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:
- Lack of godly compassion for the Palestinians, and of concern for their human rights and about their legitimate aspirations.
- A negative attitude toward Palestinians, and Arabs in general, to the point of racism.
- Uncritical support for Israel (a secular, sinful state like any other), justifying all its actions against the Palestinians.
- Neglecting or even opposing and forbidding evangelism of Israelis, sometimes believing that Jewish people can experience salvation through Judaism.
- Being more interested in the fulfilment of prophecy than in application of kingdom principles such as justice and reconciliation.
- Opposing the peace process.
- Sometimes advocating the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from the Holy Land.
- Sometimes supporting the rebuilding of the temple regardless of the problematic theological implications and the danger of provoking extreme violence.” (p. 18)
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:
- Pray for the Israelis and the Palestinians, showing compassion for their needs, pain, and fears, and an awareness of their faults.
- Pray for and, where possible, take action to promote reconciliation, peace, security, and justice for both people groups and an end to violence on both sides.
- Pray for and support evangelism among both people groups.
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.