Thursday, February 18, 2010

Stephen Sizer: Palestine Conference

For those interested in Stephen Sizer, this is one of the things he's been up to recently: Palestine Conference: Justice and Peace in the Middle East.

The conference was organized by the Federation of Islamic Student Societies (in England). He refers to the "Jerusalem Declaration" (which he helped to draft, but which I haven't read), which "repudiates Christian Zionism as a deviant heresy." Not being a Christian, I'm not in a position to declare what is heretical in Christianity, but I had thought (or hoped) that this type of language of denouncing other Christians as heretics had disappeared with the ecumenical movement of the 20th century.

Calvin Smith of King's Evangelical Divinity School in England writes:
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....

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."
I've taken out some of the deeper thickets of Christian and especially evangelical theology, which I'm not an expert in. There is an interesting exchange in the comments between Modernity Blog & Smith:
ModernityBlog said...
15 February 2010 23:07:00 GMT

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...
15 February 2010 23:52:00 GMT

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.


  1. Rebecca,

    Michael Oren's fascinating book Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East: 1776 to the Present traces the American variant of Christian Zionism. It indeed goes way back and was a view held, under the terminology "restorationism," going back a number of centuries and was a popular view among numerous presidents, cabinet members, politicians and others, both before and after the establishment of the US as a nation.

  2. I've noticed that book and have been thinking that I should read it. His history of the 1967 war is well-worth reading as well.

  3. Rebecca,

    Yes, his account of the 1967 war is certainly a first rate history of that war, probably the most definitive account written.

  4. Rebecca,

    Thanks for that, I didn't think my comments were worthy of note.

    Calvin Smith comes across as a sincere and thoughtful individual and I think there is a lot more to uncover on modern Christian thinking and how it relates to "anti-Zionists" themes, etc

    I wish I had more time to read, but if I make it thru Anthony Julius's latest book I'll let you know!