Books and Culture is a publication of Christianity Today magazine and features some of the best Christian thought out there on literature and world events. I find Christianity Today and Books and Culture to often be left of my own position on things, but well worth reading.
Back in January 2007, Books and Culture printed an article critiquing several anti-Zionist and anti-Israel books. The author, Paul Merkley, does a great job of exposing Stephen Sizer’s revisionist historical nonsense.
Thanks to Maverick at seismicshock.blogspot.com for bringing this to our attention.
Excerpt From “Was Israel a Mistake?” by Paul Merkley, Jan-Feb 2007 Books and Culture.
Link to full article: “Was Israel a Mistake?”
In Christian Zionism: Road-Map to Armageddon?, Stephen Sizer advances the fantasy, previously elaborated by a host of anti-Zionist polemicists, that the long and honorable history of defense by Christians of Israel’s right to be Israel is merely an epiphenomenon of the history of a singular, off-center school of theology called premillennial dispensationalism. According to this thesis, all Christian Zionists are mindless acolytes of a Sanhedrin of pamphleteers which carries on the teachings of John Nelson Darby.
By my casual reckoning, about 80 percent of the book is devoted to a sedulous taxonomy of End Times speculation. The project began as a doctoral thesis for which Sizer bravely sifted through the mountain of English-language prophetic theology from the 17th to the end of the 20th century and disposed its components into categories: amillennialist, postmillennialist, and premillennialist—the latter further divided into covenantal and dispensationalist, and, in the latter section of the book, apocalyptic-dispensationalist and political dispensationalist. Do not despair: there are charts.
Early in the book, Sizer outlines a sequence of political figures who carried the message of premillennial dispensationalism forward into a plan of action for establishing a Jewish state. The list breaks off with Balfour, and thus Sizer spares himself having to explain the connection between dispensationalism and Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and their successors in the front ranks of political actors after 1918.
Among major misrepresentations of historical fact too numerous to list, let alone to deconstruct, I take the case of Arthur James Balfour, he of the Balfour Declaration, who stands in this book for the entire class of Christian Zionists. We learn that he was a man who was “brought up in an evangelical home and was sympathetic to Zionism because of the influence of dispensational teaching,” hence naïve, uncultivated, weak-minded, his thinking processes dulled, like those of the rest of us Christian friends of Israel today, by low-brow pamphleteering and thus easily led by the Zionists. Balfour, dim bulb that he was, “regarded history as an instrument for carrying out a Divine Purpose.” (Since when did this become a heresy?)
In truth, Lord Arthur James Balfour was a member of the most prominent political family of his day, noted for its achievements in science and the arts; he had a place at the very heart of British intellectual and artistic circles, was educated up to his ears, and was a widely published critical-academic philosopher, which earns him a long entry today in the Encylopedia of Philosophy. The quotient of dispensationalism in Balfour’s intellectual makeup was zero.
In fact, of all the major Christian Zionists whom Sizer describes as standing at the end of the line whose head and fount is the dispensationalist Prophet, John Darby, only one, William Blackstone, was in fact a dispensationalist, or, for that matter, speculated at all about covenants and dispensations. (And how on earth did the notoriously agnostic Lord Palmerston get into this sequence of the mindless dupes of premillennial dispensationalism?)
Sizer’s cartoon-Balfour stands for all the Christian Zionists jerked around by scheming Jews. Think of contemporary Christian Zionists, puppets of the Likud, cheering from the sidelines, never questioning, never doubting, as bulldozers destroy the vineyards and homes of Palestinians (as illustrated on the cover of the book), as illegal settlements are expanded towards the never-admitted but palpable goal of extending Israel’s boundaries to include Damascus, Beirut, Amman, and Baghdad—perhaps, who knows, to China. Like the cartoon-Balfour, Christian visitors to Israel are swiftly taken captive by State-appointed tour-guides who drag everybody off to Yad Vashem (which exists “to represent Israel as a victim”) and then to the Wailing Wall and Masada in order “to perpetuate a favorable image of Israel, stifle criticism and reinforce their claim to the land.” Related to this red herring is the one about being in love with cosmic-death scenarios inspired by provocative passages in Daniel and Revelation. The debt which Sizer owes to the Chomsky-Finkelstein-Ateek school of the History of Israel is readily apparent.
Some of my best friends are premillennial dispensationalists, but we get along anyway. For a Christian Zionist of my ilk, a full and sufficient biblical mandate is in Genesis 12, with special reference to verse 3: “I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you, and in you all the nations of the world shall be blessed”—a text which Sizer turns inside out on page 147.
It does not seem of any interest to Sizer to note that we stand today on historical ground very different from that of the age of the dispensationalist prophetic conferences. What we have to speculate about today is whether the being of Israel should be undone by human force. Christian Zionists are realists. They no longer attend conferences in which anyone proposes a theory about Israel’s coming into existence. Their speculations about what is right and wrong, what should be done and not done, start from the premise that Israel is. Anti-Zionists, meanwhile, live in the same counterfactual world as do the Muslims who speculate about the legitimacy of Zion.
It is a common feature of anti-Christian Zionist literature that little interest is shown in the actual historical circumstances that brought the modern State of Israel into existence. In Sizer’s book there is absolutely none, unless we count this oddity on page 148: “in 1948 the U.S. government was just as opposed to the founding of the State of Israel [as was] Britain.” Is this revisionism, or what? It is Franklin Roosevelt attacking the Japanese fleet at Pearl Harbor. Did none of that long list of people who are thanked on the Acknowledgements page twig to this incriminating bit of confusion? Does InterVarsityPress not have fact-checkers? This is embarrassing. It is, however, all we have to indicate that Sizer knows that once there was no State of Israel but now there is—somehow.