Monday, November 28, 2011

Critiquing the theologies and connections of some pro-Palestinian/anti-Israel leaders: a series # 2

Stephen Sizer: A warrior against Christian Zionism

This is a continuation of my analysis of Stephen Sizer’s paper, “Seven Biblical Answers to Popular Zionist’s Assumptions." Sizer whose specialty is critiquing Christian Zionism is a popular speaker at pro-Palestinian/anti-Israel conferences such as Christ at the Checkpoint. He is the first person whose theology I am analyzing with my series Critiquing the theologies and connections of some pro-Palestinian/anti-Israel leaders: a series # 1. With this posting I will look at the next three Christian Zionist’s assumptions that Sizer lists and critiques. This is my response to both the assumptions and Sizer’s critique. Continuing from the last posting the third assumption is:

3. The Promised Land was given by God to the Jewish people as an everlasting inheritance.

Sizer uses Ezekiel 33:24-26, 28-29, 47:21-23 and Hebrews 11:9-10, 39-40 to refute the assumption. Sizer’s first thought on this is “Contrary to popular assumption, the Scriptures repeatedly insist that the land belongs to God and that residence is always conditional.” He is not wrong, that is scriptural, Ezekiel 33:24-26. But his thoughts are too wooden. It is God’s land, but it is also, because it has been given, land that belongs to the ancient Israelites. Truth told, all that any of us own belongs to God, and when we misuse it God may meet us in judgment. So it isn’t a case of either or, but of both.

Like the above there are all kinds of category problems in Sizer’s thinking. The ancient land of Israel was God’s but he did give it as an inheritance to the Israelites. Yes it did depend on a covenant and the obedience of the people, but it was given to Israel not to another ethnic group. Yes, God told the Israelites “to allot it [the land] as an inheritance for yourselves and for the foreigners residing among you and who have children. You are to consider them as native-born Israelites; along with you they are to be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel.” But that was nonetheless based on God’s gift of land to the ancient Israelites and not to another people. The verse does not prove that God didn’t give them the land.

Sizer also uses the New Testament book of Hebrews to prove that the ultimate goal of Abraham was not the land but a spiritual relationship with God. He writes, “Indeed, the writer to Hebrews explains that the land was never their ultimate desire or inheritance any way but a temporary residence until the coming of Jesus Christ.” This is true, the land was not their ultimate desire, but the text states that they lived in tents “in the promised land.” Abraham longed for the City without foundations but he nevertheless lived in the land promised to his descendents. This too is not an either or, it is both. The Promised Land does not necessarily end with the first coming of Jesus Christ, although he is the fulfillment of the promises.

In fact, we as Christians have many promises and gifts now, but it is the Lord himself that we desire. It is our eternal relationship with him that we value and we give up all, in order to gain him. But still that does not cancel out his promises or gifts, or as C.S. Lewis called them “many pleasant inns.”

The truth of the matter is that in later Jewish tradition “the celestial Jerusalem was shown in a vision to Abraham at the scene of Gn 15 9-21 (Apoc. Bar. 4 4).” [1] Both Judaism and Christianity claim earthly promises and a final new heaven and new earth. Sizer’s category mistakes are abundant.

Having shown where Sizer fails, I will now suggest that God has graciously placed the Jewish people back in their ancient homeland today. I do not think as Christians we can tie any prophecy to the event except to say God is gracious to his people, the Jews. Nor, can we predict the future for the modern State of Israel. But what we must do as Christians towards the Jews, including the State of Israel, is love, treat them fairly, have humility in the face of our past wrongs and stand against any anti-Semitism which includes post-modern anti-Zionism. This includes telling the truth about the history of the State of Israel including the sins of both sides.

The 4th Christian Zionist assumption is:

4. Jerusalem is the exclusive and undivided, eternal Capital of the Jewish people.

First we should look at this from the Jewish point of view. The Jewish State of Israel undoubtedly wants Jerusalem as its capital. That is understandable. Whether it is possible, and how it can be fairly accomplished is another question. On one side there are issues of Israel’s defense, and on the other fairness to Islamic and Christian citizens. These are complex issues that must eventually be worked out but they are not, from a Reformed position, worked out in Scripture.

The Western Christian has no right, on biblical grounds, to insist on Jerusalem as an undivided Capital of the Jewish people. The Western Christian has no right, on biblical grounds, to insist that Jerusalem should not be an undivided Jewish Capital. We belong to a heavenly Jerusalem and a heavenly King who will return. The physical city of Jerusalem is not ours, it does not figure into the promises that God has given us.

But Sizer while holding the traditional Christian view that we belong to a heavenly Jerusalem, insists on saying what a Jewish State should do about its ancient Holy City. He simply cannot have it both ways. Sizer quotes Psalm 87. If he sees in the Psalm a picture of the Church, as I do, then he cannot lay that picture over the ancient city of Jerusalem. He can only make God’s love for the ancient city a picture of the Father’s love for those who reside in Jesus. Today the real issues are about fairness and safety, security and even history.

The fifth assumption is:

5. The Jewish Temple must be rebuilt before Jesus returns.

To be fair, I need to point out that in most cases this is not a true statement of what Christian Zionists believe. Victor Styrsky is a friend of mine. He is a Christian Zionist who works with and for John Hagee. While we disagree on a lot, what he has written in his book, Honest to God: Christian Zionists Confront 10 Questions Jews Need Answered, shows that that 5th assumption is wrong. Styrsky writes:
Evangelicals [insert Christian Zionists here] 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.

Evangelical Christian theology concerning the coming of Messiah is fairly unified on the following points:

1. A date for the event has already been secured.
2. Only God the Father knows the time.
3. The coming Messiah is imminent.
The assumption Sizer has listed is not correct. But I need to add something more which my friend, Styrsky, may or may not agree with. Biblically, for the Christian, a Temple does not to be built at all. Jesus Christ is the temple and the sacrifice as well as the high Priest. And he is perfect in all of those ways. The Jews may build a Temple but it does not affect what God has planned. The temple and the sacrifices were a shadow of what God was doing. They were a promise of the coming Messiah, his life, death and resurrection. The Jews, in faithfulness looked toward the promises. We look back to their fulfillment in Christ.

So here is a good thing about Christian Zionists. They are not doing what they are doing to fulfill prophecy but because they love the Jews. Even when I disagree with their theology, I respect their motives. Sizer quotes 1 Peter 2:5-7, a beautiful verse “you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” But I must say that part of that offering of spiritual sacrifices to God means truthfulness and humility.

In my next posting I will look at the last two Christian Zionists assumptions, Sizer’s critique of them and his connections to the wider world of anti-Semitism.

[1] Found in The International Critical Commentary on the Holy Scriptures of the old and New Testaments: A Critical and exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, James Moffatt, later edition, (Edinburgh: T.& T. Clark 1963) 170.

1 comment:

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