Evangelicals and Israel: The Story of American Christian Zionism

Evangelicals and Israel: The Story of American Christian Zionism

Evangelicals and Israel: The Story of American Christian Zionism

Evangelicals and Israel: The Story of American Christian Zionism

Synopsis

Most observers explain evangelical Christians' bedrock support for Israel as stemming from the apocalyptic belief that the Jews must return to the Holy Land as a precondition for the second coming of Christ. But the real reasons, argues Stephen Spector, are far more complicated. In Evangelicals and Israel, Spector delves deeply into the Christian Zionist movement, mining information from original interviews, web sites, publications, news reports, survey research, worship services, and interfaith conferences, to provide a surprising look at the sources of evangelical supportfor Israel.

Israel is God's prophetic clock for many evangelicals - irrefutable proof that prophecy is true and coming to pass in our lifetime. But Spector goes beyond end-times theology to find a complex set of motivations behind Israel-evangelical relations. These include the promise of God's blessing for those who bless the Jews; gratitude to Jews for establishing the foundations of Christianity; remorse for the Church's past anti-Semitism; fear that God will judge the nations based on how they treated the Jewish people; and reliance on Israel as the West's firewall against Islamist terrorism. Spector explores many Christian Zionists' hostility toward Islam, but also uncovers an unexpected pragmatism and flexiblility concerning Israel's possession of the entire Holy Land.

For evangelicals, politics frequently mixes with faith. Yet Spector argues that evangelical beliefs - though often portrayed as unifying and rigid - are in reality various and even contradictory. Spector uses George W. Bush's beliefs about the Bible as a sounding board for these issues and explores the evangelical influence on his Middle East policies. Evangelicals and Israel corrects much of the speculation about Bush's personal faith and about evangelicalism's impact on American-Middle East relations, and provides the fullest and most nuanced account to date of the motives and theology behind Christian Zionism.

Excerpt

This book is a study of the confluence of religion and politics in evangelical Christian attitudes toward Israel and the Jewish people. My goal is to explore Christian Zionists’ convictions with empathy and respect, though not necessarily with agreement. I am Jewish and I do not share the fundamental beliefs that lie at the heart of evangelicalism. I have spent my career studying and teaching Christianity and the Bible, however, and I try here to represent evangelicals’ views in a way that they will consider accurate and fair. At the same time, I offer perspectives that contradict and balance theirs. The issues I address are passionate. The Israeli-Palestinian dispute is one of the most hotly contested questions in the world, freighted with existential fears and elemental indignation and rage. Adding the conservative Christian marriage of faith and politics to that dangerous mix heightens the intensity of the debate.

That is all the more true because many Christian Zionists consider themselves to be naturally allied with Jews against a radical Islamist movement bent on worldwide domination. They cite the Palestinian graffito “First the Saturday people, then the Sunday people” to illustrate the global danger that extremist Muslims pose: jihadists, they assert, plan to conquer Israel and the Jews first, then the Christians. Especially after 9/11, some prominent evangelical leaders have made assertions about this putative conflict of civilizations that have seemed outrageous to many people. I attempt in Chapters 4 and 5 to discover the theology that underlies this point of view.

The alliance that many born-again Christians offer to Israel and the Jewish people is astonishing to many Jews. Bible-believing Christians are among the . . .

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