Book Review for Christian Zionism Examined
February 21, 2014
Paas concludes that Christian Zionism is the golden calf of ancient Israel, a self-made god, in rebellion against the true God (p. 108). He adds that Christian Zionism “has to be considered as a heterodox expression of Christianity” (p. 108). He believes that it is a heresy that decentralizes Christ even gets rid of him (p. 108).
How Did Dr. Paas come to the aforementioned conclusions? Paas presents his ideas in nine chapters. In chapter one, he discusses the history of Zionism pointing out its different branches: Jewish Zionism, Secular Zionism, Non-Jewish Political Zionism, and Christian Zionism. He avers that Christian Zionism is not a uniform movement but its main characteristics are: “(1) a literalistic interpretation of all parts of the Bible, particularly the prophecies, (2) a belief that Jewish Zionism and the foundation of the Israeli State are evidence for the truth of Scripture and the existence of God, (3) a historical concept according to which the classical Church has falsely replaced Israel and has ignited antisemitism, (4) a futurology in which present-day physical Israel is pivotal to the return of Christ . . ., (5) an expectation of a national conversion of some kind of the Jews . . .” (pp. 13 – 14).
In Chapter two, Paas argues that extreme literalistic exegesis has come to “attach a significance to the post-Biblical people, land, and worship of Israel which cannot be justified by the meaning of Scripture in its entirety” (p. 17). He argues that a correct interpretation of scriptures should assert: “Israel’s special place ends in its fulfillment, Jesus Christ” (p. 19). Christian Zionists attack the proponents of the latter proposition as replacement theologians. They associate the label “Replacement Theology” with antisemitism (p. 19).
In Chapter three, Paas presents his view of Israel in light of Scripture. He approves of Robertson who commented on Romans 11: 26 saying, “Nothing in this chapter says anything about the restoration of an earthly Davidic Kingdom, or of a return to the land of the Bible, or to the restoration of national State of Israel, or to a church of Jewish Christians separated from the Gentile Christians” (p. 31). Paas argues that religious Israel is the Israel of God that integrates both Jews and Gentiles in accordance with Galatians 6: 16. He further argues that geographical Israel embodies the concept of redemptive land that is wider and higher than geographical Palestine (p. 35). Ethnic Israel cannot claim “to be the heirs of Biblical Israel because that old people had not been racially defined” (p. 40). Consequently, morally and judicially “the Israelis only have a right to possess the part of Palestine that was allotted to them by international consent” (p. 41). In other words, Christian Zionists cannot advocate Israeli ownership of land based on religious rights.
In Chapters four–seven, Paas presents a historical sketch of Christian Zionism. He discusses the roots of Christian Zionism starting from the New Testament era through the reformation (chapter four). Then he highlights the fascination with Israel in western countries (chapter five). In chapter six, he focuses on German Christian Zionism discussing the contributions of key figures such as Spener, Francke, Bengel, Oetinger, Spittler, Hoffmanns, Gobat, Herzl, Wilhelm II, Rebmann, and Von Harnack. In chapter seven, he discusses the changes after the holocaust. He affirms that after the holocaust, almost “all came to consider the designation ‘replacement theology’ as an abusive term, and adhering to it was considered at least a pre-stage to antisemitism” (p. 91).
Chapter eight and nine are more reflective and loud. Paas argues in chapter eight that Christian Zionism is destructive because it idolizes Israel and puts her in the place of Christ. He says that those “who are unbiblically fascinated by Israel, either in hatred or in love, have decentralized Christ or even pushed him out of their sight” (p. 108). They have further torn the unity of the church claiming not only that there was no church before Pentecost but also claiming that Jewish followers of the Messiah are a separate community distinct from the church (p. 109 – 110). They have hindered the great commission among Muslims and have put obstacles before evangelizing the Jews. Consequently, Paas recommends in chapter nine, abandoning the hermeneutics of Christian Zionism and following Christ with a mission minded heart.
No doubt the book of Dr. Paas is not easy to read for the advocates of Christian Zionism. However, his arguments are not superficial and his examination needs to be considered if the reader wants to find the whole truth and hear all the involved sides. His focus on Jesus Christ is a positive move and he is right to assert the centrality of Jesus Christ and the need to criticize any theology that decentralizes Jesus Christ or downplays the missional side. Further, his point concerning using the term replacement theology in a polemic way needs to be heeded. It would be more fruitful if Christian Zionists and Christian non-Zionists find ways in which they can have a theological discourse without stereotyping each other or using language that is not productive. I think that Paas has succeeded in examining Christian Zionism and in evaluating it in a fair way. I believe, however, that the strong language of the book might put off some of the readers. I also recommend more engagement with key scriptural texts. Last, Paas could have made his case stronger if he had engaged some Palestinian theologians and if he had unpacked the great damage that Christian Zionism has done to Palestinians.
Steven Paas has been a journalist, a teacher, a seminary lecturer and a Presbyterian minister in respectively the Netherlands and Malawi. He published several books about Western and African Church History. He graduated at the University of Amsterdam (MTh) and the Theological University of Apeldoorn (ThD).