“With God On Our Side” takes a look at the theology of Christian Zionism, which teaches that because the Jews are God’s chosen people, they have a divine right to the land of Israel. Aspects of this belief system lead some Christians in the West to give uncritical support to Israeli government policies, even those that privilege Jews at the expense of Palestinians, leading to great suffering among Muslim and Christian Palestinians alike and threatening Israel’s security as a whole.
This film demonstrates that there is a biblical alternative for Christians who want to love and support the people of Israel, a theology that doesn’t favor one people group over another but instead promotes peace and reconciliation for both Jews and Palestinians.”
This seminar was delivered at the University of Dundee Chaplaincy on Saturday 17th October 2009.
It is not an understatement to say that what is at stake is our understanding of the gospel, the centrality of the cross, the role of the church, and the nature of our missionary mandate, not least, to the beloved Jewish people. If we don’t see Jesus at the heart of the Hebrew scriptures, and the continuity between his Old Testament and New Testament saints in the one inclusive Church, we’re not reading them correctly.
The key question is this “Was the coming of Jesus and the birth of the Church the fulfilment or the postponement of the promises God made to Abraham?”
Christian Zionists see the promises of identity, land and destiny as part of an ongoing covenant God has with the Jewish people. In this book I unpack this question and show that Christian Zionism is a recent manifestation of a heresy refuted by the New Testament.
For an outline of this seminar see http://www.cc-vw.org/articles/zcs2.pdf
A paper delivered at the University of Dundee on Thursday 15th October 2009, entitled ‘A Christian Perspective on the End Times’
Professor Saeed Bahmanpour, Principal of the Islamic College, London, also delivered a paper on the ‘End Times’ from a Muslim perspective. Afterwards we had a lively debate on the similarities and differences between the two perspectives.
The presentation was based on a chapter from my book Zion’s Christian Soldiers stephensizer.com/books/zions-christian-soldiers/
You can view some photos here
Kristin Davis, star of Sex in the City is, “the new face of Ahava” the Israeli cosmetic company which specialises in natural skin care products made from Dead Sea minerals. “I’m honoured to be a part of a beauty legend that dates back to Cleopatra,” she said. Unfortunately, Ahava cosmetic products are made in Mitzpe Shalem, an illegal Jewish settlement built in the Palestinian West Bank. Ahava’s extraction of Palestinian natural resources from the Dead Sea is, according to the Fourth Geneva Convention, illegal use by an occupying power of stolen resources for its own profit. To add insult to injury, Ahava’s labels claim Israel to be the country of origin, something decried by Oxfam and other human rights groups as blatantly misleading. Ironically, Kristin Davis is a spokeswoman for Oxfam – or rather was until this week when they suspended her (see here for details). Hopefully, Kristin will now sever her relationship with the cosmetics-maker, regain her platform with Oxfam, and campaign for the human rights of all who have been dispossessed.
Not surprisingly the subject of ‘the Land’ is deeply controversial and highly politicised. Even its name – Canaan, Israel, Palestine, the Promised Land – says as much about our presuppositions as our knowledge of Middle East geography: Promised Land? Promised to whom? Under what terms? For what purpose?
Published in Mishkan, A Forum on the Gospel and the Jewish People: Issue 55/2008
Tony Higton is Rector of North and South Wootton near Kings Lynn. The fact that I was married in South Wootton and my mother in law lives in the parish is purely, if delightfully, coincidental. Tony previously served as the General Director of the Church’s Ministry among Jewish People and Rector of Christ Church, Jerusalem. Before publishing my book, he read the draft sections pertaining to CMJ, made comments, and these were all incorporated in the published version.
I warmly commend his article and the case he makes for Moderate Christian Zionism, and invite you to read it and decide whether the selective quotations below, which specifically pertain to my views or book, are in any way taken out of context.
In his introduction, Tony writes:
“After years of sparring, Stephen Sizer and I met up and found we had wide areas of agreement. Having worked in Jewish ministry for seven years, half of them in Jerusalem, I have seen the best and worst of Christian Zionism. Insofar as it combats anti-Semitism, defends the existence of a safe homeland for Jewish people, promotes evangelism among Jewish people, and supports reconciliation in the Holy Land, it is good.
However, Sizer is right to criticize the serious failings of some Christian Zionism. I agree with him in rejecting the following errors which are held by many Christian Zionists:
In the second section entitled, “Dangers of Unbiblical Views” Tony writes:
“I am grateful for Sizer’s book because it stimulates thought and, in my case, underlines many of the questions I have been asking about Christian Zionism in recent years. And I speak currently describing myself (provocatively) as a pro-Palestinian Christian Zionist!”
“Having said that, I am unhappy about calling myself a Zionist because of the prevalence of extreme Christian Zionism which Sizer describes. I attended a week-long conference on Christian Zionism held in Jerusalem by the Sabeel Palestinian Liberation Theology Centre. Initially, I was quite irritated by what I felt was their extreme model of Christian Zionism. I thought it was a caricature and the moderate view I held was the majority view. But one of the main things I learned from that conference was that it is American Christian Zionism (which is very influential among Messianic believers in Israel) which is dominant, and it is very extreme. British (and other moderate) Christian Zionists need to understand this.” (pp. 19-20)
In the fourth section entitled, “Putting Principles into Practice”, Tony writes:
“Sizer seems not fully to understand the Israeli need for security. We once stood together in Abu Dis, just outside Jerusalem, at the foot of the security wall – ten meters of concrete towering above us. He asked me: “Well, what do you think of the wall, Tony?” I replied: “I think it is obscene. But terrorism is even more extreme.” (p. 24) – on this I concur.
In the fifth section in which Tony makes the case for “Moderate Biblical Zionism” he writes:
“It seems to me that Sizer, in his convert’s passion for justice for the Palestinians, tends to throw the baby out with the bathwater with respect to Christian Zionism. One result is that he does not treat the biblical material seriously enough… I still believe that a biblical case can be made for (balanced and moderate Christian Zionism).” (p. 25)
“Sizer raises various criticisms of the biblical justification Christian Zionists claim. In particular he claims that Christian Zionism has an “ultra-literal” and futurist hermeneutic. It is, of course, very simple to make out that all the prophecies referred to by Christian Zionists are not to be taken literally as referring to the Jewish people. In one stroke it removes all sorts of questions and difficulties. But, as we shall see, there are difficulties with this view.
I am also aware that the New Testament radically develops the teaching of the Old Testament. The Old is the bud and the New is the flower. In rightly stressing the Jewish roots of the Christian faith, we must never forget this radical development, which Sizer stresses. So there are important developments of land to world, temple to Jesus, etc.” (p. 25-26)
“I is true that some, including some Orthodox Jewish people, think that such a re-establishment of the state is not the real thing prophesied in Scripture, which could only be established by Messiah. Others, including Sizer, think Israel, because of disobedience to God, could lose the land again.” (p. 28)
“Sizer writes: “Belief in the final restoration of the Jews to Zion is also based on a literal and futurist reading of selective Old Testament prophecies. However, the texts themselves indicate that such a return occurred under Ezra and Nehemiah and that no further return is to be anticipated. It may be argued that Jesus repudiated any such expectation. New Testament writers apply such Old Testament promises to both believing Jews and Gentiles.”
However, there are OT prophecies which scholars believe relate to a time much later than the return under Ezra and Nehemiah, and are often in a messianic context. I refer to Isaiah 11:11-12; 60:4, 9, 21-22; 61:4-5; Jeremiah 3:12-18; 23:7-8; Ezekiel 38:8, 16; 39:25-29; Joel 3:1-2, 17, 20; Amos 9:14-15; Zechariah 12:2-3, 10-11; and 14.” (p 29)
“In conclusion, then, I agree with much of the criticism Sizer makes of Christian Zionism and particularly of its lack of commitment to justice and reconciliation. Like him, I too reject the extremes of Christian Zionism, seen particularly in the USA and Israel. However, I believe Sizer throws the baby out with the bathwater, particularly by not dealing seriously enough with the biblical material, which I believe forms a credible foundation for a balanced, moderate Christian Zionism.
Moderate Christian Zionists will:
Having read Sizer’s book carefully, I remain a pro-Palestinian Christian Zionist who is passionate about justice and reconciliation and sensitive to the needs, pain, and fears of both Palestinians and Israelis.” (p. 29)
It was in part to encourage further dialogue on the interpretation of Scripture regarding the relationship between Israel and the Church that I wrote the sequel, Zion’s Christian Soldiers. I look forward to further conversations with Tony Higton on the case for Moderate Christian Zionism.
14 May 2008 marked the 60th anniversary of the birth of the modern State of Israel. The fundamental problem in the long-running Israel/Palestine dispute is that Jews in the newly formed Israel stole land from the indigenous Arabs, taking it by force. Insofar as Britain and the international community provided the authority, they did so in the face of understandable opposition from those adversely affected. The horrendous fact that Christian evangelicals have to face now is that this theft, with all its subsequent misery for hundreds of thousands of people, was done in their name. Scofi eld Dispensationalism was strong in the 1940s and still lives on, represented in a number of popular Christian books that promote Christian Zionism.
Our belief in future blessing for the Jewish people and our commitment to their evangelisation, neither of which are challenged in the books here reviewed, has for many become mired in a confused eschatology rooted in bad exegesis, resulting in an obsession with land which the New Testament cannot sustain. This is not to deny the tragedy of the world’s treatment of Jews over centuries. Unfortunately millions of conservative evangelicals have supported a solution that has involved replacing one tragedy with another. Millions support Christian Zionism.
The writers of Light Force try to provide a Christian answer to the political conflict. The first edition (I read the American version) was an absorbing read and I look forward to seeing the second. In Light Force, Brother Andrew (of God’s Smuggler fame) tells of his personal journey of understanding, starting at the usual stereotyped dispensational beliefs about Israel, through to meeting Christians of all hues, which led to some understanding of the pressures Christians in Israel live with day to day. Most of the focus on Christians is on Arabs in Lebanon, Bethlehem and Gaza. The book gives a good introduction to the complex situation in Israel. It focuses mainly on issues of reconciliation between Jew and Arab, arguing that this should be possible and is most likely among Christians who are already one in Christ Jesus.
The book is an emotional read, challenging Christian Zionism at the level of personal experience. Even Moslems who hate Jews become real people as we see them being confronted by Brother Andrew and asked to forgive and make peace. I just wish Andrew’s role had been less hyped up.
Stephen Sizer’s Zion’s Christian Soldiers? is quite different in style to Andrew’s book, requiring more application from the reader, but it also challenges Christian Zionism. Sizer compares covenantalism and dispensationalism. He explores the relationship between the old and new covenants and shows the danger of taking contemporary events to be the realisation of biblical prophecy. He examines the question of who the Israel of God is, and emphasises the centrality of Christ in the Bible message and the oneness of His people. The land is considered both in its importance in the Old Testament and the relative silence about it in the New, where God’s kingdom on earth is international and His people look for a better inheritance.
Successive chapters are given to the place of Jerusalem, the temple in current Christian Zionist thought, and the inherent pessimism of dispensational rapture theology: matters which we may regard as of little interest except that they drive much of American evangelicalism, and in consequence American foreign political policy. Sizer counters such error by pointing to the centrality of Christ in the Bible’s progressive revelation, a message of hope for the world, a message that encourages the Christian to faithfulness. The book concludes with a sermon by John Stott. If you regard Israel as a fulfilment of prophecy, read this book. Iain Gill The Monthly Record, [The Free Church of Scotland] June 2008, p. 12. pdf version of review
“Reading this book was a huge shock to me, and not a pleasant one. I had no idea that the biblical hermeneutics on the word ‘Israel’ had such extraordinary implications. So how we interpret the Scripture in terms of that one word ‘Israel’ really does seem, in some circles — to quote Stephen Sizer — to ‘justify a pre-emptive global war against the “axis of evil”‘ (page 19).
I almost felt like a man who discovers a lump under his arm and then finds on examination that it is malignant and life-threatening. But you must do the reading for yourself. It is too important to leave to second-hand opinion. How is this word ‘Israel’ used in the Bible, and what implications does that have for our fragile world?”
Rico Tice, Associate Minister, All Soul’s Church, Langham Place (author of Christianity Explored & Song of a Stranger: Daniel)
The Audio Book with Seminar Notes
You can listen to or read six presentations based on the chapters of the book as well as print outlines useful for personal and group Bible study.
“I am glad to commend Stephen Sizer’s ground-breaking critique of Christian Zionism. His comprehensive overview of its roots, its theological basis and its political consequences is very timely. I myself believe that Zionism, both political and Christian, is incompatible with biblical faith. Stephen’s book has helped to reinforce this conviction.”
Revd Dr John Stott, Rector Emeritus, All Soul’s, Langham Place, London, the principal framer of the Lausanne Covenant (1974) and founder of the Langham Partnership International (author of more than 40 books including Basic Christianity, The Cross of Christ, The Contemporary Christian, Evangelical Truth and New Issues Facing Christians Today, and eight New Testament expositions (Acts, Romans etc.) in the ‘Bible Speaks Today’ series published by IVP).