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Paul Pomerville: The New Testament Case Against Christian Zionism

Paul A. Pomerville, The New Testament Case Against Christian Zionism: A Christian View of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (Seattle: CreateSpace, 2014), 484 pages.

Paul Pomerville has produced an uncompromising argument against Christian Zionism. Drawing upon his extensive experience in police work, he detects a gap in the collection of evidence in the literature on Christian Zionism. He claims that no evangelical works have heretofore made a case against Christian Zionism based on New Testament evidence (xviii). Employing a creative methodology of simulating a criminal trial, Pomerville interrogates key witnesses in the New Testament and appeals to the reader as jury to find Christian Zionism guilty of the charge of perverting the gospel.

Dr. Pomerville holds a Ph.D. in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary. He served for two years as Graduate Professor and Department Chairman of Christian Missions and Cross-Cultural Communications at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary. He is the author of The Third Force in Missions (1985), a groundbreaking work on Pentecostal missiology.

The aim of The Christian Case Against Christian Zionism is to establish guilt by association, correlating Christian Zionism with the Judaizers of the New Testament (48). The scope of the book modulates between the Judaizers of the first-century church and contemporary Christian Zionists of a dispensational bent who believe that the plan of God holds a future for national Israel. Pomerville identifies his target audience as theologians, pastors, Christians in general, and Christian Zionists in particular. As to its place in the world of literature, although claiming to represent a fresh approach, this book is another of the many works devoted to the repudiation of Christian Zionism. Pomerville upholds the thesis that the brand of Christian Zionism which is dispensational in its hermeneutical orientation and pro-Israel in its political stance constitutes a distortion of the New Testament gospel of the kingdom.

One of the strongest points of Pomerville’s argument is his critique of dispensationalists for an undue focus on the futurity of the kingdom, which marginalizes the present reality of the kingdom and detracts from the gifts of the Spirit as central to the gospel of the kingdom inaugurated by Jesus. He also indicts dispensationalists for distinguishing two tracks in the divine plan of redemption, Israel and the Church. Pomerville castigates the most extreme form of Christian Zionism as “pseudo-Christian Zionism” because of its “retro-theology” of expecting the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem and restoration of a Jewish kingdom in the land of Palestine during the end times. Pomerville raises important questions about the identity of the people of God and the place of Israel in salvation history. He favors a “fulfillment theology,” according to which Jesus Christ fulfills Old Testament prophecy and creates a new spiritual people of God composed of both Jews and Gentiles. He writes, “Those born of the Spirit, Jew and Gentile, are the people of God” (160). “Membership in the people of God is not determined by Jewish ancestry, but by faith in Jesus, spiritual rebirth, and by the transforming power of God” (161). In regards to the place of Israel in salvation history, Pomerville argues that it is inappropriate to apply Old Testament prophecies to the modern State of Israel (173). The Christ event marked the end of the temple order of worship, Israel’s ancestral privilege, and territorial rights. “Gospel values won out over national values” (178) when Jesus unleashed a new spirituality based on the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and an inner spiritual kingdom which made obsolete the old spirituality of the nation and land. Hence, the author avers that holding on to a vision of an exclusive Jewish kingdom is at odds with the plan of God for universal salvation, which is to say that Israel has retained no privileged place in God’s plan of redemption.

Perhaps the most significant of Pomerville’s contentions is that the Judaizing conflict in the first-century church exercised a formative influence on the view of Israel and the Church adumbrated in Luke-Acts, Paul’s letters, Hebrews, and the Gospel of John. This conflict was addressed at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15), yet not decisively resolved, as the church continued to struggle with the unification of Jewish and Gentile believers. Pomerville adeptly detects indications of this struggle between the lines of the writings of the New Testament books mentioned above. Concomitantly, he faults Christian Zionists for committing an offense analogous to the Judaizers by giving Israel a place in God’s plan of salvation separate from the Church. This is a charge worth pondering.

A subsidiary bone of contention intermittently raised by Pomerville has to do with the missiological implications of Christian Zionism. Pomerville argues that uncritical support for Israel among evangelicals has fomented “hatred” in the Muslim world, giving the impression that Christians are impervious to the injustices committed by the State of Israel, precluding acceptance of the gospel by Muslims. The barriers to evangelizing Muslims in the Middle East are complicated by Christian Zionism. My research found that the Pentecostal missionaries in Palestine who succeeded in planting sustainable churches in the West Bank had to distance themselves from Christian Zionism. They did so by contextualizing the Christian message, empathizing with the Palestinian reality, and speaking against the injustices committed against the Palestinian Arab population (Newberg 2012).

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Category: In Depth, Summer 2015

About the Author: Eric N. Newberg, Ph.D. (Regent University), M.Div. (North Park Theological Seminary), is Associate Professor of Theological and Historical Studies at Oral Roberts University. He is the author of The Pentecostal Mission in Palestine: The Legacy of Pentecostal Zionism (Wipf & Stock, 2012). ORU Faculty page

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