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Stephen Sizer: Christian Zionism

 

Stephen Sizer, Christian Zionism: Road-map to Armageddon? (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 298 pages, ISBN 9780830853687.

An explosion of Evangelicalism (predominantly Pentecostalism) across Latin America during the 1980s quickly captured the attention of sociologists. Since then, this ripe field of research has been extended to include the social and political impact of explosive Pentecostal growth in Africa and elsewhere, while the entire phenomenon has arguably spawned a relatively new, interdisciplinary academic field, Pentecostal Studies, which is now well-established in respected universities and centres throughout Europe and North America.

If several decades of scholarly Pentecostal studies have taught us anything, it is the movement’s heterogeneity. Pentecostalism’s diverse histories, beliefs, and practices underpin various expressions of global Pentecostalism, which in turn demands a nuanced approach to the movement. Some scholars viewing Pentecostalism as essentially homogenous have discovered this to their cost, producing research that has ultimately proved flawed and been ridiculed within the academic community.

Yet despite these apparently disparate expressions of Pentecostalism, nevertheless there are features common to most. These include styles of worship, pneumatology, and especially charismata (spiritual gifts), especially glossolalia (speaking in tongues). Another, arguably, is Zionism. Several years ago, when I delivered a lecture to a Pentecostal Studies group at the University of Birmingham, the subject of Israel was raised. Given Pentecostalism’s diverse nature, together with the various expressions represented there, I sought students’ views on the modern state of Israel. Of more than a dozen postgraduates, I do not recall any student expressing other than a positive view of Israel. I suppose this should not be that surprising. After all, Pentecostalism’s eschatology is historically strongly influenced by dispensationalism, which has helped to ensure that classical Pentecostalism is strongly Zionist by nature. Even though one can find Pentecostals today who are not Zionist or support the modern state of Israel, nonetheless Zionism has become a defining feature of classical Pentecostalism which has since been embraced by other expressions of Pentecostalism throughout the world.

It is because of this pro-Israel stance that Pentecostals (or, for that matter, any other Christians who believe the Jews remain God’s people and who support the modern state of Israel) should be aware of Stephen Sizer’s book, Christian Zionism: Road-map to Armageddon? which is highly critical of Christian Zionism. In his book, Sizer traces the roots and history of Christian Zionist dispensationalism, its theological emphases, and what he considers to be its damaging political implications. The book concludes with what Sizer refers to as a `a covenantal alternative’.

Sizer argues that British dispensationalism was instrumental in creating the necessary political will within the British political establishment to create a Jewish homeland within the land that fell at that time under the British Mandate. He also states that British dispensationalism, which predated the American variant, went on to influence U.S. Christian perceptions of Israel. Thus, the book argues that whereas British dispensationalism helped to create the modern state of Israel, U.S. dispensationalists (and those influenced by it) provide Israel with ongoing legitimacy and active support. Among those at the forefront of garnering political support for Israel are several leading Pentecostal televangelists, which brings us right back to where this essay began, namely, Pentecostal attitudes towards Israel.

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Category: Living the Faith, Spring 2008

About the Author: Calvin L. Smith, Ph.D. (University of Birmingham, England), is College Principal and Tutor in Theology at King's Evangelical Divinity School. He is also Editor of the Evangelical Review of Society and Politics. He is the author of numerous books and articles, editor of Pentecostal Power: Expressions, Impact and Faith of Latin American Pentecostalism (Brill, 2011) and editor of The Jews, Modern Israel and the New Supercessionism: Resources for Christians (King's Evangelical Divinity School, 2009). http://www.kingsdivinity.org/about/17-college/about/75-faculty-calvin-smith

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