Can a theological case be made for the Jewish people’s continued connection to the Promised Land? This question is the focus of a new edited volume from InterVarsity Press entitled, The New Christian Zionism: Fresh Perspectives on Israel and the Land. At a Philos Project panel held on Oct. 10 at the Allen P. Kirby Center on Constitutional Studies and Citizenship in Washington, D.C., Dr. Gerald McDermott was joined by contributors Philos Executive Director Robert Nicholson and President of the Institute on Religion and Democracy Mark Tooley to explain the purpose and content of the book.
The New Christian Zionism offers a perspective on modern Israel that is exegetically and theologically responsible, rooted in biblical and post-biblical sources, sensitive to the human dimension of conflict, and attuned to the importance of the Gospel in all matters of life.
“It’s looking at Israel through the lens of Christianity and looking at Christianity through the lens of Israel,” Nicholson said. “It’s bringing the church back to its original Hebraic vision.”
Though The New Christian Zionism has political implications, it is not a political program. It is a theological and moral program that provides a framework for thinking about the purpose and nature of the church.
“The question ‘Why Israel?’ can only be asked by a church that has become utterly alienated from its own origins,” Nicholson explained. “And that’s the question we want to answer.”
Qualifying the book’s ideology as the “new” separates this program from some variants of classic Christian Zionism, an often amorphous, sociological and theological movement that arose after 1967. In last few decades classic Christian Zionism has become something of a caricature of itself, alienating those who otherwise see something significant in the restoration of the Jewish people to their land.
Classic Christian Zionism can sometimes be theologically shallow, paying insufficient attention to the Gospel while disregarding the church fathers and early Protestant figures. It also tends to gravitate toward specific kinds of dispensational theology not shared by most Christians. With a few noted exceptions, it is also seen as intellectually weak, confining itself to popular theories about prophecy and the end of the world.
Classic Christian Zionism often misunderstands or ignores the Arab and Islamic worlds – as well as Jewish people and Judaism – and tends to be culturally disconnected from the Semitic world that gave birth to our faith.
“Classic Christian Zionism has convinced many Christians that Israel is not only irrelevant in the post-Jesus age, but that those who believe that Israel is relevant are hovering on the edges of some Judaizing heresy,” Nicholson said. The New Christian Zionism seeks to combat this mindset and to provide a corrective.
The following is an excerpt from Nicholson’s presentation at the Kirby Center:
Israel is theologically significant.
Although Christianity is a historical religion, Christianity in the 21st century has lost its history. Israel is the narrative thread that binds together sacred history; the holy texts say that from Israel comes salvation, and that the people of Israel are the keepers of the deepest intellectual vision ever disclosed to man.
God often uses the particular to impact the universal; the one to change the many. For example: One planet among the planets. One sun to light the whole world. One man to begin the human race. One family to replenish the world after the flood. One patriarch through which all nations would be blessed. One city in which to place his name. One divine Messiah to redeem mankind. And one nation to show his justice and mercy to the word.
The modern State of Israel may or may not be the final restoration of the Jews to their ancient land – but it is hard to deny that there isn’t something mysterious going on. Something that seems to be foretold in the millennia-old texts that we carry under our arms every Sunday morning.
Israel is civilizationally significant.
While Americans spend a lot of time talking about preserving the West and saving the West from internal and external forces bent on its undoing, we don’t fully understand what the West truly is. At the heart of the West is not Athens, Sparta or Rome, but the Hebraic vision contained in the Hebrew Scriptures as it was revealed to the nation of Israel by Israel’s transcendent God.
The New Testament, rather than being a repudiation of that Hebraic vision, affirmed that vision. The adoption by the Roman Empire – and later, European culture – of that vision, and the later expansion of European culture to various corners of the world, has led to a situation in which the Hebraic vision has become the meta-vision for much of the planet, even though most of the planet has secularized or bastardized that vision to the point that they cannot see it. If the Hebraic tradition is the essence of what’s best in Western civilization, how could Western civilization not be affected by the restoration of Israel, the source and keeper of that tradition?
The rebirth of Israel could not help but impact the future of the West. The West’s denial of its familial connection with Israel – and its attempts to qualify it or equate it with other states and peoples – is a rejection of the very thing that could help revive it.
Israel is geopolitically significant.
Because the Jewish people – the keepers of the covenants and the promises – see the world like we see it, it is only natural that we and Israel would partner together to bring light and justice to the nations. Our enemies see it; why wouldn’t we?
We must love the State of Israel because we love the Jewish people – not the other way around. And yet, at the same time, we must love all men – Jews and Arabs – and affirm their uniqueness before God and their need for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
“New” Christian Zionism isn’t necessarily new. In many ways, it’s actually a return to the old. To the original. To a time in church history when Hebraic tradition was seen as the immutable context of the messianic advent – when the tree and its branches drank from the same roots. When both Israel and the nations filled their symbiotic and complementary roles in God’s economy.
The church must recover its original Hebraic vision. Only when it does will the old question “Why Israel?” cease to be a strange one.
This article originally appeared on Philos Project, October 14, 2016, and reposted with permission.