The Threat of Christian Zionism by Nathan Pitchford
If the phenomenal success of the bestselling Left Behind series indicates anything about the prevailing eschatological mindset across a wide swath of the evangelical landscape in modern America, then we would do well to pause and consider. Where is this fascination with the sensational, and frequently outright bizarre, interpretation of the significance of current events coming from? What is driving the obsession to see end-time prophetic events transpiring in every headline? What connection does this mindset have with the implacable opposition to any measure taken for peace in the Middle East which would leave the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, the West Bank, or any part of Jerusalem outside of the complete control of the modern state of Israel? More importantly, what ideologies, theological convictions, or ways of understanding the bible lie beneath these phenomena, and how much of an impact are they having on the theological moorings of the Church today? I suspect that the impact is significant enough to warrant a strong warning statement about the movement known as Christian Zionism, and the hyper-Dispensationalism which drives it, from the leaders of the evangelical Church. Unfortunately, however, it has not received the united front of resistance with which other threats to the health of the Church have been met with, such as Openness theology and gender-role confusion. Is this because many Evangelical leaders share enough theological convictions in common with the more extreme examples of the movement that they are loathe to give a clear denunciation? Or do they simply not perceive the errors as being a significant or widespread enough a danger to warrant the time and effort of a thoroughgoing rebuttal? Whatever the reason, there seems to be a general lack of attentiveness to a very rampant problem in Evangelicalism. Perhaps it is time to make clear just what Christian Zionism is (as well as all its theological bedfellows), what convictions are driving it, and what results it is tending towards in the thoughts and practice of the contemporary believer.
What is Christian Zionism?
Simply speaking, Christian Zionism is support for the Jewish movement to regain possession of their ancient homeland, which derives from a Christian theology and understanding of the Bible. In the most basic of terms, this Christian theological support comes from a literalistic reading of such passages as Genesis 13:14-15, where God promises to Abraham, “All the land which you see, I will give it to you and to your seed forever”. When this motif is conflated with such passages as Genesis 12:3 [spoken to Abraham], “And I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse the one who curses you…”; and Joel 3:2, “And I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat, and I will judge them there because of my people, even my heritage, Israel, because they scattered them among the nations and because they divided my land”; the obvious implication is that, anyone who fails to support modern Israel in all her struggles with her various enemies, or anyone who approves of a treaty by which the boundaries first promised to Abraham are divided between Israel and her neighbors, will be under God’s curse, and the object of his eschatological judgment. The glaring problem with this simplistic reasoning, of course, is that it fails to take into account the biblical qualification as to who is intended by Abraham’s “Seed,” and what is indicated by the land which he was promised (for the former, see Galatians 3:16; 3:28-29; Romans 4:11-17; for the latter, see Galatians 4:26; Hebrews 11:9-10; 12:22-24).
Of course, if there were only a handful of minor passages that this understanding affected, it would be somewhat inflammatory to call it dangerous, or even severely misguided. But the simple fact is that it affects one’s interpretation of a whole class of prophecies. For example, consider the following prognostication, involving a broad range of scriptural testimonies:
The situation in Lebanon portends that Israel may soon be involved in another war. Now that Israel has withdrawn from the buffer zone in south Lebanon, the situation may quickly escalate to military confrontation with Syria. There are a number of Bible prophecies that may be speaking of the situation just ahead. It’s important to have an understanding of these because fulfilled prophecy is one of the most powerful proofs of the veracity of the Bible. God has revealed the significant details of His plan for human history before they happen. This prophecy regarding the destruction of Damascus could occur very very soon, and we will be able to point to it as yet another evidence that the Bible is absolutely reliable, and that the things that God has spoken will soon take place.