How new is the new Christian Zionism?
There have been many Zionisms over the years. Only one has imagined an eventual end of Judaism.
Among the many ways to fracture a congregation, talking about Israel is one of the most dependable. Intersecting claims about justice, biblical prophecy, national identity, historical legacies, personal allegiances, geopolitical dynamics, confessional commitments, and headline-grabbing crises run through the topic and deep into bedrock convictions. Few statements can be made about the situation of Israelis and Palestinians that go uncontested, and discussions between Christians, Jews, and Muslims of what Aaron David Miller has called “the much too promised land” are guaranteed to evoke volcanic eruptions.
This volatility is part of what moves Gerald McDermott, I think, to couch Israel Matters in a personalistic style. He introduces his topics through personal encounters with an old friend, a senior pastor, a young Christian leader who asked him questions, a Christian friend who had lived in Israel, and a Palestinian attorney he met in Israel. McDermott seems to be asking us to recognize that ideas about Israel are held by real people and have real consequences.
His aim is to move beyond the “old Christian Zionism” in which he was raised. He says that aspects of the old Christian Zionism always troubled him. He wondered, for example, if the initiative of Zionist groups to found and defend a Jewish state was an effort at forcing God’s hand or a case of people “turning their backs on God.” He also wondered if God could really be dealing with Israel and the gentile nations “on two separate tracks” and if it was right, as some Christian Zionists proposed, that “the State of Israel was beyond reproach.” And how could Israel be a fulfillment of biblical prophecy if “most Jews in Israel were either secular or religious-but-non-messianic” and if “modern Israel did not seem related to the Bible.” The aspects of Christian Zionism he learned growing up did not seem consistent with his other biblically grounded beliefs.