Friday, 23 May 2008

Christian Zionism: Some Positive Developments

John Hobbins, via Hirhurim, links to an excellent article on the theological relation between the Church and the modern State of Israel. Interestingly, it's written from a Catholic perspective and is packed with insight. I'm in total agreement with John when he says

I am not a particularly optimistic person, but after reading the article and the post, hope caught hold of me as it hasn’t for some time. In my neck of the woods, it has been hard to claim the name of evangelical Zionist because of the many crackpots out there who self-identify as such. Now, the rules are changing.
This is an issue that won't go away and needs to be addressed. Here are three quotes that stood out for me:

Ultimately, Jews and Christians must remain a mystery to each other. Christians cannot help but ­recognize that Providence has sustained the Jews through their long exile, yet they cannot explain why Jews do not recognize Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of their prophecy. Jews cannot help but recognize that Christians are inspired by the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, yet they cannot explain Christian belief in the divinity of Jesus, except to dismiss it as a “world-historical fiction” (in Franz Rosenzweig’s words).
For Christians, the Jewish nation stands as a living reproach to Gentile nations: They reject Christian universality by desiring election in their own flesh. For the Jews, Christianity signifies that only as individuals can Gentiles enter the people of God, and that no other ethnicity may covet their election in the flesh. Jews ­cannot affirm salvation through Christ, and Christians cannot affirm salvation without Christ.
Jews have little to fear from Christian universality; the mortal danger to their existence stems rather from the jealousy of Gentile nations who covet election.
This last quote is particularly interesting, as the principle of the particularity of Jewish election has become a cornerstone in Christopher Seitz's take on the canonical approach. See his article "'And without God in the World': A Hermeneutic of Estrangement Overcome," in Word Without End (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 41-50. For Childs, too, the "mystery of Israel" is a foundational concept.


Unknown said...

Would you consider writing a guest post on my blog about Christian Zionism?

Phil Sumpter said...

That's very kind of you to ask, Hadassah, and in theory I would love to, but the problem is that I don't know enough about it. I have a complicated relationship to it. As a Christian (and based on my own experience and view of Jewish history) I do believe that something eschatological, "spiritual," is going on. On the other hand, I have been put off by the way it is usually expressed, manipulated and justified. I think it's a complex issue that needs a lot of nuance and sensitivity and I don't feel capable of being able to do that.

One day ... I intend to think about the issue more as I find it extremely important.

Unknown said...

I have a very similar viewpoint to yours coming from the Jewish side. I agree that it is a very complex issue and it is hard to know whether Jews should support Christian Zionism as the eschatological aspects imply that Judaism is doomed to failure. On the other hand, Israel needs all the support it can get, especially in the US and Christian Zionists support Israel unwaveringly. The idea that the Jewish people have a historic claim to the Land of Israel is one that is not in fashion in the international community but extremely important in the fight for fair coverage of Israel in the media.

I am actually not looking for an expert opinion, rather, I was hoping for a personal point of view from someone like you. Think about it.

Phil Sumpter said...

OK, I'll think about it.

the eschatological aspects imply that Judaism is doomed to failure

Interesting, I've seen the eschatological dimension as a threat to both church and synagogue. At the end of the day, it's not about us but about God and his will for creation. Check out the following from Paul's letter to the Romans (11:17-24):

"17 But if some of the branches [of the natural olive tree] were broken off [i.e.the Jews], and you [gentiles], although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root2 of the olive tree, 18 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. 19 Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you bstand fast through faith. So cdo not become proud, but dstand in awe. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. 22 Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, eprovided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise fyou too will be cut off. 23 And geven they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. 24 For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree."

The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ro 11:17-24.

Unknown said...

If you listen carefully to what the leaders of the movement (like Hagee) are saying, they talk about Armageddon, when all Jews will either convert or be killed.

This is understandably a bit hard for Jews to stomach.

Phil Sumpter said...

From the little I've heard from Hagee (e.g. from the video clip I posted on your blog a while back) he is the epitomy everything that is bad about Christian Zionism. I hope that the article I link to is a postive antidote!

Unknown said...

So we should embrace the concept of Christian Zionism while repudiating the leaders of the movement?

Phil Sumpter said...

Though "Christian Zionism" has taken on certain fixed institutional forms which are associated with certain figures (e.g. Ted Hagee), I don't think Christian Zionism can be exclusively thought of as a discretely bounded movement. I would reject Hagee's version and the way Christians of his ilk go about doing "Christian Zionism," but as a Christian I am still aware of passages such as the one I quoted above and the fact that the God of the Old Testament is the God of Jesus, and so his promises to his people need to be taken seriously. Current forms of Christian Zionism are just contemporary ways of dealing with that fact, ways which I find inadequate. As John Hobbins said in his post, it is time that we starting thinking properly about this issue, going beyond the simplistic fundamentalism and "self-servingness" of many contemporary forms.

And of course, we need to listen to those Christians who reject Christian Zionism outright and spiritualize what the OT says.

So in short I don't take Ted Hagee's theological reading to be the only valid one. There is still work to be done.

Unknown said...

It seems to me that the organizations which support Christian Zionism are led by these people, so this is what the world is hearing. Israeli and American Jews have no problem with true support of Israel and the Jewish people. Without support by Christians, there would be no international support. What Jews are worried about are the people listening to Hagee. Have you seen the video of Max Blumenthal at the CUFI conference?

Phil Sumpter said...

I was the one who posted it on your blog ;)

This video represents the kind of Christian Zionism that I shudder at (though I note that the Israeli government has no qualms about sending an embassador there!).

It's because of people like Hagee that intelligent, theologically engaged, historically and politically aware, ethical Christians start thinking about the issue, what the Bible says, what the logic of Christian faith requires, and what the "situation of the ground" actually is, so that they can raise a voice and guide things in a perhaps more appropriate direction. That will no doubt mean making enemies on every side, so a certain amount of courageousness and faith will be required too. I'd love to be such a voice, but I have a long way to go before I can say anything worth listening to.

Unknown said...


For a person with nothing to say, you have said quite a lot:)

So, I think we agree that there are many people out there espousing "Christian Zionist" views which are very problematic and not representative of the prevalent views of Christians about Judaism and Israel.

As to whether Christians should support Israel for theological reasons (as opposed to political reasons), I am clearly not qualified to express an opinion, and you appear undecided.

Did I get that right?

Phil Sumpter said...

Thanks for continuing the conversation:)

I agree that their views are problematic, but whether they "are not representative of the prevalent views of Christians" I'm not sure. Christian Zionism, especially of the Evangelical variety, is a growing phenomenon as far as I can see. There should also be made a distinction between those who tacitly believe that the Jews are, somehow, still God's chosen people and that 1948 had a role to play, somehow, in God's eschatological plan, but for whom the issue is rather irrelevant and hardly gets discussed(probably a majority in my church) and those who have made it a central peg of their identity as Christians and practically reject as heretics those who espouse a "replacement theology" (i.e. the church replaced Israel).

I like the article I linked to because it emphasises the subtlety of the issue and the paradox ("Ultimately, Jews and Christians must remain a mystery to each other"). This reminds me, again, of Paul in the same chapter of Romans where he discusses "the mystery of Israel's salvation", where he exclaims:

"33 Oh, the depth of the riches and swisdom and knowledge of God! tHow unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
34 “ For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
35 “ Or wwho has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”
36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ro 11:33-36.

The most important thing is to remember that it's about God and his plan, his agenda, and not ours. And his will often has a tendency to subvert our deepest cravings for security outside of Him.

As for supporting Israel for theological reasons, yes, I'm not quite sure how to deal with that. We shouldn't forget that the return from Babylonian exile and the establishment of a Jewish state was the fulfilment of prophecy, but it still didn't last too long! Who knows what God has got up his sleave this time? I support Israel for reasons other than theological, though my theology may bias me. But my theology, in the tradition of the Israelite prophets, also calls me to be unabashadly critical where needs be.

Unknown said...

I like the distinction you made between people who make Zionism a central part of their Christian identity and those who don't. Those who deem Israel irrelevant to their lives are probably not supporting Israel actively. It's the other group that lobbies, votes and speaks about support for Israel. (Did I just send us back to square one?)

Phil Sumpter said...

I'm not sure what you mean by square one ...

My point is that there is diversity, and the phenomenon of Hagee etc. is a reflection of Christians trying to come to terms with the content of their Scripture. There is diversity of opinion and we need more sophisticated responses than those represented by Hagee.

Unknown said...

I meant that we although we may have agreed that not all Christian Zionists are Hagee followers, there are no other representatives of the ideology to talk to, so Jews still have to decide if they support the CUFI types or not.

And you are definitely right about needing more sophisticated responses.

Phil Sumpter said...


Anonymous said...

should we really embrace the concept of Christian zoinism?i agree with you hadassah.wish i got into the discussion earlier.

jim dunn

Christian Drug Rehab
Christian Drug Rehab/

Unknown said...

I would love to hear more of your perspective on this issue.

Phil Sumpter said...

Jim, where do you agree with Hadassah but not with me?

By the way, Hadassah, I did want to respond to your post on this subject, but time is short ... One day ...

Unknown said...

Don't worry about it :)