Sunday, December 07, 2008


I have many hobby-horses. The goal of my having many is that I can flog each in turn, thus giving the appearance of being more than a one-trick pony and perhaps having a balanced and reasonable view of the world. For example, I haven't posted about baptism in weeks. Is it working?

Anyway, the hobby-horse for today is "Christian" Zionism (scare quotes inserted for reasons which will become clear very quickly). I noted as I was perusing this month's edition of Evangelicals Now an article explaining why Christians should support the state of Israel. I didn't have time to read it in huge detail as I had no intention of paying for it, but I think I picked up the gist.

It awoke my rage.

I want to tell you a few things that I think about "Christian" Zionism. I am not at this stage trying to be balanced; if I were, I would tell you that I support the right of the state of Israel to exist and to defend itself, and I deplore almost all of what goes on in the name of the Palestinian cause. But I am not trying to be balanced, I'm trying to make a rage-fuelled point. So here goes.

Point the first: Christian Zionism is a theological aberration. The EN article makes the mistake of all CZs, in that it absolutely fails to read the OT Christologically. It does not consider the Biblical prophecies regarding Israel to be fulfilled in Christ, and therefore the cross and resurrection of Christ come across as a stepping-stone along the path rather than the absolute climax of the covenant (to steal a phrase). This failure is serious. It fails to give Jesus the glory he deserves, because it does not see the OT as being all about him. (I understand the potential refutation, namely that good CZs see the future of Israel as being about Jesus' reign. Nevertheless, it is not the historical Jesus, the revealed Son of God, about whom they are talking. I can go into this in more detail if it would help anyone). It also fails to give the Church its proper vocation by reserving it for the nation of Israel. To cap it all, it denies the Christian hope by continuing to apply OT prophecy to a strip of land on the eastern Med rather than to God's new creation. Error, error, fatal error.

Point the second: Christian Zionism is a political nightmare. CZ drives much more of the world's foreign policy than it should. CZ means that a country can carry on an illegal occupation without anyone who has any influence objecting. CZ means that a huge refugee crisis can rumble on for decades without much being done about it. CZ means that a country can attack its neighbours and know that there will be no comeback. Nightmare.

Point the third: Christian Zionism is a public relations disaster. Christians, those who should be siding for the weak against the strong, instead stand up for a nation which has the backing of the major world powers. They do not speak up for the oppressed. They do not campaign for justice. They argue for the right of one people to occupy a land by divine right even though that land was already full of people. Why should people not look at us and conclude that we have abandoned Jesus' message? That is what I would think if I saw this nonsense from the outside.

The point is that CZ is not in line with the gospel. It is not in line with it theologically: it does not honour Christ. It is not in line with it politically: it does not advance God's Kingdom rule. It is not in line with it in terms of witness: it does not paint an attractive picture of Christ to the world. It is not Christian, but only "Christian" at best. Could we put it to bed now please?

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The substance

Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. (Colossians 2:16-17)

The substance belongs to Christ. What a great motto for Advent! I thought I would spend some time in the run up to Christmas this year reflecting on what it would have been like to live under the old covenant, looking forward to Messiah. I hadn't really got going with that before my reading this morning gave me the verses above. And they encapsulate exactly what I wanted to be thinking about.

The old covenant was all in shadow. The food laws were just a shadow of the radical holiness of Christ, who was separate from sinners. The festivals were just a shadow of the joy of the salvation won in Christ - his joy first, and then by faith also ours. The Sabbath was merely a shadow of Christ's rest, seated at the right hand of God, and our rest in him. All shadows. The history of Israel was lived out in shadow, and was therefore a dark history - a groping in the dark, a stumbling in the dark. Even the glories were shadows. The history of Israel would be of no consequence except as a tragic tale apart from the fact that the shadow under which that history took place was the shadow of Christ.

An image impresses itself upon the mind; I'm not sure how right or helpful it is but I can't shake it. Look at history from the end point - imagine yourself standing at the end of the timeline, the point where history as we know it gives way to new history and new creation. Eschatological glory shines back from the point where you are standing, along the timeline, back through the centuries. And at the meeting of two ages, it illumines the face of a towering figure: Jesus of Nazareth, our Emmanuel. His face is lit with the light of the glory of God, and anyone in the centuries after him who glanced back would see him - dazzling, radiant. But behind he casts a shadow, and under that shadow Israel lived out its whole life, always looking forward, always hoping against hope, apparently suffering more than all the nations, but trusting that the future was glorious despite the present shadow.

"You cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live... You shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen".

"God...has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ"