Road-map to Armageddon?
Stephen Sizer (IVP, 2004)Blurb Review by Rev. Graham Beynon
Review by Rev. Graham Beynon
This book is an excellent overview of three aspects of Christian Zionism: its history, its theology and its politics. The book's material derives from the author's doctoral thesis on the subject, but unlike many theses which are turned into books, this one actually reads like a book rather than a lightly edited thesis. In fact it is written with both clarity and warmth.
Despite its British origins, Christian Zionism's power base is now very much in America. However, there is still a significant and growing influence in the UK. The presence of books by Hal Lindsey, Tim La Haye (especially the Left Behind series), as well as various magazines and web sites, mean that Christian Zionism is often well represented in the average congregation. More than that, there is commonly a simple assumption made by many evangelical Christians that Israel remains 'special' and that political events in the Middle East have at least some relevance to Biblical prophecy. All this means that there is a need for clarity on this vexed issue and Sizer's book is the first place to turn.
The book divides into three sections - historical, theological and political. There is some overlap between these, and consequently by the end there is a slight feeling of repetition. Given the complexity of the subject, however, this is probably necessary.
The historical roots of Christian Zionism begins with the eschatology of the Reformers and Puritans but fairly quickly moves to the explosion of Zionist thinking in the nineteenth century. The differences between, and the developments of, each stream of thought are helpfully outlined.
We are introduced to the main developers of Christina Zionist thought, its current protagonists and some of the key events in 'Zionist' history. This historical overview is interesting in its own right but especially so in observing the way a novel theological position can come to be so influential.
There are some salutary lessons such as the 'canonising' of dispensational premilleniallism by the Scofield Reference Bible. This gives an example of the damaging effects when such a work becomes so dominant. The current situation of Christian Zionism with the proliferation of organisations and publications devoted to Zionism, and sheer quantity of time and money given to it is staggering. In addition, the influence on political issues through history such as British foreign policy is clearly demonstrated, as is the influence on American foreign policy in the later half of the twentieth century. This lays the ground work for the second two sections of the book.
The theological examination of Christian Zionism is the heart of the book. The particular approaches and emphases of different Zionist groupings are explored and discussed. This links with the different streams of thought identified in the previous historical section. Sizer identifies three main streams within dispensationalism: "Apocalyptic dispensationalism is preoccupied with the 'signs of the times'; Messianic dispensationalism with evangelising Jews for Jesus; and political dispensationalism with defending and 'blessing' Israel" (p107).
To a greater or lesser extent there are seven common theological emphases standing behind these different positions:
A literal and futurist approach to Scripture which reads current events as fulfilment of prophecy.
That Israel and the church remain separate groups with distinct covenants, such that many even disavow evangelisation of Jews.
That the restoration of Jews to Zion is in fulfilment of Biblical prophecy.
That the true land of Israel extends further than the current borders of the State of Israel and must be possessed again.
That Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Zion and cannot be shared or divided.
That the temple must be rebuilt in Jerusalem.
That there will be the future battle of Armageddon and judgement of the world on the basis of how they have treated the Jewish people.
Within each of these areas the development and variations of thought are discussed. In addition the veracity of each tenant is examined. The critique is along the lines of a promise-fulfilment biblical theology where OT predictions are shadows which are fulfilled in Christ. This critique results in the dismantling of the Christian Zionist position piece by piece.
The last section on the political implications of Christian Zionism gives us an amazing example of why correct hermeneutics and the resulting correct theology matters so much. Here we have a particular theological position resulting in decisions made about peoples' financial giving, churches' mission policies and even countries' foreign policy.
Sizer relates the doctrinal emphases previously outlined with their logical resulting practice. This means Christian Zionism sees the church as needing to stand with Israel; facilitate the restoration programme; support the expansionist policies of some Israelite settlers; lobby for international recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital; fund the rebuilding of the temple; and oppose peace deals with Palestinian groups. Again there is divergence between the different streams of Zionism on these topics and the differences are outlined.
The weaknesses of the book are twofold. Firstly the balance between a description of Christian Zionism and a critique of it is heavily weighted to the former. At times it feels as if the critique is rather tacked on the end. For anyone already convinced of a promise-fulfilment biblical theological approach to Scripture this won't matter, but I would have liked a fuller response at times. To my mind the critique remains devastating to the Christian Zionist approach. However, many potential dispensationalist counter arguments are not discussed nor are some key passages examined (for example I was surprised not to find an extended discussion of Romans 11).
The second weakness is that the different strands of Christian Zionism can become rather entangled at times, and one can wish for a clearer holistic understanding of one of the positions. This is mainly because of the approach taken which cycles through these different strands numerous times from different angles rather than giving them each a separate treatment. It isn't therefore a criticism of the book - more a consequence of its approach.
These weaknesses though are minor. This is an excellent book on an important subject, thoroughly researched and well written. If you want to read something on Christian Zionism, this is it.
- 1 Corinthians
- 1 John
- 1 Samuel
- 1 Timothy
- 2 John
- 2 Kings
- 2 Samuel
- 3 John
- Biblical Theology
- New Testament
- Old Testament
- Old Testament Theology
- Song of Songs
- Wisdom Literature