Book Reviews

Book Review: “The New Christian Zionism” edited by Gerald R. McDermott

ncz-mcdermottThe New Christian Zionism is a book of essays aimed to show that Zionism is both true and not necessarily linked to dispensationalism. Chapters range from hermeneutics to international law as authors approach the questions related to Christian Zionism from a number of angles.

The best chapters are those that focus specifically on exegesis and one controversial but historically interesting chapter on international law and theology. The exegetical chapters provide, at times, a formidable challenge to contrary opinions. In particular, David Rudolph’s chapter arguing for Zionism in the Pauline corpus argues cogently that some of the alleged proof-texts against “particularity” (read: Zionism/etc.) that speak of differences between Jew and Gentile as “nothing” do not literally eliminate all distinctions, because similar language is used by Paul in contexts that do not or cannot mean nothing. Robert Nicholson’s analysis of international law is sure to be controversial, but cannot be simply dismissed.

Perhaps the biggest problem with the book is that at several points the authors undermine their own commitment to scholarly engagement and instead resort to mud-slinging at their opponents. Discussions of eschatology are often unnecessarily heated, and at times authors if The New Christian Zionism do little but stoke the flames. For example, in a chapter on “Biblical Hermeneutics,” Craig Blaising writes “…the claim that Matthew is thereby teaching that Israel’s identity as an ethnic, national, territorial reality is ending as such and being replaced by the singular person of the Christ… reads too much into the text. It belongs to an anti-Semitic, anti-Judaic interpretation of Matthew that is generally rejected today” (84).

Apart from not actually putting forward what I think most amillennialists I’ve read believe with Matthew (i.e. not replacement but rather fulfillment; not redefinition but revealing), it’s stunning that this claim can be just thrown out there basically without commentary or defense. Though not frequent, such accusations are found in various parts of the book and do little to sell the point that McDermott attempted to put forward in the introduction that this book was not uniquely dispensational nor were its authors unaware of the complexity of the debate. Flat-out accusations of Antisemitism against those who believe Jesus is the fulfillment of the OT promises does little to advance discussion and smacks of being either desperate or uncomprehending. Blaising does little here to refute the alternative interpretation but rather dismisses it through guilt by (perceived) association. This is intellectual dishonesty at the basest level, and shows little-to-no engagement with one’s opponents.

In a chapter entitled “Theology and the Churches: Mainline Protestant Zionism and Anti-Zionism,” Mark Tooley reports on several Mainline Protestant Denominations’ interactions with Israel and policy related thereto. Interestingly, the United Methodist Church’s repeated stance to note that both Israeli Jews live amidst oppression while also citing Palestinian suffering and injustice against Palestine is labeled as an attempt to equate Zionism with racism. The Presbyterian Church (USA) urged the United States in 1983 to stop sending aid to Israel so long as they continued to settle on the West Bank. Episcopalians opposed moves by Israel that were seen as violating human and civic rights. This support of basic human rights for Palestinian peoples is put under a subheading called “‘Final Solution’ of Palestinian Problem.” This is astonishing. The call by these church bodies for protection of human rights was then labeled by the author as a “Final Solution,” hearkening ominously to the Final Solution the Nazis heinously carried out against the Jews. Such labeling shows a monumental incapacity for understanding opposing viewpoints, as well as an astounding lack of tact and awareness of historical perspective. The concluding statements of the chapter are most revealing:

Official mainline Protestantism’s outspoken hostility toward Israel and indifference to human rights abuses by far more repressive regimes reflects a divorce from ethical reality by religiously heterodox church bodies… Evangelical leaders… tempted to follow the mainline example should study its consequences. (219)

Of course, no reference was given to show that this indifference is indeed the case. For example, the briefest search on the internet turns up that just in 2015 the United Methodist Church raised $2 million for the Syrian/Iraq refugee crisis–hardly a show of indifference towards human rights abuses. The message of several of the authors of The New Christian Zionism, then, ought not to be missed: if an individual or a church body does not express Zionist tendencies, they will be denounced as similar to Nazis, as Antisemites, and the like, and your contributions to other areas will be overlooked or ignored.

Another difficulty is the constant use of verses stripped of context in order to make points. At many points, discussion will be happening in one book, and then a portion of a single verse from another book will be brought over as a proof text to put forward the interpretation being given. Certainly some of this is for space considerations, but it seems strange to jump around so frequently in citations. It would be simpler to follow the argument if proof texts were put either in parentheses after a statement (as is the case in the overwhelming majority of instances in the book) or cited in full with deeper discussion.

The historical analysis offered in the book is often uneven. Several early church writers are cited as supersessionists, and often labeled as having that position due to anti-Judaism, though these same writers are frequently taken out of context. When it is alleged that the majority of patristics scholars agree on something, only one citation of one scholar is offered. Moreover, some of the same church writers are cited as both Zionist and anti-Zionist writers. For example, though Irenaeus and Justin Martyr are both stated to be “replacement theologians,” they are recruited as Zionists-in-principle because they believed that eschatological fulfillment would center around Jerusalem (54). In other words, though these early writers were explicitly the opposite of Zionists by the author’s own admission, they are still recruited to the cause as early Christian Zionists.

None of these criticisms should be taken to mean that it is unnecessary or even wrong to support Israel in some endeavors. However, the dangers of both making one-to-one connections with the current nation-state and the theocracy of the Hebrew Scriptures and of blithely dismissing real wrongs committed by the current state of Israel are illustrated throughout this book.

The New Christian Zionism set out to show that Zionism is not intrinsically linked to dispensationalism and that Zionism is the correct viewpoint for Christians. I believe it failed on the latter point, and the former point is still in dispute. Though some arguments found in the book are intriguing, the majority are built on poor use of church history, proof-texting out of context, or simply by insulting and dismissing opposing views.

The Good

+Interesting exegetical background
+Insight into wide range of topics

The Bad

-Flat-out accusations of anti-Semitism against those who disagree
-Strips many verses of context to make points
-Historical analysis lacking
-Fails to carry thesis
-Highly uneven in presentation

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the publisher for review. I was not obligated to provide any specific kind of feedback whatsoever. 


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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick is a Lutheran, feminist, Christ-follower. A Science Fiction snob, Bonhoeffer fan, Paleontology fanboy and RPG nerd.


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