By Bob Allen
Christian Zionism — a theological view that God’s promises to ancient Israel in the Old Testament apply today to modern Israel — holds a strong grip on U.S. evangelicals, according to a recent survey by LifeWay Research.
The research firm housed within the Southern Baptist Convention publishing arm LifeWay Christian Resources said July 14 that seven in 10 evangelical Christians say the modern nation of Israel was formed as a result of biblical prophecy and that God has a special relationship with the State of Israel declared in 1948. Nearly three in four U.S. evangelicals say current events in Israel fulfill the prophecies in the New Testament Book of Revelation.
Such views, popularized in books such as Hal Lindsey’s 1970 bestseller The Late Great Planet Earth and the fictional Left Behind novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, are based on a literal interpretation of the Bible viewing Israel as playing a crucial role in the Second Coming of Christ.
“No piece of literature has had more impact on American culture than the Bible,” Scott McConnell, vice president of LifeWay Research, said in a news release. “No country is more intertwined with the ancient biblical narrative than Israel, and evangelical Americans see a contemporary connection with the nation.”
John Hagee’s Christians United for Israel, claiming more than 2 million members and describing itself as the largest pro-Israel organization in the nation, exists to rally evangelical support for Israel “in matters related to biblical issues.” Earlier this week Israeli ambassador Ron Dermer was keynote speaker for CUFI’s “Night to Honor Israel” event, attended by more than 5,000 delegates in Washington, criticizing a nuclear deal with Iran.
Four years ago Baptist ethicists Glen Stassen and David Gushee penned a 3,500-word treatise challenging Christian Zionism on theological, moral and security grounds.
“Not to put too fine a point on it, we wish to claim here that the prevailing version of American Christian Zionism — that is, your belief system — underwrites theft of Palestinian land and oppression of Palestinian people, helps create the conditions for an explosion of violence, and pushes U.S. policy in a destructive direction that violates our nation’s commitment to universal human rights,” the professors said. “In all of these, American Christian Zionism as it currently stands is sinful and produces sin.”
Other U.S. evangelicals including Richard Land, then president of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, responded with a letter criticizing Gushee and Stassen for “a one-sided and simplistic portrayal of a very complex situation.”
Stassen, a professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary who finished his career at Fuller Theological Seminary, died in 2014. Gushee, distinguished university professor of Christian ethics at Mercer University, said July 15 his views haven’t changed.
“I think Christians are called to act on the basis of kingdom values in relation to all the peoples of the earth, which includes both Israelis and Palestinians,” said Gushee, former senior columnist for Baptist News Global who recently became a blogger for Religion News Service. “I continue to believe that contemporary Christian Zionism essentially trains its adherents to subordinate these core kingdom values to a politicized end-times theology. The result is harmful for everyone involved, including Israel.”