Oh …and about Christian Zionism!
A book review by Viola Larson
Honest to God: Christian Zionists Confront 10 Questions Jews Need Answered
By Victor L. Styrsky, Artzy Books 2009, 226 pages
In a recent letter to the Editor on ChurchandWorld.Com Neil Cowling attempting to use the Left Behind novels wrote of Christian Zionism, it “is in the final analysis anti-semitic since in that theology the Jews are either to be annihilated or converted.”
A publication, Christian Zionism produced by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) defines it as a religious and political movement and “a predominantly American movement that believes that the modern state of Israel is the catalyst for the end times, the fulfillment of biblical prophecy, and the return of Jesus with final judgment.”
The author’s of Steadfast Hope: The Palestinian Quest for Just Peace, use the Presbyterian definition above without quote marks, but they also write:
Televangelist John Hagee has recently developed a lobbying organization, Christians United for Israel (CUFI), which is well on its way to achieving its stated goal of having Christian Zionist offices and networks in every state of the union.CUFI fully supports the work of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the powerful pro-Israel lobbying organization.
They go on to write, “Christian Zionism distorts Christian theology by omitting Jesus command to love our enemies and seek peace based on justice.”
Right in the midst of reading all of this material who should I meet on Facebook through a mutual friend who attends my church but the California Director of CUFI. I noticed him because I was writing on anti-Semitism and he was writing about his book Honest to God: Christian Zionists Confront 10 Questions Jews Need Answered. I thought that just might be a book that would answer a few questions for Presbyterians too. I could not possibly know how many faithful answers would be laid open for me to explore? Nor could I know how helpful parts of it would be.
The fun part of this book is that Styrsky lives not far from my neighborhood among a Pakistani community. Recently he put up photos of himself, his wife and his neighbors enjoying each other’s fellowship. Some of the children call him grandpa. As I read the book, places and people’s way of thinking are familiar. When he refers to the downtown Crest Theater or that liberal church I know where and what he is saying.
So, the questions and the answers? One interesting chapter is, “What is your real agenda in reaching out to the Jews?”In answering an accusation that Christian Zionists are helping Israel so that Jesus can return or prophecy be fulfilled, Styrsky writes:
Evangelicals have no eschatological teaching (end of days theology) that requires all Jews to be back in the land of Israel for a Messianic visitation. Neither do evangelical Christians believe that there is anything we can do to hasten the return(or first visit, as my Jewish friends believe) of Messiah.
1) A date for the event has already been secured.
2) Only God the Father knows the time.
3) The coming of Messiah is imminent.
In another, extremely, important chapter, “Does the Christian community have the patience for us?” Styrsky offers 22 pages of the historical persecution of the Jews by Christians. He does this by dates, documents and quotes and he gives explanations for some important events and ideas such as the Crusaders, blood libel, profaning the host, the Black Death and pogroms.
In one chapter he writes about loving enemies, “You love your enemies? How can you love the terrorist that are killing our children in Israel?" Styrsky truly struggles with this question and I appreciate that. First he writes about the Islamic community he lives in and how they all love one another. He also looks at some verses in scripture that show Jesus’ teaching about those who do evil including Luke 17:1-2, where Jesus states that it would be better for someone to have a millstone about their neck and be thrown in the sea then for them to cause one of “these little ones” to stumble.
Styrsky also lists and describes all the enemies of Israel including Hezbollah and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. His answer to the question, first:
A root of bitterness toward anyone who has sinned against you will eventually devour you from the inside out. Refusing to forgive someone and hoping for their demise is like drinking poison—and hoping they die. There are times when forgiving simply means releasing our demands for vengeance and committing the guilty party into the hands of God and his judgments. (203)And the final answer:
Followers of the New Testament are instructed to love our enemies. We are also taught, ‘Our love must be sincere and we must abhor evil.’ I abhor the wicked ideology and actions of the militant Islamic movement. When the last deed of a person’s life is a suicide attack upon innocent men, women, and children; I believe God abhors both the act and the person committing it and so do I.A lot of the book covers ways that Christians should respond to their Jewish neighbors and friends. For me this is truly the best part of the book. Styrsky writes about his first one on one meeting with Avraham (Avi) Alpert the cantor of Sacramento’s Mosaic Law Congregation. They drink coffee at Starbucks. He writes of how they use the Hebrew Bible to talk about what the Jewish people believe and about Jesus also.
I know I have learned a lot about how to be a better friend to the Jewish people by reading this book. And I have also learned that Christian Zionists show love in ways that are truly biblical.
Do I disagree with any of the book? Of course. I feel it lacks a complete understanding of amillennialists. (But then so does some of the Presbyterian material which is meant to focus on Christian Zionism.) And some of the differences in belief about salvation could have been better clarified. There are other disagreements but they do not damage the main points of the book even for a reformed Christian.
This is the book we need to understand the damage Christians have done to the Jewish people. It answers the questions about why they are afraid of movies about the crucifixion, about why they are so insistent on a “Jewish” state, about why we have turned them away from the grace we are meant to live in. I recommend that Presbyterian (U.S.A.) members, in particular, read this book. Although meant for the Jewish people, it was written for our time and our place.