Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Oh ...and about Christian Zionism!

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.


Pastor Victor Styrsky said...

My dear sister...

Thank you for hearing me. How wonderful that you felt the book was written for my Jewish friends! I thought I mainly wrote it for my Christian community. God is funny like that with me. I sometimes call Him, "Jehovah Sneaky."

Here is a response I recently received from a Jewish reader in Australia:
"What can I say? I have to hold back tears to read your words. I have never heard nor read anything like 'Honest to God' in my life. It is difficult to describe what it means to me as a Jewess. I'm sure you have heard it from others. I feel overwhelmed by the deepest emotions, as though it is not just me receiving your numinous gifts; there is a welling up of something that is more than just me, in my blood my ancestors singing in relief, gratitude and joy."

Carla Stang
Sydney, Australia
I am engaged in a cross country "book tour" and would love to do something with the Christian community that does not see these things as we do. Any ideas? I am available and I am free of charge.

I thank God for you.


Go to: www.HonesttoGod.info for more information on "Christian Zionists Confront 10 Questions Jews Need Answered"

Viola Larson said...

Hi Victor,
I guess I misunderstood. I started reading it with the idea that you wrote it for your Jewish friends and never gave that up as I read. Maybe that shows how stubborn I am.

I will think about your question and maybe we can get together one of these days and talk.

Adel Thalos said...


Did you also notice how Neil Cowling referred to dispensationalism as heretical?

Now I'm not a dispensationalist, nor a new dispensationalist, nor a son of one, but I have many dispensationalist friends who are dear brothers and sisters. They hold the same core beliefs that evangelical Christianity.

The irony is that Mr. Cowling makes this statement from the midst of a denomination that has significant percentages of ordained leaders who are acknowledged pantheists, panentheists, and neoorthodox.
I just found the irony remarkable and profoundly sad.

Neil Cowling said...

I did not invent the notion that the doctrine of dispensationalism is heretical. I refer you to the Minutes of the 84th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (US) of 1944 which can be found at www.pcusa.org/today/archive/believe/wpb9901h.htm in which the following conclusion was approved:

"It is the unanimous opinion of your Committee that Dispensationalism as defined and set
forth above is out of accord with the system of the doctrine set forth in the Confession of Faith,
not primarily or simply in the field of eschatology, but because it attacks the very heart of the
Theology of our Church, which is unquestionably a Theology of one Covenant of Grace."

I would also include as heretical pantheism and panentheism. Neoorthodoxy is a theological school of thought within Christianity that is not heretical. Karl Barth, said by some in my seminary training to be neoorthodox, is the main author of the Theological Declaration of Barmen included in the Presbyterian Chruch (USA) Book of Confessions.

I do not doubt that there are some dispensationalists who are nice people, loving people, etc. I know lots of people who are not Christians--Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Mormons--whom one could describe as nice and loving. But that is not relevant to any of this discussion, is it?

Viola Larson said...

First of all I hardily agree with you about Barth. I have written on him and Barmen many times. He and Calvin compete for my loyalties. And no I do not believe that neo-orthodoxy is heretical although I would at the same time disagree a great deal with Bultmann. I have already had this argument with Adel several times and decided not to pursue it again because that is not what my subject was about.
I thank you for the reference to the PCUSA’s understanding that dispensationalism is heretical. It would have helped in my writing. However my subject was Christian Zionism not dispensationalism. While they are fairly tightly linked they are not necessarily a tautology.
I do agree with Adel about PCUSA’s attitude toward Christian Zionism while they allow all kinds of awful doctrines to persist in the church. I know we have the confessions but when we allow some pastors to even deny that there is a personal God I would venture to guess that our attitude toward Christian Zionism has more to do with politics than orthodox theology.

Viola Larson said...

And I did mean to say one more thing to you Neil. In my posting I quoted you as using the Left Behind books and calling Christian Zionism anti-Semitic.

First of all the books are fiction and a poor reference for defining words. I would suggest you get Styrsky's book and read it. It will not burn your fingers: )

I believe there is a true love for the Jews and Israel by most Christian Zionists. You might want to explore that possibility.

Secondly I started to put this in my review and did not but this is Calvin:
"For they [the Jews] are, as it were, the first born in the family of God. The honor due, on this account, must therefore be paid them, until they have rejected the offer, and by their ingraditude, caused it to be transferred to the Gentiles. Nor, however great the cuntumacy with which they persist in warring against the gospel, are we therefore to dispise them. We must consider that in resoect of the promise, the blessing of God still resides among them; and, as the apostle testifies, will never entirely depart from them, seeing that 'the gifts and calling of God are without repentance' (Rom xi 29) perhaps the 84 General Assembly should have read that.

Adel Thalos said...


It is wonderful to hear that you believe that pantheism and panentheism are heretical beliefs. I look forward to supporting the many discipline cases you will bring as there are many of these within this denomination. I look forward to your impassioned letter fighting these ugly heresies as well. I am not aware of any dispensationalists in the denomination, but if you discover any...

While I am far from an expert on dispensationalism, the major systematic theologies I am aware of classify them firmly within the larger camp of Christian orthodoxy. The statement from 1944 is certainly interesting, and certainly uses strong language against a certain sect of dispensationalism, but does not use the term heresy. Is there a reason for this?

Ironically the Scofield Reference Bible makes a similar statement about the covenant of grace, as highlighted in the 1944 statement. "These different dispensations are not separate ways of salvation. During each of them man is reconciled to God in only one way, i.e. by God's grace through the work of Christ that was accomplished on the cross and vindicated in His resurrection. Before the cross, man was saved on the basis of Christ's atoning sacrifice to come, through believing the revelation thus far given him. Since the cross, man has been saved by believing on the Lord Jesus Christ, in whom revelation and redemption are consummated...In every past dispensation unregenerate man has failed, and is failing in the present dispensation, and will fail in the future until Eternity arrives. But salvation has been and will continue to be available to him by God's grace through faith." (The New Scofield Study Bible, NIV 1984 Edition , pg. 3-4)

All that being said, I am not a supporter of dispensationalism, and in fact, a critic of many of their positions, but the essentials of the gospel and the message of salvation of grace alone, by faith alone, in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone are strongly present in dispensationalism. I am also pleased with many of the developments among the new dispensationalists. I find it therefore quite objectionable to reference these believers as heretics, when you are in a denomination that is often enthralled with what we both agree is heresy, namely pantheists and panentheists. The saying of people who live in glass houses comes to mind.

I have no interest in getting into the major theological inadequacies in neo-orthodoxy, only to say that Wayne Grudem's monumental systematic theology and Lewis and Demarest's Integrative Theology both highlight the extreme theological problems with full-blown Neo-orthodoxy, both works classifying it outside Orthodoxy Christianity. Barth often strongly opposes Bruner and the later advocates, and is often distinguished from full-blown Neo-orthodoxy, therefore many of the problems with Neo-Orthodoxy may not apply to Barth.

Pastor Victor Styrsky said...

Romans 11:28
"From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake..."

Merciful God.

Viola Larson said...

Thank you both, Adel and Victor.

Adel now I need to go read that document myself. I would have accepted that they said dispensationalism was heresy if you had not written that. And although I certainly am not a dispensationalist either, it did surprise me that the GA stated that since I know they hold all of the essential beliefs of the faith.

Pastor Victor Styrsky said...

"...but the essentials of the gospel and the message of salvation of grace alone, by faith alone, in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone are strongly present in dispensationalism."

Amen and amen...and thank you Adel.

Neil Cowling said...

I mentioned the Left Behind novels because that is the way many people have gotten their theology and Tim LaHaye, the author thereof, qualifies, I suppose, as a dispensationalist theologian.

You mentioned the wonderful counsel of Calvin but then added this: "Perhaps the 84 General Assembly should have read that." It was not the "84 GA", it was the 84th GA (1944)of the old southern Presbyterian Church (US).

You quote Mr. Styrsky who says that "Evangelicals have no eschatological teaching (end of days theology)." That may be true, but the fact is dispensational theology does, and Mr. Hagee is an arch-dispensationalist. What I would fear is your friend being co-opted by Hagee's heresy which is foundational to his Christian Zionism. I know one can be a friend of Israel without being a Christian Zionist.

One can also be a Christian friend of Israel and work for justice for Palestinians. An example of that would be Bishop Elias Chacour of Ibillin in the Galilee who is Melkite Catholic, a Palestinian, and an Israeli citizen.

Viola Larson said...

I'm sorry Neil I didn't notice that was the old southern Presbyterian Church (US).

On the Tim LaHaye-he is a preacher but not a theologian and still the books are fiction. I still suggest that you read Victor's book.

On eschatological teaching you didn't fully quote Victor. He wrote:
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.

That is a counter to some, including Presbyterians, who have insisted that Christian Zionist are supporting Israel so that end time prophecy will be fulfilled and Jesus will come back.

You write: One can also be a Christian friend of Israel and work for justice for Palestinians. Yes you can but not the way the Israel/Palestine Mission Network and a few other Presbyterians have gone about it. Anti-Semitism is never acceptable.

Presbyman said...

I am also not a dispensationalist, but I echo Viola's suspicion that Presbyterian condemnations of Christian Zionism and dispensationalism are based more on politics than theology. We draw the line virtually nowehere else. We are, in all other areas, desperately eager to show how inclusive and diverse we are, refusing to exclude anyone, yada yada yada. But when it comes to dispensationalism ... then we slam the gate and raise the drawbridge. That is simply too convenient.

John Erthein
Erie, PA

Pastor Victor Styrsky said...

"Co-opted" by my friend Pastor Hagee?

I'm 58 years old and my beautiful wife is the only one I let co-opt me these days.

CUFI has now grown to a coalition of over 250,000 people and hundreds of ministries/churches.

I have seen Benny Hinn and the late Jerry Falwell in the same room together at a CUFI event. (Scary...I know.)

FYI: Tim LaHaye has chosen not to work with us.

CUFI is a coalition, and as such, each member and ministry has complete autonomy in their Christian practices and doctrines.

The misinformation within the Jewish community as to what Christian Zionists "believe" is not all that different from that being propagated from members within the Christian community as well.

I add my sincere prayers to Viola's hope that "Honest to God" is read throughout the body of Christ.

You can pick up a copy at amazon.com or www.HonesttoGod.info

Anonymous said...


You said "You write: One can also be a Christian friend of Israel and work for justice for Palestinians. Yes you can but not the way the Israel/Palestine Mission Network and a few other Presbyterians have gone about it. Anti-Semitism is never acceptable."

It seems also, at the end of the day, that you would not lift a finger in defense of the Palestinians. I agree that Anti-Semitism is not acceptable, but neither is Anti-Palestinianism.

Would you agree?

It still seems to me that you have labeled the Israel/Palestine Mission Network anti-Semitic and now seek ways to prove it, rather than listened to what they have said and drawn an objective conclusion.

Tom Evans
Now in Wichita

Viola Larson said...

I am going to address this just once more and then I will go no further since it is not the subject of this post.

I believe that stating that the Jews of today who have become citizens of Israel are not related to ancient Israel is anti-Semitic.
I believe that saying the Jews in America control the media is anti-Semitic. I believe saying that Israel committed ethnic cleansing is anti-Semitic. I believe only telling half the story about the war of 1948 and 1967 is anti-Semitic.

Obviously you are not bothered by any of that as you have made yourself very clear on the subject. So it is not helpful to keep going over that again and again.

Anonymous said...


I am of course bothered by and oppose anti-Zionism wherever it pops up.

But you have compromised your credibility with your anti-PCUSA bias and your anti Palestinian bias.

You can't be effective opposing anti-Zionism with your biases and I can't be effective as your ally.

Tom Evans

Pastor Victor Styrsky said...

Very dear Viola,

Your credibility is built upon the authority of your convictions and is rock solid.

will spotts said...

Viola is not opposing anti-Zionism - although, I imagine she does oppose this at least in the sense that anti-Israel activists label Zionism as wrong.

Instead, she is rather consistently opposing antisemitism. She has done so for many years - and that did not draw comment when it was springing from the fringe right. Now that it is comeing from mainline denominations, Viola is getting much more negative feedback for her stand.

Viola has also not been particularly anti-PC(USA). She is, however, calling the PC(USA) on a few (only a very small portion in truth) of its forrays into antisemitism.

Viola has been fairly pro-PC(USA). Besides which - I doubt she has very much criticism at all of the 2+ million members of the denomination. Her criticisms seem pretty straightforwardly to be targeting a handful of persons in positions of power within the PC(USA) who have indulged rather blatent antisemitism.

Viola has demonstrated zero anti-Palestinian bias.

I mention these because the charges being leveled against Viola are unjust and without foundation.

Viola Larson said...

Whoever you are you seem fairly confused about me and about the subject. I didn't feel that there was an answer I could give you since nothing you said fit either the subject or who I am. And I wasn't looking for allies anyway.

Will and Victor thank you so much, however, I am afraid of this posting turning my way and I intended it to be about Victor's book and Christian Zionism with some of its helpful aspects. At least the ones in Victor's book.

HolyCityPrayer said...

Pardon me folks, I am an Israeli Jew and am reading Victor's book understanding that it is written for the likes of me and only "behind my shoulder" for Christians.

You all might have a lot of work to create intraChristian tolerance, as we Jews must do between ourselves, but the bridges between Jews and Christians must be built and Honest To God is a critical tool for that task.

Viola Larson said...

It was great hearing from you. I hope you keep writing back. I do need your city and real name. The city would be interesting to me in this case. Actually for you if you can't leave your name I understand.

HolyCityPrayer said...

Hi Viola,

No problem, I'm Gidon Ariel from Maale Adumim/Jerusalem, Israel.


Viola Larson said...

Hi Gidon,
I have been away from my computer for a few days so I could not post your comment. Thank you for the information.
Viola Larson, CA United States: )