The New Christian Zionism: Fresh Perspectives on Israel & the Land. Edited by Gerald R. McDermott. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2016. 349 pp. Paper, $22.55.
This book is made up of twelve articles by ten different authors. These articles are in four parts: theology and the history of Christian Zionism; theology and the Bible; theology and its implications; and theology and the future.
When the authors refer to Christian Zionism, they say it means that the people and land of Israel are central to the story of the Bible. The return of the Jews to the land is a part of Biblical prophecy. In addition, they believe that God saves the world through Israel and the “perfect Israelite,” Jesus Christ (pp. 11-12). However, they make it clear that they reject traditional Dispensationalism. At least two of the contributors are progressive dispensationalists. At the same time, they also reject the idea that the Church has replaced Israel.
Christian Zionism maintains that Jesus fulfilled the OT and that the current state of Israel in the land represents a “provisional and proleptic fulfillment of the promises” of the world to come (p. 27). Gentiles will be saved only by being attached to Israel. The new earth will be centered in Israel (pp. 182-86).
Gerald McDermott maintains that Christian Zionism is eighteen centuries older than Dispensationalism. The covenants of the OT also support it. In addition, many Christian Zionists today are not Dispensationalists (p. 46). The land promises to the Jews play a prominent role in the OT (p. 48). The early church held to Zionism, and it was not rejected until the allegorical interpretation of the Scriptures came to the forefront as a result of Origen (early third century), who spiritualized the land promises made to the Jews. Augustine’s amillennialism in the fourth century had a huge impact on the rejection of a future for Israel and the Jews in the plan of God (pp. 55-56).The Reformation’s insistence on a literal reading of the Bible eventually led to a renewed interest in the role of Israel in eschatology (p. 66), even among those who were not premillennialists. From the 16th to the 19th centuries, most Zionists were postmillennialists (p. 75).
Craig Blaising argues that Romans 11 shows that Israel’s current hardness towards the gospel will be reversed. Israel plays a vital role in the Messianic kingdom (p. 94). The current possession of the land by the Jews is a divine act (p. 102).
I found Mark Tooley’s discussion on theology and the churches (chap. 7) very interesting. He says that Christian Zionism in the United States had the support of the majority of mainline Protestant churches in the past. This changed when they abandoned theological orthodoxy (p. 197). After that happened, Evangelicals took up the banner of support for Israel’s being in the land. Today, those mainline denominations denounce Zionism as heresy (p. 216). He also has a fascinating discussion on how Zionism affected politics in our country. Truman’s recognition of Israel after World War II is a case in point (p. 202). President Truman was a Baptist who accepted Zionism based upon his own reading of the Bible (p. 70).
Tooley also issues a warning. He sees a trend among Evangelicals in that they are following the lead of mainline denominations in their attitude towards Israel. The hostility towards the Jewish people is coupled in these denominations with indifference towards human rights violations. These attitudes are the result of heretical beliefs (p. 219).
Darrell Bock points out that an important aspect of Christian Zionism is that its focus is not on the spiritual salvation of Jews, but on the idea that Israel has a corporate future in God’s plan as a nation which has a right to the land in the Middle East. It does not say, however, that Jews are saved by keeping the Law (pp. 308-309).
This book looks, from many different perspectives, at the case for Israel having the right to be a nation in the land. These are moral, theological, historical, Biblical, political, and legal. The contributors come from different backgrounds, with one being a Jewish rabbi and one being a member of the Israeli Defense Forces. Not all have a high view of inerrancy (p. 51). Many readers of the JOTGES will probably wish that the writers would make it clearer that the Jew must believe in Jesus for eternal life in order to be a part of the future kingdom. But at least Blaising (p. 104) and Bock do. This is a fascinating book which shows that even those who are not Dispensationalists recognize that, according to the Bible, God will keep His promises to the Jewish people and that the early church did as well. I highly recommend this book.
Kenneth W. Yates
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society