Israel Politics and Dispensationalism
Israel - Middle East
Friday, February 12, 2016
Yes, Israel Politics and Dispensationalism! Somehow politics always comes into this.
There are two main areas which get people worked up regarding dispensationalism. One is the pretribulational rapture and the other is Israel. And they often go hand in hand. If you don't like the pretrib rapture you cite John Darby and the 19th century in order to invalidate it. If you don't like the dispensationalist view of Israel you cite John Darby and the 19th century.
I'll focus on the latter.
A friend recently sent me an article by Rod Dreher, a culturally conservative Christian columnist and writer. Dreher moved away from Catholicism and embraced the Eastern Orthodox faith.
I found a 2014 article in which he writes disapprovingly of Ted Cruz's support of Israel. Dreher also claims to be pro-Israel and pro Christian. To his credit, he supports Israel's right to exist and defend itself and says it's not a matter of religion for him. He adds that, because of the savagery of the other states, it's easy for a Westerner like himself to sympathize with Israel, even though it isn't perfect.
So he claims to stand by Israel. Well, sort of....
Dreher also writes that, unlike Israel, Middle East Christians can't defend themselves. Hence, that means making alliances with unsavory characters:
"People who have to be afraid at every moment for their lives don’t have the luxury of being morally selective in who their friends are."
Elsewhere he observes that equating America with the new Israel in context to "jingoism" comes dangerously close to idolatry. He admits that Israel stands above its neighbors but doesn't like it being used as a voting magnet thereby possibly offending ME Christians (e.g., Ted Cruz):
"...US Christians who come out of a dispensationalist theological tradition will never take a more nuanced view of Israel, because they believe that the establishment of the Jewish state is a prophetic precursor to the Second Coming of Christ. But there are many conservative Protestants who do not necessarily share that absolutist 19th-century theological view, and who simply do not know much of anything about Christianity in the Middle East." (Emphases mine)
Why does Dreher mention "settlements" in his column when they're a highly disputed topic? And why link to a Wiki article on dispensationalism? Are these the whisperings of someone nurturing grievances?
Wiki relates dispensationalism to Darby and contrasts it to Covenant Theology (CT). CT emerged in the 16th and 17th centuries and developed further since then. One clue that the Wiki writer isn't a dispie is the excuse given to answer the Replacement Theology accusation:
"...in Covenant Theology, the church is not a replacement for the nation of Israel, but has always been the 'spiritual Israel.' Covenant Theologians distinguish between Israel of the flesh (ethnic Hebrews) and Israel of the Spirit (the universal Church), which began with Adam and Eve and matured largely within ethnic Israel. Jewish Christians are included in the spiritual Israel."
Let's set Wiki straight first. Covenant Theology denies that biblical promises (land etc) made to national Israel will ever be fulfilled solely by ethnic Jews. It believes that everything is now fulfilled in the church which is called "spiritual Israel"; and composed of saved Gentiles and Jews. That would be Replacement Theology couched in a softer tone. But it is what it is.
Notably, Dreher's first and current denominations espouse Replacement Theology. While dispensationalism is described as "absolutist", we would respond that God's word is Absolute. The question is which theology aligns with God's word, not how old it allegedly is. Two thousand years of Replacement Theology does not make it correct when it departs from Scripture.
While the Eastern Orthodox Church is arguably less political, the Vatican is a Political State. As with most other states, it has always sought to exert influence in Middle East politics. Palestinian Christian leaders regularly lobby against Israel in various ways, including trying to influence US policies. It's myopic for the "the new religious right" to claim higher moral ground by excluding Israel in future political strategies.
As for suggesting Christians who come out of a "dispensationalist theological tradition" don't take a nuanced view of Israel - we know it isn't perfect. Yet it's held up to far higher scrutiny and standards than western nations are, leaving aside its neighboring countries. In fact, much of what occurs in the Middle East isn't nuanced - it's stark, brutal reality.
Many of us who have been following the unfolding events in the Middle East since long before the "Arab Spring" are aware of the circumstances which Christians (and Muslims) find themselves in. The anti-Israel activism of several Christian authors and organizations has served to divert attention from these conditions. "Making alliances with unsavory characters" hasn't benefited ME Christians in the long run. It only delayed the inevitable.
The Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop of Aleppo recently said:
“The European media have not ceased to suppress the daily news of those who are suffering in Syria and they have even justified what is happening in our country by using information without taking the trouble to verify it....the conference of French bishops should have trusted us, it would have been better informed. Why are your bishops silent on a threat that is yours today as well? Because the bishops are like you, raised in political correctness. But Jesus was never politically correct, he was politically just!”
“The responsibility of a bishop is to teach, to use his influence to transmit truth. Why are your bishops afraid of speaking?...You must remember that silence often means consent.”
On a final note, some dispensational scholars don't view modern Israel as necessarily the end-time version. While I can understand the caution and defensiveness, I believe it's a mistake. The circumstances we are seeing now too closely align with what we expect prior to Christ's return.
Whether or not we support Israel will have no effect on the end result. God will achieve His purpose with or without our involvement.
But isn't it time we all woke up to what is happening?
About Alf Cengia
Last week: Rapture Before John Darby
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