Christian Zionism?

As the date to celebrate Christmas draws near, and as our Advent texts help us ponder the remarkable promises of Hebrew prophets, we think of that horrific period of exile, and the extraordinary hope offered by these passionate poets like Isaiah, Jeremiah or Ezekial, dreamed up in times of oppression and hardship. Walt Brueggemann’s The Hopeful Imagination offers insight into the pathos of those post-exilic prophets who, through grief, renewed a subversive hope. I’ve told you before how that theme sounds out in the best Advent devotional we most often recommend (see my comments from a few posts ago), Advent of Justice by Walsh, Middleton, VanderVennen and Keesmaat (Dordt College Press.) And so, care for the politics of the Middle East, the questions of how Advent longing stirs within us a hope for the world made better, and–of course!–the ways the Baby King of Bethlehem fulfills this Jewish expectation and hope are floating around my sad heart this season. O Come, O Come Immanuel, indeed. It reminds me of the need for “comfort and joy.”
And so, with that little reminder as background, it seems appropriate today to note quickly two books that have come in here at the shop in recent weeks, books that explore the complex and painful politics of Israel and Palestine and, specifically, how evangelical Christians have perhaps too quickly thrown their tradition and weight behind the nation of Israel, even when it does wrong. These books make one wonder what Amos or Jeremiah (or King Jesus Himself) might say about this.
The Road to Armageddon: How Evangelicals Became Israel’s Best Friend by Timothy P. Webber (Baker) $24.99 is a serious hardcover that offers excellent and important religious history, illuminating how certain end-times beliefs shape fundamentalists view of current events. This is a well-researched historical and theological analysis of the evangelical attachment to Israel and its roots in premillennial dispensationalist theology. As Donald Wagner writes, “With the ascendancy of the Christian Right in the United States and its significant role in shaping U.S. foreign policy, Weber’s book is a must read…” From the current popularity of the Left Behind novels to certain efforts to increase military aid to Israel, this is a timely and careful work. It may not immediately seems like a holiday title, but if we are to, with God’s own help, see even a bit of “peace on Earth” it will be, in part, due to historic evangelicals re-evaluating their understanding of Middle Eastern politics.
Christian Zionism: Road-map to Armageddon? Stephen Sizer (IVP) $29.00 This thick paperback, written by the Chairman of the International Bible Society (UK) is a grand and important study brimming with insight and hope. This really opens our eyes to how this ideological theology can oppress and hurt. Anyone interested in peace, social justice or the integrity of Christian mission must grapple with this serious critique. With rave reviews from the likes of Colin Chapman, Don Wagner, Garth Hewitt (from the Amos Trust in England, a former folk singer turned activist) and Wheaton College’s Gary Burge, this clearly is an important, evangelical text. As John Stott puts it, “I am glad to commend Stephen Sizer’s ground-breaking critique of Christian Zionism. His comprehensive overview of its roots, its theological basis and its political consequences is very timely.” So timely, that I thought I’d tell you about it tonight.
Do you know Bruce Cockburn’s amazing folkie Christmas album, Bruce Cockburn? We still have some in stock, even though it has gone out of print. Some of the minor key arrangements, and slight inflections make it laden with pathos and relevance; those that know him for his social justice advocacy, his environmental songs and his anti-war stuff may hear these songs for all their worth; his arrangements and context make me just love these holiday favorites. And, while I’m talking Christmas music to listen to while reading about social justice, do you know The Band’s lovely and moving ballad “Christmas Must Be Tonight”? It is covered on the powerful new Carolyn Arends Christmas album–The Irrational Season. [You should know that that line is swiped from a much-loved poem by Madeline L’Engle.] Something about that song, and one on the Cockburn album, remind us that the ripples from Bethlehem have come down to us today. Thanks be to God.
And, speaking of social justice (but not Christmas) the brand new recording by former Caedmon’s Call frontman Derek Webb is now out. I will blog about The Mockingbird later. It is doubtlessly the most overt record about social justice done on a CCM record label. This is stunning, faithful stuff and we will be promoting it in the new year. Just the thought of that will help us have a Merry Christmas.

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