The Theology of Christian Zionism
Increasingly, American evangelical Christians have emerged to form an unlikely alliance in Israel. Citing Biblical prophecy, these evangelicals call for all of the West Bank to remain in Israeli hands, and oppose any two-state solution. Sometimes called Christian Zionists, they believe that a Christian Messiah will come to earth in Jerusalem and have joined with conservative Israeli politicians to oppose any division of the city. (For more on the union of American Christians and Jews, read the Bill Moyers interview with Yechiel Eckstein and Ralph Reed of Stand for Israel.)
NOW's segment "God and Politics in the Holy Land" examines Christian Zionism's theological interpretation of the Bible and its political application to the modern state of Israel. Learn about the foundation of this movement through a greater understanding of some of the key components.
Evangelicalism is the movement, especially in English-language theology, which places special emphasis upon the supreme authority of Scripture and the atoning death of Christ. According to Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, the term was originally used to refer to "those faith groups which followed traditional Christian beliefs, in contrast with two other movements: philosophical rationalism and legalistic Christianity."
Today, evangelicalism generally refers to a broad spectrum of Protestant Christians; the majority tend to take conservative views on social matters.
Comprising the most active, exclusive, and conservative wing of Evangelicalism, fundamentalism draws its support primarily from the Baptist, Pentecostal and Independent Bible churches associated with individuals such as Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Hal Lindsey and Mike Evans.
Fundamentalist Christians typically believe that the Bible is the Word of God, internally consistent, and free of error. Today, fundamentalists are the most vocal group in opposition to abortion access, laws making homosexuals a "protected category," physician-assisted suicide, the use of embryonic stem cells for medical research, comprehensive sex-ed classes in public schools, etc.
Most Christian Zionists subscribe to Dispensational Premillennism, a theological approach that claims that "God relates to human beings via different covenants ("dispensations"); in particular, dispensationalists believe that God's covenant with Israel, including promises of land, continues in full force distinctive from Christianity." (Donald Wagner, SOJOURNER, July-August 2003)
Paul Beran, lecturer at Northeastern University, explains that "in dispensationalism, history is an evolving pre-ordained plan that has certain marking points." Each of these seven dispensations represents one of God's tests for man on the path toward Christian salvation.
When Israeli statehood was declared in 1948, dispensationalists considered it an important prophetic event, or as Arno C. Gaebelein, editor of OUR HOPE described it, "the sign of all signs."
Central to dispensationalism is the belief that all Israel will be saved; as theologist Stephen Sizer puts it, it is the belief "that the boundaries of the land promised to Abraham and his descendants will be literally instituted; and that Jesus Christ will return to a literal and theocratic Jewish kingdom centered on Jerusalem."
Premillenial dispensationalists believe that Christ will return prior to the millennium (or 1,000 year reign) begins. There are also post-millennialists who believe that Christ will come after the 1,000 years and amillennialists who believe that God's promises are figurative and will not be literally fulfilled.
This concept is from a literal interpretation of 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 in which Paul says, "For the Lord himself, with a word of command, with the voice of an archangel and the trumpet of God, will come down from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Thus we shall always be with the Lord."
Rapture is the notion that in the last days believing Christians will be removed from the earth; it is literally explained as the time when Jesus calls the faithful to heaven and believers are physically taken up.
To learn more about how Evangelical Christians became so closely aligned with Israeli Zionists, read Timothy Weber's "How Evangelicals Became Israel's Best Friend."
In April 2002, a delegation of 13 U.S. church leaders assembled by the U.S. National Council of Churches visited the Middle East. The delegation called for bold steps to be taken by Israel and the Palestinian Authority in order to end violence in the region and to achieve peace with justice. Read the full statement issued by the leaders upon their return: 'By My Spirit': What Will Make for Peace in the Middle East?
Read the RELIGION & ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY interview from December 2000 in which journalist Gershom Gorenberg talks about the complicated significance of Temple Mount in Jerusalem, sacred site to Muslims, Jews, and Christians.
Sources: SOJOURNER; ChristianityToday.com; Stephen Sizer, "Christian Zionism Defined"; The Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation; Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.