King's Evangelical Divinity School

15 February 2010

This Kind of Language is Unhelpful

An Anglican priest who recently attended a Palestine conference organised by the Federation of Islamic Student Societies today blogs of his participation in the conference. Revd Stephen Sizer also refers to the Jerusalem Declaration, a document he helped draft and which he says “repudiates Christian Zionism as a deviant heresy”.

This is strong language indeed. Of course, it is no secret Revd Sizer has widely publicised his intense dislike of Christian Zionism, which he has every right to do. But surely labelling millions of fellow Evangelical Christians deviant heretics goes too far. There is a time to speak out against genuine, grave heresy, and those destructive false teachers repudiated in the New Testament usually have a major trait in common. Whether the Galatian heresy which denies the power of Christ’s salvific work through the cross, the Colossian heresy, incipient Gnostic dualism in the Johannine writings, or the heretics Jude warns against who “deny our master the Lord Jesus Christ”, the heresies roundly condemned in the New Testament tend to deny the person and work of Jesus Christ. In short, they are Christologically defective. Thus, it is quite one thing to challenge particular doctrines and teachings one may disagree with (including Christian Zionism or for that matter supercessionism), but quite another to label millions of fellow Christians who have accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as their personal saviour deviant heretics, a label generally reserved for those whose teachings and beliefs in some way deny the person of Christ.

It is also language which is unnecessarily polemical and polarising in nature, rather than the biblical language of gentle reproof and reconciliation as a first port of call for resolving disputes, theological or otherwise, within the Church. Drawing on this kind of language is also ironic, given how reconciliation is a central feature of the Jerusalem Declaration. Jesus tells His disciples they will discern what is good and bad by the fruit it produces. Unfortunately, the fruit of polarised language and the very public and pejorative denunciation of fellow Christians over their response to Israel has brought not only ecclesial division, but also little hope of much-needed reconciliation between Christians over the thorny issue of how to respond to the Middle East crisis.

Repudiating Christian Zionism somehow as a monolithic movement also lacks nuance. Which version of Christian Zionism is referred to here? The British variety, which tends to be more covenantal than geographical in nature, or perhaps the US variety, which includes (but is not limited to) a more apocalyptic and political expression? Meanwhile, some Christian Zionists espouse an Eretz Yisrael Ha-Shlema (Greater Israel) much like Israel’s Likud party, but others simply believe the Jews should be allowed to return to the land of their forefathers, less concerned with the exact borders or the political structures in place. Between these positions are various theological shades of Evangelical Christianity over responses to the Jewish people and modern Israel, highlighting how current Christian responses to the issue are quite complex. Yet the language of polarisation both masks these complexities and the at times weak arguments of those who would rather seek to promulgate a black and white, dualist narrative that demands an equally polarised response: "You are either with us or against us".

It isn’t helpful when this desire to repudiate Christian Zionism leads to expressing those views in ways or situations which some Christians might argue are unsuitable. I find it deeply ironic that the Jerusalem Statement opens with the Scripture, “Blessed are the peacemakers”, yet Revd Sizer has chosen to share a platform with a speaker who has condoned suicide bombings and another who openly salutes the terrorist organisation Hamas.

Finally, the Jerusalem Statement arguably lacks a strong hermeneutical and theological basis, engaging in the very mining of the Bible for supporting prooftexts which its authors condemn Christian Zionism for doing. After all, using the Bible this way allows you to make it say whatever you want. The Statement does precisely this, engaging in a typically liberationist decontextualisation of 2 Corinthians 5:19, recontextualising it in the context of the Palestinian milieu. Thus, hundred of years of Protestant hermeneutics emphasising authorial intent are discarded in favour of a postmodernist reader-driven interpretation which is subjective and relativist. Actually, in 2 Corinthians 5 the apostle Paul is not promoting the dissemination of a message of reconciliation between men and peoples, but rather a message of reconciliation between God and Man. In other words, Paul’s message and ministry of reconciliation is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

An extensive, genuine, fair, theologically and biblically-sound, and, importantly, united Christian approach to the Israel-Palestinian conflict will never be achieved without respectful dialogue, eschewing the language of polarisation, or refraining from denouncing fellow Christians as heretics or sharing platforms with people who damage our credibility and even condone violence towards innocents. Admittedly, these and other approaches may secure plenty of back-slapping from among those we agree with. But shouldn’t the Christian way of doing theology move beyond preaching to the choir in a bid to win over our fellow Evangelical Christians in gentleness and truth?

22 comments:

Stuart said...

I never realised that the "Jerusalem Declaration" states:-

We categorically reject Christian Zionist doctrines as false teaching that corrupts the biblical message of love, justice and reconciliation.

This is simply unhelpful at best.

This is the link for the declaration:-

The Jerusalem Declaration on Christian Zionism

It's a bit of a wake up call for me personally, as I know that some very prominent Anglican conservative groups (here in the UK and abroad) adhere to this declaraion and louldy trumpet the fact.

Worrying.

Calvin L. Smith said...

You raise a valid point, Stuart. Thanks too for cross-posting (your links have sent very many new readers this way).

Anonymous said...

well said Calvin, I hpe your piece gets the wide readership it deserves. And I hope Sizer doesn't set the police on you!

Andrew Sibley said...

Calvin - I would agree with you that there are different shades of Christian Zionist thought, and a blanket criticism as heresy is not particularly accurate, although the JDCZ states the less polemical 'false teaching' and not heresy. The JDCZ actually seems quite balanced in my view.

Those Christian Zionists who still seek to bring Jews to the Messiah may be wrong on some points, but I wouldn't want to label them as heretics. However, I think it is a fair point to label the theology that seeks armageddon and suggests Jews do not need to come to Christ as being a Christian heresy - the teaching is that Jews have earthly blessings under an old covenant while Christians have spiritual ones under the new covenant. It seems to have echoes of gnosticism and John warns against those who deny Christ (1 Jn 2-20-23; 2 Jn 7).

I have often thought that Christian Zionists can only be released from their strong love for the political state through careful exegesis involving respectful dialogue. So polemical arguments may not actually help people understand, but only harden people into entrenched positions by creating a sort of martyr mentality.

It was though lack of observed spiritual fruit that led me to conclude that the State of Israel was not living in accord with God's principles. And by reading Scripture in that light I came to see that I should no longer see the state as being in covenant relationship with God. The 'miracle of Israel' I believe now is one engineered by human politicians and by Jewish groups such as Irgun. Perhaps the reason for such strong support for Israel is that it is seen as strong and plucky while the church is seen as weak and full of compromise, but we should not give up on the gospel for Jews as some Christian Zionists seem to be doing.

On the otherside the increasing insistence that those who are sceptical of the state of Israel are somehow into an erronous supercessionism also polarises the debate. When I was a mild Christian Zionist I simply did not hear about replacement thelogy, now I have adjusted my thinking I hear the charge all the time which I find odd. While there are lots of different views, I would ask who is driving the arguments for Israel. It seems to come through Christian TV and through various pro-Israel Christian groups who sell the broadly American version of Christian Zionism, although many Christians don't read in enough depth to see all that is involved with such teaching in terms of the ultimate destruction of Israel.

So yes let us have some respectful dialogue as you say.

ModernityBlog said...

I can't comment on the theology, as an atheist, but wasn't the rise of modern Christian Zionism in part a reaction to the rather dubious theology surrounding the whole notion of a "Christ killer" and the exceedingly negative views that many Christians had previously taken of Jews?

I wonder, how does it fit in to the changing theological view of Jews since the 1960s?

Calvin L. Smith said...

ModernityBlog, variations of Latent forms of Christian Zionism have existed for centuries. In the pre-modern Israel period they tended to focus theologically on the Jewish people rather than the land (including, for example, among some 17th century Puritans). However, within Church history there is a strand eschewing supercessionism (the view God has finished with the Jews), which arguably stretches back much further. Some (including me)argue the New Testament rejects supercessionism. Consider the take of the Apostle Paul (a Jew) on this in his argument set out in Romans 9, 10 and 11. But

In the aftermath of the last World War there emerged a theology towards the Jews known as post-Holocaust theology, which recognised how some European Christian attitudes throughout history likely contributed towards the Holocaust. This was largely embraced by the historic Protestant denominations, many of which have since become highly critical of Israel.

Moreover, there has emerged a quite vociferous anti-Christian Zionism in the last decade or two, strongly represented within Evangelicalism (the movement in which Christian Zionism is also strongly represented). Thus, Evangelicalism is currently divided over the issue of Israel, with both sides apparently claiming to be in the minority in order to project the need for others to embrace their message.

Chris said...

Given that there are so many denominations that call themselves christian, who is the authority to say one group is wrong or heretical and the other is not? We all read the same Bible don't we?

Gabi said...

Wow Stephen Sizer seems to cause very much division in the church. I can't understand how he can say such things about fellow brothers and sisters in christ who's views differ from his.
'Blessed are the peacemakers'

ModernityBlog said...

Calvin,

Thank you for your answer.

I am not familiar with this particular area and whilst I appreciate earlier forms of what might be called Christian Zionism, particularly as represented by someone like Wingate in the 1930s, etc, I was thinking of something I read years ago on American attitudes towards Jews.

Quinley and Glock highlighted how some views in the Sixties which showed prejudice towards Jews were more likely to be held by those who subscribed to strongly held Christian views, or that was what I remember (I'll dig out the book and double check).

I’m not making a particular point concerning strongly held views or any sweeping generalisation, but I am curious as how that might have changed in light of theological debates about the historical imagery associated with Jews (which was negative), negative perceptions of Jews and any resultant mild antisemitism ?

I can appreciate that there has been a change in Christian attitudes towards Jews post WW2, revisions in Catholic doctrine, etc and I wonder how much of that has actually filtered through?

Conversely, could part of the reaction to Christian Zionism be a step backward? Towards older, negative views of Jews?

Reading that declaration the one word that was missing was, Jews.

I appreciate that many Christians nowadays don’t hold those negative stereotypes of yesteryear, but I am trying to understand those negative images, the debate that went on and how things have changed, or what hasn’t (essentially)?

Obviously it is a big topic, covering both Protestant and Catholic strains of Christianity, still, were those early debates in the post WW2 environment really that definitive?

Or are we still witnessing negative attitudes towards Jews dressed up as anti-Christian Zionism? I don’t know, I would welcome any pointers in this area.

Chris said...

Where to begin? I read the 'Jerusalem Declaration' and find it an obnoxious piece of work, but I'm not surprised coming from such a group infested with liberation theology and the primarily allegorizing method of interpreting scripture highly favoured by the so called church fathers,(Matt23.9) Especially Augustine whose theology was very anti-Judaic, stating that the Jews were to be perpetual wanderers as witness to God's punishment,his main text (taken out of context) for this was Ps 59.11.
Anti-Judaism is steeped in the history of christianity and we all know the fruits of teaching.
It does not help to call christians who believe in the restoration of the Jews back to their own land, - and as we begin to see an awakening to their Messiah as more and more come to believe in Him, so this becomes a challenge to the gentile church.
Given the atrocious behaviour of the 'church' over the last 1800 years towards the Jews isn't it about time we showed some Pauline love towards them,?(For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh,Rom 9.)
After all didn't we receive just about everything worth having from the Jews? (....salvation is of the Jews, John 4.22b)
Even the Messiah?

Calvin L. Smith said...

Modernity, this is a complex field and I'm not sure anything short of some serious research could yield a definitive answer. I'd be interested to know more about the book you refer to. In the meantime, here is my take on it.

The Church has a long history of anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism which has waxed and waned, I think, according to the cultural and social dominances of the day. Thus, I suggest at times when so-called Christian countries have seen a spike in anti-Semitic behaviour, this has had some impact on some of the churches. This is only my view, though, you understand. I can think of examples, but of course to develop a definitive thesis would require lots of analysis of primary sources. This said, I'm currently reading an interesting book which no publisher has been willing to publish (the author sent it to me to have a look at) which seems to provide careful research, tracing a changing outlook towards the Jews in the lead up to WW2 within several Continental European countries which had fairly strong Fascist leanings. So far, the research looks sound.

For a very useful history of anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism in the Church, see Edward H. Flannery's "The Anguish of the Jews: Twenty-Three Centuries of Antisemitism". This is a well known classic on the subject, written by a Catholic priest. This leads me on to an important point.

Aside from the strong anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism strands is a strand within Christianity which holds strongly to the Jewish root of the Christian faith. Most of the New Testament Church was Jewish, as was Jesus, which Christians see as the fulfillment of the Jewish national and religious hopes expressed in the Tenakh. Where Christianity and Judaism depart from each other theologically is the development of rabbinic Judaism. Christians see their faith as the fulfillment of Torah Judaism, but reject rabbinc Judaism as a deviation from the Torah. This view is not unique among Christians. The Jewish Kairite sect takes the same view (but of course rejects the New Testament).

I would also point out that within Christianity are two groups of people who love Israel and the Jews, who they say can do no wrong, and at the other end there are those who say she/they can do no right. It is within the former there are expressions of extreme, uncritical Christian Zionism, the latter where anti-Semitism can reside. But within both camps are people who are not extremists either way, they just disagree very strongly with each other theologically (so it is possible to be a good Christian and a moderate Christian Zionist or supercessionist).

Concerning the recent period, I don't think views against Christian Zionism are particularly new, just more widespread. With Madrid in the early 1990s some Palestinian Christian leaders realised they would one day be under a Palestinian Administration, and they set about taking a far stronger nationalist line in preparation for those days. (Interestingly, my research in Israel also yielded that many grassroots Palestinian Christians do not agree with their leaders, a recurring theme in research into church groups and political engagement I've carried out in Latin America).

Significantly, with an historic Palestinian Christian leadership taking a more nationalist line, you can trace much of the current new wave of anti-Christian Zionist writings from this period.

Sorry, looking back I see this is too long an answer. Apologies.

Calvin L. Smith said...

Andrew, glad to see a little nuance. No indeed, Christian Zionism is not monolithic, and while Hagee may be a dual covenantalist I have been hard pressed to find lots of Christian Zionists who do not believe in evangelism. I think this view has been so over-exaggerated because of a minority it is a falsehood.

I agree Israel is not perfect, neither is any state. But you seem to be suggesting this is the basis for saying God has no dealings with them. In the Old Testament we have a precedent for the complete opposite: continued dealings despite a failure to abide by covenant living, whether before or after exile.

Concerning supercessionism, I disagree with this position as you know. But I do not make it a test of orthodoxy as Sizer has done over Christian Zionism. Imagine a well known dispensationalist announcing all supercessionists were deviant heretics. Back to where I started, such language is, at best, unhelpful.

Calvin L. Smith said...

Andrew, glad to see a little nuance. No indeed, Christian Zionism is not monolithic, and while Hagee may be a dual covenantalist I have been hard pressed to find lots of Christian Zionists who do not believe in evangelism. I think this view has been so over-exaggerated because of a minority it is a falsehood.

I agree Israel is not perfect, neither is any state. But you seem to be suggesting this is the basis for saying God has no dealings with them. In the Old Testament we have a precedent for the complete opposite: continued dealings despite a failure to abide by covenant living, whether before or after exile.

Concerning supercessionism, I disagree with this position as you know. But I do not make it a test of orthodoxy as Sizer has done over Christian Zionism. Imagine a well known dispensationalist announcing all supercessionists were deviant heretics. Back to where I started, such language is, at best, unhelpful.

Calvin L. Smith said...

Andrew, glad to see a little nuance. No indeed, Christian Zionism is not monolithic, and while Hagee may be a dual covenantalist I have been hard pressed to find lots of Christian Zionists who do not believe in evangelism. I think this view has been so over-exaggerated because of a minority it is a falsehood.

I agree Israel is not perfect, neither is any state. But you seem to be suggesting this is the basis for saying God has no dealings with them. In the Old Testament we have a precedent for the complete opposite: continued dealings despite a failure to abide by covenant living, whether before or after exile.

Concerning supercessionism, I disagree with this position as you know. But I do not make it a test of orthodoxy as Sizer has done over Christian Zionism. Imagine a well known dispensationalist announcing all supercessionists were deviant heretics. Back to where I started, such language is, at best, unhelpful.

Calvin L. Smith said...

Andrew, publishing the comment three times was not an appeal to Deuteronomy 17:16 :) I clicked the publish button several times and nothing happened (then it posted the comments three times!!!) Sorry.

ModernityBlog said...

Calvin,

No, your answer was just the right length!

I've dug the book out and will try to summerize some of its points later on.

Thanks for the pointer to the Flannery book, I had that one on my wish list for about 5-6 years, wasn't to sure about it, but I'll get it when I can, as I think this area deserves much more study.

Andrew Sibley said...

Hi Calvin - I think you can make a case that there are as yet unfulfilled promises to Jews. They are still loved on account of the patriarchs, and the promise is to eventually bring them into united spiritual Israel (i.e. in Christ) but I don't see why that has to be through the modern State of Israel that rejects Christ's teachings. In some minds the State of Israel perhaps is standing in the place of Christ and His spiritual Kingdom of Israel that is the Church.

ModernityBlog said...

Calvin,

Sorry I didn’t reply earlier, but my mind wasn’t too clear and I wanted to answer the question on the Quinley/Grock book with some accuracy, if I could.

I have reread it and I hope I render it reasonably accurately.

In the early 1960s “some three studies were undertaken to explore the interconnection between religion anti-semitism…” (1)

They involved both the laity and the clergy.

“The basic proposition tested in these three studies can be stated rather simply (see Figure 6-1). They are that certain interpretations of Christian faith are conducive to producing religiously based hostility towards Jews, and that this religious hostility makes those who harboured especially prone to secular anti-Semitism”(2)

In that specific chapter they were examining the postulated causal chain, that orthodoxy, might lead to particularism, and on to a hostile image of the historical Jew, which could then manifest itself as a hostile image of modern Jews and so lead on to secular anti-semitism.

They tested out this particular approach by surveying thousands of people, and asking sometimes pointed questions, e.g. “the Jews can never be forgiven for what they did to Jesus until they accept him as the true saviour”….

In truth they found that the percentage of the churchgoing population that could be taken as antisemitic, was similar to the wider population.

Further they argued that whilst the Churches had officially distanced themselves from previous hostility towards Jews, that might not have permeated down to all churchgoers.

I probably haven’t done it justice, but you could pick up a copy on Amazon and see what you make of it.
---

1: Harold E Quinley and Charles Y Grock, Anti-Semitism in America. The Free Press. 1979. Page 95.
2: Ibid.

ModernityBlog said...

Calvin,

Sorry I haven’t replied earlier, but my mind wasn’t too clear and I wanted to answer the question on the Quinley/Grock book with some accuracy, if I could.

I have reread it and I hope I render it reasonably accurately.

In the early 1960s “some three studies were undertaken to explore the interconnection between religion anti-semitism…” (1)

They involved both the laity and the clergy.

“The basic proposition tested in these three studies can be stated rather simply (see Figure 6-1). They are that certain interpretations of Christian faith are conducive to producing religiously based hostility towards Jews, and that this religious hostility makes those who harboured especially prone to secular anti-Semitism”(2)

In that specific chapter they were examining the postulated causal chain, that orthodoxy, might lead to particularism, and on to a hostile image of the historical Jew, which could then manifest itself as a hostile image of modern Jews and so lead on to secular anti-semitism.

They tested out this particular approach by surveying thousands of people, and asking sometimes pointed questions, e.g. “the Jews can never be forgiven for what they did to Jesus until they accept him as the true saviour”….

In truth they found that the percentage of the churchgoing population that could be taken as antisemitic, was similar to the wider population.

Further they argued that whilst the Churches had officially distanced themselves from previous hostility towards Jews, that might not have permeated down to all churchgoers.

I probably haven’t done it justice, but you could pick up a copy on Amazon and see what you make of it.

----
1: Harold E Quinley and Charles Y Grock, Anti-Semitism in America. The Free Press. 1979. Page 95.
2: Ibid.

Philip Blue said...

Calvin, I thought i'd take the opportunity to agree with you!

Describing Christian Zionism as a heresy is probably a step too far, and you're right that in cases of disputable matters (ie, when we're not talking about dual covenantalism) gentle debate is a more resaonable way to go.

It's worth emphasising the point that those Christians who are opposed to Christian Zionism are not usually being driven by latent anti-Semitism, but rather by concern for the universality of the Christian message and standing up (mistakenly and narrowly focused or not) for the poor and oppressed.

Calvin L. Smith said...

Modernity, thanks for the tip on the book. It is certainly one I'll add to my (exceptional long now) list of books to read. Sounds like a proper piece of quantative research. I would be particularly interested to know if the sample was from a particular tradition, among historic denominations, or across wider Christianity as a whole. Anyway, thanks again.

Philip, thanks too for your comment. Indeed I know and work with various scholars and church workers who espouse supercessionism but who are in no way anti-Semitic, much like (looking at it the other way) Christian Zionists are not necessarily racists or anti-Arab.

To be sure, there are people on both sides of the debate who do lean towards or display the symptoms of being anti-Semitic and anti-Arab, the former who seem to take an irrational, or pathological view that says "Israel is always wrong", the latter who suggest "Israel is always right".

ModernityBlog said...

Calvin,

You are most welcome, and I will get Flannery's book.

I can't comment on Christian antisemitism as it is not an area I have studied, yet.

It tends to come up in most major books on antisemitism, but to be honest I have mostly concentrated on the historical and political manifestations, many books tend to study a particular area, I suspect there's a lot more on American attitudes, if you hunt around. I can think of one other useful book.

Leonard Dinnerstein's antisemitism in America is scholarly but readable.

PS: Anthony Julius's new book should be good.