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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.

Jerusalem

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.

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TheologyGrams: Theology Explained in Diagrams

Meme’s and infographics are today’s preferred choice of communication for a lot of people – Millennials I’m looking at you…(and myself).

For those of you who don’t know, infographics are “graphic visual representations of information, data or knowledge intended to present information quickly and clearly” (Thanks Wikipedia)

So for example, here is a cool infographic about coffee:

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Infographics have also been used to communicate theological concepts. Here’s one on the Fruit of the Spirit:

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TheologyGrams

This year, Rich Wyld (such a cool name!), an Anglican priest educated at Durham, turned his blog into a short book titled: Theologygrams: Theology Explained in Diagrams.

The book is pretty simple and straightforward. It uses diagrams to offer a more visual way of thinking about theological topics. He moves from the OT to the NT and then deals with practical issues in the life of the church. He concludes with a chapter on theology.

The chapters include some really interesting topics. In the OT chapter we get “Jonah’s Mood-O-Meter” and its pretty funny. The NT chapter gives us a very helpful diagram on “Resurrection Appearances.” Also, a hilarious graph on Paul’s defense in 2 Corinthians 11. I’m definetly showing this one to my class at Eternity Bible College. His Theology chapter has a diagram on the Trinity – and guess what: Its not incorrect!

This is a really fun book to flip through. It would make a really cool stocking stuffer for theology nerds. It would also make a cool coffee table book for theology nerds. Also… if you are a nerd and into infographics and like theology you are going to like this. Also, if you are into nerdy puns or nerdy cultural references you are going to be into this book. Basically, if you are a theology nerd get this book. And if you aren’t a theology nerd, but know a theology nerd get them this book. *Enough Said*

In all seriousness, this book is really cool. You should get it.

Here are some older TheologyGrams from Rich’s Blog:scripturetradreason

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calvin-arminius

 

The Vulnerable Pastor

Vulnerable. Not the first word that comes to mind when you think about strong leaders. Yet, this word, “Vulnerable,” is what Mandy Smith, lead pastor of University Christian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, suggests should characterize strong Christian leaders.

In The Vulnerable Pastor: How Human Limitations Empower Our Ministry Smith attempts to debunk current leadership wisdom as not only being harmful, but impossible. The image51s4het-oll-_sy344_bo1204203200_ of somebody who is always strong, always has their stuff together, is never wrong, never wavers, and is extremely self-confident is the exact opposite of what Smith suggest Christian leaders should be like. Instead a Christian leader should be marked by vulnerability. Specifically, this vulnerability should recognize and understand our human constraints. Recognizing these constraints makes our ministry more sustainable “and guards us against disillusionment and burnout.”

As the former director of a college ministry in a large church in the LA area I knew I could benefit from reading Smith’s book. I sort of live in the “mega-church” world, which is mostly characterized by the leadership images Smith decries. I constantly struggled, despite pressing on in ministry, with the notion that I didn’t fit the “pastor-mold.” I still struggle with it! Even though its never expressed, it is implicitly there. I’m just not one of those pastors. I’m shy, introverted, intellectual, liturgical. Again, not your typical mega-church type leader. Throughout the book Smith shares her struggles with not fitting the mold. Told mostly in story form, she expresses how difficult it was to be herself as leader, when the world (i.e. CHURCH WORLD) told her that wasn’t enough. It was only when she was bold enough to admit that she didn’t have what the world asked of her, and she didn’t need to have it, that she began to find joy in her ministry.

Here are some helpful quotes from her book:

When we’re at our desks preparing our sermons and something snags our hearts, can we set aside our work long enough to be worked upon? Can we trust that the teaching of our congregations is not primarily our work but God’s work, which he wants to being with us? (92)

What if we began with our human limitations and shaped a ministry from that? Like a child pouring pennies on a candy store counter, asking, “How much candy can I get with that?” we can look at the time, gifts, energy, and ideas we have and ask, “How much church can we get with that?” (105)

If it’s right for me to be here (and I beliee it its) and it’s alright for me to be limited (and I believe it its), I have to trust that there’s a way to do this job without it destroying me. If he gave the church to humans, he must have a way for humans to do church. (105) 

One way I equip my leaders is to remind them it’s their job to equip others. We’re not soloists; we’re choirmasters. Its not our job to do the work but to give the direction: to pick the note, choose when to start and wait for the community to shape the fullness of the song. (108)

All in all, I found this book quite helpful. There were so many positive messages in it that I needed to hear once again. Being a pastor, or any kind of Christian leader, is not about being enough…. Its about being willing to revel in our own weakness and in God’s strength.


Note: I received this book from IVP in exchange for an impartial review.

Book Review – Slow Church by Christopher Smith and John Pattison

Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus explores what it would look like for the church to embrace the “slow” way of life. The authors explore the possibility of doing slow church by focusing on three areas – ethics, ecology, and economy. By “ethics” they are referring to what it means to be the embodiment of Christ in a particular location. By “ecology” they are referring to their place within God’s mission of reconciliation. By “economy” they are referring to God’s provision to carry out his reconciling work. As the authors tackle each section they give us a sampling of what it looks like to live as a “slow church.” They do not provide “steps” or “instructions” or “how-to-lists” – because that would be characteristic of a “fast” way of doing church, rather they paint pictures with words, give plenty of examples of churches who practice “slow church,” and open up the reader’s imagination as to what God might want to do in each local church community.

Review

Efficiency, predictability, calculability, and control – are four words that nail down the essence of MacDonaldization. These are the same four words that nail down the essence of (many) Mega Churches. Working in a Mega Church I know that many see these four words as “good words” but Smith and Pattison see them as “bad words.” They aren’t qualities that we as a church should strive to achieve. Nevertheless I have seen ministries built around these four concepts. As I see churches strive to achieve these things I can’t help but think to myself – Is this the way that Jesus would have done things? Is this the way that Jesus built his “little flock?” Is a MacDonald-ized (Supersized) church the church that Jesus envisioned? I don’t know. Either way, I know that this is the Church that Jesus loved and died for. Whether it’s a “fast church” or a “slow church” Jesus loves his church. However because Jesus loves his church he desires to see his church flourish. I honestly (along with Smith and Pattison) think that the “fast church” isn’t flourishing. Humans can’t thrive and flourish on a fast food diet – neither can the church thrive and flourish with a “fast church” mentality. Change is needed – the church needs to slough off its industrialized and Macdonald-ized approach to church. It needs to embrace a holistic, interconnected, organic, and local way of life grounded in a grand gospel. Slow Church helps us imagine what it would look like if the church were to do that.

A Personal Note

I believe that I have embraced (or at least have tried to embrace) a holistic, interconnected, organic, and local way of living out the gospel. Of course, being a fallen human being, I am tempted to Macdonaldize my ministry. I am tempted to value efficiency, predictability, calculability, and control over and above relationship and God’s sovereignty. However Jesus helps me to recognize my sin and repent of such things. One area in which the Lord has been helping me to do that has been in the area of discipleship. I want people to grow in Christ, I desperately want that. I want the college students I work with to grow into a Christ-centered community of missional disciples. But my temptation has been to try to systematize that growth. However as I read this book I came to realize that much like a political revolutionary I wanted, no I demanded, instant change. However (as the authors say) “unlike human revolutionaries, who demand instant change, God is not impatient.” I am impatient – I want growth to happen now – on my time and my conditions. As this book has forced me to rethink how people grow I have come to realize that God’s primary means of growing people is through the slow process of intentional one on one and small group relationships. Spiritual Growth takes time and effort, it’s a slow process, it’s a messy process, its a relational process, and I am certainly not in control of it. Spiritual Growth cannot be “Macdonaldized” – it’s a slow and organic process.

(Note: I received this book courtesy of IVP in exchange for an impartial review.)

Book Review – Visions of Vocation by Steven Garber

What the heck am I supposed to be doing with my life?

Working with college students I hear that question all the time. It seems like it is a perpetual mystery among college age/post-college age adults. To be honest it seems to be a perpetual mystery for myself as well.

In recent years we have seen a sort of resurgence among books, sermons, and blogs about Christian visions of vocations. What is a vocation? Is a career the same thing as a vocation? What does faith have to do with work? How do our vocations contrSteven Garberibute to the missio dei? Tim Keller and the people over at The Center for Faith and Work have done a lot to help Christians answer those questions. Another person who has been contributing answers to these sorts of questions for many years now has been Steven Garber. He heads up the Washington Institute – an institute which exists to help people pursue “a vision of vocation that is fully engaged with the realities of life in the 21st century.” This book, Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common God, is birthed out of Garber’s many years of reflection upon the topics of vocation and social engagement.

Summary

Vocation is an ethereal concept – invoking images of a divine calling or a sort of mystical experience where one is called into one’s destiny, a destiny that has been set out for you since before the foundations of the earth. But are we complicating the concept of vocation by making them, for lack of a better word, so epic? Garber seems to think so. According to Garber – our vocations boil down to the different ways “wVisions of Vocatione are responsible, for love’s sake, for the way the world is and ought to be. We are called to be common grace for the common good.” (18) As Christians we are called to many levels of responsibility – we are responsible for our own relationships with God, we are responsible for other’s flourishing as human beings, and we are responsible for the flourishing of creation – these three things are part of the cultural mandate which God gave Adam and Eve in the Garden. All that we do, or don’t do, contributes or detracts from our ability to fulfill those responsibilities.

Sadly though the world is broken, and for most seeing brokenness leads to apathy or stoicism – yet the challenge, as Garber points out, is to live a life of engagement, choosing to step into the mess of the world, understanding it and choosing to serve it.

If we have eyes to see we are forced to make a decision. Will we serve the world or serve ourselves? This is the central theme of Garber’s book – it’s a sort of existential crisis, that shapes one’s entire life:

Knowing what I know what will I do?

Having read the things I have read, having seen the things I have seen, having heard the things I have heard, having met the people I have met, what will I do about those things? Will I choose to grow numb, as our westernized – hyper connected culture has chosen to do, or will we love this world and contribute to the common good? This does not necessarily mean we will be idealistic about the possibilities, this does not mean we should pretend that perfect justice is possible – yet we should aim for proximate justice. Given the fact that we live in a now/not yet reality of the Kingdom we cannot expect the world to be “fixed” by us, nevertheless we have a responsibility to contribute to the common good.

The choice is ours, will we chose to serve the world we live in – using our talents, passions, experiences, resources – or will we choose to settle for lives that revolve around ourselves? To do the first, to step into the frailty and brokenness of the world is what vocation is all about. Some people will choose to serve others through education or agriculture. Some will shoes to do the same through the world so business and law, or healthcare and the arts, or butchering, baking, and candlestick making. Some will even choose to serve the world by blogging about books. All these sorts of vocations are answers to the question, “knowing what I know, what will I do?”

Review

This book was timely for me; recently I have been asking a lot of questions about vocation and calling. I have read plenty of books about the integration of faith and work (both for the college students I work with and for myself). I have found myself in a position stuck between two seemingly opposing trajectories – academia and ministry. In fact I was reading this book while sitting on a plane to Fort Worth to deliver a paper at the Evangelical Theological Society regional conference. As I read the book, and thought about my own future – whether I would be spending the rest of my days sitting on planes going to deliver papers or whether I would spend the rest of my days equipping the church for the works of the missio dei – one question kept haunting me:

Knowing what you know, what will you do?

There are a few things I know, and I am responsible to my fellow man and more importantly to God to do something about those things. As Garber says “knowledge means responsibility and responsibility means care.” (221)

That question – Knowing what you know, what will you do? – Is an extremely powerful question. It’s a question that forces you to make a decision. Everybody knows certain things about the world, everybody has certain conceptions of what the world ought to be like – that question forces everybody who hears it into a point of decision – will I do something about it or will I withdraw? After hearing that question over and over how could I withdraw? How could I fail to step forward into answering the call?

Conclusion

At times the way Garber talks about vocation seems to privilege “world shaping” vocations – educators, teachers, politicians, artists – and seems to neglect more typical vocations – retail worker, mid-level management, service industry workers, homemakers – so I wonder what he thinks about those sorts of callings. Nevertheless, Garber sets out a clear vision of what vocation is – its your answer to the question “knowing what you know, what will you do?” Whatever answer you give to that question will contribute to the common good.

Weaving together personal stories, literature, film, music, and scripture to show us what vocations are all about, Garber has written a book that will certainly inspire you to see your place in the world a bit differently. He not only aims at our heads, he aims at our hearts, drawing us into the story of what God is doing in this world. He invites us into the critical task of coming alongside of God as God himself give grace to a world that is broken and falling apart. Answering that invitation is what vocations are all about.

As a side note – I know its early in the year, but this book is so well written, so theologically powerful, and packs such a powerful devotional punch that it is definitely a frontrunner for my book of the year award.

(Note: I recieved this book courtesy of IVP in exchange for an impartial review.)