The New Christian Zionists

Source: Religion and Politics

By | June 13, 2017
 
There is a joke that Israelis like to tell Christian Zionists, one first made popular by Prime Minister Menachem Begin in the late-1970s: There are many differences between Jews and Christians, but they must work together now where they can. When the Messiah comes, the first question to ask is if this is his first or second time here.
 
The joke works because it sidesteps the very real differences between Jews and Christians to affirm the shared messianic hope that animates many Jews and evangelical Christians. If the differences between Jews and Christians are all just a matter of timing, then both communities can get on with the business of defending Israel. For Begin, in an era of political and cultural differences that could have scuttled Jewish and evangelical cooperation at any moment, a little humor could grease the wheels of cooperation. But it could also sidestep differences between the two communities. In the late 1970s, when Begin was at the height of his influence, American evangelicals were campaigning for a “Christian America” in the United States, a concept wholly unsettling to Israel’s other major source of support, American Jews. The joke’s sentiment gave Christian Zionists and Jews a sense that they were part of a Judeo-Christian community, and that their similarities outweighed their differences.

The same sentiment, with all its strengths and weaknesses, is on display in a new collected volume from InterVarsity Press, The New Christian Zionism: Fresh Perspectives on Israel & the Land, edited by Gerald R. McDermott. Developed from a 2015 conference hosted by the Institute for Religion and Democracy, a conservative watchdog group within mainline Protestantism, the volume features articles from an array of scholars identifying as evangelical, mainline, and Messianic Jewish (Jews who then adopted the Christian belief that Jesus is the Messiah). The purpose of book and the conference, which was held in Washington D.C., was to ask how Christian Zionism can be updated to the twenty-first century theological and political situation.

The inclusion of conservative mainline Protestant perspectives makes this volume unique in a field of largely non-denominational evangelical and fundamentalist Christian Zionist voices. Taken as a whole, the volume fuses conservative Protestant theology with the legacy of mainline Protestantism’s most vocal proponent of Zionism, Reinhold Niebuhr, who, for most theological conservatives, has been anathema because of his liberal views on the Bible. By offering, in McDermott’s words, “a new theological argument for the twenty-first century,” the volume is both synthesizing conservative Protestant voices and announcing its intention for building a more ecumenical Christian Zionist theology.

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