As an American Christian, raised in the Bible Belt, I know a fellow Christian’s views on Israel and Jews if I know his or her views on foundational issues.
For example, how one views the historicity of Genesis usually signals whether a person is friendly to Israel, or not. Not always a sure indicator, but often. Further, one’s views of such passages tend to color one’s views of eschatology.
For example, if one does not believe God’s unconditional covenants with Abraham are rooted in real history, well then one can say that Israel’s ancestral land is not really an eternal possession. This is why prophecy teachers’ assertions (such as those of the brilliant Dr. David Reagan of Lamb & Lion Ministries) that the Land of Israel belongs to Israel alone is met with such fury by influential leaders like Brian McLaren and Tony Campolo. McLaren in particular has written that he views Christian Zionists as dangerous.
If we don’t get biblical history right, we will be party to all sorts of wrong.
My friend and renowned apologetics/worldview speaker, Dr. G. Thomas Sharp, likes to call this the “Genesis 12” issue. A few years ago, “Doc” said something to me so profound, I’m sure I’ll never forget it. As founder of Creation Truth Foundation, he is one of the leading experts on origins issues.
“I was researching my latest book, deep in thought,” he said.
“All of a sudden, I felt the Lord say to me, ‘You’ve taught all these years about creation/evolution—Genesis 1-11—but what about Genesis 12?’”
It was an epiphany for both of us. The meaning is that it is very important to teach that the Bible is true from the very first verse, but too often we stop foundational teaching after the Flood account. The critical chapters 12-50 of Genesis explain the birth of the Jewish people, of Israel.
As I thought about Doc’s new emphasis in teaching, I realized these “ellipses breaks” cause many to gloss-over the life of the nation of Israel, rooted as it is in real history, real events, real people.
It is a given that many in the “liberal” camp, such as McLaren, do not view all of Genesis as real history. For them, taking a cue from the German Higher Critics, there is a mixture of myth and history in the Hebrew Scriptures. I’m always struck by the irony—even if they aren’t—when a leader in this camp such as John Shelby Spong claims to vigorously oppose anti-Semitism…at the same time they are relegating Jewish history to the realm of myth.
Can anything be more anti-Semitic than denying Jewish history? That is a particular strain of the virus that has made much of the Church world sick. One of the outcomes is Replacement Theology, which claims that “the Church” has replaced Israel in God’s unfolding plan for the world.
In fact, as rank-and-file evangelicals in America are beginning to wake up to the implications of what they are being taught by Replacement theologians, said theologians want to change terms.
At the recent, grotesquely named “Christ at the Checkpoint" conference in Bethlehem, one speaker actually used the term “Enlargement Theology.” You see, when the people start to catch on to the perils of bad Bible interpretation, proponents of such poisonous worldview want to move the goal posts. They also hide when writers like me ask them questions they can’t defend.
In general, evangelicals who view the Old Testament as actual history tend to view modern Israel, the Jews, and their place in eschatology favorably. Those who accept an evolutionary method of interpretation do not. (This isn’t always the case, of course. American Vision’s Gary DeMar is terrific on origins issues, but horribly afield on the subject of eschatology. His Reformed background, I think, is the explanation for this mind-split.)
Sadly, there is a growing list of evangelical leaders in America who want to marginalize Jewish history and thus marginalize modern Israel.
Radio host Hank Hanegraaff, DeMar, seminary professor Paul Alexander (who recently saw his credentials revoked by the Assemblies of God), Willow Creek co-founder Lynne Hybels, World Vision rep Mae Cannon, author Donald Miller, publisher Cameron Strang, and many others either practice Replacement Theology, or side with the Palestinian narrative (which, bizarrely, includes the claim that the first Christians were…Palestinians. Talk about trashing history).
Anti-Israel teachers such as Campolo, Jim Wallis (Sojourners), Alexander, and McLaren like to say they are being “prophetic” when they espouse their pseudo-biblical worldview.
“Prophetic” is one of their favorite words, but they don’t mean what rank-and-file believers mean by prophetic, because they do not mean what the biblical writers had in mind when outlining prophetic themes. Hijacking the language is a key tactic of these Higher Critical thinkers.
Further, a more subtle (though no less dangerous) view is espoused by the new wave of celebrity pastors, like Pastor Steven Furtick of Elevation Church.
Furtick, who has authored books like “Sun Stand Still” and “Greater,” loves to lift OT passages out of context and create what I am now calling “Christian self-help” themes. Furtick can take the account of Joshua’s Long Day and turn it into a Word-of-Faith, “name it and claim it” proposition, where a biblical account can be used to demand that God give a modern evangelical in, say, Peoria, more stuff, greater influence, etc.
A decade ago, Bruce Wilkinson’s blockbuster book, “The Prayer of Jabez,” unleashed this type of thinking in the American church. What to that point had been a relatively obscure OT passage suddenly compelled millions of readers to ask God for more of whatever it was they wanted. That has nothing to do with 1 Chronicles 4:9,10:
“Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez, saying, ‘I gave birth to him in pain.’ Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, saying, ‘Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from the evil one.’ And God granted his request.”
Celebrity American preachers do this constantly, imploring God to bless them and their congregations materially. This isn’t always freely admitted of course—it’s often cloaked in language that seemingly advocates for greater influence in proclaiming the Gospel—but the effect is a form of Replacement Theology.
No one has the right to hijack Jewish history and make it his own. No one has the right to marginalize Jews and their heritage, in order to feed some narcissistic demand.
Christian leaders have an obligation and a duty to get Bible teaching right. Anything less is dishonest, self-serving, and surely diabolical. The people deserve to see Israel and the Jews in proper historical and current geopolitical context.
Any teaching effort that falls short is a distortion of “the prophetic.”
(Jim Fletcher is a researcher, writer, and speaker, and a long-time advocate for Israel. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)