Over the last few months, Seismic Shock has covered modern manifestations of Christian antisemitism mainly from within the Christian anti-Zionist movement. Central to the issues covered by this blog is the merging of a rejection of dispensationalist Christian Zionism with alliances with Islamists, support for mushroom-cloud lovers, and calls for a boycott against Israel.
Having seen the excesses of Christian Zionism, and the way it became associated with U.S. foreign policy under Bush, many evangelicals felt that an anti-Israel position was the morally correct response.
Yet many evangelicals are no doubt disillusioned with the rather cartoonish positions staked out by the likes of John Hagee and Stephen Sizer. These days you can read Christian Zionists like Hal Lindsey who seem to advocate turning Israel into a religious Kahanist state, and yet others who wish to see Israel populated by Iberian converts to Judaism.
You can also read anti-Zionist Christian theology from Doctor Anthony McRoy, who thinks that Christians who desire social justice due to their faith in Jesus are rather similar to Islamist suicide bombers who desire the annihilation of the Jews due to their faith in the Mahdi.
These, of course, are marginal positions. So, is there not a sensible moderate position in the Christian world to take?
The Jews, Israel and the New Supercessionism appears to be a conscious attempt to claim the Christian centre-ground on this issue. It is a collection of papers adapted from a conference held in 2008. Whilst there are Christian Zionists who contribute to the volume, the editor purports to bring together authors from across the spectrum to write on issues concerning the New Testament and Israel.
A significant distinction is made by the editor Calvin Smith in his essay ‘Faith and Politics in the Holy Land Today’, in which Smith denotes his opposition to the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza for political, but not theological, reasons. As such he distances himself from some of the more extreme elements of the Christian Zionist movement who claimed that Ariel Sharon’s coma was induced by his ‘sin’ of handing over Gaza to the Palestinian Authority.
Smith draws attention to the suffering of Christians in both Israel and the Palestinian Territories, pointing out that many Zionists and anti-Zionists in the Christian world often ironically toe the line and repeat Israeli and PA government propaganda rather than looking at the evidence.
This book throws up as many questions as it does answers, and is partly intended to be read as a response to those who see all Christian support for Israel as irrational extremism. As conservative evangelicals, Smith and the other writers also seek to counter the now-infamous claim put forward by Stephen Sizer that their political message has become secondary to their spiritual message. They believe that the whole world should share their faith in Jesus, and so the final chapter in the book centres on how Christians can explain their belief in Jesus to Jewish people.
For those who do not hold such convictions, Andy Cheung’s linguistic study on the use of ‘Israel’ in the New Testament is still a very interesting contribution to modern Jewish-Christian relations. Smith also includes within his chapter a criticism from an Arab pastor of American Christian Zionists who label the USA as a “morally bankrupt” nation for its abortion policies, whilst praising Israel as a morally superior nation in spite of the exact same policies (Israel is, after all, as a secular liberal democracy much like the USA). What else can such double standards be, he argues, other than ‘Israelology’ – worship of Israel?
Smith also deals competently with claims that Israel is either racist or solely to blame for problems faced by Palestinian Christians. He also gives voice to Palestinian Christian Zionists as well as one pastor who rejects replacement theology but nevertheless opposes Israeli occupation, thus pointing out that the Palestinian Christian view of Israel is far from hemogenous.
Another highlight of the book is Paul Wilkinson’s examination of the early history of Christian Zionism, and in particular the role of John Nelson Darby, who in recent years has become a controversial figure within Christian anti-Zionist discourse.
Readers will not agree with every word in this book, which is tagged as ‘Resources for Christians’, nor do the various contributors always agree with each other. Whilst the logic and arguments of the book draw heavily from evangelical theology, interfaith scholars who are interested in understanding Christian attitudes towards the Israel/Palestine conflict would do well to interact with this most recent contribution to the debate.
Over the next few weeks, you can expect to see various reviews of this book from different sections of the Christian press. Let us hope they choose their reviewers carefully.