Friday, 23 May 2008

Defending Christian Zionism: Responding to David Pawson

I remember 30 years ago, as a new Christian listening with awe to David Pawson’s audio tapes, fresh from Guildford Baptist Church and finding his teaching so helpful. Over the years I have benefited a great deal from his books and I have great respect for David Pawson. We have corresponded and met on two occasions over the past year and had in-depth conversations. We have found a good measure of agreement. We also debated one another on Premier Christian Radio on 22nd May 2008.

I am glad that David has felt able to commend my own book, Zion’s Christian Soldiers. “my fellow Zionists… will be disturbed by my agreement with much of Sizer’s criticism of this position.” (p. 19). “I am grateful to Stephen Sizer for drawing attention to the legitimate criticisms of dispensational Zionism. He has rendered a service to the cause of Zionism which was needed.” (p. 39) I have to say, however, that David’s book is a disappointment. I don’t think that is simply because David has put my name on the cover and admits on page 17, “Sizer is my main ‘target’” The book appears to have been written in haste and without much attention to detail. This might explain some of the factual errors it contains, besides the sweeping generalisations and occasional inflammatory language.

I am disappointed most of all because David does not engage with my arguments from Scripture but rather restates his own views while taking swipes at what he thinks I believe. This suggests that while his book was written as a defence of Christian Zionism and to refute the position I have taken in my two books, Christian Zionism: Roadmap to Armageddon? (IVP, 2004) and Zion’s Christian Soldiers? The Bible, Israel and the Church (IVP, 2007), he does not actually engage with either. And yes, in places, it does get a little personal.

Although David’s book has 160 pages, the font is larger than usual and the spacing wider than necessary so the book appears more substantial than it is. Also, I am sure it is embarrassing to David that on the front cover his name is unusually printed in a larger font than even the book title. Sadly, the book has no footnotes, no references and no bibliography so there is no way to check the occasional sources quoted. It is therefore a book to read but not particularly useful for Bible study.

The book has five main chapters besides and introduction and conclusion: Two Zionisms, Five Covenants, Two Peoples, The Promised Land and the Second Coming. The book concludes with an appendix critiquing a sermon by John Stott on the ‘Place of Israel’ which is included in my second book.

The saddest aspect of the book is the tone with which David occasionally writes. There is an impatience with positions he disagrees with and sometimes barely concealed anger. Sometimes David implies Divine judgement on those who challenge his position.

For example, in his conclusions he refers to an international conferences held in 2004 and sponsored by Sabeel in Jerusalem, entitled ‘Challenging Christian Zionism’. The participants included evangelicals, liberal and Catholic Christians together with Jewish and Muslim speakers and participants, who were deeply troubled by the failure of the international community to bring about justice for the Palestinians, peace for Israel and reconciliation between Jews and Arabs. Nevertheless, David, who was not a participant, writes, “Now a rising tide of anti-Zionism is added to the mix. The Archbishop of Canterbury consents to speak at a conference in Jerusalem… specifically denouncing Christian Zionism… The most belligerent speaker died shortly after returning home. Stephen Sizer was a delegate. Some preachers deliberately attack Israel… How does the Holy One of Israel feel about all this?” (p. 154)

In the Appendix, David summarises, despite very few actual quotes, an unpublished sermon by John Stott, which he graciously allowed me to include in Zion’s Christian Soldiers. In my opinion, the book is worth buying just for this sermon. David begs to differ however. “It is unlike such a careful scholar to build so much on so flimsy a foundation… when it comes to expounding particular texts Stott gets into difficulties, coming up with some unusual, even bizarre explanations… For Stott ‘Jerusalem’ does not refer to the Jewish capital at all but to “the whole present world order” which will be brought to an end before Jesus returns. This extraordinary claim…” (pp. 159-160).

David seems unaware that this is how the Apostle Paul associates Jerusalem with the opponents of Christ (Galatians 4:21-27) as does the Apostle John (Revelation 11:8). The writer to Hebrews calls us to look to another Jerusalem as our true home (Hebrews 12:22-23). He concludes with the regrettable comment, “it is a great pity that this sermon had not remained unpublished.” Perhaps it would be charitable to suggest it would have been better if David’s comment had remained unsaid.

My question to David is this. Was the coming of Jesus the fulfillment or the postponement of the promises God made to Abraham?David’s case for Christian Zionism requires him to show that unconditional promises concerning the land were made by God exclusively with a racial group descended from Abraham, and apply in perpetuity to their physical Jewish descendants, apart from faith in Jesus Christ. This he cannot and does not prove from Scripture.

This is why I continue to regard Christian Zionism as an oxymoron, a basic contradiction in terms. Nothing in David’s book leads me to think otherwise.

John Stott has commented on this blog, "I am glad and grateful that you have taken up the cudgels in defence of our views which have been misrepresented by David Pawson in his latest book. Now that I have entered my 88th year, I am really no longer able to enter into this kind of debate..."