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Stephen Sizer: Christian Zionism

Sizer’s book also raises questions about his hermeneutical methodology. For example, as a typical covenantalist he believes most biblical prophecy has been fulfilled already (this position is known as preterism). A case in point is his interpretation of the abomination of desolation, referred to by Jesus in Matthew 24. Clearly, Jesus was alluding to the fall of Jerusalem to Titus in AD 70. Yet the passage also has eschatological significance: it is, after all, located in Matthew’s so-called eschatological discourse, and even a superficial reading demonstrates Jesus is using a soon-to-occur event to describe an eschatological scenario. Thus a Jewish understanding of prophecy as repeated history which can have several partial or illustrative fulfilments is lost on Sizer. Lest he think such a view is clear evidence of someone unable to shed their dispensationalist mindset, one need only consider Isaiah 7:14, which found an expression in Isaiah’s day, but also when Jesus was born. Both children represented a sign that marked the salvation of God’s people Israel.

This leads to another hermeneutical problem with the book. Sizer correctly identifies how a dispensationalist hermeneutic (like any other) can predetermine the interpretation of the Bible. In this case, Sizer argues, a dispensationalist will always read the Bible along Zionist lines, leading to a tunnel vision which rejects all other interpretations. Yet Sizer falls into precisely the very same trap, quite unable to break away from his own strongly covenantal hermeneutic, to the extent that his interpretation of biblical prophecy is allegorised and preterised along established covenantal lines. Thus, Sizer engages in the very same dogmatic hermeneutics he condemns, rather than the exegetical objectivity he appeals for.

All this aside, Sizer’s book throws down the gauntlet to Christian Zionists, and by extension, many Pentecostals, and thus merits closer inspection. After all, support for Jews as God’s people, and by extension the Jewish state, does not necessarily or automatically translate into support for a secular government of Israel, which is arguably somewhat more theologically difficult to justify. Aside from this book, there are several other recent academic Evangelical attempts to push anti-Zionism. There have been several theologically-meaty rebuttals, and Christians who support the Jews as God’s people do well to familiarise themselves with the current debate and seek to defend their position persuasively and effectively in a manner which is exegetically and theologically viable and nuanced.

Reviewed by Calvin L. Smith

 

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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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