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Stephen Sizer: Christian Zionism

Sizer’s book is unnecessarily polemical and pejorative. It is also strongly biased. Sizer is closely associated with a Palestinian ecumenical and liberation theology movement called Sabeel, which sides very strongly with the Palestinian cause and vociferously condemns Israel. Although Sabeel’s founder, Naim Ateek, has condemned suicide bombings, his statement is qualified by seeking to understand why suicide bombers do what they do. It is interesting to see also how, in the context of suicide bombings against Israel, Naim Ateek and Sabeel refer to Samson’s last act in the Philistines’ temple of Dagon. Thus, Sabeel’s position on suicide bombings appears somewhat ambiguous. (For details, see http://www.sabeel.org/old/news/cstone25/suicidebombers.htm [unavailable as of Aug 13, 2014]).

Its pejorative and biased nature means the book is not as objective as it might be, which weakens its scholarly impact. Actually, these flaws are a pity because Sizer makes some valid points concerning extreme dispensationalism. He also highlights some of the dangers of an “Israel right or wrong” mentality which some Christians hold (even many Jews do not take this position). Other valid points Sizer makes are how at times dispensationalism is theologically arbitrary, the extreme nature of what he calls “political dispensationalism”, the very real theological pitfalls of seeking to read every piece of news and current affairs through the spectacles of biblical prophecy, and the desire by some pro-Israel Christians to offer God a ‘helping hand’ in seeing those prophecies fulfilled. God does not need our help to fulfil His own prophecies, but Sizer manages to highlight how some Christian leaders think in precisely these terms, especially in the U.S., where they engage in political lobbying to bring pressure to bear on government policy so as to fulfil biblical prophecy on God’s behalf. Such a mentality is no different from anthropocentric postmillennialist Kingdom Theology attempts to usher in and present the Kingdom to Christ, thus hastening His return.

A major problem with the book is that it dwells almost exclusively on extreme political dispensationalism, without any meaningful or fair discussion of theological support for the Jews by Evangelicals who are not dispensationalist. The view that the Jews continue to be God’s chosen people does not necessarily translate into the expressions of the forms of extreme Christian Zionism which Sizer describes. Moreover, a pro-Jewish theological stance is nowhere near as new as Sizer would have us believe. He looks back to the Puritans as the progenitors of a pro-Jewish doctrinal stance which he argues reaches maturity in nineteenth century dispensationalism. Yet arguably, support for the doctrine of the Jews as God’s people is the longstanding historic view of the church which, ironically, led to terrible anti-Semitic excesses by medieval Christians frustrated that God’s very own people had rejected Christ. Even that anti-Semite Martin Luther recognised the Jews still retained a special place in God’s hand.

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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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