influential Christian Zionists in America today. Hagee pastors Cornerstone Church, in San Antonio, Texas, which is one of the largest churches in America, with some 18,000 active members. He is the author of several bestselling books, including The Beginning of the End, Final Dawn over Jerusalem, and most recently, the controversial In Defense of Israel. He is the CEO of John Hagee Ministries and Global Evangelism Television, both massive non-profit enterprises providing him with a voice on numerous radio and television networks, and he is also the founder and national chairman of Christians United for Israel, the most influential Christian Zionist organization in America. In addition to the ability he has to influence the popular opinion of millions of people across the world, he also has not a little political clout, which has been felt most recently in his endorsement of John McCain in his candidacy for the White House. This political presence is felt quite strongly in Israel, as Israeli journalist and Christian Zionist expert Gersham Gorenberg noted in the September 18, 2006 episode of the radio talk show “Fresh Air”:
[The Christian Zionists’] clout is in their impact on the politics of the United States, which is Israel’s key strategic ally. To the extent that they can affect the Congress and the administration’s attitude toward diplomacy, toward military action in the Middle East, they have a very strong effect on what happens to Israel. If they can push the American administration away from diplomatic effort towards peace because of the so-called “danger” that Israel would give up land, if they can express support for military moves rather than diplomatic moves, they will have a strong effect on what happens to Israel. And therefore, their support and their lobbying activity and their political activism is encouraged by Israeli politicians on the far right [http://www.jewsonfirst.org/06c/hagee_fresh_air.pdf].
This puts the whole movement in the unusual situation of having much influence both politically, in matters of international diplomacy, and religiously, in the doctrine and practice of the worldwide Evangelical church. If for no other reason than that, therefore, it would certainly behoove the leaders of Christianity which do not share the same belief system to develop a united and comprehensive response to Christian Zionism and the ideology which drives it.
What Are the Driving Factors Behind Christian Zionism?
The answer to the question, “What factors drive the beliefs and activities of the Christian Zionists?” has a theological and a psychological side. Theologically, the whole impetus of the movement derives from the one true sine qua non of Dispensational theology: the belief in two distinct peoples of God, ethnic Israel and the Church. If believing Gentiles have been grafted into the good olive tree which springs from the root of the patriarchs (Romans 11:13-24), so that they are now Abraham’s seed (Romans 4:11, 16-17; Galatians 3:6-7), heirs of the promises made to Abraham (Galatians 3:28-29; Ephesians 3:6), one body in which there is no further distinction between Jew and Gentile (Ephesians 2:11-21; Galatians 3:28), then the modern state of Israel has no more divine right to extend its political influence than any other of its neighbor states. The disputes between her and her enemies should be resolved by the Christian virtues of equity, justice, etc., that ought to characterize all the nations which God has made and placed within their respective boundaries. The various states of the Middle East will finally be judged on the basis of their cruelty, pride, and so on, Israel as well as Palestine, Jordan, and all the rest; and any nation involved in arbitration between them would do well to consider the various dynamics of the current situation without resorting to the idea that one of them possesses a divinely-written title to all the land from the Nile to the Euphrates. But if one of those nations does in fact possess that divine right, then one’s obligation is simply to drive all other nations out, so that the divinely appointed possessor might have unswayed dominion. So then, one’s theology has a necessary impact on the questions surrounding the Middle East tensions: Is God starting to fulfill his old promise to curse all who are opposed to Abraham’s ethnic descendants, and to drive all the nations except Israel out of their promised land? If so, then to support any peace treaty in the Middle East which leaves any nation but Israel in the Middle East would be to struggle against God himself, and would be tantamount to siding with the Canaanites when Joshua first crossed the Jordan. Are the Christian Zionists then the derided and misunderstood Rahab of our times, seeing God’s purpose and casting in their lot with God’s people?
On the other hand, if God is fulfilling his promise made to Abraham by calling out persons from every nation to be his children by faith, and preparing them to inherit, not just the promised land, but the whole earth, and the New Jerusalem of which they are citizens even now (Matthew 5:5; Galatians 4:25-26; Revelation 21:1-4), then one can best throw in his lot with God’s people by laboring to bring children of every nationality in to his kingdom, which has now exploded beyond the bounds of the Middle East, and soon promises to change the entire world, when the redemption of God reaches its consummation and the Davidic King returns in all his glory. Although ethnic Israel still retains a special place in God’s redemptive design, being the nation to whom he first gave his grace and promise and covenant, and though we might with firm biblical conviction labor to see the ethnic Jewish people enjoy the blessings that God has irrevocably covenanted to give them, and continues to give to a remnant of grace within their ranks (Romans 11); yet, it would be a tragic step backwards to labor to reserve for them all the old shadow-blessings of a typical strip of this still-cursed earth, when the remnant of grace has entered into the true inheritance of Christ, and awaits an entire new and glorious earth, that “city which has foundations” (Hebrews 11:10, 14-16), which all of Abraham’s true seed by faith will inherit.
The practical outworkings of this two-people theology have an immense psychological effect among those committed to laboring for God’s redemptive ends. According to Dispensational theology, God’s last prophetic purposes will revert back to the political and geographical designs he has for his earthly people, national Israel. The end of the world will come about with the fulfillment of a host of prophecies relative to the modern state of Israel, and if one has a discerning eye, he can see how God is already setting the stage to fulfill these prophecies. Since all Christians are aware that this world does not constitute the end of all God’s redemptive designs, but that a new and much better world is coming; and since they are all vexed with the trouble and vanity of the modern world, and long to see their inheritance arrive; they will naturally be interested in doing whatever they can to “wait for and hasten the appearing of the day of God” [2 Peter 3:12]. So then, if one’s eschatology involves a reversion to a geo-political program for a national people of God, then seeing that earthly end coming to fruition will constitute the fuel and motivation for a sincere Christian’s strivings to labor for the Lord, and enter into his rest.
The Dispensational idea of an imminent rapture of the Church also plays into this motivation to be absorbed in the political situation in the Middle East, as a sign of the end times. Since an imminent event cannot be preceded by signs, many Christian Zionists introduce the technical distinction that none of the prophecies of the end times can be fulfilled until after the Church has been raptured. This means that, as the stage for the fulfillment of end-time events is set more minutely, and the forces which will lead to the Apocalypse begin to appear on the scene, the likelihood of an approaching rapture becomes increasingly greater, since none of the things that are presumably about to happen possibly can happen with the Church still on the earth. For instance, consider the following statement by John Hagee:
In May 1948 Israel was reborn. How many of you were alive on
May 15, 1948? It was the most important prophetic day of the 20th century. Why?
Because Jesus said in Matthew 24:32 `when you see the fig tree–national
Israel–begin to bloom again, know that my coming is nigh at the door. Behold,
one generation will not pass away until all things are fulfilled.’ We are
racing towards the end of time. We are not living in the last days. We’re not
living in the last hours. We’re living in the last minutes of the dispensation
of grace. In 1967 the six-day war united Jerusalem under Jewish control. Why is
that important? Because the gospel of Luke says when Jerusalem is no longer
trodden down by the gentiles, then shall the end come. The Bible says when the
Lord builds up Jerusalem, when he builds up Zion, he will appear in all of his
glory. So the Bible is screaming, when you see Jerusalem united, when you see
it beautified, when you see it built up, the Messiah is coming. And when you
see these signs in the heavens and the sun, the moon and the stars and the
waves of the oceans that are roaring, what did God say? He said `Lift up your
heads and rejoice! Your redemption draws nigh.’ I want you to do it,
Cornerstone. Rejoice! The King of Glory is on the way [http://www.jewsonfirst.org/06c/hagee_fresh_air.pdf].
Or else this assertion from noted Dispensationalist John Walvoord, from his book Oil, Armageddon, and the Middle East Crisis:
But if there are no signs for the Rapture itself, what are the legitimate grounds for believing that the Rapture could be especially near of this generation?
The answer is not found in any prophetic events predicted before the Rapture but in understanding the events that will follow the Rapture. Just as history was prepared for Christ’s first coming, in a similar way history is preparing for the events leading up to His Second Coming. . . . If this is the case, it leads to the inevitable conclusion that the Rapture may be excitingly near… [John F. Walvoord, Armageddon, Oil and the Middle East Crisis, revised (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1990), p. 217. Quoted in an online article by Dr. Thomas Ice here: http://www.pre-trib.org/article-view.php?id=63%5D.
This belief system can have both a positive and a negative effect on the believer’s practice, both of which possess a very destructive potential. Positively, there is the tendency to become obsessed with “headline exegesis,” searching for prophetic relevance in every current event and situation in the world. This very real effect has consumed thousands upon thousands of professing believers, has served to distract them from the true matters of living a Christian life of sobriety and moderation, and has no doubt damaged the reputableness and power of their testimony with the world, as well, which tends to see them as conspiracy-theorists and nuts, but not primarily a peculiar people marked by their godliness and devotion to Christ. Negatively, there is an even greater danger of failing to labor toward seeing those things fulfilled which truly must take place before the coming again of Christ. If the eternal state will be inhabited by representatives of every kindred, tongue, people, and nation (Revelation 5:9), and if the gospel will be proclaimed in all the world before the end comes (Matthew 24:14), then it is a most pressing task for modern Christians to finish the Great Commission by targeting and evangelizing the remaining unreached people groups of the world. Although they do not know the day or the hour of Christ’s return (Matthew 24:36), they may know the signs of the times, so that the day will not overtake them as a thief, like it will overtake the rest of the sleeping world (1 Thessalonians 5:1-8). Therefore, a Christian with a proper eschatological motivation will be laboring to spread the gospel to every people group under heaven, and doing so as a way of hastening the Lord’s coming (from a human point of view). But when the doctrine of a rapture which has been imminent from the apostles’ generation enters the picture, then the literal possibility of the gospel first having an impact upon every people group is precluded; and so the Great Commission loses its character as a finishable task which will conclude at the dawn of the new era of eternity, and becomes something we engage in in the meantime, and not necessarily among the unreached peoples most specifically, while our eyes are straining toward the Middle East for our hopes of the end of our labor.
*continued in part (2)