King's Evangelical Divinity School

30 September 2009

My Book Reviewed in Evangelicals Now

The Jews, Modern Israel and the New Supercessionism: Resources for Christians has just been reviewed in the Christian newspaper Evangelicals Now. I must confess I wasn't too hopeful about a positive review, given the paper's invitation to Stephen Sizer to review Barry Horner's Future Israel (about this, on his blog Sizer wrote: "O dear. I really don’t want to have to review this unpleasant little book but those nice people at Evangelicals Now have asked me to, so I will, eventually.") Thus, one blogger has questioned the newspaper's editorial policy on issues relating to Israel and Zionism.

So when someone told me last week a review of my book had appeared in Evangelicals Now, I wasn't too hopeful. Yet though the review is hardly enthusiastic I was quite pleased that other than a quip or two it wasn't overly negative either. It's true the reviewer labels the book 'heavily Zionistic', clearly missing the difference between Zionism and anti-supercessionism (a point elaborated in the book and also elsewhere), but that's fine, really. I was also pleased with the observation that the book "is written in a good Christian spirit of brotherly love and consideration for those who differ". Unlike how the debate is bitterly carried out elsewhere (on both sides) I'm keen to see less emotive language driving this issue, as well as a Christian commitment to greater objectivity, so I was grateful to the reviewer for noting how the views in the book were expressed.

It just seemed all the more puzzling, then, to end the review on the following note:

But by the book's own admission, it is not dealing with things that are essential for salvation (p. 65). Ah, that's why I'm not sure about it -- £12.99 and a good couple of hours reading it and it's not going to make a scrap of difference to eternity. Hmmm.

It seems a curious thing to say, as if he only considers evangelistic books worth reading. Could this be what he was getting at (if so his library must be pretty narrow), or couldn't he resist a parting quip? I honestly don't know.


James said...

The last comment reflects a sadly narrow view of things - if something isn't essential for salvation it's apparently unimportant, even if (as in the Israel-Arab conflict) lives are at stake!

Anonymous said...

You can always email Paul Pease and ask him your questions!

I thought it rather a stingy review which revealed more of his own ignorance even after having read the book. Maybe it was speed reading to find some good quotes for a review!

Calvin L. Smith said...

I must admit, but for that last comment I really want to give him the benefit of the doubt. If, as he generously states, we've tried to be fair to Christians with a different view, then why end it on such a strange (even pejorative) note?

Anonymous said...

It's true that the review is somewhat enigmatic. I think it may reflect frustration at what has become an increasingly bitter and dogmatic argument within Christian circles.

Incidentally, reading the introduction to the book, I'm struck by the need to separate out two issues. One is the role of the state of Israel in Christian theology. The second is the behaviour of the state of Israel. Whatever our views on the first (I personally happen to think that theologically the state of Israel has no part to play, as distinct from Jews, in God's future salvation plan), it is a different question from the second. Many Christians are critical of Israel not for theological reasons but because they see Israel acting abusively to otherwise powerless Palestinians. The Bible condemns the abuse of the powerless by the powerful and so they feel compelled to criticise Israel for that, rather than supercessionist theology.

P.S. I'm surprised you recommend a blog as inflammatory as Seismic Shock on your blogroll.

Calvin L. Smith said...

It would be helpful if anonymous comments included an identifier (eg first name, nickname) so that if there are various comments we can specify who we're responding to. This response is to the last comment posted.

Thanks for the comment. Concerning your first point, the book's aim is to respond to theological supercessionism, nothing else. BTW, neither does it do so uncritically of Israel.

But I'm not convinced Christians can respond to the conflict other than theologically. Indeed, your last sentence after asserting this draws on a theological argument. Moreover, if we throw in the religious basis for settlements and claims Israel exists on Islamic lands, it is hard to see how a theological analysis might be avoided. That's why I think politicians who think politics alone can solve this conflict are naive.

Concerning my blogroll, it states clearly sites worth a visit, not that they are recommended. Besides, Seismic Shock has kept several pathologically anti-Israel Christian sites on their toes, leading them from time to time to take down false information they'd previously published. Clearly, they take the site seriously.

Calvin L. Smith said...

PS Don't you think such Christians, by presenting the Palestinian situation in the black and white manner you describe, disingenuously ignore other biblical principles such as the shedding of innocent blood e.g. through terrorism (or if they do dwell on this, it all goes one way). I do think a simplistic dualisation doesn't help Christians reach logical conclusions. I also think such views ignore the blame some Palestinian leaders must take for their role in the conflict. On the ground, I've met various Palestinians who are, frankly, fed up with how their leaders have not made peace with Israel.

seismicshock said...

Thanks Calvin. Anonymous, do you differentiate inflammatory material from criticism of inflammatory material?

James said...

Are you Stephen Sizer by any chance? When are you going to publicly apologize and repent the antisemitic emails and for your other antisemitic (there is no other word for it) pronouncements?

Anonymous said...

(Dear Calvin, one of the reasons I have chosen anonymity is because of the aggressive and inflammatory posture struck by people such as James and Seismic Shock in their comments. I don't want to be hounded as some other people have. But you can call me Wayne.)

I take your point completely. My criticism was theological, so you're right to pick me up on that.

However (and please do feel free to point ou if I'm going wrong here), I think it's possible to separate out the two issues: one is the theological basis or otherwise for supporting the state of Israel, th second is whether there are actions taken in the course of the conflict which are sinful. These include the taking of innocent lives (such as suicide bombings) as well as the abuse of the weak, such as the killing of children by Israeli snipers.

Now I think that it's possible to disagree about whether Israel has a theological basis for its existence. And I think it's possible to disgaree about exactly what constitutes a sinful act. For example, is the policy of building settlements sinful because it abuses Palestinian arabs?

But as Christians I think it's possible to agree that where we see sinful acts happening, whether committed by Israelis or Palestinians, we must condemn them. Once we agree that, I'm sure there will be disagreements about specifics. It seems you attribute more blames to the Palestinian leaders than I would, but I think that's ok, because where they have done wrongful acts, I would outrightly condemn them. What do you think?

seismicshock said...

"Dear Calvin, one of the reasons I have chosen anonymity is because of the aggressive and inflammatory posture struck by people such as James and Seismic Shock in their comments"

Er, what was aggressive about my comment, Wayne?

You claimed that material on Seismic Shock was "inflammatory". I then asked you:

"do you differentiate inflammatory material from criticism of inflammatory material?"

And my question still stands.

Calvin L. Smith said...

Wayne, actually many Christian rejecting supercessionism, and also many Christian Zionists (both are not necessarily mutually-exclusive) already separate the issues to a degree, publicly criticing Israel while still believing God has not finished with His historic people.

But I see two problems with your premise, why we cannot quite untangle both issues. First, if the Jewish people somehow remain God's chosen people (however we might define that), then inevitably this has a bearing on how Christians holding this position view the conflict.

This in itself is not an excuse for ignoring sinful acts. But it does lead to my second point, namely, that this theological belief leads them to view with suspicion attempts to single out Israel's sins only. Identifying sinful acts is one thing, but a condemnation of a Christian Zionist "Israel right or wrong" mentality is too often replaced with an unbending "Israel is always wrong" position by some Christians. I think more Christian Zionists would be prepared to look at the issue less emotively and more objectively if they felt the other side did the same. But when the emotive language used, or the irrational demonisation of Israel in the name of Christianity mimics that on our university campuses, blogs, or by the hard left, inevitably many will regard such declarations as propaganda or disinformation. This then makes it difficult to separate the two issues, as you would like to see.

Consider, for example, how anti-Israel Christians have responded to "collateral damage" (such a technical term belying the horrors it describes) in the recent Gaza war. Criticism of Israel only works if these Christians exact the same measure from, for example, the Allies' carpet bombings during the 1991 Gulf War (or a hundred other such examples by our own side). But when Israel is always judged differently from others, Christian Zionists, I suspect, begin to assume much of what they hear is disinformation and then it becomes more difficult to identify sin, because so much seems to be exaggerated. Don't you agree?

Here's an example. In the point you make above you refer to Israel's "abuse of the weak, such as the killing of children by Israeli snipers". Now I could concede Israeli snipers may have killed children in the past (although I don't really know), but I'm sure British, American, French and other troops have all done the same in war. Do you mean accidental shootings or deliberate targetting? The way you state it seems to suggest this is official Israeli policy, to kill Arab children. (Is this what you were saying?) Now, had you tempered your comment with, for example, a reference to the story today of Hamas-controlled children's television abuses of their own kids by encouraging the cult of martyrdom and calling for the slaughter of Jews, or other ways in which Hamas targets Israeli children by firing rockets indiscriminately into souther Israel, I think this is a good starting point for encouraging the other side to consider your views. And I don't want to be tedious about this... I don't expect displays of even-handedness every time the issue is discussed (though it certainly helps), it is just that I think pro-Israel Christians will need to see more balance if they are to be engaged properly on the issue of condemning sinful acts (which, if this were the case, I agree might be a valid way forward).

So in answer to your question (apologies for the lengthy reply), the theological nature of the conflict makes it difficult to separate the issues completely, but it can be done (to a degree at least), providing pro-Israel Christians see their counterparts are genuine about condemning ALL sin without reservation (and not just reacting to stories about suicide bombings, I really mean all sin, often not reported).

Richard said...

Hi Calvin, I have enjoyed reading your book. I must say that I felt like I was reading a different book to the one the reviewer of Evangelicals Now was reading!

The reviewer suggests this subject matter is not essential for salvation - whose salvation? It is certainly vital to the salvation of Israel!

Calvin L. Smith said...

Richard, you're very kind. And you make a very good point about the last chapter, which explores Jewish evangelism (I had somehow missed that point). It makes that final quip look all the sillier.

Calvin L. Smith said...

James, I really don't think Anonymous is Stephen Sizer. Some time ago Revd Sizer posted a comment on our college blog to promote his new book and he included his name. I also recall vaguely him disagreeing quite strongly somewhere about anonymous postings, so I seriously doubt he would then do it himself.

Anonymous said...

Dear Calvin,

I won't distract you much longer, because I think our views are not irreconcilable. It seems you are saying that (with a little qualification) you can see the distinction I'm makinh, but think it's difficult to maintain in practice. I'm saying that while I agree with your examples of the difficulty it causes in practice, I think we need to try really hard to make the distinction so that discussions can be had in good faith.

On the other points you make, you say that 'more Christian Zionists would be prepared to look at the issue less emotively and more objectively if they felt the other side did the same.' I accept that, but it also works the other way round. I'm sure in the past I have been insensitive toward Zionists, but I think the onus is on both sides to understand and empathise with others' positions before launching into debate.

On the issue of snipers (and here we're getting into politics and facts rather than theory) I didn't mean it was an Israeli government policy. However, there are instances where Israeli soldiers have knowingly and deliberately targetted children, and where the Israeli courts have imposed very lenient punishments on them. I think that's wrong. However, with this example I was simply trying to give examples of indiscriminate killing from both sides, which is why in the same sentence I mentioned suicide bombers on the Palestinian side. So I had tried to be balanced, hopefully you can see that. However, please be assured that I'm aware of the need for balance anyway.

P.S. Thanks for engaging consructively with me on this. I have enjoyed the discussion very much.