Before covering the historical roots of Christian Zionism let us first give a working definition of Christian Zionism. Christian Zionism can be defined as ' a movement within Protestant fundamentalism that understands the modern state of the country-region Israel as the fulfilment of Biblical prophecy and thus deserving of political, financial, and religious support. Sizer's comments regarding the implications of Christian Zionism are also helpful. He states:
Christian Zionists are therefore also defenders of, and apologists for, the State of Israel. This support consistently involves opposing those deemed to be critical of, or hostile towards Israel, but also leads to the justification of Israel's occupation and settlement of the West Bank, Golan and Gaza on biblical grounds.
As previously shown, the launch of modern Jewish Zionism was likely a result of anti-Semitism in nineteenth century Europe. The idea of the Jews moving back to Palestine seemed too out of reach and unrealistic for most European Jews; however, Theodore Herzl would soon change the minds of many. Herzl made the idea of Jews returning to their homeland a strong and convincing political movement in the early twentieth century. One might assume that Christian Zionism developed alongside or became a product of modern Jewish Zionism. However, 'the notion of the 'restoration' of the Jews to Palestine as a political project was first advanced by Christians. In fact, the first English theologian to advocate Jewish restoration in Palestine was Reverend Thomas Brightman in 1585.
Sizer argues the historical roots of Christian Zionism can be traced all the way back to the Protestant Reformation (sixteenth century). Sizer goes on to state that the Reformation was a time that brought about a renewed interest in the Old Testament and God's dealings with the Jewish people. In addition, the relationship between the Protestant Reformation and biblical literalism that started in the sixteenth century is without a doubt a contributing factor for modern Christian Zionism.
Before the Protestant Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church provided the laity with its interpretation of the Scriptures. For centuries, priests interpreted the Bible allegorically and stressed a deeper spiritual meaning behind the biblical text. For example, one verse in particular that was historically interpreted allegorically was Romans 11:25.98 The word 'Israel' referred to in Romans 11:25 was viewed by many prior to Dispensationalism as a composite of Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ. The idea that the church and Israel were separate and that God had two separate covenants was almost unheard of.
Although many leaders in the Reformation continued to take an allegorical outlook on the Scriptures, some soon began to take a more literal approach in biblical interpretation. Referring back to Romans 11:25, Theodore Beza and Martin Bucer believed 'Israel' was referring to unbelieving Jews and Judaism. In addition, the Geneva Bible (1557 and 1560 editions) noted that the word 'Israel' in Romans 11 referred to the nation of the Jews. So as we can see, the idea of a future state of Israel was to a certain extent rooted in the Reformation era.
One group during the Reformation era that passed on the idea that there would be a future nation of ethnic Jews was the English Puritans. Without going into much historical detail, the Puritans were a British Christian sect that originated in the sixteenth century. One of the major tenets of the Puritans was their belief that the 'Reformers' did not go far enough in 'reforming' the church to its true form. The idea of the Puritans desiring a more 'pure' form of Christianity clashed with the Church of England and the result of this conflict had many Puritans fleeing to colonial America in the seventeenth century.
Another key characteristic of the Puritans is their appeal to see the British as the 'New Israel.' Although the Puritans were not the first Christian sect from Britain to teach such a doctrine, they were still likely the most forthright in advocating this position. Additionally, when the Puritans landed in America they had a highly symbolic outlook of their new home, labelling America as the 'New Zion'.'The belief that America was the 'New Zion' would ultimately affect Puritan eschatology and their views of the Jews.
Though highly postmillennial, the Puritans taught that there would one day be a future nation of ethnic Israel. In regards to Puritan eschatology, Marc Schoeni states:
It is to be noted that contrary to Joachim of Fiore, with whom seventeenth-century postmillennialism shared common ideas about the future of the Church, Puritan (and Pietist) postmillennialism drew much on Romans 9-11, making the mass conversion of the Jews a key element of the whole eschatological picture. This could and eventually did lead to a form of Christian Zionism, where the gathering of the Jews in the Holy Land was seen as God's means of effecting this dramatic end-time conversion.
Through the works of Jonathan Edwards, postmillennialism would go on to 'dominate American eschatology' in the eighteenth century. In addition, the Great Awakening fuelled the fire for American postmillennialists who believed the Kingdom of God was literally being formed on Earth. Many postmillennial Christians believed the Great Awakening would usher in the millennium and the conversion of the Jews would be complete. Although this view of the millennium (postmillennialism) stressed the importance of the conversion of the Jews, it was nevertheless optimistic and evangelistic in its approach. The postmillennialists in the eighteenth century believed everyone needed to hear the Gospel message in order to obtain salvation, including the Jew.
Postmillennialism was short-lived in the United States, mostly due to the perpetual state of war in America and Europe. Sizer cites the American War of Independence (1775-1784), the French Revolution (1789-1793) and the Napoleonic Wars (1809-1815) as contributing factors for the decline of postmillennialism in America. With postmillennialism on the decline, another brand of millennialism was sweeping across America and Europe that would soon dominate evangelical eschatology for the centuries to come. Colin Chapman provides us with an excellent summary on why evangelicals were leaving postmillennialism:
By the turn of the century, premillennialism had become the dominate theology among evangelicals. The Civil War and the horrors of the First World War made it virtually impossible for thinking Christians to hold onto the optimistic worldview of postmillennialism. It simply could not be reconciled with contemporary history.
As noted above, the nineteenth century saw many evangelicals in Britain and America abandoning postmillennialism to adopt premillennialism. This point in history is an extremely important turn of events for this study. The shift from 'optimistic' postmillennialism to 'pessimistic' premillennialism is where we ultimately see the birth of modern Christian Zionism. Though hints of 'Jewish restorationism' could be found in Puritan thought, it would be the premillennialists of Britain and America that would promote and advance Christian Zionism.
Beginning in the nineteenth century, premillennialism became popular amongst evangelical circles in Britain and America. However, it needs to be noted that two major strands of premillennialism erupted around the same time and even 'developed in parallel' with one another. These two different views of premillennialism are called historic/covenantal premillennialism and dispensational premillennialism respectively. Though both brands of premillennialism share many characteristics with one another; nevertheless, there are some key differences to be noted between the two.
One difference between the two is the relationship of the church to the Jewish people. Historic premillennialists of Britain believed that the 'Jewish people would be incorporated within the church and return to Palestine a converted nation alongside nations,' whereas the dispensational premillennialists taught that the Jewish people 'would return to the land before or after their conversion but would remain distinctly separate from the church.' It would be the latter form of premillennialism (dispensational) that concerns us the most in this study since Dispensationalism thrived in America. However, it is still noteworthy to summarize the leaders of historic premillennialism in Britain since it has some ties to modern Christian Zionism.
The nineteenth century seemed to be quite a stepping stone for the Christian Zionist movement. Specifically, the year 1809 is historically important in relations to premillennialism and Christian Zionism. In 1809 one of the first books to link premillennialism and Jewish restoration was produced by George Stanley Faber. Later that year an organization called London Jews Society was formed. The London Jews Society's main purposes were to promote Christianity amongst the Jews and to advocate for Jewish restoration. In addition to the above influences, Sizer cites four main individuals in Britain that helped promote Christian Zionism while advocating for historic premillennialism. The four individuals were: Lewis Way, Charles Simeon, Joseph Wolff and Charles Spurgeon. Sizer states that all four men 'were driven by a literal hermeneutic, a covenantal premillennial eschatology and shared a strong commitment to evangelize the Jewish people.'
The rise of historic premillennialism in Britain also laid the grounds for 'literal' hermeneutics. Though not as extreme as dispensational hermeneutics, many historic premillennialists of Britain at the time were convinced that the Jews would soon come to Christ as a nation and return to Palestine. British historic premillennialists strongly believed that the Jews could not return to Palestine unless they had faith in Christ. Moreover, though they definitely promoted the Jews return to Palestine, 'Support for restorationism was a personal matter and secondary to the priority of gospel ministry among the Jews'.
Around the same time historical premillennialism started in Britain, another form of premillennialism began to launch. This brand of premillennialism is known as dispensational premillennialism. Unlike the British historic premillennialists, dispensationalists believed the conversion of the Jews was meaningless it terms of restoring the Jews back to Palestine. In addition, evangelism towards the Jews was a low priority for the dispensationalist, whereas political advocacy for the Jewish return to Palestine was strongly emphasized. The rise of Dispensationalism would ultimately dominate British evangelical eschatology and the movement would eventually carry over to evangelicalism in America.
The fact that Dispensationalism began to replace historic premillennialism as the leading form of eschatology is significant in terms of this study because this form of eschatology is what most closely resembles the modern Christian Zionism movement we witness today. It is only appropriate that we now detail the history of Dispensationalism and how this movement reached America.
Many might assume Dispensationalism is a product of American evangelicalism; however, the movement originated in nineteenth century Great Britain far from the shores of New England. Dispensationalism would eventually reach America in the 1870s, but the movement officially took off four decades earlier across the Atlantic. Sizer cites three main individuals in Great Britain that helped pave the way for Dispensationalism: Edward Irving, Benjamin Newton and John Nelson Darby. Along with these individuals, Sizer notes two 'prophetic conferences' (Albury and Powerscourt) held in Great Britain that also helped promote and expand dispensational thought in Europe. Although each individual and conference had a powerful influence in promoting Dispensationalism, most of the attention will be given to John Darby since he likely had the strongest influence in American Dispensationalism.
Edward Irving (1792-1834) was born in Scotland and spent most of his life ministering in his homeland. Towards the end of his life Irving grew in popularity and was asked numerous times to speak in London. The few times Irving spoke in London the visits resulted in uproar amongst those attending the London conferences. Most of the ministers listening to Irving were predominantly optimistic and evangelistic in their worldview and eschatology; however, Irving had a much different approach concerning the future. Irving believed 'the end' was near and stressed missionary work was unnecessary since judgment was right around the corner.
Irving was highly influenced by Manuel Lacunza's work, Coming of the Messiah in Glory and Majesty. Lacunza's book was first published in 1812; however, Irving did not come across the work until 1826. Lacunza's book was essentially a commentary on the book of Revelation and predicated 'imminent apocalyptic events.' In addition to giving a literal interpretation on the book of Revelation, Lacunza's work also stated that the restoration of the Jews needed to happen in order for Christ to return. Lacunza's book quickly became widespread in Britain after Irving translated the original work (Spanish) into English.
Along with Edward Irving, Benjamin Newton (1807-1899) was another strong voice promoting Dispensationalism in Great Britain. Newton's work was best known for its 'speculative prophecy' and colored maps that pictured the revived Roman Empire. In the 1860s, Newton wrote numerous books promoting dispensational premillennialism and most of his work gained widespread attention amongst British evangelicals. In addition, Newton also lectured in colleges across Great Britain promoting Dispensationalism. So as we can see, Newton was highly influential in the early movement of Dispensationalism. Nevertheless, the true 'father of Dispensationalism and the most influential figure in the development of its progeny,' is John Nelson Darby.
Before John Nelson Darby (1800-1882) became the figure head of Dispensationalism, he was once 'a one-time Anglican priest in the Church of Ireland.' Shortly after Darby became a priest, he became 'disillusioned' with the 'contemporary church' and believed the established church lacked true spirituality as portrayed in the book of Acts. Because of his disgruntlement with the established church, Darby began to fade away from the Church of Ireland. In 1829 Darby began meeting at homes with others who shared Darby's view of the church and in 1831 Darby officially 'joined the Brethren group at Plymouth, which he said 'altered the face of Christianity for me.'
Darby's influence in the Plymouth Brethren movement in England cannot be overstated. Before Darby joined the group in 1831, the Brethren were a small and almost unheard of movement. However, through Darby's leadership and charisma the movement 'grew rapidly.' Eight years after Darby joined the group, the once expanding society reached a standstill. At this pivotal moment in Brethren history there were two main voices trying to be heard in the group: John Darby and Benjamin Newton.
Newton ascribed to most of Darby's views of the church; however Newton 'rejected the idea of a secret rapture or belief that the Jews and the church would be eternally separate.' Darby on the other hand 'broke not only from previous millenarian teaching but from all of church history by asserting that Christ's second coming would occur in two stages.' Moreover, Timothy P. Weber provides an excellent summary to this crucial moment in Plymouth Brethren history:
The Plymouth Brethren who first heard Darby's teachings found them quite controversial and unsettling. The problem was neither his dividing of human history into eras nor his claim that one could arrive at the Bible's meaning only by taking a strictly literalistic approach to the text. Others have made similar claims before. What rattled even fellow futurists was Darby's insistence that the Bible contained two stories, not just one. To Darby, the Bible revealed two divine plans operating in history, one for an earthly people, Israel, and the other for a heavenly people, the church.
Darby's form of Dispensationalism ultimately surpassed Newton's and became the leading view within the Brethren movement. After Darby took control of the Plymouth Brethren, he started to travel across the world spreading his form Dispensationalism. Darby made several trips to various parts of Europe, New Zealand and Canada promoting his brand of biblical interpretation. In addition, Darby also travelled to the United States seven times between 1862 and 1878.
As a result of Darby's travels to the United States, Dispensationalism quickly spread throughout America and became accepted among many conservative Protestants. Stephen Spector notes that the timing of Darby's trips to the United States was 'propitious.' Before Dispensationalism came to the shores of America, 'liberal theologians' dominated Christian thought and many (liberal theologians) were accused of attacking the idea that the Bible is not the literal word of God. Many Christians in America were becoming so discontented with liberal theology and as a result many evangelicals 'welcomed Darby's emphasis on biblical literalism and prophecy.'
In the late nineteenth century, Dispensationalism spread throughout North America with the help of 'prophecy conferences' and Bible institutes. In addition to conferences and schools, there were also numerous individuals in America that helped promote and shape Dispensationalism/Christian Zionism in its early phase. Sizer cites James H. Brooks (1830-1897), Arno C. Gaebelein (1861-1945), D.L. Moody (1837-1899), William Blackstone (1841-1935) and C. I. Scofield (1843-1921) as contributors who promoted American Christian Zionism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Additionally, this form of biblical interpretation ultimately became so popular that by the beginning of WWI, 'dispensationalism had become nearly synonymous with fundamentalism and Pentecostalism.'
After WWI, Dispensationalism/Christian Zionism held a steady following of believers. However, the movement gained a significant amount of newcomers in the year 1948. When Israel became an official nation in 1948 many American Christians viewed this event as a fulfilment of biblical prophecy. At this point in history (1948) Christian Zionism started to become more than just a form of biblical interpretation in the United States. As a result of the Jews return to Palestine, many Christian Zionists became increasingly involved in U.S. politics.
After the creation of Israel, Christian Zionism became increasingly popular amongst evangelicals in America for the next couple of decades. More and more evangelicals began to embrace Dispensationalism and Zionist ideology. Furthermore, America saw many more Christians aligning themselves to Zionist principles beginning in the mid to late 1970s. Ruether cites three major developments that lead to the increase of Christian Zionism in America in the 1970s: 1). Israel's conquest of the West Bank in 1967; 2). the rise of religious fundamentalist and revisionist Zionism and 3). the presidency of Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter.
After the presidency of Reagan and Carter, Christian Zionism had no intention of slowing down and the movement rapidly increased across the United States in the evangelical world. Some of the major proponents of Christian Zionism for the last thirty years in the United States have been: Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, John Hagee and Hal Lindsey to name a few. All of these men, with the exception of Falwell (passed away in 2007), are currently still active in the promotion of Christian Zionism in the United States.
Covering the historical aspect of Christian Zionism is undeniably significant for one's understanding and assessment of this movement; however, one can obtain all there is to know about the history of Christian Zionism and still not comprehend Christian Zionist theology. To fully grasp why Christian Zionists support the Jewish state one must examine Dispensationalism theologically. Through this short dissection of Dispensationalism three areas will be highlighted: 1) definition of Dispensationalism; 2) foundations of dispensational hermeneutics; and 3) key distinctions of Christian Zionist theology.
Before we discuss Dispensationalism as a hermeneutical system, one should know the definition of 'dispensation'. Stanley Grenz notes that the word 'dispensation' is found in the King James Version of the Bible and the word is used to refer 'to the administration of God's earthly household.' Craig Blaising elaborates on the word (dispensation) and states that it has often been used 'to periodize biblical history.' To simplify, dispensationalists believe God has divided biblical history into distinct time periods to test man. Furthermore, these different 'time periods' are also known as 'dispensations'.
The concept of dividing the Bible into distinct 'dispensations' did not originate with John Darby. Sizer notes that 'prior to the rise of Dispensationalism it was common to divide history into two or three dispensations.' Even within the Brethren movement there were multiple understandings on how many dispensations biblical history portrayed. However, ultimately Darby's view of dispensations came out on top, which taught that there are seven dispensations in biblical history. Moreover, what is crucial for this study is to point out that Darby's Dispensationalism stressed a 'rigid distinction' between Israel and the church.
As we have already pointed out, Christian Zionist hermeneutics is solely based on traditional Dispensationalism, which is a system that stresses a 'literal interpretation' of the Scriptures. Stephen Sizer even takes it a step further and states that Christian Zionists interpret the Bible 'in an ultra-literal sense', viewing all the prophetic literature 'as pre-written history' and 'eschatology fulfilled in the interpreter's lifetime.' Additionally, Sizer notes that this form of interpretation (ultra-literalism) differs greatly from traditional Protestantism, which he states still uses 'literalism, nevertheless begins with the setting of the author as well as recipients and is also shaped by the historical, cultural, grammatical and theological contexts.'
So how do dispensationalists define 'literal interpretation'? Norman Gulley states that literal interpretation for the dispensationalist 'means obvious or clear meaning.' For the dispensationalists, the 'obvious or clear meaning' means to interpret the passage at hand in its plain 'literal' sense. In effect, the dispensationalist must not allegorize or 'spiritualize' the biblical text unless the genre of the text is symbolic. For example, dispensationalists take the prophetic passages in the Old Testament concerning Israel and believe those prophecies are to be fulfilled in an 'earthly future kingdom,' hence modern day Israel. An opposing interpretation to the dispensational view is to see the prophecies regarding Israel as fulfilled in Christ or the church (allegorical/spiritual).
Building on this basic understanding of Dispensationalism, the author is now free to develop further the details pertaining to the fundamental teachings found in Christian Zionist theology. Due to the limitations of the present thesis, this is going only to be a general list, and not all Christian Zionists adhere to these beliefs. Nevertheless, the author finds that most who label themselves as a 'Christian Zionist' believe in these tenants. In addition, this list is mostly concerned about the theology behind the strong Jewish support.
Probably the most distinct doctrine of Christian Zionism is the belief that there are two chosen peoples: the Jews and the church. The belief that Israel is separate from the church stems from traditional dispensational hermeneutics that essentially views Israel as the people of God in the Old Testament and the church as the people of God in the New Testament. Additionally, because of the 'rigid distinction' between the church and Israel, dispensationalists teach that a 'restored national Israel' will eventually replace the church after the so-called 'secret rapture'.
Sizer remarks that although some in early church history (Marcion) have made similar claims that Israel and the church are separate, it was Darby who first advocated that 'The Jewish nation is never to enter the Church.' One way to visualize this doctrine is to 'imagine the way railway lines run parallel but never meet, that is how many dispensationalists believe Israel and the church remain separate.' This understanding that the church and Israel are separate has led many Christian Zionists to believe that 'modern Israel' demands Christian support financially and politically.
A second core theological conviction of Christian Zionists is the belief that modern Israel deserves all the 'promised land' that is described in the Torah. The conviction that modern Israel deserves the land described in the Torah, specifically Genesis, is rooted in the belief that the Jews are 'God's chosen people' and that biblical Israel is the same as modern Israel. Christian Zionists view the land promises to Abraham in direct correlation with the modern state of Israel.
What is interesting is that some Christian Zionists even believe modern Israel does not possess enough of the land. As Sizer points out, 'To many Christian Zionists the present borders of Israel, even including the disputed Occupied Territories, are only a fraction of those God intends for the Jewish people.' Essentially the only way one can come to this conclusion is if one takes an 'ultra-literal' interpretation of Genesis 15:18, which states, 'On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, 'To your descendents I have given this land, From the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates.' If the above description (Gen. 15:18) were applied today, modern Israel should incorporate 'parts of Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Iraq, and even Kuwait' as well as 'parts of Saudi Arabia'.
A third theological conviction that is dear to Christian Zionists is the belief that in the end of days the Jewish temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem and that the sacrificial system will be reinstituted. The idea that there will be a rebuilt Jewish temple comes from the literal reading of passages in the book of Daniel (ch.9) and the book of Matthew (ch.24). Likely the most cited passage in support of rebuilding the Jewish temple is Daniel 9:24-27:
Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place. So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress. Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined. And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate.
Christian Zionists state that Daniel in verse 26 is referring to AD 70 when the Jewish temple was desecrated and destroyed by the Romans. Additionally, Christian Zionists teach that verse 27 is referring to a future Jewish temple that will be destroyed by the Antichrist. Although the author does not have the space to critique this interpretation, it is interesting to note that prior to the twentieth century very few Christian Theologians have interpreted Daniel 9 in such a way.
A final core theological principle held by nearly all Christian Zionists is the belief that 'those who bless Israel will be blessed and those who curse Israel will be cursed.' This conviction is primarily based off Genesis 12:1-3,165 which states:
Now the LORD said to Abram, 'Go forth from your country, And from your relatives and from your father's house, To the land which I will show you; And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make you a great name; And so you shall be a blessing; And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.
Using the above passage as a 'proof text', Christian Zionists insist God judges everyone according to their treatment of the Jewish people and the state of Israel. For example, a mainstream Christian Zionist conviction is that the United States is blessed by God because the federal government provides millions of dollars of financial aid to Israel, along with providing large supplies of weapons to the Israeli military. On the opposite end, a nation that provides no political or financial support to Israel is considered 'cursed' and outside of God's favor. The author believes both of these examples are the norm within the Christian Zionist movement; nevertheless, Christian Zionists are permitted to criticize Israel's political policies. However, the criticism falls short when questioning 'Israel's theological or historical legitimacy.'
Biblical Exercise: Evaluating Christian Zionist Hermeneutics Genesis 12:1-3
Now the LORD said to Abram, 'Go forth from your country, And from your relatives and from your father's house, To the land which I will show you; And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make you a great name; And so you shall be a blessing; And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.
The above passage is likely the most cited Scripture used by Christians in defense of Christian Zionism. Many other passages in the Bible are used by Christian Zionists to defend their beliefs, but due to constraints of the paper the author will focus solely on Genesis 12:1-3. The reason this passage was chosen for this exercise is because these few verses at the beginning of the Bible play such a vital role for many American Christians. These three verses not only provide the foundation for Christian Zionist theology, but for many Christian Zionists these verses help determine political views as well (foreign and domestic).
To begin the exercise the author will first show quotes from leading Christian Zionists regarding this passage. Leading proponents of Christian Zionism like Hal Lindsey and John Hagee have written extensively on Genesis 12:1-3, providing their interpretation of this short passage. It would be greatly beneficial to view what these leaders of Zionist theology have stated regarding the beginning of Genesis 12. The author will conclude the section by providing a critique of the Christian Zionist interpretation.
An Appraisal of Christian Zionism
and its Implications
Within the world of Christian Zionism, Genesis 12:1-3 is often understood to mean the following: 1) those who bless modern Israel will be blessed; 2) those who curse modern Israel will be cursed; and 3) Israel deserves all the land described in this passage and elsewhere in the Torah. As we will see from the leading Christian Zionists, all three points will be stressed and stretched. The first Christian Zionist we will examine with regard to Genesis 12:1-3 is Hal Lindsey, a man who is probably the most influential Christian Zionist in the world.
Hal Lindsey has written numerous books relating to the 'End Times' and Christian Zionist ideology. Additionally, the most influential writings Lindsey probably has ever produced are: The 1980’s: Countdown to Armageddon and The Late Great Planet Earth. Both books have been read by millions of Christians around the world and have impacted many Christian's views of Israel and the 'End Times'. Moreover, since Lindsey's books have been so widely read with the evangelical community, his interpretation of this passage should not be taken lightly. In regards to the creation of modern Israel and the promises given to Abram in Genesis 12:1-3, Lindsey has written extensively. One of the clearest examples of his interpretation of Genesis 12:1-3 is found in Lindsey's The 1980’s: Countdown to Armageddon.
In the context of Lindsey's interpretation, Lindsey lists four reasons 'why the U.S. has been preserved as a free country.' Lindsey goes on to list the first two reasons, which essentially have nothing to do with Christian Zionism or Israel. However, the third reason he cites is based off Genesis 12:1-3, which leads the reader to a Christian Zionist interpretation of the passage. In this regard, Lindsey notes the following:
The third reason is that the U.S. has stood behind Jews and the nation of Israel in their times of need. Both here and in the Middle East, we have fought persecution of the Jewish people and their nation, many times when no one else would help. God said to Abraham, the father of all Jews: 'I'll bless those who bless you, and I will curse those who curse you.' This promise was extended to protect all the descendents of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Genesis 12:3 and 27:29). I believe that if the U.S. ever turns its back on Israel, we will no longer exist as a nation. Don't take this lightly, for throughout history the rise and fall of empires can be directly related to how they treated the Jews.
Aside from Hal Lindsey, John Hagee is perhaps the most well known Christian Zionist in the United States. In many ways Hagee is probably more recognizable than 43 Vol. 10, No. 40, Mar ch 2012 Al-Mashriq
Lindsey in the Christian Zionist community and even amongst the general population of Christians in the United States. Similar to Lindsey, Hagee has produced numerous books regarding 'speculative prophecy' and support for Christian Zionism. However, unlike Lindsey, Hagee has been extremely influential in the political world of Christian Zionism. In fact, Hagee created what is probably the most significant Christian Zionist organization in the United States (Christians United for Israel).
In one of Hagee's most provocative books, Jerusalem Countdown: A Warning to the World, he provides 'five bible reasons Christians should support Israel.' In a similar fashion to Lindsey's 'reasons why the U.S. is blessed,' Hagee lists several reasons why Christians should support modern Israel. The first three reasons he provides have no ties to Christian Zionism. Yet, the final two reasons provided by Hagee do in fact support the Christian Zionist cause. Hagee's fourth and fifth reasons why Christians should support Israel are:
4. Christians are to support Israel because it brings the blessings of God to them personally.
5. God judges the Gentiles for their abuse of the Jews.
Although Genesis 12:1-3 is only cited once in support for the above reasons (four and five), the 'ultra-literal' interpretation of this passage is expressed throughout Hagee's logic.
What we have witnessed so far from two of the leading Christian Zionists in the United States is somewhat of a direct threat to 'bless modern Israel or else!' Essentially what both leaders (Lindsey and Hagee) are advocating is for all Christians to read this ancient text in a futuristic and ultra-literalistic way in order to come to the same conclusions they have. The author hopes to show that the Christian Zionist position is based on a gross misinterpretation and is filled with many presuppositions regarding Israel's future.
Before we critique the Christian Zionists interpretation, let us first discuss some of the underlying beliefs held by Christian Zionists that relate to this passage. The reason for doing so is to illustrate to the reader why Christian Zionists conclude Genesis 12:1-3 is a 'proof text' for Christians to support the modern state of Israel. The examination of some of the pre-conceived ideas held by Christian Zionists will clarify why the Genesis passage is interpreted with a Zionist slant.
For Genesis 12:1-3 to mean Christians should support the modern state of Israel, one has to have an underlying belief that the modern state of Israel is a fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy. Most dispensationalists/Christian Zionists believe the Abrahamic Covenant is unconditional and not reliant on Israel's faithfulness to Yahweh, therefore the fact that Israel returned to the land in unbelief makes no difference to the Christian Zionist. However, an important question needs to be asked, 'Did God make a covenant promising the land to Israel without any condition?'
If one only reads Genesis idea that the 'land promises' are unconditional seem quite possible. However, if read in context, the reader will notice the following chapters of Genesis make it quite clear that the Abrahamic covenant is more than a 'merely formal deed, or legal transaction on paper with no personal involvement.' Numerous verses following Genesis 12:1-3 tell us that the Abrahamic covenant is in fact conditional. One of the clearest examples that the covenant is based on obedience and faithfulness is seen in Genesis 26:4-5:
I will multiply your descendents as the stars of the heaven, and will give your descendents all these lands; and by your descendents all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; because Abraham obeyed Me and kept My charge, My commandments, My statues, My Laws (emphasis added).
There are also other passages throughout the Torah that clearly state Israel's right to the land is solely based on obedience. Leviticus 20:22-23 is a good example of this principle:
You are therefore to keep all My statutes and all My ordinances and do them, so that the land to which I am bringing you to live will not spew you out. Moreover, you shall not follow the customs of the nations which I will drive out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I have abhorred them.
To conclude, even if one believes the bible predicts a 'future nation' of Israel, then one has to believe Israel will return to the land in belief or at least live in the land in obedience to Yahweh. From the couple passages cited above, Scripture is clear 'biblical Israel' cannot live in the land in disbelief. This fact extremely undermines the notion that Christians should give undivided support for the modern state of Israel when the nation itself has nothing to do with fulfilment of prophecy. As Norman Gulley correctly states, 'Scripture does not teach anywhere Israel's return to the land in unbelief.'
A final observation the author wants to point out is the New Testament's thoughts on the land. Interesting enough, the New Testament 'does not teach anywhere that a land promise was given to Israel.' Gulley goes on to state that, 'Not even Romans 9-11 is there any mention of land. In fact, the New Testament does not present Palestine as the goal for Abraham and his descendents.' This should be a striking observation for those who promote that the Bible teaches a future Israel will one day control the land of Palestine. This belief is difficult to swallow when the New Testament does not even mention the land promises once!
This illustrates why Christian Zionists believe Genesis 12:1-3 commands Christians to support the Israeli state. Simply put, Christian Zionists view the modern state of Israel as a fulfilment of biblical prophecy, therefore Israel deserves Christian support: spiritually, fiscally and politically. However, the author has shown that it is difficult to view the modern state of Israel as a fulfilment of prophecy when modern Israel does not live up to the expectations in the Old Testament, nor does the modern state have in merit seen in the New Testament. One should not consider this observation as sole authority on this issue, but the questions raised above certainly do challenge the Christian Zionist interpretation of Genesis 12:1-3.
Now that the reader understands Christian Zionism more fully, the author would like to propose a question to the reader, 'What effects have Christian Zionism had in the Middle East?' The following is a list of effects Christian Zionism has had in the Middle East.
Neglect of the Palestinian Church
Before discussing what effects Christian Zionism has had towards Arab Muslims in the Middle East, the author believes it is worth mentioning the hardship the Palestinian church has had to face because of Christian Zionism. In general, Christian Zionists have neglected the Palestinian church and have focused more on Israel's 'right to the land.' From a Christian perspective, does it make sense to support a nation (Israel) that rejects Christ as savior and then totally disregard a people group (Palestinian Christians) that do affirm Jesus' Lordship? So we must ask why the Palestinian church is ignored.
One reason why the Palestinian church perhaps has been overlooked in Christian Zionist circles could be due to the neglect of Arab Christianity as a whole. Most Christian Zionists (and sadly many other Christians as well) assume all Arabs are Muslims. However, this is far from the truth. Arab Christianity has a long and rich history and presently millions of Arabs profess to be Christians. In fact, the first Arab 'converts' to Christianity can be seen in the Bible! In addition, the first place the apostle Paul went to go preach after his 'conversion' was Syria! So as we can see, the origins of Arab Christianity can be traced all the way back to the founding of the original church.
Because the teachings of Christian Zionism place such a strong emphasis on the Jews, the native Christian population in the Holy Land becomes forgotten and uncared for. For any fair-minded Christian, this has to be a problem! How can we love and pray for those who reject Christ (Jews) and then turn a blind eye to our brothers and sisters in Christ? It simply does not make sense. The best way to have a change of heart is to listen to the Palestinian Christians themselves. By doing so the reader will discover firsthand what they have to say regarding the effects Christian Zionism has had on the people.
We have previously documented the strong connection Christian Zionists have with the Israeli state. Consequently, because of this strong relationship, the outreach to Muslims (particularly those living in the Middle East) has been quite difficult. One reason why it has been problematical to share Christ to Muslims is mostly due to the 'one-sidedness' of Christian Zionism. Many Muslims simply cannot understand why so many Christians give Israel unconditional support. Therefore, since Muslims view the majority of Christians choosing Israel over them, an unseen strife is put in place between Christians and Muslims.
The fact that Arab Muslims already have these presuppositions should raise red flags to the Western Christian community. Instead, most Western Christians brush off these statements and disregard mostly what Muslims feel regarding Christian support for Israel. There is a reason why many Muslims feel the way they do and as Christians we should be receptive towards them.
Hatred of Muslims
It is sad when the author even has to mention such a concept, but hatred towards Muslims is widespread in Christian Zionist ideology. The author believes the hatred is there for a couple of reasons. One reason was previously mentioned, but it is worth expanding on. Colin Chapman states in one of his articles that because of the 'Unquestioning support for Israel and all its policies and actions' the Christian Zionist is lead 'toward a demonization of Muslims and Islam.' The author concurs with Chapman's statement and believes his assessment is accurate.
A second reason why hatred of Muslims is widespread in Christian Zionist circles is largely due to September 11. Ever since September 11, 2001 the detestation of Muslims (predominantly Arab Muslims) has grown rapidly in Western society. The author has participated in numerous conversations with Christian Zionists who often equate the Palestinians to the nineteen hijackers of September 11. The author recognizes that not all Christian Zionists would make such a statement; nevertheless, most Christian Zionists do view the Palestinians as 'terrorists' towards the Israeli state.
Who Are The Palestinians?
For those who are unacquainted with evangelical 'contemporary missiological thought and practice', there recently has been a shift in approach to reach people for Christ. This shift has changed from previously focusing on geographical regions to now focusing on 'people groups.' Furthermore, Andrew Bush tells us that 'The strategy of reaching people groups is well understood throughout the evangelical mission community.' So the idea of reaching people groups is a widespread idea in the world of American evangelicalism.
The main problem with this concept is the fact that Christian Zionists refuse to view the Palestinians as a 'distinct people group.' Andrew Bush elaborates on this dilemma, stating, 'Christian Zionists often assert that there is no authentic people group known as Palestinians, that the Palestinians are merely Arabs without cultural distinction from other Arab communities in the Levant.' However, this is simply not the case. One does not even need to go that far back in history to prove that the Palestinians have a rich history in the Holy Land. For instance, in the 1880s Jews only made up five percent of the population of Palestine, whereas the remaining ninety-five percent were Palestinian Arabs! Ultimately the idea that the Palestinians have no culture or history of their own defies history and logic altogether.
The above observations are just a few problems Christian Zionism has either caused directly or indirectly in the Middle East. Certainly the effects of Christian Zionism are not limited to the reasons mentioned above; nevertheless, the reasons provided should be sufficient enough to prove Christian Zionism has had a negative impact in the Middle East. The problems listed should have anyone who subscribes to the teachings of Christian Zionism to seriously question this belief system and evaluate if Christ would endorse a theology that is based on giving undivided support for a single 'ethnicity'. The Christian should look to Christ's statement found in Mark 12:28-31 as challenging to the premises of Christian Zionism regarding Palestinians:
One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, 'What commandment is the foremost of all?' Jesus answered, 'The foremost is, HEAR, O ISRAEL! THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE LORD; AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.' 'The second is this, YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.' There is no other commandment greater than these.'
In this passage Christ is commanding all of His followers to love everyone out of obedience to God. In regards to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, a 'Christ-centered' position is essential for every Christian - be willing to love and to love all.
1. Stephen Sizer, Christian Zionism: Road Map to Armageddon? (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004): 20-21.
2. Marc Schoeni, "The Roots of Christian Zionism," Theological Review 26, no. 1 (April 2005): 26.
3. Colin Chapman, "Premillennial Theology, Christian Zionism, and Christian Mission," International Bulletin of Missionary Research 33, no. 3 (July 2009): 139.
4. Stephen Spector, Evangelicals and Israel: The Story of American Christian Zionism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 13.
5. D. J. Miller, in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell. 2nd ed. vol. 14. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001. 317.
6. Sizer, Christian Zionism: Road Map to Armageddon?, 53.
7. Spector, Evangelicals and Israel: The Story of American Christian Zionism, 15.
9. Rosemary Radford Ruether, "Christian Zionism is a Heresy," Journal of Theology for Southern Africa, no. 69 (December 1989): 61.
10. Blaising, Craig A, Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond, ed. Stanley A. Gundry and Darrell L. Block (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 184.
11. Sizer, Christian Zionism: Road Map to Arma48 Vol. 10, No. 40, Mar ch 2012 Al-Mashriq
13. Stephen Sizer, Zion's Christian Soldiers: The Bible, Israel and the Church (Nottingham: InterVarsity Press, 2007), 41.
15. Hal Lindsey, The 1980's: Countdown to Armageddon (New York: Bantum Books Inc, 1981); Hal Lindsey, The Late Great Planet Earth (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1970).
16. Gulley, "Dispensational Biblical Interpretation: Its Past and Present Hermeneutical Systems," Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 4, no. 1 (1993): 77-8.
17. Ibid., 80.
18. Gary M. Burge, Whose Land? Whose Promise? What Christians Are Not Being Told about Israel and the Palestinians (Cleveland: The Pilgrim Press, 2003), 208-32. In this section of Burge‘s book he describes some of the leading Palestinian Christian leaders. He goes on to detail some of their struggles they have encountered living in Palestine. In addition, Burge also documents some encouraging stories as well.
19. Chapman, "Premillennial Theology, Christian Zionism, and Christian Mission," 139.
20. Andrew F. Bush, "The Implications of Christian Zionism for