The New Christian Zionism: Fresh Perspectives on Israel and the Land
Edited by Gerald R. McDermott, PhD
IVP Academic, 349 pages
Reviewed by Alice C. Linsley
Special to VIRTUEONLINE
January 21, 2017
The New Christian Zionism is a penetrating look at how Christians have framed conversations about Israel as a people and a land in the 20th century.
Contributors to the book include Robert Benne, Craig Blaising, Darrell Bock, Mark S. Kinzer, Shadi Khalloul, Gerald R. McDermott, Robert Nicholson, David Rudolph, Mark Tooley, and Joel Willitts.
The writers define the "New Christian Zionism" as a theologically-rooted conviction that Israel has a corporate right to exist "with the same human rights and security guarantees that other nations receive" and that God's plan in the future involves Israel as a national entity and as a body of Jewish followers of Messiah. (p. 308)
The book addresses the oddity of Dispensationalist end-times scenarios. "The authors of this book reject those dispensationalist approaches that are confident they can plot the sequence or chronology of end-times events." (p. 14)
It exposes the notion of Supersessionism (held by many Eastern Orthodox) by pointing out that Biblical writers believed that Israel is to play a significant role in the future. The book of Revelation places Zion at the center of the Messianic kingdom on earth and the Apostles as rulers. Dr. McDermott writes that Israel "is not merely a voice from the past, she is a living presence in the Church and will be the center of the world to come." (p. 321) Craig Blaising points out that Israel has a presence in the New Testament that is not nullified by the advent of Messiah.
The writers also reject the view that the establishment of Israel as a state and the expansion of the state's land holdings represents land theft. The arguments offered are not entirely satisfying, however. One is the assertion that Jews have been living in the area for 4000 years. Apparently, the writers assign Jewish ethnicity to Abraham, which even rabbis recognize as inappropriate. The waters are further muddied by a later statement that Jews have held the land since Joshua and his Israelite army captured it. In my view, the greatest weakness of this book is a failure to explore the archeological and anthropological evidence that supports the presence of Hebrew rulers in the Middle East from before the time of Abraham. This is the true origin of Hebrew "land consciousness." (p. 28)
The writers stress that the New Christian Zionism is not "a blind endorsement for Israel" that overlooks injustices and moral obligations. "Rather, Christian Zionism merely makes an affirmation that Israel has a right to a secure homeland, which she should govern and occupy morally and responsibly." (p. 309)
Shadi Khalloul, an Israeli Christian Maronite, argues that the state of Israel protects minorities more than the nations that surround it. He writes that Israel "has initiated and continues to maintain a wide variety of social and cultural programs to support minority communities." (p. 289)
However, Khalloul acknowledges that Israel's treatment of his own Aramean Christians in Israel has been stained by Jewish fear that Christians might align with Israel's enemies. In 1948 the residents of the Aramaic Maronite village of Kfar Baram in northern Israel were told to leave by Jewish fighters. The villagers had hoped to return within a few weeks, but sixty-seven years later these Maronite Christians are still displaced.
Khalloul makes the point that the original Christians of Israel were Arameans. Arameans are Semitic peoples of great antiquity that widely dispersed across the ancient Near East and the Nile Valley. Jacob (Israel) is called a "wandering Aramean" in Deuteronomy because he journeyed between Canaan and Paddan-Aram and Edom and Egypt.
The book ends with some excellent recommendations, including rendering the word "Christ" as "Messiah" in English Bibles. The recognition that Christianity is a Messianic faith helps to correct strange peripheral developments among church people that send a wrong message to the world.
McDermott also recommends that Christians engage in serious study of the Old Testament (Tanak). Unfortunately, his urging to deeper consideration of the Old Testament appears to be linked to rabbinic interpretations (p. 320) which often mislead Christians in their understanding of the Old Testament. Gerald McDermott writes, "The rabbis said the book of Leviticus is the most important book of all the Tanak because it is the deepest revelation of the character of the God of Israel's the Holy One, and the most particular blueprint for how his elect people were to maintain communion with him."
Leviticus is certainly an important book for Christians, but in reality it sheds little light on Zionism. To understand how Israel as a people and a land are related to the Church we must turn to the book of Genesis. Here we discover the origin of Messianic expectation among Abraham's Hebrew ancestors and we come to see that both Israel and the Church emerge organically from the Messianic expectation of people who lived long before the "Jewish" ethnicity. And yes, there is a region on earth over which these "mighty men of old" ruled. It is ancient Eden and, according to Genesis 2, it extended from the sources of the Nile to the Tigris and Euphrates. David's Zion is located at the very heart of this ancient Paradise, and at the coming of Messiah it will be again.
Our Lord Jesus had to deal with the strife that even today exists surrounding the Jews and their claims to autonomy in a land of their own. He addressed the strife in a sinless way, censuring the wrong-minded and mean-spirited, comforting the sorrowful, seeking the lost, and reconciling the estranged to the Father. He makes the peoples one people, His own inheritance. Darrell Bock writes, "Participants in Christ share the same savior, salvation and benefits... Reconciliation is an important feature of our vision for God's people in God's land at the end. We need to reflect on that more." (p. 313)
I fully agree, and I encourage readers to buy this book and delve into these matters of great theological significance.
Alice C. Linsley has been pioneering the scientific field of Biblical Anthropology for 30 years. Much of her research is available to read at her blogs Just Genesis and Biblical Anthropology
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