Thursday, 2 October 2008

Professor Michael Spath on Christian Zionism

Let’s be clear about this right from the start: Stephen Sizer’s tour-de-force, Christian Zionism – Road-map to Armageddon, requires an historical, theological, and moral honesty rarely required of readers in this present climate where governments and churches play on fears of terror and being “left behind,” where both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures and America’s founding documents have been hijacked by fundamentalist and sectarian hermeneutics, and where witch hunts – cultural, political, ecclesiastical, and religious – are being renewed. The historical, theological, and political origins and implications of Christian Zionism are discussed then critiqued in the author’s very thorough, comprehensive, and eminently readable style. His summaries at the end of each chapter are particularly helpful. His charts and the glossary prove to be invaluable in deciphering for the non-initiate the various terms and relationships within the evangelical world – pre- and post-millennial, restorationist, and dispensationalist diversity, as well as the two hundred year evolution of their eschatological understanding within the world of the dispensationalists themselves. And his index of Bible references used by proponents as prophecy to support all things Israel might just be the single most useful tool for those who want to further study the issue from a biblical perspective.

While evangelicals will readily understand the arguments and issues as “family matters,” this is an especially critical read for those of us not part of the evangelical community. Why? Because it helps to explain how the 19th century sectarian eschatological views of one John Nelson Darby came to be the most religiously, culturally, and politically powerful force in 21st century America. This is one of Sizer’s great strengths, his unraveling of the complex strands that characterize the many forms of Christian Zionism within the evangelical community and their historical and theological development. Add to this how Christian Zionism has found its way into post-Holocaust mainline Protestant and Catholic churches (as well as into American civil religion, for that matter), and you begin to see how entrenched theologically and politically this heresy has morphed into contemporary American foreign policy and made manifest in our so-called “culture wars” (if anything, I wish Sizer would have treated this mainline embracing of Christian Zionism even more).

With clear sense of the tragic, Sizer tackles head-on the Christian nature of Christian Zionism’s ironies – among others, that it predates Jewish Zionism, that it is predominantly a Christian ideology, that it strikes at the very theological and moral heart of both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, that it is essentially antisemitic even as it embraces Israel, and that it is anti-Christian as it undermines and betrays the indigenous Living Stones Christian community in Palestine and Israel, not to mention the very heart of Jesus’ message.

Sizer’s book takes its rightful place as the most comprehensive treatment of this very dangerous Christian heresy, destructive at the very heart of the American church and public square. To say this is a “must-read” for politicians and anyone interested in the Middle East, professors and students, pastors and laypeople, is to understate the need for this book to get into as many hands as possible. The tragedy is that without the role of Christian Zionists in the West, particularly in America – in both the religious and political realms – Israel long ago would have had to deal more honestly with their moral culpability and responsibility in their occupation of Palestinian land and, in the present world of Realpolitik, along with their Palestinian partners, move toward a just solution of the present conflict.

Professor L. Michael Spath, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies, Indiana University Purdue University Fort Wayne, Director, Middle East Peace Education Project, Founding Member, The Institute for the Study of Christian Zionism

You can purchase copies of Christian Zionism: Roadmap to Armageddon? from IVP or Amazon.