Christian Zionism is a major force in today’s political landscape. It’s especially powerful in the United States, but it’s also a global force. Donald M. Lewis’s A Short History of Christian Zionism gives readers a background for understanding what Christian Zionism is, where and when it came from, and how it impacts us to this day.
The book specifically deals with the time period from the Reformation to the modern day. Chapters cover a huge range of topics, largely in chronological order. First, Lewis’s helpful introduction deals with the competing definitions of Zionism and related terms. Ultimately, he settles upon this as a definition for Christian Zionism: it is “a Christian movement which holds to the belief that the Jewish people have a biblically mandated claim to their ancient homeland in the Middle East” (3, emphasis removed). Lewis notes how Christian Zionism has played a part in identity formation, especially for those in the dispensationalist movement. From there, Lewis moves into tracing the history of the movement itself. The first chapter does give a brief history from the Early Church to the Reformation, after which several chapters deal with different strands of Zionism emerging from various links to the Reformation. From there, links are forged showing Christian Zionism in American Puritanism, 19th Century British Evangelicalism, and how prominent a role the British Empire played in establishing some of the groundwork for later Zionist movements. The vision of World War I and II as vindications for Premillennialism and the correlating rise of Premillennial Dispensationalism and Christian Zionism presents a fascinating case study in the tenth chapter, and multiple developments in Palestine and global revivalist and Zionist activities form out the rest of the book.
Each chapter is filled with enlightening information. I was especially surprised to learn about the Balfour Declaration, a 1917 document in which the British Government publicly declared its support for a “national home of the Jewish people.” This, despite it being opposed by or ignored by many Jews of the time. The chapters outlining the rise of Christian Zionism in the British Empire laying the groundwork for this Declaration and how that declaration impacted later Zionism were absolutely fascinating.
Insights like those are present in virtually every chapter. The early is often cited by modern Zionists to support their reading of Scripture, but Lewis shows how many in the early church were largely ambivalent to ideas that would later form the basis for Christian Zionism. Lewis also is consistently even-keeled in his evaluation of Christian Zionism, rarely offering direct critique or support for any specific aspects of Christian Zionism. It makes the book invaluable as a reference work with little to bother readers about how it reports the historical information.
A Short History of Christian Zionism is a commendably fair evaluation of the Christian Zionist movement. Any readers remotely interested in the topic would be well-served to pick up and read a copy of this fine historical overview.
Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of the book for review by the publisher. I was not required to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.
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