Tag Archives: war

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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Bullet the Blue Sky by U2

In honor of the 4th of July I give you a song about American militarism and the havoc it has wreaked in Central America…

Happy 4th of July!!!

This guy comes up to me
His face red like a rose in a thorn bush
Like all the colors of a royal flush
And he’s peeling off those dollar bills
Slapping them down
One hundred, two hundred
And I can see those fighter planes
And I can see those fighter planes

Across the mud huts where the children sleep
Through the alleys of a quiet city street
You take the staircase to the first floor
Turn the key and slowly unlock the door
As a man breathes into a saxophone
And through the walls you hear the city groan
Outside is America
Outside is America, America

Across the field you see the sky ripped open
See the rain through a gaping wound
Pounding on the women and children
Who run
Into the arms
Of America

Book Review – Warfare in the Old Testament by Boyd Seevers

For most people reading history books is something you have to do, not something you want to do. I am not one of those people. I love history – I especially love historical theology; nevertheless I have always had a hard time with Ancient Near Eastern History. I love ANE literature, mythology, etc. but I have a lot of trouble with ANE history. If I am ever asked to speak about ANE backgrounds I always go straight to stories and myths. This book, Warfare in the Old Testament, contains no such thing. It is pure history yet its history presented in a unique way.

In this book Boyd Seevers, professor of Old Testament at University of Northwestern St. Paul, seeks to describe the military practices of “David, Joshua, other Israelites as well as those of the Egyptians, Philistines, Assyrians, and others known from the Old Testament.” He uses textual and physical evidence from ANE cultures to describe their military practices.

The book is broken up in a pretty straightforward manner – treating various cultures:

  •   Chapters 1-2: Israel
  •   Chapters 3-4: Egypt
  •   Chapter 5: Philista
  •   Chapter 6-7: Assyria
  •   Chapter 8: Babylon
  •   Chapter 9: Persia

The treatment of each of these nations begins with a piece of historical fiction describing what it might look like for a soldier to participate in a historical battle. These sections are probably the most memorable sections (if students read this book this will likely be their favorite parts). The fact that he tells history in narrative form isn’t necessarily unique (you can think of various other NT scholars who have tried to teach NT Backgrounds through historical fiction), but it sure is effective.  Having a vivid picture of what each culture’s military practices looks like will help students learn more than if they were just told what their military practices were.

I was always told when it comes to writing – Show don’t tell! Seevers doesn’t simply tell us about ANE battle practices, he shows us their battle practices.

After the historical fiction, Seevers describes the historical background for the nation, then its military organization, weaponry, and tactics. The book is filled with illustrations (often taken from ancient documents, pottery, engravings, etc. ). Again this helps the reader to “see” what warfare was like in the ANE instead of simply hearing what its like.

So you might be wondering, do I recommend this book and to whom do I recommend it?

The answer to that first question is, absolutely yes! Interesting books on basic ANE backgrounds and culture are hard to find. Now if you look for books on ANE warfare you will be even more hardpressed to find interesting options. Most of those books will probably be academic monographs or published dissertations that focus on some obscure battle, nation, or period. Yet this book’s scope is wide – it provides basic information for many of the major players in the ANE during biblical times. But just because it is basic that doesn’t mean that its shallow. For instance, Seevers devotes an entire section to Israelite helmets and another section to battle tactics against cities and that is just his treatment of Israel. Assyria also receives a good amount of attention. His treatment of Assyrian short-range weapons is extensive and filled with plenty of diagrams showing what these weapons might have looked like. All this to say – as a history book I recommend it. So who is it for? It certainly is not for anybody well versed in Warfare in the Old Testament – there isn’t much original research in this book; but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I would recommend this book to two people: 1) Bible College or Undergraduate Bible teachers and 2) Bible College or Undergraduate Bible students. This would make a fantastic text book, it would also be great for students doing research on ANE culture.  So if you are looking for a textbook for an Ancient Near Eastern Culture or Old Testament Backgrounds class this is the book for you!

(Note: I received this book courtesy of Kregel and was under no obligation to give it a positive review.)

Honor thy Mother(land) and thy Father(land)

“America is not God’s nation. Let me make this clear… America is not the new Israel, nor is it a Christian nation. What the Old Testament does do is critiques the massive wave of Christian support for America’s unbridled militarism. Such alligance is misplaced; such support is unbiblical…..Seing America’s military strength as the hope of the world is an affront to God’s rule over the world. Its idolatry.” – Preston Sprinkle in Fight

Nationalism and Patriotism are quite different things. Growing up I didn’t understand this whatsoever. I vividly remember 9/11. I was in 8th grade when it happened. I remember the types of conversation I had with my friends in the days ensuing the tragedy. “If I were 18 I would join the army and kill those idiots.” “We have to pay them back.” “How dare they do this to America, don’t they know who we are!” There was a surge in nationalism during those days. People blindly turned to war as the solution (or revenge) for what had happened. Pay back through violence is how we made ourselves feel better for what had happened to us. I was one of those people who blindly followed along.

It wasn’t until my senior year of college that I really figured out my view of a Christian’s relationship to the government. Somehow I had picked up a Lutheran(ish) 2 Kingdoms view of politics.

Church and State

The Kingdom of the State was one thing, and the Kingdom of God was another. Certain things belonged to Caesar and certain things belonged to King Jesus. As  Christian I was a citizen of the State but also a citizen of God’s kingdom. This lead me to say things such as “As an American I support the war in Iraq, but as Christian I don’t.” Or “As a citizen I support torture for the sake of America’s safety, but as a Christian I believe it is wrong.” That was typical of my views…. “As an American I_________, but as a Christian I ___________.”  It was only when I began to dive into the Gospels and theology of the Kingdom, mainly through N.T. Wright that my views began to change. I began to see how ridiculous it was to hold a position as an American and hold the opposite position as a Christian. It was during this period, and my time at Fuller under Glen Stassen that I began to submit my political views to Jesus and the way of the Kingdom. My views became integrated. And then I realized that I could still love my country, but not support the things it does. I could be patriotic without being nationalistic.

Here is how Richard Mouw spells out the difference between the two in an essay titled “Patriotism”:

I had serious doubts about the war in Vietnam in my youth, and this was not a popular stance to take in the evangelical world in those days. Evangelical Christians were often super patriotic. “My country, right or wrong” was one their rallying cries.

I had real theological problems with that attitude. That kind of patriotism struck me as boarding on idolatry. The worship – or near-worship – of a nation is a serious problem from a biblical perspective…. Absolute loyalty is something that only God deserves from us.

There is nothing wrong with Patriotism… Indeed it can be a very healthy thing. The Bible often uses the word “honor” in describing what Christians should cultivate in their dealings with the nations in which they live. That’s the same word that is applied in the 10 commandments to our parental relations: “Honor your father and mother.” The link between parents and nation is a good one to think about. There is a natural connection. “Patriotism” comes from the word for “father.” We often speak of our “fatherland” or our “motherland.”

There is nothing wrong with feeling sentimental about our parents… When a mother gets a card from a son that says “You are the Greatest Mom in the World,” she has every right to simply enjoy the compliment… the hyperbole is OK. We all understand that is going on. And we all know that any woman who took the claim literally could be dangerous.

For similar reasons, there is nothing inappropriate as such in thinking of my own country as the Greatest Nation in the World. Sentimental hyperbole is one of the ways we express important affections. But there is a special danger when we say such things of our country. Nations have a tendency to believe that they really ARE the greatest. And nations, especially powerful nations like the United States, have lots of guns and bombs in their possession. Whey they start backing up their belief in their own greatness by using these bombs and guns against other nations, they can become a serious threat.” (Praying at Burger King pg. 116-119)

Mouw’s observation that “patriotism” comes from the same root as “father” is very insightful. We honor our mothers and fathers, but we do not obey when they ask us to do things that contradict what our Heavenly Father requires from us.

Nationalism is blind obedience and support of our nation rooted in the belief that our nation is the “greatest nation in the world.” Patriotism can say that we are “the greatest nation in the world,” however patriotism doesn’t really believe that we are the “greatest nation in the world.” Patriotism honors and cares for one’s nation in the same way one honors and cares for one’s mother and father.

Patriotism is what we are called to as Christians. It’s biblical. Nationalism, on the other hand is idolatry.

To say “As an American I_________, but as a Christian I ___________,” is nationalistic. It’s idolatrous. It’s believing that certain things belong to Caesar and other things belong to King Jesus. It fails to recognize that they only true king and ruler is Jesus. It fails to express the fact that our allegiance belongs to Jesus alone.