Christian Zionism: Road-Map to Armageddon?
Stephen Sizer has seen the question of God’s purpose for the land of Israel from more than one side. With his faith nurtured on Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth and excited by the seemingly miraculous victory of Israel in the 1967 war, he made his first pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1990. His thinking about the Land and its people was shaped by the conviction that God has a continuing special relationship with the Jewish people which entails their right to possess the Holy Land: Old Testament prophecies about the Jewish people are being fulfilled in the contemporary State of Israel. His perspective began to change when he met real Palestinian Christians and learn how they were devalued as people by the working of the Israeli state.
Serious investigation of the whole issue of interpretation of prophecy and its political implications followed. This book is a detailed but thoroughly readable fruit of Sizer’s PhD research on Christian Zionism, which he defines as Christian support for the State of Israel on the basis of a literal and futurist interpretation of Old Testament prophecies. Although many evangelical Christians assume that Christian Zionism represents ‘normal evangelicalism’, it in fact only became prominent through the rise of ‘Dispensational Premillennialism’ in the nineteenth century, later popularized by the Scofield Reference Bible, then by Hal Lindsey in the 1970s and the Left Behind books more recently. Evangelicalism embraces other approaches to biblical interpretation which, arguably, are closer to the intentions of Jesus and offer an approach to the Old Testament prophecy which is more in tune with the way New Testament writers handle the Old Testament.
Sizer carefully exposes the historical roots of Christian Zionism, critiques in the light of the New Testament its literal and futurist interpretation of prophecy, and exposes its almost inevitable political implications. In contrast with this exclusive approach and its focus on the Jews in the Land he advocates an inclusive theology which is focused on Jesus the Saviour of the world and makes possible a constructive approach to Israeli-Palestinian peace-making.
This is a brave, careful and passionate book whose argument deserves to be weighed carefully. But its purpose will be achieved only if it helps different ‘sides’ in this argument to listen to each other more carefully. A friend of mine who lives in Israel says: ‘People come to Israel for a week and they write a book about it. People come for a month and they write an article about it. They come for a year and they realize that it’s too difficult to write about.’ What we need in these debates about Israel and Palestine is a large measure of humility and a willingness to listen for a long time before speaking.