Saturday, November 26, 2011

Critiquing the theologies and connections of some pro-Palestinian/anti-Israel leaders: a series # 1

I am beginning a series that will  focus on those Christian writers and speakers who are currently involved in pro-Palestinian/anti-Israel organizations, conferences, films and in many cases have written books. I am writing this series for several reasons. It is now clear that several well known Reformed and Evangelical pastors and leaders have begun circulating within these conferences as speakers themselves. 

Undoubtedly some neither understand the theological implications nor do they grasp some of the more anti-Semitic connections that they are involved in. Besides the first concern is the sorrow of watching this movement grow within my own denomination, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). My focus will be on the theological views of various leaders within the movement but at the end of each analysis of an author I will, if necessary, point out their connections to the wider world of anti-Semitism.

I am writing this, not as a Christian Zionist, but as Reformed and Evangelical. I invite my friends who are Christian Zionist to comment and correct me if I misunderstand their biblical or even political positions. I also invite my Jewish friends to speak up if I misunderstand a Jewish position. Actually I invite all to comment as long as there are no insults tossed about.

My first posting is on Vicar Stephen Sizer of Christ Church in the United Kingdom. It will take several postings to both look at his theology and his connections.

Stephen Sizer: A warrior against Christian Zionism

Stephen Sizer, an Anglican priest in the United Kingdom is a frequent speaker at pro-Palestine, anti-Israel and anti-Zionists conferences. He has written several books on Christian Zionism his latest being, Zion’s Christian Soldiers. Sizer has been accused, by several bloggers, of connections with anti-Semites and even Holocaust deniers. I in fact put an endnote on a posting that he had linked to Holocaust denier, Charles Carlson at Strait Gate ministries in one of his postings. While Sizer is not a Holocaust denier himself, it is important to critique his theology, as it relates to Israel, since he is adversely influenced by some anti-Semitic ideas and in turn influences a small cluster of evangelicals.

As I have pointed out Sizer’s theological thrust is toward critiquing Christian Zionism and he does so from an evangelical position finding it’s teaching heretical. I, on the other hand, coming from a Reformed and Evangelical position, disagree with much of Christian Zionism while also disagreeing with Sizer’s position on Israel and even more so his poor opinions of the Jews and the Old Testament. While he finds Christ in the Old Testament he pours scorn on the history of the Jews in this manner:
In the second Millennium BC, the place to live was called Canaan. The estate agents described it as “a land flowing with milk and honey”. After 400 years in Egypt and another 70 wandering around in the desert, God’s people were keen to muscle in on the Promised Land. They would literally kill for it. They promised God and Joshua, everything under the sun if they could just get their hands on it.
Because Sizer has posted an article “Seven Biblical Answers to Popular Zionist Assumptions,” which he states is taken from his latest book, Zion's Christian Soldiers. I will critique his article.

The biggest problem with Sizer’s article is not what he states but what he leaves out. The first Christian Zionist' assumption is:

1. God blesses those who bless Israel and curses those who curse Israel

Quoting, Genesis 12:2-3 & 22:17-18 with Eph. 2:8-9, Sizer makes three points against the assumption. The first is that God is only referring to Abraham not to those descendants who follow him. Secondly in the New Testament the promise is fulfilled in Jesus Christ and in those who receive him by faith, since it is not by works but by faith that we are saved.

Sizer also quotes Gal. 3:16, 28-29 to show that the word seed, as in the seed or descendant of Abraham, is singular pointing to Jesus Christ. In other words in Jesus Christ, the seed of Abraham, all the nations will be blessed.

And Paul makes it clear with Gal. 3:16, 28-29, that Jesus fulfills the promises given to Abraham. But, consider, it is the Jews, the children of Abraham that bless the nations with Jesus the fulfillment of the promise. And Jesus tells the Samaritan woman at the well, “Salvation is from the Jews.” (John 4:22b) The problem with both the Christian Zionists and Sizer is that they both leave out part of the biblical picture. The Zionist seemingly divorce the completeness of the promise, which in reality covers the New Testament believers who see the promise fulfilled, and the Old Testament believers who look forward to the promise fulfilled.

But Sizer is far worse; he cuts the Old Testament off from the New. It is as though he takes the scissors and cuts away only that material that pertains to Jesus in prophecy, typology and analogy. What Sizer ignores is God's active blessing of the very people from which Jesus descended. He does not take their history seriously. In a sense, Sizer is removing the humanity of Jesus by maligning the history of his people.

There cannot be a fulfillment if there is not in reality a physical nation with an important history that descends from Abraham. That nation is important and is God’s work in history. There is a promise of land to Abraham, (see Genesis 15:18), which is maintained through his descendant's faith and obedience to God. Likewise there is a promise of blessing and cursing for the Jewish people. One sees this when God uses pagan nations to punish Israel and then punishes the pagan nation because of their misuse of Israel. These: the land and blessings must be considered the material blessings of God. My disagreement with Christian Zionists is that land and blessing have anything at all to do with the future promises of God. The ethical position the Christian must hold toward the Jewish people both in Israel and elsewhere is love, fairness, truthfulness and humility

On the other hand, those who belong to Jesus Christ have far greater promises than this particular promise to a single chosen ethnic people. And those promises of salvation, eternity and union with Jesus Christ extend to both Jew and Gentile, but always through Christ. But this brings up the next assumption. That is:

2. The Jewish People are God’s “chosen people”

For Old Testament references, Sizer uses Deuteronomy 23:7-8; Psalm 87:4-6; Isaiah 56:3-7. For the New Testament he uses Romans 2:28-29, Roman’s 9:6-8 and Col. 3:11-12. And once again Sizer lifts up some truth. He writes, “Both Hebrew and Christian Scriptures insist membership of God’s people is open to all races on the basis of grace through faith.” That is the gospel. But then he goes on to state, “When the Lord Jesus died on the cross he was the sole remnant of Israel.” Now here is where there is a real problem for Christians and it is simply a matter of confusion. Both Christians and Jews, who have received Christ as their Savior, are spiritual Israel. They have been grafted into the root of the faithful of the Hebrew Bible.

But there is still a physical Israel disconnected from Christianity but nonetheless not forgotten by God. Although Sizer may quote Romans 2:28-29, “A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God,” he has not proved that Israel has no more importance to God. With this verse Sizer has not proven that the Jews are not chosen.

This understanding of circumcision is found in the Old Testament. Except for the Philistines, all of the nations around Israel were circumcised, but they were not in covenant with Yahweh. Neither did they adore him inwardly. Paul is not saying something new; instead he is using the Hebrew Bible to insist that there is no need for the Gentiles to be circumcised.

F.F. Bruce, a Reformed theologian, in the Tyndale Commentary on Romans, points out that Paul, after stating the above “imagines someone breaking into his argument and saying, “will then, if it is being a Jew inwardly that counts, … is there any advantage in belonging to the Jewish nation, or in being physically circumcised?” And Bruce writes that we can be surprised at Paul’s answer.

The answer is, “much in every way.” And why is that? Paul writes, “Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God.” And Bruce in his comment states, “Of course it is an advantage to belong to the circumcised nation. Think of all the privileges granted by God to that nation – privileges in which other nations had no part.” Bruce in a note adds that further privileges are listed in Romans 9:4-5. That is, “…to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.”

So are the Jews as an ethnic people chosen? Here again Paul, in Romans, gives an answer. He writes:
From the standpoint of the gospel they [the Jews] are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; for the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.” (11:28-2)
Jesus, when speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well, counters her argument that the Samaritans worship on a mountain, with the truth that the Jews who worship in the Temple know who they worship and that salvation is from the Jews. (John 4:22) But Jesus further reminds her that the time is coming and now is, when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth. Jesus does not divorce his people the Jews; instead he points his followers to himself the one rooted by his humanity in the Jewish nation.

In my next posting I will look at the next several assumptions, two, like Sizer, I fervently disagree with, however I with the same fervency disagree with his solution.


Anonymous said...

"The problem with both the Christian Zionists and Sizer is that they both leave out part of the biblical picture. The Zionist seemingly divorce the completeness of the promise, which in reality covers the New Testament believers who see the promise fulfilled, and the Old Testament believers who look forward to the promise fulfilled."

Not this Zionist.
I, and I can speak for many, do not see an either or but a both concerning the blessings of the Jewish people upon the earth. Other thoughts I may add at some time to enlighten some of yours concerning some of ours.

"...and in turn influences a small cluster of evangelicals."

No longer a small cluster dear Viola. You would be shocked at how deeply the Vicar's aberrant theology is resonating within the hearts of many Christian leaders and especially those within the next generation.

I admire you dear Viola.


Viola Larson said...

Thank you Victor that is helpful.