Tag Archives: conflict

The New Christian Zionism

“A survey of 2,000 American Evangelical Christians released Monday found generational differences among participants in positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with older evangelicals offering more unconditional support of Israel than those under 35.

According to the survey, American evangelicals under 35 are less likely than their older counterparts to offer unquestionable support for Israel, and are more likely to hold positive views of the Palestinians.” (Haaretz, 12/4/17)

For many years evangelical Christianity has been known to be highly Zionistic. Undoubtedly this is due, at least in part, to the influence of dispensationalism on5138 conservative Christians. Studies show, however, that Zionistic attitudes among American Christians are waning. Is this due to trends in dispensationalism? Trends in social media, e.g. we have a better view of what Palestinians are experiencing? Or is it something else?

The New Christian Zionism, edited by Gerald McDermott, does not attempt to answer those questions, however in light of Christian Zionism’s waning popularity, McDermott and a host of biblical scholars, theologians, and ethicists attempt to make a case for Zionism which is not dependent upon dispensationalism.

So what was the old Christian Zionism? Basically it was the dispensational view which puts Israel and the church on two separate, but parallel tracks. All the promises given to Israel will literally be fulfilled by the Jewish people group (ethic, national, territorial Israel), and not by a “spiritual” church.

What is the new Christian Zionism? Here I quote McDermott:

The New Christian Zionism asserts that the people and the land of Israel represent a provisional and proleptic fulfillment of the promises of the new world to come. So Jesus brought a new era to the history of Israel but without abolishing what came before, and he predicted that his people and land would be central to that new world. This is why the New Christian Zionism speaks of fulfillment and not supersessionism.

In making their case for this NCZ McDermott shows that Christian Zionism goes back two thousand years , and before the 19th century it had nothing to do with dispensationalism.

McDermott’s introduction is followed by four essays dealing with the biblical material (from a non-dispensationalist standpoint). Craig Blasing attempts to show that the NT affirms the OT expectation of an ethnic, national, territorial Israel in God’s plan. Joel Willits shows that the restoration of the land of Israel is fundamental to Matthew’s story of Jesus. Mark Kinzer argues that eschatology in Luke-Acts is tethered to the holy land. David Rudolph shows that Paul is looking forward to a renewed earth that is centered in Israel.


The next section deals with some issues that people have brought up against Christian Zionism, often other Christians! Mark Tooley addresses mainline protestant objections to NCZ. Rebert Benne address the objection that Israel is an unjust political state oppressing Palestinians. He turns to Reinhold Niebuhr’s work to defend Israel. Some of the most interesting chapters follow Benne’s. Robert Nicholson addresses the objection that Israel is violating international law by controlling the west bank. He argues that 1)International law is unclear, and where it is clear, Israel is not in violation and 2)Israel’s legal standards are higher than all of its neighbors and many leading western countries. Shadi Khalloul, an Aramean Christian, argues that while Israel is far from perfect, it is far from unjust in its treatment of minority groups.

The last set of essays are written by Darrell Bock and Gerald McDermott, they both chart some possible ways forward for NCZ.

My favorite chapter was by far Nicholson’s chapter. Most likely because he addresses some objections I often hear – namely that Israel does not deserve the land beause it is violating the Mosaic covenant. Nicholson makes a strong case for the difficulty of making that claim. Second, Christian Zionism has lost a lot of support because many western Christians who pay attention to international politics are under the impression that Israel is in violation of international law in its treatment of Palestine. Nicholson, addresses whether or not there were any violations of international law in the taking of territory during the Six Day War. In trying to answer this question he gives his readers a history lesson. He provides 8 essential pieces of background for determing the legal and political context of Israel’s supposed violation of international law:

  1. Israel’s actions in the Six-Day Ware were conducted in self-defense in reponse to overwhelming aggression from surrounding Arab countries.
  2. The “Palestinian” territories that Israel captured in the war did not belong to anyone else under international law.
  3. Israel planned to exchange the captured territories for peace.
  4. The law of occupation may not apply to the West Bank and Gaza. (Because they are “disputed” territories.
  5. Israel has substantially performed its obligations as a belligerent occupier.
  6. The presence of Jewish civilians insde the West Bank does not constitute a war crime under the Geneva Conventions.
  7. Israel has substantially pefromed its obligations under United Nations Security Council Resolution 242.
  8. Palestinians have legal and political autonomy.

Nicholson concludes by saying that “An objective reading of the situation must conceded that Israel has in fact complied with international law. That Israel is routinely thought to be in violation stems more from ignorance of the laws involved and prejudice against Israel than the facts on the ground.” (280)

So where should Christians who are hesitant about Christian Zionism go from here? Bock makes an important and wise suggestion:

Israel is still responsible to God for how she responds to covenant obligations. To endorse Israel and a national place for the nation is not to give her carte blanche for everything she does. Christian Zionism is not a blind endorsement for Israel. It does not give the nation a pass on issues of justice or moral righteousness. She is still called to live responsibly as a nation like other nations. Rather, Christian Zionism merely makes the affirmation that Israel has a right to a secure homeland, which she should govern and occupy morally and responsibly. (309)

Now you may not find yourself agreeing with Bock’s or any of the other author’s conclusions, nevertheless, you should still give this book a shot. Given our political climate, evangelical (in all senses of the word) Christians really need to think through these issues carefully. To do so would be not only politically disastrous, but potentially spiritually as well.


Book Review – Jesus Against the Scribal Elite by Chris Keith

I remember the first time I was publicly put to shame… Lets just say it isn’t easy being a Jr. Higher in a school filled with High Schoolers. I bring this up because High School/Middle School is one of the few social settings in the West that operates with honor and shame as a central feature. During these adolescent years students are trying to gain honor for themselves or their friend group while at the same time avoiding shame. Honor and shame in high school is a lot more than about how one feels, honor and shame act as social realities that one can gain or lose. We know that Jesus lived and operated in a culture much like the one I just described. In Jesus Against the Scribal Elite: The Origins of the Conflict, Chris Keith argues that Jesus’ early conflict with the scribal elite is best understood in the context of this honor/shame setting and that the core of the argument revolves around how Jesus was treading upon this social classes’ precious realm of authority.

What was it about Jesus that caught the religious leaders’ attention? Was it his healings, his exorcisms, or the content of his teaching? According to Keith these were important reasons, but none of these reasons ignore one crucial factor, namely Jesus’ reputation as a teacher. You see, Jesus healing, exorcising, or teaching different views about the law or the Kingdom wouldn’t have necessarily drawn so much attention from the religious leaders, after all there was a great variety of teaching and actions coming from other 2nd temple religious leaders. According to Keith what caught their attention was the fact that somebody from the “working class” was acting as though he were actually part of the scribal-literate class.

What was it about Jesus that caught the religious leaders’ attention?

Keith develops this argument in several steps. First Keith illustrates what sort of teachers existed in 2nd temple Judaism – he describes what qualifies somebody to be called literate and explains that scribal literacy is very much tied with social power and status. Keith goes on to show that the four gospels all portray Jesus as acting within the ranks of the scribal elite, however Mark and Matthew portray him as existing outside of this class, Luke portrays him as a member of this class, and John’s Gospel is ambiguous about this. Keith takes this textual ambiguity and makes a very interesting argument that the differences between the gospels is best explained in terms of context and perception. In other words, those who were outside of the scribal-literate class would have seen Jesus as one of the scribal-literate teachers (after all he acts as though he has the same authority as them and he sure seems to know Scripture, he even beats the scribal elite in debates!) however, the members of the scribal elite would have seen Jesus as a fraud who was overstepping his social role. In making authoritative interpretations of scripture, Jesus acted outside of his culturally established social role. Eventually, Jesus began to confront these leaders about the interpretation of scripture. This led to conflict in which the scribal elite attempted to expose Jesus as an imposter to the position of scribal authority, however as these conflicts occurred they had the opposite effect, the leaders themselves were put to shame by somebody who didn’t even belong to their social class.


Many have written about the controversies that eventually led to Jesus crucifixion (i.e. his temple actions) however very few have addressed how the controversy actually began; Keith’s book fills this void.

Jesus Against the Scribal Elite is an interesting and important addition to the discussion regarding Jesus and 1st century literacy. Here are some of the most important features of this book:

  1.  It introduces his readers to the issues revolving around 1st century literacy
  2. It clearly explains the differences between the scribal elite class and the class which included manual laborers (see Sirach 38)
  3. It explains how the context of a shame/honor culture affected the conflict between Jesus and the scribes
  4. It makes a convincing argument for why perception about Jesus literacy varied
  5. It presents a plausible story for why the scribes and religious leaders were initially interested in Jesus

If you haven’t ever read about the literacy of Jesus or you are interested in the reasons behind Jesus’ conflict with the leaders of his day the I recommend that you pick up this book.

(Note: I a review copy of this book from the Baker in exchange for an impartial review.)

What I’m Currently Reading – May 22nd

Right now I have several books that I am making my way through right now. As is usually the case some are a bit more academic, some are more devotional, and others are more ministry oriented. I find it helpful to mix things up in that way. (Also I am in the process of working through Church Dogmatics, but that might take me the rest of my life…)

Spiritual Formation in Emerging Adulthood by David Setran and Chris Kiesling

As surprising as it may sound, this is the first book of this type that I have ever read. I usually don’t delve much into sociology, and this book relies heavily upon the social sciences, but I am finding this book absolutely fascinating. Although I already knew much of what their research has found (from anecdotal and personal experience) I have found it very helpful in understanding what the major issues are that the college students I work with are facing. Also, since I am an “emerging” adult I am learning quite a bit about my own beliefs. I honestly didn’t realize how well I fit the mold of an “emerging adult.”

Here is the Amazon Blurb: Here two authors–both veteran teachers who are experienced in young adult and campus ministry–address this new and urgent field of study, offering a Christian perspective on what it means to be spiritually formed into adulthood. They provide a practical theology for emerging adult ministry and offer insight into the key developmental issues of this stage of life, including identity, intimacy and sexuality, morality, church involvement, spiritual formation, vocation, and mentoring. The book bridges the gap between academic and popular literature on emerging adulthood and offers concrete ways to facilitate spiritual formation among emerging adults.

Jesus Against the Scribal Elite: The Origins of the Conflict by Chris Keith

I just received a copy of this book from Baker Academic, so a review will be coming out shortly. I have always thought that Jesus conflict with the religious leaders revolved around the Temple – namely Jesus’ critique of the temple institution and Jesus claims to supplant it. I am really interested to see what Kieth sees as the core of the conflict between these two parties.

Here is the Amazon Blurb: How did the controversy between Jesus and the scribal elite begin? We know that it ended on a cross, but what put Jesus on the radar of established religious and political leaders in the first place? Chris Keith argues that, in addition to concerns over what Jesus taught and perhaps even how he taught, a crucial aspect of the rising conflict concerned his very status as a teacher.

Eternal Wisdom from the Desert: Writings from the Desert Fathers

This volume contains Athanasius’  The Life of St. Anthony, St. Jerome’s The Life of Paul the Hermit, and the collected sayings of many of the desert fathers. So far I am about half way through The Life of St. Anthony, lets just say this hagiography is a bit over the top. Nevertheless, I am finding myself strangely encouraged by reading this embellished biography. I am finding myself encouraged to spend more time in prayer and to focus more on spiritual discipline. I am finding myself encouraged to imitate some of Anthony’s characteristics, namely his devotion to prayer, his reliance upon Christ’s power, and his insistence on getting rid of sin in his life. I guess that is why Athanasius wrote the book though…. If you can get past the over the top elements of some of the material in the book you will certainly find yourself encouraged to grow in your relationship with Christ.

Creation and Evolution

Here are some of the most interesting stats:

Pastors in the Northeast are more likely than their counterparts in any other region to strongly agree that God used evolution to create people. While 25 percent of Northeastern pastors strongly agree, only 13 percent in the West, 12 percent in the Midwest and 8 percent in the South feel similarly.

Pastors of larger churches are less likely to believe in evolution than those in smaller congregations. Only 4 percent of pastors in churches with 250 or more in attendance strongly agree that God used evolution to create humans. In comparison, 13 percent in churches with attendance of 0-49, 14 percent with 50-99 and 12 percent with 100-249 feel the same.

Pastors who consider themselves Mainline are more likely than Evangelicals to believe in evolution. Among those identifying themselves as Mainline, 25 percent strongly agree that God used evolution to create humans. Only 8 percent of Evangelicals strongly agree.

Pastors who indicate they are Evangelical are more likely than their Mainline colleagues to strongly agree that Adam and Eve were literal people (82 percent vs. 50 percent).

Pastors with graduate degrees are more likely to strongly disagree that Adam and Eve were literal people than those whose highest level of education is a bachelor’s degree (16 percent vs. 2 percent).

Pastors in the South are most likely to strongly disagree that most of their congregation believes in evolution.

Younger pastors are the least likely age bracket to strongly disagree that the earth is 6,000 years old.

For me the most surprising statistic was the second one. Thanks @Edstetzer