My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Christian Zionism is a hot topic right now among evangelicals and is always a relevant issue for Christians living in Israel/Palestine. Last week I was teaching at the women’s bible study for the local Episcopal church here in Nazareth and one of the ladies blurted out, “Where does this idea that the Jews still own the land come from!?” Even though that was not at all the topic of the study at all.
There has recently been something of a small revolution among evangelicals though, who are known for their (more or less) unconditional support for the State of Israel and conviction that the proclamation of said state in 1948 was the fulfillment of biblical prophecy. But the popular work of authors like Stephen Sizer and Colin Chapman, both of the Church of England, and the recent Christ at the Checkpoint conferences in Bethlehem, show that some opinions are slowly changing. This book by Steven Paas is a welcome contribution to this ongoing discussion wherein the dispensationalism so common to evangelicals is being called into question and re-evaluated.
After a survey of biblical material, Paas’ approach is mostly historical—tracing the development of the idea of Christian Zionism through to the present day. His exploration takes him into some obscure places. For instance, his treatment on Zionism among German pietists unearths some material that will be new even to scholars familiar with the overall debate. Because of this, his book is probably not the ideal beginning place for the non-academic reader seeking to learn about the controversy. It is however, a good place for the historically- and biblically-informed scholar to begin—someone who already knows the broad contours of Church history and Biblical scholarship on Israel, the Church, and Covenant.
Paas’ position is quite clear and he levels a number of complaints against Christian Zionism, the most interesting to me being that this ideology compromises the Church’s mission to Jews, and that it endangers the centrality of Jesus Christ in the metanarrative of salvation. Paas is, even if you disagree with him, very poignant in his positions. For instance, “The earthly Israeli State of today […] has no more bearing to the Biblical fulfillment of the prophecy of new Canaan and the new Jerusalem than any other state in the world” (p 37), or “…the true Israel of God, which is the Church, is just as open to Jews who believe in Christ as to members of other nations” (110). There are numerous such quotes which make this book a nice source for quotations to exemplify non-Zionist thinking.
My main problem with the book was in relation to his treatment of the medieval period. Paas redefines Christian Zionism as “…an ideology of being fascinated in an extraordinary way by ethnic, geographic and religious features of post-Biblical Israel” (12) And with his revised definition is able to make the Crusades instances of Christian Zionism. While Zionism is admittedly a dynamic movement and, thus, term, surely it has something to do with the idea of Jewish homeland, even if that is not in Palestine! Paas falls into some of the old traps in relation to the Crusades, such as that they were exceptionally cruel, and would have benefited from studying some of the recent scholarship debunking old anti-Catholic myths which passes as history for centuries. I am thinking specifically of Rodney Stark’s God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades.
All in all, the book is well-edited, though nor perfect. Thus on page 18 we find the sentence “The universal scope includes the instrumental bodies through who he has used to proclaim his covenant…” where the correct sentence would be (I think), “through whom he has proclaimed his covenant…” The text is nearly to single-space and is rather small, which makes for a dense book which is easy to travel with, but without much room for notations in the margins.
In conclusion the book is a useful and scholarly argument against Christian Zionism, and with its rich and extensive footnotes provides numerous sources for further exploration. Many of the footnotes are in Dutch and German, and speakers of those languages will especially benefit.