Friday, September 01, 2006

Regarding Christian Zionism

I recently listened to a few of the episodes of the “Bible Answer Man” radio program. If you are not familiar with Hank Hannegraaff (the host of the broadcast and president of the Christian Research Institute) is known for taking hard stands against modern heresies and false teachings. He makes very direct statements against the Word of Faith movement (think of most TBN personalities), popular heretical preachers and teachers like TD Jakes’ Oneness Pentecostal heresy (see an apologetic e-mail), as well as confronting and dealing with modern cults (Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, etc). One of the things that I appreciate most about Mr. Hannegraaff’s ministry is their clear stand that is taken on the essential issues of the faith. He doesn’t cut any corners when it comes to the deity of Christ, the infallibility of the Bible, the Trinity, and others indispensable doctrines. However, when it comes to other issues, those that are referred to as “secondary” issues,1 I have been known to disagreements with him (sometimes very seriously too).

It is dealing with one of these secondary issues that compelled me to listen recently. A few weeks ago, Hank was interviewing a guest named Stephen Sizer over the course of two broadcasts. Mr. Sizer recently wrote a book called “Christian Zionism : Road-map to Armageddon?” It was the title of this book that made me listen to the broadcasts to see what another Christian perspective might be on the Middle East crisis.

Before I go any further, let me start off by defining Christian Zionism. Zionism is defined by Merriam Webster’s Online Dictionary as “an international movement originally for the establishment of a Jewish national or religious community in Palestine and later for the support of modern Israel.”2 Christian Zionism, then, is the support for this movement from people inside of the Christian faith. Also, I think that it is noteworthy to say that I have never heard either “Zionism” or “Christian Zionism” used in a positive and sympathetic way.3 That is not to say that it has never been used positively, but simply that I have not seen it.

The basic premise (as I understood it from listening to the two program series) of Mr. Sizer’s book, as well as Hank’s views, is that the Jewish people committed a great injustice when they displaced the Palestinian people just following World War II and that Christians should not be pro-Israel by default. Whether one agrees with the premise of the book (or the tone of the interview) is not the main point of my concern, but it is notable to say that many (if not most or all) of the ideas that a Christian holds concerning the Middle East come as a direct result of one’s theology of the end times (eschatology) and the book of Revelation. Hank Hannegraaff, as best as I can tell, holds an eschatological view best described as “partial-pretorism” in that he believes that the tribulation spoken of in the book of Revelation was basically the persecution of the early church by Nero. I know that he believes in the future second coming of Christ and the problem of sin will be fully and finally dealt with in the future, but as far as what he believes and what his biblical case is for all of this, I do not know any real specifics.4 I do know, however, that there are other Christian theologians whom I greatly respect, namely R.C. Sprohl, who hold very similar views on eschatological matters, so Hank is not all alone in his thinking.5

The popular Christian view of how the world will end is, for better or worse, best articulated in its general form by the “Left Behind” book series. I would confess a future coming of Christ where His church will be raptured instantly and brought to heaven. This will be followed immediately by the 7 year tribulation, the 1,000 year reign of Christ, and then finally the New Heaven and New earth.6

That being said, I don’t want to deal with the various arguments for or against either Mr. Hannegraaff’s or my personal eschatology. But, if one believes (as futurists do) that the nation of Israel will (or has already) return to the land in unbelief prior to the second coming of Christ, then this could potentially greatly impact how we view current events and the current nation of Israel. What I would like to do is to quickly look at a few of the statements made on these programs and (hopefully) show some problems with the characterizations made by a brief comment.

“I was interested to read in the preface [to Mr. Sizer’s book] in going to Israel and see the heavily armed Israeli soldiers and the encounters they have with the occasional stone throwing Palestinian children actually ended up fueling within you a latent prejudice against Palestinians. Cash that out for us.”7

I have not read the book, so I do not know the entirety of the story or event in context, but the way that the comparison is made between the “heavily armed Israeli soldiers” and the “occasional stone throwing Palestinian children” is an unfair picture, at best. For anyone who has watched news about Israel in the past decade would know that primarily the soldiers are not heavily armed because of the children. They are so armed because of the recent advent of the suicide bomber and other political or religious actions that are carried out primarily against Israeli civilians by Palestinians. One other important note is often made by Dennis Prager. Some people say that the reason for the suicide bombing is a result of poverty or of occupation by the Israeli’s, Dennis then asks “Where are the Palestinian Christian suicide bombers?” The point is undeniably that there aren’t any. The problem as we see it today is not between ordinary civilians and an occupying force, but between Muslims, motivated by the doctrine or idea of Jihad, carrying out their actions against Jews. So to make the comparison between military troops and misfit children as the only pro-active comparison in the whole broadcast for the conflict going on is to look at the situation and totally mischaracterize it.8

“I’m very passionate about wanting to support the state of Israel within secure borders, but they have to be internationally recognized. And I want to see the same rights for the Palestinians and I believe that is the only way forward for a secure and a peaceful middle east. Our Christian Zionist friends are committed to a very apocalyptic and confrontational view of the future which I believe is going to perpetuate and exacerbate tensions in the Middle East which we see ourselves as we saw last week with the planes that might have been blown up across the Atlantic. We see this rise in Islamist terrorism I think as a direct response to our one-sided support for Israel today.”9

There are so many different things in this one statement that could be addressed, but I will just deal with two. The desire to support a state of Israel that is internationally recognized sounds noble but it will never happen. It will never happen unless either (a) the futurist understanding of the end times happens or (b) the Islamic countries in the region and all over the world become secular or non-Muslim. The phrase “internationally recognized” usually means recognition by the U.N., but Israel was accepted as a member of the United Nations on May 11, 1949 as well as won a war against it started by Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Iraq.10 I am not sure what constitues one being internatinoally recognized if the United Nations doesn’t count. It is a catch 22 to say that israel needs to be recognized internationally when there are numerous political bodies that want to see Isreal destroyed.

The second thing that is upsetting about the above quote is the sentiment that we are being plagued by Islamic terrorism in the west primarily because of our one-sided suport for Israel. I think that it is very egocentric to think this way seeing as how Muslims have a view that is derived from their scriptures that the whole world needs to be an Islamic state. Not only that, but look at how Muslims ransacked Lebanon and the Lebaniese Christians in the last century. They would have been just as displaced and offended by the Jewish occupation as their Muslim agressors, but they were attacked and killed all the same. It is naieve to believe that the presense or the rise of Islamic terrorism is directly related to Israel. That may well be the case for the United States, but not for other countries who are less than sympathetic to Israel. Sudanese people aren’t sympathetic to Israel (at least politically) but Sudan is the place where true terrorism and genocide is occurring by the same strain of Islamic fundamentalists.

“What we see at the moment in our foreign policy is a very one-sided approach that demonizes some of the Arab states and exonerates Israel in its actions. And that does not lead to peace, it leads to jealousy, and hatred, and worse.”

Then later in the program, in a specific response to a question regarding Iran’s saber rattling, Mr. Sizer says,

“I in no way would endorse what the president of Iran is saying. I abhor his sentiments, but I have to say at the same time as we hear statements about how allegedly the Arabs want to drive the Jews into the sea, what we see in action is in effect Israel driving the Palestinians into the desert. And both sides need to be encouraged to change their rhetoric and their actions and to learn to live within secure borders.”11

I think that these two statements together are upsetting, at the very least. Let me start off by saying that I do not want to ever give a blank check to anyone for to do anything that they want even if the overall cause or idea is something that I support.12 If and when Israel takes inappropriate action against those individuals or organizations that are not part of a threat to their security, they should be chastised and called to account. However, the “demonizing” that I have seen has not gone far enough to call persons, states, or organizations to account when they promote an open goal of genocide when they express their desire to “drive the Jews into the sea.” The President of Iran has made it plain that he wants Israel wiped out. The most visible face of a Palestinian nation in the past century was Yasser Arafat who headed up the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). In the PLO charter, this organization calls for the destruction of Israel.13 The PLO may have softened their resolution on this matter, and the Palestinian responded accordingly by recently electing (in a popular vote) Hamas to be their current political leadership. Hamas is a terrorist organization whose charter states, “the organization's goal is to "’raise the banner of God over every inch of Palestine,’ in order to establish an Islamic Republic.”14 Hezbollah, the terrorist organization that all-but controls Lebanon, views the destruction of the state of Israel as one of its primary goals.15

So to conclude what has turned out to be a very long introduction, it seems that there is a latent disconnect (at least) on the part of both Stephen Sizer and Hank Hannegraaff when looking at the current problems in the Middle East. The issue is not that a two state solution (Israel and a Palestinian nation) has not been offered by the Israelis. It is that the offer of a two state solution (as in the Oslo Accords) was rejected by the various powerful organizations inside of the Palestinian population because they “objected to the accords since the groups completely denounce Israel's right to exist.”16

All of my frustration, concern, and confusion only made the next issue the most prominent one. The above issues that primarily deal with the geopolitical motivations and reactions of states and societies are important, but in this specific instance they pale in compare to the next theologically packed statement made by Mr. Hannegraaff. Hank introduced his guest, the book, and this topic at the beginning of both of the radio programs by saying this, “Evangelicals are increasingly polarized over whether Christian Zionism is biblical and orthodox or unbiblical and cultic.”17

This may seem a bit trivial but the mere fact that it was stated twice with the exact same language shows that it was not a misspoken word but that it was designed and intended to covey the dichotomy between the two viewpoints. The dichotomy is not in the same manner in which most secondary issues are referred to on his program. It is primarily due to the fact that the word “cultic” was used that I am so flabbergasted and concerned.

Before I jumped to conclusions, I decided to see how the Christian Research Institute (C.R.I.) defines what a cult is. First they give the secular or popular definition of what a cult is, “a cult is a religious or semi-religious sect whose members are controlled almost entirely by a single individual or by an organization.” The other way in which they defined a cult is more evangelical in nature, “a cult is any group that deviates from the orthodox teachings of the historic Christian faith being derived from the Bible and confirmed through the ancient ecumenical creeds.”18

Further in that same official C.R.I. article Hank goes on, “These groups do not lead to the Christ of the Bible, but to another Jesus and another gospel (2 Cor. 11:1-4; Gal. 1:8, 9). We must therefore reject these false teachings, and “earnestly contend for the faith which was once and for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).”19

If the implication made by Hank is not missed or misunderstood, then those Christians who, motivated by their theological convictions that the Church and Israel are not the same, support Israel unorthodox, unbiblical, and cultic. Then, if these same Christians are cultic, their faith does not lead to the Christ of the Bible. It seems odd that such a careful wordsmith and apologist like Hank Hannegraaff would use such a loaded word and back up its use by contrasting cultic and unbiblical views with orthodox and biblical views leaving no question as to the implications of his meaning.

Also, in the same C.R.I. Perspective article, cults are determined or defined by the fact that they “deny or distort fundamental Christian doctrines such as the Trinity, the deity of Christ, and salvation by grace through faith alone.“20 Since when did eschatology (except for extreme pretorism which says that the actual second coming of Christ occurred in the past) become an essential or fundamental doctrine of the faith? It is important, and very important at that. But essential to salvation? I don’t think so.

Adding to the frustration surrounding the cultic accusation was this next quote, “It is tragic that some of our well known Christian leaders embrace orthodox Judaism and soft-peddle the gospel or deny that it is necessary for Jewish people even to hear about Jesus; that by virtue of their Jewishness that God accepts them through obedience to the law or through sacrifice if that takes place again through a new temple.”21 There are a few self described evangelical leaders who say that Jews will be saved because they are Jews and apart from being saved by Christ. These few men, John Hagee being one of them, may be somewhat popular because of the shock value of some of their predictions, but anyone who denies that all people must be saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone for salvation are not only not Christian leaders, they are heretics. To lump this heretical theology in with futurism is almost slanderous, but it is definitely unfair and a poor comparison.

Are there some people who believe that Jews will be saved because of their ethnicity? Yes. Do some of these same people believe in futurist eschatology? Yes. Given the fact that these people are heretical because of their view on salvation, is it fair to use these same people to characterize futurists? No.

In conclusion I have some concerns with some of the statements made by Hank Hannegraaff and Stephen Sizer regarding Israel, the Palestinians, and terrorism in general. However, I am most concerned and upset by the gross mischaracterization and use of the word “cultic” in the framing of the conversation. I do not believe that Mr. Hannegraaff truly believes that futurists who support Israel are cultic or heretical, but that is the only conclusion that I can draw by the implications of his repeated introduction as well as the C.R.I. statement on what cults are.

I am, however, trying to contact Mr. Hannegraaff to ask him what he meant by what he said. I truly hope that this is just a miscommunication, misunderstanding, or sloppy word choice on his part.

1 Issues like spiritual gifts and their place today, how to understand election and free will, eschatology, and others. These issues are called “secondary” because they are matters of doctrine and interpretation that, although they are different (and sometimes very different), they still fall under the umbrella of orthodoxy.

2 Merriam Webster’s Online Dictionary

3 Just like the word “ilk” is not used except when describing people or holders of an ideal that you find reprehensible.

4 Hank Hannegraaff has been writing a book called “Exegetical Eschatology” where he is detailing the biblical argument for this particular view. I do not know when this book will be published.

5 I’m not saying that he’s right. I personally don’t hold to his theological position on this matter, so he may be wrong, but he’s not alone nor is he heretical in his wrongness.

6 The sheer fact that the Future Pre-millennialism is so extremely popular is the single greatest reason why I (currently, anyway) would not dogmatically hold to this position until I have researched it in more detail and either affirmed and “owned” it in my own mind and heart, or confess another eschatology that I find to be the biblical one.

7 Hank Hannegraaff speaking on the Bible Answer Man Broadcast 8/15/2006

8 A comment about suicide bombings and other types of large scale actions by Palestinians against Israel did come up, but only after being raised by a caller which I reference later in this piece.

9 Stephen Sizer on the “Bible Answer Man” Radio broadcast on 8/15/2006 41:03


11 Stephen Sizer on the “Bible Answer Man” Radio broadcast on 8/16/2006 @ 23:25

12 Case and point: I abhor abortion and view it as murder. I wish and hope that all legal operations of abortion clinics in the U.S. were stopped. However, whenever a crackpot has taken a vigilante approach to this issue and killed a doctor or a nurse or bombed a clinic I have (and I will continue) condemned that as a wrong and evil thing.





17 Hank Hannegraaff on the “Bible Answer Man” Radio broadcast on 8/16 & 8/17/2006

18 CRI Perspective: What is a Cult? 8/29/006

19 Ibid.

20 Ibid.

21 Stephen Sizer on the “Bible Answer Man” Radio broadcast on 8/16/2006 40:55

No comments:

Copyright © 2005-2010 Eric Johnson