Archive for May, 2012
This is my first promised post regarding Christian support for Israel. An alternative title could be: "Why Dispensationalists Should Hesitate to Support Israel."
First, let’s distinguish between "Israel" as defined in Scripture and "Israel" in modern parlance. The modern nation-state of Israel declared independence in 1948 following British withdrawal from the territory of Palestine. The Israeli government has always been secular in the Western tradition, and bears no resemblance to any biblical conception of what a renewed Israel should look like. The designation "Israeli" includes secular and religious Jews, as well as secular and religious Arabs.
Dispensational visions of eschatological restoration involve a religious state and a revived temple cult. While there are religious Jewish Israelis who share this vision, the nation-state of Israel has not moved in that direction in its sixty-four-year history, but has become more secular.
Unqualified Christian support for Israel undermines our moral authority to condemn unjust actions of Israeli government. Even if dispensational premillennialism is correct, Israel still would have a long way to go in order to be a biblical restoration, and Christians should not hesitate to criticize actions of the Israeli government or unbiblical tendencies in Israeli culture/society–just as they should not hesitate to criticize the secular governments of their own nations.
In considering the Israeli government’s treatment of the Palestinians, it’s important to remember some history–not just sixty years of history. Israel was born out of Britain’s betrayal of the Arabs after WWI. At the urging of T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia), the British promised the Arabs independence in exchange for their support against the Ottoman Empire. At the same time, the Balfour Declaration of 1917 made support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine official British imperial policy. Before WWI and even during the Mandate (1918-1948), Jews and Arabs lived together in Jerusalem and in Palestine. An independent Palestinian state comprised of Jews and Arabs could theoretically have been possible. But the Balfour Declaration resulted in a heavy migration of Jews from Russia and Europe in response to pogroms and the specter of rising Nazism in Germany.
This is not the place for a comprehensive history of the Palestinian people. But looking back as far as 1918, the Arab natives of the land of Palestine have been treated very poorly. Their own "leadership" is equally to blame for their current oppressed state. But it does not help America’s image in the Middle East–nor does it promote peace–if America is perceived as supporting the Israeli government, no matter what the cost.
In fact, there is some evidence that American support for the Israeli government has resulted in less security for America and less security for Israel. If the American government ceased support for Israel, Islamic terrorist organizations would lose a huge recruiting tool. By shedding the American leash, Israel would be able to act unilaterally in its own interests.
Finally, this Israel might not be eschatological "Israel." Let’s assume that dispensationalists are correct that God’s eschatological plan includes a reconstitution of ethnic Israel in the land of Palestine. What if the current nation-state of Israel has no relation to that plan? What if–heaven forbid–Iran succeeded in obtaining a nuclear weapon and annihilating the current state of Israel? Jews would still exist around the world–what if the parousia is still a thousand years away?
If this cataclysm were to befall Israel, those Christians who aligned their theology too closely to the newspaper will find themselves without explanation. Even worse, this Christian theological perspective might become the ideological underpinning for an irrational sense of Israel’s invincibility, which could itself lead to Israel’s demise–I’m not worried that Israeli leaders would be so naïve, but it might affect American public opinion and consequently American foreign policy. There are Christians in high positions in the American government who believe that Israel is part of God’s eschatological plan and will not fall.
In order to maintain the moral integrity necessary to criticize injustice worldwide, and to preserve the focus on the gospel, dispensational Christians should hesitate to support the modern nation-state of Israel.
In my next post, I’ll consider some reasons why non-dispensationalist Christians should offer some support to Israel.
After a conversation with a dispensationalist friend a few weeks ago about Christian support for the nation-state of Israel, the question has been swirling around in my mind once again.
Having grown up in a Messianic Jewish, dispensational home, I was always taught that the Israelis were righteous defenders of the land God rightfully gave them, and Palestinians were all terrorists who wanted the Jews destroyed. Over the fifteen-or-so years that I have been paying attention to world events, my perspective has become more nuanced and less religious.
Yet so much commentary on Israel and Palestine is hopelessly biased and frustratingly shallow. Without attempting a grand analysis of the history of the most controversial strip of territory in the world, I’ve decided to write a couple of posts about the issue of Christian support for Israel.
My next post will be words of caution to my dispensationalist friends who offer unquestioned support for Israel. The following post will expound a Christian case for qualified support of Israel on pragmatic grounds. In short, these posts will be: why dispensationalists shouldn’t support Israel, and why Reformed folks should.
To the political junkie, to the sports fan, to the gossip girl, the historian says: Your narrative is too small.
I realize that it’s been a while since I’ve blogged substantially. I feel responsible to give an account of my previous few weeks, with the hope that the next few weeks will result in more bloggable thoughts and experiences.
After spring conferences, I turned my focus to a doctoral proposal. Having experienced LFS (Lamentations Fatigue Syndrome), I turned my attention to Chronicles. After several go-’rounds with Prof. Jonker, I finally put something workable together. The tentative title is: "Sit at My Right Hand: The Chronicler’s Portrait of the Tribe of Benjamin in the Social Context of Yehud." Last week, the proposal was approved by the Faculty of Theology at Stellenbosch, so I am officially a PhD candidate.
A few weeks ago I had the privilege of visiting the meeting of the Eastern Pennsylvania Presbytery of the PCA, with the goal of being accepted as a candidate for ordination. It was an encouraging time of worship, fellowship, teaching–and parliamentary procedure! My candidacy was accepted, and my internship proposal approved. (It helps when your supervising Teaching Elder is the chair of the Leadership Development Committee.) I received a charge from Galatians 2:20, "It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."
This will be quite a quarter of instruction. I am teaching Numbers and Deuteronomy in Sunday school at church; it’s been challenging to adapt class material from an academic context to a church context. But people seem to be enjoying the class as much as I am–anyway, the ones who aren’t enjoying it aren’t telling me…
I’m also preparing to teach my first graduate class, Introduction to Interpretation of the Bible, at PBU. This course presents three particular challenges. First, it is a new course for me–it’s always tough preparing new material. Second, the object of the course is theological, rather than the text of Scripture. It’s much easier for me to show up and talk about a book of the Bible, than to talk about the Bible and how we should read it. Third, it is a compressed-format course, involving three weekends of 13 teaching hours on Friday and Saturday. There’s no room for error–either sink or swim the first weekend! But I am relishing the chance to reconsider my own views on Scripture and how they have evolved since I was a student at PBU.
To round out the explanation of the title of this post: I’m currently working on another proposal regarding church ministry, which it is not appropriate to speak of yet–but hopefully the time will come when I can share it. It’s good news–I promise!
So, some nuggets on Numbers-Deuteronomy, Chronicles, Doctrine of Scripture, worship music, economics, the New Jersey Devils–or anything else–may be coming your way in the ensuing weeks. Keep checking, and thanks for your prayers.
“I Have a Dream” is a sermon I preached at Preakness Valley United Reformed Church in Wayne, NJ, on April 22, 2012. The text is Romans 15:14-33. Here is the MP3 audio (30:26, 27.8MB), and an excerpt:
Paul’s plan was to go to Judea, then to Rome, and then go on to Spain. But there’s no evidence that Paul ever got to Spain. In the book of Acts we read of Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem in chapter 21, and from that point on he is a prisoner, first in Judea, then during the long, shipwrecked journey from Jerusalem to Rome via Cyprus and Malta, and finally under house-arrest in Rome. According to church tradition, Paul was eventually executed in Rome for his faith.
So, he never made his “mission trip” for which he sent out this grand, marvelous support letter! Looking back, we can see that God in his Providence allowed Paul to dream of going to Spain, so that he would write the book of Romans, which is Paul’s great masterpiece. Paul had his grand plans for God, but God’s plans were even more grandiose than Paul could ever imagine.
Audio and text: ©2012 by Benjamin D. Giffone. Reproduction and distribution are permitted, providing that the author is properly credited and that no fee is charged.