Christian Zionism

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Christian ZionismChristian Zionism 
Road-map to Armageddon?

Stephen Sizer 
ISBN 9781844740505 (1844740501) 
IVP, 2004 
£14.99

Category: Israel & Palestine 
Reviewed by: Phil Groom

Israel’s crimes against humanity must always be seen against the backdrop of the equally terrible crimes of humanity against Israel. But does this make those crimes — its ongoing abuse of the Palestinians and, as I revisit this review at the beginning of 2009, its current assault on the Gaza Strip — any less offensive? Personally, I think not: I originally wrote this review for Evangelical Quarterly in August 2006, during Israel’s war of vengeance against Hezbollah in Lebanon. More than two years later, have any lessons been learned? Has anything changed? It seems not. Apart from these introductory paragraphs, then, this review also remains unchanged, and Sizer’s book remains as relevant and necessary today as it was when originally published.

James warns us (James 3:1) that those who teach will be judged all the more harshly; and similarly, those who represent God to the world will surely be held to even greater account than those who do not know him. This, if it applies to any nation, must surely apply to Israel if they are indeed God’s chosen people.

Hamas’ and Hezbollah’s crimes not withstanding, the State of Israel’s ongoing abuse of the Palestinian people and its neighbours in Lebanon is without a shadow of doubt both a crime against humanity and an offence against God. And the tendency of many Christians to give uncritical support — or even open endorsement — to Israel’s apartheid and wholly disproportionate policies is an aberration that compounds that offence.

If you’re a Christian Zionist you’ll find those opening paragraphs extremely troubling. Are we not, as Christians, required to support the State of Israel? Are not the Jews God’s chosen people? Surely those who bless Israel will be blessed and those who curse Israel will be cursed (Genesis 12:3) — and aren’t statements like these anti-semitic anyway?

Yet as I read this book and observe the current situation it’s difficult to draw any other conclusion. I was brought up in a Brethren assembly, taught to read the Bible from within a dispensationalist framework, and although (as far as I remember) the term “Christian Zionist” was never used, its essence informed my thinking. It took a trip to Israel and time spent with Palestinian Christians, seeing the oppression first-hand, to bring home to me how distorted my thinking was.

Sizer’s experience, it seems, has been similar, describing himself in his introduction as a young Christian ‘devouring Hal Lindsey’s best-selling book, The Late Great Planet Earth, and hearing in person his lectures on eschatology’, then, after a pilgrimage to the Holy Land — ironically, organised by some ‘Christian Zionist friends’ — experiencing a ‘radical change in perspective.’ (p.9-10).

Many Christians will never have an opportunity to visit Israel in person, but Sizer has done a magnificent job in this book, presenting us with a comprehensive overview of Christian Zionism’s variant streams, historical developments and theologies which allows anyone willing to approach the subject with an open mind to make their own assessment. This is supported by a number of helpful charts comparing, for example, the historical development of Christian Zionism since 1800 (p.105) and the different types of Christian Zionism (p.256-257). His analysis is careful, detailed and meticulous, a distillation of his doctoral thesis, which takes his readers through the movement’s history (chapter 1), examining its theological emphases (chapter 2) and exposing its political implications (chapter 3) to finally emerge (chapter 4) with “Biblical Zionism: a covenantal alternative”, an approach that does justice to both the old covenant under Abraham and the new covenant under Christ and offers hope to Jew and Palestinian alike, eschewing violence and leaving no room for anti-semitism.

Each chapter is broken down into manageable subsections and ends with a concise summary of the arguments presented therein, allowing even an impatient reader to benefit and a more patient reader time to pause and take stock.

Sizer’s final conclusions are — for this reader at least — inescapable:

…the choice is between two theologies: one based primarily on the shadows of the old covenant; the other on the reality of the new covenant. In identifying with the former, Christian Zionism is an exclusive theology that focuses on the Jews in the land rather than an inclusive theology that centres on Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world. It consequently provides a theological endorsement for racial segregation, apartheid and war. This is diametrically opposed to the inclusive theology of justice, peace and reconciliation which lie at the heart of the new covenant. (p.260).

A glossary of terms, appendix (‘Challenging Christian Zionism’, a statement from Sabeel, the Palestinian Liberation Theology Centre in Jerusalem), eleven pages of bibliography and three indices (people, subjects and biblical references) round the book off, whilst footnotes throughout, rather than endnotes, help to keep the entire volume as reader-friendly as possible. This is a book that deserves the widest possible readership. No one who has a concern for the Middle East should ignore the issues raised; to do so is — returning to Sizer’s introduction — ‘nothing less than to perpetuate the evil of the Levite in the Parable of the Good Samaritan who walked by on the other side.’ (p.13).

The time for silence is over: those who are Israel’s true friends must speak out against Israel’s behaviour before this nation pushes itself over the brink and into Armageddon.

More Reviews
Sixty Academics Endorse Christian Zionism Book

Questioning Sizer’s Sources? 
The following article was kindly brought to my attention in a comment below by ”James”: “See no evil?”: Israel, anti-Zionism, anti-Semitism, and British evangelicals. I leave it entirely to you as reader to make your own assessment.

Phil Groom, January 2009

Phil Groom is this site’s Webmaster and Reviews Editor. He’s a regular contributor to Christian Marketplace magazine and is the manager of London School of Theology Books & Resources. Any opinions expressed here are personal and should not be taken as representing the views of London School of Theology or of any other group or organisation.

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29 thoughts on “Christian Zionism

  1. I am rather surprised that you have decided to give a glowing review to Stephen Sizer’s book, considering Rev Sizer’s own controversial connections with antisemites, Holocaust deniers and the Iranian regime.

    Have you, for example, read the Christianity Today review of Christian Zionism, which asks rhetorically:

    “Does IVP not have fact checkers? This is embarrassing.”

  2. I hadn’t come across that particular review, so my thanks for the link. I’d suggest reading it alongside Charles Kimball’s less polemical review at Sojourners magazine: like Merkley, Kimball looks at three different writers on the topic, including Carter and Sizer and concludes,

    The books by Carter and Sizer offer helpful guidance for those who seek to understand the multiple and often convoluted political and religious dynamics that often thwart hopes for a more peaceful future in the Middle East.

    I find your attempts to portray Stephen Sizer as anti-semitic less than convincing, however: pursuing its present course, Israel is in danger of fuelling its own destruction and a true friend cannot simply turn a blind eye to that and let them get on with it. Christian Zionists may perceive themselves as friends of Israel but egging Israel on along the path of self-destruction is ultimately far more anti-semitic than warning them off. Perhaps you would also brand the Hebrew prophets as anti-semitic?

    Sizer’s book has its weaknesses, of course, but as Graham Beynon concludes in his review for The Biblical Theology Briefings:

    These weaknesses though are minor. This is an excellent book on an important subject, thoroughly researched and well written. If you want to read something on Christian Zionism, this is it.

    I’d concur with that assessment.

  3. Thank you for your swift answer to my post, and for taking the time to look at the links I’ve provided.

    Rev Sizer has already claimed that ‘What I learned was that Palestine needed to be liberated from the Jews’ (original source here).

    Surely calling for an area of the world to be ‘liberated from the Jews’ doesn’t sound good.

    I don’t think a book that is heavily critical of Israel and Christian support of Israel but has little to say about Hamas or Christian support of Hamas will in any way contribute to peace in the Middle East.

    Sizer gives an overview of the Christian Zionist movement, but that’s not the same as contributing to peace in the Middle East.

    You’ve mentioned “Israel’s crimes against humanity”, but where is your criticism of Hamas whom they are fighting, who target Israeli civilians and use their own civilians as human shields?

  4. Israel’s crimes against humanity must always be seen against the backdrop of the equally terrible crimes of humanity against Israel…

    Hamas’ and Hezbollah’s crimes not withstanding…

    I do not support Hamas or Hezbollah: their terrorist activities are every bit as criminal as Israel’s.

    As a UK resident I have lived through the terrorist atrocities of the IRA: I well remember those years of living in fear of the next bomb and wondering whether the shopping centre I’d just entered would be their next target. I now live under the threat of terrorist activities from Islamic extremists: will my next tube journey be my last?

    Yet the UK did not resort to air strikes and invasions of Ireland. To have done so would have been to ignite a conflagration that doesn’t bear thinking about. It is just such a conflagration that Israel now risks provoking. Violence only breeds more violence and what we see is effectively state-endorsed terrorism in both directions. This not the path to peace.

    What I wrote was a book review, by the way: a wholesale critique of the Israel-Palestine situation lies well beyond the limited scope of such a publication; which is where blogs such as yours come into their own, of course.

    I empathise with both sides and weep…

  5. Phil,

    I find this comment shocking

    “I do not support Hamas or Hezbollah: their terrorist activities are every bit as criminal as Israel’s.”

    I’m Jewish. Members of my family and some of my friends live in Israel. Just today one of them was nearly killed by a Hamas rocket fired with the express intention of killing innocent civilians.

  6. Phil – remember that Israel is a sovereign nation and member of the UN, and Hamas is an illegal terrorist group. Did you click this link by the way? I don’t think it’s right to draw moral equivalence between Israel and Hamas. Israel doesn’t teach its children to become suicide bombers.

    Furthermore, one can’t compare the deliberate targetting of militants, which is legal in a war, with the deliberate targetting of civilians. The IDF is demonstrably not targetting civilians.

  7. Phil,

    I find this comment of yours to be an appalling piece of moral equivalence:

    “I do not support Hamas or Hezbollah: their terrorist activities are every bit as criminal as Israel’s.”

    I’m Jewish. Members of my family and some of my friends live in Israel. Just today one of them was nearly killed by a Hamas rocket fired with the express intention of killing innocent civilians. When Israel defends herself against such aggression, it does not seek deliberately to kill innocent civilians. Hizbollah and Hamas, in addition, have issued charters and statements which call not only for the destruction of Israel but also the death of every Jew on the planet. There is no comparison between Israel’s actions and those of her enemies. You may find this helpful piece illuminating:

    http://cgis.jpost.com/Blogs/dershowitz/entry/israel_s_actions_are_lawful

    The comparison with the IRA is inappropriate because the IRA (a) usually gave warnings (b) did not commit to destroying the UK and (c) did not deliberately hide among civilian populations. Israel’s enemies do both of those things.

    When you were reviewing Rev Sizer’s book, did you not pick up on his frequent use of antisemitic tropes and sources, or his misrepresentation of Zhava Glaser?

    http://www.bmja.net/chai233.htm

    http://largebluefootballs.blogspot.com/2008/10/why-does-stephen-sizer-misrepresent.html

    I would also encourage you to obtain and read this:

    http://mishkanstore.org/store/product_info.php?products_id=114 Stephen Sizer and Anti-Zionism by Mike Moore. An expose of the factual and historical errors in “Christian Zionism” published in Mishkan 55 2008, — Israel, the Land, and Christian Zionism.

    Finally, Jimmy Carter isn’t the most reliable of sources: see http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/reviews/carter.html

  8. Sorry Phil,
    It still seems to me that you’re missing the point. Hamas is deliberately setting out to kill civilians. Israel isn’t. There is no comparison.

  9. What a typical English attitude to blame both sides rather than say one is wrong!

    Israel is a UN chartered country under attack by Hamas, a fundamentalist terror organisation turned governement of Gaza. When the IRA were attacking the UK British troops occupied Ulster, do you forget the H-Blocks, undercover assasination squads etc… The difference was the IRA didn’t want to total annihilation of England just a united Ireland with no English rule, they were willing to talk.

    You seem a little too keen on talking about “Israel’s self destruction”! Since when was self defence self destruction? I worry that you are the kind of person who will weep and wring their hands in penitence if Israel was destroyed but now call for her to have her hands tied behind her back as the homicidal maniacs attack her.

    Violence breeds violence! sounds wise but not in the real world, why did Hitler loose? negotiations, proportional response from the allies…!

  10. Alex Awad is a well-known anti-Zionist, and appeared at the Voice of Palestine conference in Indonesia alongside reps from Hamas and Hezbollah, Zahra Mostafavi (daughter of Ayatollah Khomeini who encourages children to become suicide bombers), and an Islamist theologian who claimed that Allah would destroy Israel in 2022. Stephen Sizer also attended. The conference itself was organised on Israel’s 60th birthday and lamented Israel’s birth. The conference called for an end to the state of Israel.

    Awad has been demonising Israel for years, and his blog post about recent events is another example of this tendency.

  11. James: on the contrary, I would say therein lies the comparison. Israel has gone into Gaza very deliberately, knowing full well that this present course of action must lead to civilian deaths.

    Both sides are in the wrong. Both sides must cease their violence.

  12. *Holocaust-denier Fred Tobin also attended (read his report of the conference read his report of the conference here).

  13. Both sides are not in the wrong, Hamas is wrong for firing 10,000 rockets into Israel in the last 10 years.

    Israel is excercising its internationally legal right of defending its citizens.

    “Article 51 of the United Nations Charter reserves to every nation the right to engage in self-defence against armed attacks. The only limitation international law places on a democracy is that its actions must satisfy the principle of proportionality.

    Israel’s actions certainly satisfy that principle. This is why all the debate about proportionality, if Israel was being disproportionate, considering the amount of ordinance dropped on Hamas targets, the death toll would be well in its thousands rather than hundreds. On their own admission, most of the dead are Hamas combatants, those civilians who died include those who were forced to be human sheilds, still saying that, our hearts go out to all those who have lost loved ones. No sane person wants war, but Hamas only wants peace with the extinction of Israel.

  14. Phil:

    Would you prefer Israel not to defend itself?

    Israel has no choice but to go into Gaza because Hamas stations its rocket launchers in the middle of the city, deliberately embedding itself in a civilian population. Every reasonable school of philosophy, theology (including Christian theology), jurisprudence, and common sense distingushes between deliberatley targeting civilians and inadvertently killing civilians while targeting terrorists who hide among them. You seemn both a bright and a reasonable guy so I’m surprised you seem so confused on this.

    Did you have a look at the other links I posted?

  15. James, thank you. I’ve added a couple of links (to your blog and to the BMJA article) to my review above.

    For the record, I endorse Israel’s right to self-defence; but Israel certainly has a very real choice over how it pursues that self-defence, and I’m equally surprised that you, as another evidently bright and reasonable guy seem to be unable to see this…

  16. Phil, thanks for linking to my blog & article.

    You’re right, Israel does have a choice. If Israel wanted to do a Grozny (the city that was essentially leveled and turned into a ghost town by Russian bombing and artillery fire in the war against the Chechens), it could manage this fairly easily. After all, Gaza is a relatively small, compact, sealed-off strip of land. Of course this would be accomplished at the cost of tens of thousands of Palestinian civilian casualties, but it would likely put an end to the rocket attacks on southern Israel. However for the vast majority of Israelis this is morally unacceptable.

    By contrast in 2002, as part of its operation against Palestinian fighters in the West Bank, Israel did not launch a massive and indiscriminate air assault. Instead it sent troops into Jenin. The result was between 50 and 60 Palestinian deaths, almost all of them fighters (not the massacre of 500 originally reported and eagerly believed by so many). But the Jenin operation also cost the lives of 23 Israeli soldiers.

    That is to say, Israel sacrificed the lives of its own sons to avoid massive casualties among Palestinian non-combatants.

    That’s the aim of the current ground assault: to destroy and secure Hamas positions that could not be struck from the air without a high risk of civilian casualties, even if it endangers the lives and safety of Israeli soldiers.

    In other words, what Israel is doing is far more reasonable than what Russia did in Grozny. “Crimes agianst humanity”? I don’t think so.

  17. Stephen

    You said:

    “Israel is a UN chartered country under attack by Hamas, a fundamentalist terror organisation turned governement of Gaza.”

    If Israel were to go back to the UN chartered borders, rather than illegally occupying land not part of that charter then I think they would have a lot more moral authority. By being complicit in land settlements, as well as outright occuplation, they have not acted wisely at all.

    Also, it is quite wrong to equate the current secular UN-mandated state with any biblical notion of Zionism. Israel has a right to live in peace, but it would have much more of a moral case if it kept the pre-1967 borders.

  18. Isn’t Hamas an illegal terrorist group which repeatedly and wilfully fails to meet the standards set by the Quartet? Do they have a “moral case”?

  19. Hamas is a terrorist group which has used the ceasefire to rearm itself. Of course. No excuse.

    The point above by Stephen is that Israel’s justification was based upon its legitimacy as a UN-mandated and recognized state, so my point is that it should have higher expectations than a guerilla organisation such as Hamas, and that if it claims legitimacy from the UN mandate, it should follow UN guidelines.

    If Israel kept to the pre-1967 borders then it would help to bring in some of the wavering groups who at the moment are being pushed into the arms of extremists.

    Also, to criticise Israel is not anti-semitic; to question the 1948 UN mandate is not anti-semitic; to argue for the rights of palestinians to live in a sovereign territory is not anti-semitic; to question the wisdom of civilian deaths in the Gaza strip is not anti-semitic; to not accept a link between the biblical Israel and the current state of the same name is not anti-semitic.

    I believe in the right of all people to live peaceably. I do not believe that a lasting peace can be achieved by this sort of armed action – it can only drive people into radicalism. I do not believe that repaying evil with evil can solve anything (and shelling a school with women and children sheltering in it is evil – sorry).

  20. Hi Causabon,

    So nice to hear you recognise Hamas is an illegal terrorist group (unlike the Rev Stephen Sizer, who allegedly attends conferences with Hamas reps and plots the downfall of the world’s only Jewish state).

  21. Casaubon,

    You wrote

    “Also, to criticise Israel is not anti-semitic; to question the 1948 UN mandate is not anti-semitic; to argue for the rights of palestinians to live in a sovereign territory is not anti-semitic; to question the wisdom of civilian deaths in the Gaza strip is not anti-semitic; to not accept a link between the biblical Israel and the current state of the same name is not anti-semitic.”

    Noone said it was!

  22. Oh, and Casaubon, the real evil in today;s tragedy was perpetrated by the Hamas terrorists who fired mortars at Israelis from behind the school, using innocent schoolchildren as a human shield. Israel does not deliberately set out to kill civilians.

    I agree that Israel should stop building settlements, that though is no longer relevant to the Gaza situation!

  23. James

    No – the evils were Hamas doing that, and Israel still firing when they knew it was a school – repaying evil for evil. One evil act does not justify another.Just because Hamas were firing from a position, surely the need to prevent innocent deaths meant that Israel should not have returned fire. There are better ways to draw people out – this way just makes the Hamas propoganda look true.

  24. “this way just makes the Hamas propoganda look true.”

    Which Hamas propaganda are we talking about?

    The same Hamas propaganda that says:

    *kill Jews round the world
    *kill Jewish children round the world
    *the last day will not come until the trees cry out “O Muslim! There is a Jew hiding behind me!”
    *all Israelis are ‘legitimate targets’
    *we love life more than you love death
    *our children are willing to become ‘martyrs’ and suicide bombers
    *US Christianity is controlled by Jews (or “Zionists” if you read Stephen Sizer’s books!)

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