Friday, October 14, 2011

Those Armageddon Loving Dispensationalists

A while ago I became involved in the historic premil Church-Israel discussion initiated at Mike Vlach’s blog. From there I looked at Craig Blomberg who strongly endorses Gary Burge and Colin Chapman and noted that these two theologians are actively anti-Zionist and anti-dispensational.

This subject is more crucial than the emotive rapture timing debate. That’s not to say that the rapture isn’t important, but (for me) what’s really important is what God said about Israel in the OT; how we understand that in light of the NT and how we understand modern Israel.

Did God mean to do what He said He would in the OT? On what basis do people re-define or ignore select OT verses relating to Israel’s future? Can we trust God at His word? See Paul Henebury’s Let God Be True…And Say What He Means

Joel Rosenberg’s 2011 Epicenter Conference featured a panel discussion called "Assessing The Threat of Replacement Theology and Other Efforts To Delegitimize Israel" between Joel and three other men. One of those men was Dr Michael Rydelnik. You can watch it HERE.

Dr Rydelnik recalled an earlier (Dec 2010) interview with Dr Burge when Moody Radio’s Janet Parshall hosted them in a discussion over Israel’s rights to the land. Notable during that interview was Dr Burge’s avoidance in fully dealing with Dr Rydelnik’s OT texts. In each case he would eventually steer the conversation away to something else.

In the end, Dr Burge retreated to a geo-political debate where he proceeded to disparage Israel in contrast to the observations of the program’s host and Dr Rydelnik. Recall also that Dr Blomberg finished off his Denver Seminary commentary with an indictment on Americans blithely supporting an Israel who “oppresses” Palestinians.

I’ve noticed a trend where certain critics employ a similar formula:

1) They link Christian Zionism with dispensationalism

2) They undermine dispensational theology by pointing out the personal failures of some of its adherents.

3) They tend to use the same arguments to try to prove that dispensational theology is unbiblical

4) They try to stereotype the average Zionist as a provocateur of Armageddon

5) Finally, they go after an “oppressive” Israel.

Rarely, in their narrative, do they acknowledge examples of Arab-Palestinian or Islamic hegemony or the recorded attempts to eradicate Israel, and they never fully engage Scripture that could undermine their theology.

One example of the contempt for Zionism and dispensationalism is Gary Burge’s essay “Why I’m Not a Christian Zionist, Academically Speaking” where his main target is John Hagee. Dr Burge writes:

“The average reader may be excused for not understanding the finer differences between an evangelical preacher who calls for a pre-emptive bombing strike against Iran and one who thinks this view is outrageous and immoral... For instance, high-profile pastor John a Christian preacher who enjoys outrageously militant sermons....Others like myself find him not only embarrassing but dangerous.”

And again:

“Christian Zionists excel in one but fail in the other. They love Israel profoundly but I await the day when Rev. Hagee exhorts Israel (just once) to pursue a national life of justice and truth...This is where everything has been leading. This is the crown jewel in Christian Zionism’s worldview. This is why Rev. Hagee is willing to risk throwing the Middle East into nuclear war. The birth of Israel has now set the stage for the imminent second coming of Jesus Christ.”

This is the same polemic that Stephen Sizer promulgates. Rev Sizer has also written a Forward for a book by Alistair Donaldson “the last days of dispensationalism – a scholarly critique of popular misconceptions” which follows the above 5 point formula. Dr Donaldson, in turn, has endorsed Dr Sizer’s polemical “Christian Zionism”.

In his Forward, Rev Sizer wastes no time raising “apocalyptic” concerns by citing Sarah Posner’s “Pastor Strangelove” in which she focuses on John Hagee’s misguided comments:

“The United States must join Israel in a pre-emptive military strike against Iran to fulfill God’s plan for both Israel and the West… a biblically prophesied end-time confrontation with Iran, which will lead to the Rapture, Tribulation, and Second Coming of Christ.”

This sets to poison the well and leads readers into believing the dispensational system unanimously promotes this sort of thing. Dr Donaldson takes this same “apocalyptic” cue when he states on page 149 that:

“[dispensational] beliefs, though being counter to a sound biblical understanding, have significantly influenced foreign policies of governments (especially the United States) concerning Israel, giving rise to significantly distressing world-impacting events, and to what is often uncritical support for the modern state of Israel – despite her atrocious and dehumanizing tyranny of another people – by millions of people who profess to love God who himself abhors justice.”

But John Hagee is not a normative dispensationalist and mature dispies would strongly disagree with his theology and politics. God doesn’t need Christians lobbying for pre-emptive strikes to fulfill His plan. Christians are to be out spreading the Good News and praying for peace.

What these critics are doing is selectively quoting statements made by individuals on the fringe of Zionism and/or dispensationalism and using them as an excuse to disparage the system and Israel. These critics also habitually make polemical and unsubstantiated statements regarding Israel. This is done so often and glibly that it becomes factual in the mind of a non-discerning reader. Far from being the peacemakers they claim to be by often quoting Matt 5:9 against dispies, they are actively fomenting conflict.

Dr Burge should know better as a consequence of his friendship with Michael Rydelnik. Dr Rydelnik’s book “Understanding the Arab-Israeli Conflict” is, in my opinion, a testament to how a Christian should view the Middle East conflict and Israel. He understands both sides of the conflict. He recognizes the fact that Israel isn’t perfect and that both Jews and Muslims need Christ.

One page 220 of his book, Dr Rydelnik lists three responsibilities resting upon those who follow Jesus:

1) We must pray for peace
2) We must work for peace
3) We must proclaim God’s peace through Messiah Jesus

Amen to that.

Further reading:

A Review of "On the Road to Armageddon: How Evangelicals Became Israel’s Best Friend" by Timothy P. Weber.

Is Dispensationalism Hurting American Political Policies in the Middle East?


A critique of "Zion's Christian Soldiers?"

Faydra L. Shapiro on "Zion's Christian Soldiers?"

Mainline Churches Embrace Burge's False Narrative

Mainline Churches Embrace Gary Burge's Harmful Mythology

Sabeel's Demonizing Liturgy

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