Two Redemptive Streams
 Dispensationalist Christian Zionists posit two redemptive streams in God's economy of salvation: 1) that which God purposes in, through and for the Jewish people, which finds its fullest expression in their restoration to the land which God gave them as an "eternal inheritance;" and 2) that which God purposes in and through His Son, Jesus Christ. The second stream has always been the predominant theme of Christian teaching and preaching, the central motif of a unique Christian witness. Yet in Christian Zionist literature and teaching, what predominates is the first stream:
 If, as dispensationalist Christian Zionists claim, this is not only "a," but "the" predominant teaching of scripture -- that God has two purposes which he works out in two different ways -- then we would expect to find this as a dominant theme in Jesus' teaching. But we don't. What we find instead is a message which contradicts this -- a message of reconciliation.
Yes, in bringing physical Israel back home, God has been raising up an announcement, a banner to the nations -- one they are unable to ignore no matter how unpopular it is -- confronting the world with the reality of God's eternal existence; His undiminished sovereignty; and His unlimited might and power.
The Witness of Christ
 Jesus ministered in a time much like our own time, when that which divides people is more pronounced than that which brings them together. There were at that time divisions within the Jewish community between Pharisees and Sadducees, between Zealots and those who lived a monastic existence in the desert. There were even stronger divisions between Jews and everyone else. They had nothing to do with Samaritans. Gentiles were "unclean." And most among them hated the Romans.
 What Jesus did, in this divisive context, was bring people together. He deliberately chose as his disciples those within the Jewish community who would otherwise have had nothing to do with each other. He embraced "untouchables" and in other ways challenged the exclusivism which raised religious and social barriers between Jew and Gentile, Jew and Samaritan, Jew and Roman. Nowhere do we hear him speaking about one purpose of God for Jews and another for what would become a largely Gentile church. He included all in one ministry of grace and reconciliation.
 The apostle Paul, speaking as a former Jewish rabbinical student who had himself once exhibited a fierce exclusivism but had now found peace with God and his neighbors through Christ, wrote this about this central purpose of Christ:
He is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups [Jews and Gentiles] into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us … through Him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. (Eph. 2: 14)
So then you [Gentiles] are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord... (Eph. 3:19-21)
 Jesus defined his ministry and purpose in terms of reconciliation. In him we learn that God's highest purpose is to bring together what we in our sinful divisiveness make separate. In light of this it is inconceivable that a religiously exclusive nation-state, which has come to be characterized by the building of a literal "dividing wall of hostility," can be held up as the centerpiece of God's redemptive purposes.
 The fact that Israel is a viable nation-state, which like any other nation-state can be the source of either bane or blessing to its citizens, its neighbors and the world, is not in question here. What is in question is the place given to Israel by those who wish to put it at the center of God's redemptive purposes. For this there is no biblical justification within the Christian tradition, certainly not in light of the revelation we have received in and through our Lord Jesus Christ. In Christ, reconciliation -- bringing enemies together as friends -- is seen to be God's overriding concern:
For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross . . . (Colossians 1:19-20 [my emphasis])
What About the Promises?
 What, then, does this mean in terms of the Old Testament prophecies of restoration which Christian Zionists often quote to make their case? Taken at face value, there is little doubt that these prophecies speak of a physical restoration of God's people to the land God gave them as a gift. It is hard to read a passage like Jeremiah 16:14-15, where God says "I will bring them back to their own land that I gave to their ancestors," and not at least consider the possibility that Christian Zionists are correct to interpret it as they have. And this is just one of many passages which affirm this promise. How do we interpret these passages?
 Again we turn to Jesus as the lens through whom we read all the promises of scripture. What we note is his silence: As a Jew growing up in Palestine under a foreign occupation, Jesus would have been well aware of the powerfully formative nature of these verses for Jewish identity. It would have been a part of his own identity. The descendents of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were and are, as Paul points out in Romans 9-11, a people of promise, held close to God's heart as those through whom He chose to make known His will to the world. "To them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises" (Romans 9:4). Certainly one of the promises to which Paul refers is the promise of restoration.
 Jesus knew all this. Yet, as we noted earlier, at no time in his ministry did he hark back to these promises as having any bearing on the purposes of God being realized in his ministry and life. As Messiah, we would expect that he would have. But he didn't. What he spoke about instead was the Kingdom of God, which was both present in him as the embodiment of its demands: "The kingdom of God is among you." (Luke 17:20); and something to which he urged his disciples to dedicate their lives, praying and working towards the extension of God's gracious rule throughout the world: "Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:9 [my emphasis]).
 A literal fulfillment of the restoration promises did not figure into Jesus' ministry because he recognized that their fulfillment required larger borders. The whole earth becomes the arena for God's grace through the expansive ministry of Christ. What was once confined to one particular people in one particular place is now available to all. God's Kingdom comes wherever God's will is done on earth as it is in heaven.
 It should be clear from this that we are talking about something that can only ever be realized in a partial, fleeting way. No community of faith, in any country, can ever be said to perfectly realize the vision of shalom, which is a core element of the prophetic vision of restoration. This is a second reason why we must reject the notion that the current state of Israel is the fulfillment of restoration promises: The modern state of Israel, like any other nation, relies on coercion and compromise to achieve its ends. Whatever good it may accomplish in terms of its national achievements can never be as good as what the biblical promise envisions -- neither this nation-state nor any other.
 Jesus asks us to pray that God's Kingdom will come here and now. But he also understood what the writer of Hebrews affirms -- that the fulfillment of the biblical promises of restoration can only be fully realized in the "new heaven and new earth" which will come at the end of time.
|All of these [Abraham and those of his descendents who remained faithful to God's calling] died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them. (Hebrews 11: 13-16,
 Dispensationalist Christian Zionism is marked by confident assertions that leave little room for debate. You are either with them or against God. "The Bible says" or "God says" often mark statements that are speculative in nature, based on an interpretative apocalyptic scheme that, even when John Darby conceived it in the 19th
century, was challenged as a questionable deviation from traditional Christian teaching. This has led many sincere Christians, who are eager to do what God says, to follow the lead of Christian Zionists in giving uncritical support to the state of Israel, though they may not understand or accept the theology which undergirds Christian Zionist teaching.
 This is not to say that Christians should not support the state of Israel. Indeed we should. Israel is a legitimate nation-state, whose citizens have the right to live in peace with their neighbors within recognized and agreed-upon boundaries. In no way should what is written here be taken as an attempt to de-legitimize the Israeli state. Rather, it is to question the reason why Christian Zionists say we should give the Israeli government unqualified support even in its most expansionist mode at the expense of Palestinian Christians and Muslims. Christian Zionists insist that unqualified support for the modern state of Israel is a sacred duty enjoined by divine decree. This, we believe, is based on a misreading of the biblical texts mediated through the Jesus event.
 We also challenge Christian Zionist teaching because of what it means in terms of denying justice to the Palestinian people. Thoughtful Israelis and Palestinians are working hard to find some way out of the conflict, searching for a compromise peace plan that will allow both sides to live with dignity and peace in their own land. Christian Zionists in their zeal to promote an "all or nothing" vision of the "Promised Land" have done their best to block these negotiations.
 This, in the end, is where Christian Zionist teaching deviates most noticeably from the core message of the Gospel. Jesus, picking up seminal themes from the Hebrew scriptures, preached and lived a message of reconciliation: reconciliation between God and his rebellious human family and reconciliation between the diverse members within that family. In situations of great conflict, such as we are witnessing in Israel/Palestine, we, as God's people, must put ourselves in a position to do our best to encourage reconciliation. We must pray, teach and work for a peace that reflects God's overriding concern for justice. This is the most important prophetic word for Israel and the Palestinians, just as it is for anyone in any land: God desires justice. To do the work of God in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories today is to stand with those who are seeking justice and working for reconciliation. The Bible in its entirety leaves no room for doubt on this matter: "For thus says the Lord: maintain justice and do what is right, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed" (Isaiah 56: 1).
 see http://www.un.org/Depts/dpa/qpalnew/glossarycollapsible.htm.
 Stephen Sizer, August 31, 1998, Christian Zionism: Its History, Theology, and Politics, Chapter 4: John Nelson Darby. Available at http://www.christchurch-virginiawater.co.uk/articles/darby1.html (12/13/03) , p. 1.
Often attributed to either Theodor Herzl, the organizing genius behind the Zionist movement, or the English writer and humorist, Israel Zangwill, the phrase is actually a variation on a similar slogan coined by the 19th century Christian Zionist and philanthropist, Lord Shaftesbury. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Israel_Zangwill).
Nahum Goldmann quoted in Wolterstorff, Until Justice & Peace Embrace, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1983), 117.
© May 2007
"Younan: Christian Zionism is Heresy" in The Lutheran , March, 2003.
Journal of Lutheran Ethics (JLE)
Volume 7, Issue 5