Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Anxious for Armageddon: A Call to Partnership for Middle Eastern and Western Christians

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Anxious for Armageddon: A Call to Partnership for Middle Eastern and Western Christians

Article excerpt

Anxious for Armageddon: A Call to Partnership for Middle Eastern and Western Christians

By Donald E. Wagner. Herald Press (Scottdale, PA), 1995, 253 pp. List: $12.95; AET: $8.95.

Reviewed by Rev. L. Humphrey Walz

Anyone who knew the Rev. Dr. Donald Wagner only in his youth or early professional life will be startled to read in Anxious for Armageddon his account of the 180-degree turn in his outlook and career. Readers like the writer of this review, who have known him over the past 15 years as a tireless and dedicated champion of Palestinian rights in the framework of a lasting and honorable Middle East peace, will be equally startled to learn that he once was a committed Christian Zionist.

In this new book, he describes the dramatic course of his transformation. In it he also shares first-hand insights he has gained in the course of his subsequent work as national director (1980-90) of the Palestine Human Rights Campaign and then director of Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding.

It was on a sweltering July evening in 1950 that Wagner heard his first confusing references to the Middle East and its role in the future of Christianity and the world. Then aged eight, he had accompanied his grandparents to a revival service in a rural upstate New York church. There he heard a persuasively emotional sermon on "Hell and The Latter Days," the core of which he relates in this abridged excerpt from his book:

"`We have entered the final days of history,' the evangelist proclaimed. `There is a terrible, bloody battle about to be waged, far worse than anything we witnessed in World War II. The Bible predicts this war will be fought at Armageddon and will involve the nation Israel against forces from the north, probably Russia. There has never been a war as terrible as the one we are about to witness. Nation will fight nation, and brother will battle brother.

"`How do we know this?' he asked. `Because everything is happening just as the prophets of the Old Testament predicted. When God's people, Israel, return to the Holy Land to establish their own state, everything will be in order for the countdown to the end of history. The Bible says that when this occurs, the final battle will be close at hand. Just two years ago, after centuries of statelessness, the Jewish people miraculously created their nation. What an amazing opportunity! God has chosen to begin this prophetic countdown in our lifetime.

"`But the Bible warns us that Jesus will return before this terrible battle takes place. He will take His own from the earth. They will be spared this awful final battle, and you can be among them if you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior...Are you ready tonight to meet Jesus if He returns? If you have not accepted Him as your Lord and Savior, if you have not repented of your sins, you could be left behind to perish in the final battle.'"

It was this preaching, with its promises and fears, that precipitated young Don's decision for Christ, which he has never regretted. But it was his family--pre-eminently, at the time, his grandparents--whose character, spirit and Bible-centered prayer life defined for him who Christ was and what the moral-spiritual-ethical standards were that Christians should follow.

Later, in college and theological seminary, he learned the deficiencies in such forms of apocalyptic fundamentalism. He ceased his unquestioning acceptance of the misuse of selected Biblical passages to confirm preconceived ideas of future events. He came, instead, to seek scriptural guidance by studying the circumstances that brought particular passages into being. As he matured, it was their ancient calls for compassion and justice that reached out across the ages to sharpen his social conscience.

This deeper understanding, however, did not at first undermine his Zionism, but only gave it a new context and rationale. A visit to Auschwitz confirmed his belief that Elie Wiesel and Richard Rubenstein had been right in insisting that "Jews should never again trust others with their fate and must have a state of their own. …

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