Must evangelicals side with Israel? If so, it should be because of justice, not eschatology

8 Aug

In the current controversy between Israel and Hamas, I tend to side with Israel. I side with Israel recognizing that they are not innocent, that they have made mistakes, that they have overreacted at times, that they can let their anger best their better judgment on occasion. I side with Israel not because Israel is God’s chosen ethnicity or nation-state (as classical dispensationalists argue), obligating every nation, especially America, and Christian to love and favor the nation of Israel in a special way above all other nations. No, I tend to side with Israel because I think their goal, supported by most of their actions, in this conflict is the peaceful, mutually beneficial, coexistence with the Palestinian people. I side with Israel because I believe the goal and actions of Hamas are fundamentally, unswervingly, and quite explicitly (see the Hamas Charter) different, desiring not peaceful coexistence but the obliteration of Israel and the Jews therein, using every agreement, every compromise, every concession, every cease fire, every financial gift, not as an opportunity to build peaceful relations aimed at improving the lives of both Palestinians and Israelis but to build bigger more devastating bombs (or tunnels, as it were) to kill Jews and drive Israelis into the sea by orders (as they see it) from Allah. Eschatology does not determine my favor of Israel in this conflict. The laws of justice and nature’s God do. If the religious factions were reversed — if the Israelis were attempting by action or statement to eradicate Palestinians forever instead of peacefully coexisting with them and if Hamas was only seeking peaceful coexistence instead of extermination — then my support would be completely reversed as well. The Christian is under no particular theological obligation, I’d argue, to support Israel, but is under the eternally binding moral law of God obligating him/her to support righteousness, goodness, justice, among the nations wherever it can be found. And on that score, the Israelis have made the better argument compared to Hamas in my judgment.

Sadly, for some evangelicals, Israel can do no wrong. Not because a review of its actions or history shows that it has not, but because they have embraced a rigid and poor eschatology requiring them to embrace Israeli actions in a virtually unqualified unconditional way. After all, if the modern nation-state of Israel is God’s chosen people (a view that is not, in my view, supported in scripture), then you will tend to see everything happening there with colored glasses. That is, for me and several other Christians, the question of who to support in this conflict is fundamentally open because we want to be on the side of justice. But for many Christians, the question is essentially closed, because they simply want to be on the side of Israel, God’s chosen nation-state. So to help, a group of evangelical scholars in 2002 wrote an open letter to evangelicals who rubber stamp Israeli actions for all the wrong theological reasons. I think it is still relevant today.

Excerpt:

An Open Letter to Evangelicals and Other Interested Parties:
The People of God, the Land of Israel, and the Impartiality of the Gospel

Recently a number of leaders in the Protestant community of the United States have urged the endorsement of far-reaching and unilateral political commitments to the people and land of Israel in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, citing Holy Scripture as the basis for those commitments. To strengthen their endorsement, several of these leaders have also insisted that they speak on behalf of the seventy million people who constitute the American evangelical community.

It is good and necessary for evangelical leaders to speak out on the great moral issues of our day in obedience to Christ’s call for his disciples to be salt and light in the world. It is quite another thing, however, when leaders call for commitments that are based upon a serious misreading of Holy Scripture. In such instances, it is good and necessary for other evangelical leaders to speak out as well. We do so here in the hope that we may contribute to the cause of the Lord Christ, apart from whom there can never be true and lasting peace in the world.

At the heart of the political commitments in question are two fatally flawed propositions. First, some are teaching that God’s alleged favor toward Israel today is based upon ethnic descent rather than upon the grace of Christ alone, as proclaimed in the Gospel. Second, others are teaching that the Bible’s promises concerning the land are fulfilled in a special political region or “Holy Land,” perpetually set apart by God for one ethnic group alone. As a result of these false claims, large segments of the evangelical community, our fellow citizens, and our government are being misled with regard to the Bible’s teachings regarding the people of God, the land of Israel, and the impartiality of the Gospel.

In what follows, we make our convictions public. We do so acknowledging the genuine evangelical faith of many who will not agree with us. Knowing that we may incur their disfavor, we are nevertheless constrained by Scripture and by conscience to publish the following propositions for the cause of Christ and truth.

1. The Gospel offers eternal life in heaven to Jews and Gentiles alike as a free gift in Jesus Christ. Eternal life in heaven is not earned or deserved, nor is it based upon ethnic descent or natural birth.

2. All human beings, Jews and Gentiles alike, are sinners, and, as such, they are under God’s judgment of death. Because God’s standard is perfect obedience and all are sinners, it is impossible for anyone to gain temporal peace or eternal life by his own efforts. Moreover, apart from Christ, there is no special divine favor upon any member of any ethnic group; nor, apart from Christ, is there any divine promise of an earthly land or a heavenly inheritance to anyone, whether Jew or Gentile. To teach or imply otherwise is nothing less than to compromise the Gospel itself.

Read the rest
Other helpful resources on the nation of Israel and the people of God:

Mike Horton: The Church and Israel

Ligon Duncan: What is Dispensationalism and what are its chief errors?

Craig Blaising, a progressive dispensationalist, explains how even if we find in scripture a future eschatological fulfillment of earthly promises to the nation-state of Israel, that doesn’t tell us what to make of the present nation-state of Israel and the Christian’s duties/affections toward it.   See his article here

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