Thursday, October 04, 2007

SWNID to Evangelicals: Stop It with the Israel Stuff

NPR's Morning Edition today briefly covers the presence of about 7000 American Evangelicals in Jerusalem to celebrate Sukkot and to show their political solidarity with Israel.

The coverage focuses predictably on one aspect of the story: that Israelis are conflicted about their political and economic dependence on people whom they view as theologically goofy and possibly threatening, specifically because these evangelicals look forward to the massive conversion of Jews during the Great Tribulation, which most Jews understand would mean that there would be no more Jews.

We will lay aside our concern about the persistent definition of Judaism as anything but belief in Jesus as the Jewish messiah. Instead we will focus on our concern about the very unbiblical things that people believe when they believe dispensationalism. But we will keep it short.

Dispensationalists believe that the modern state of Israel represents the fulfillment of biblical prophecy that Israel will return to the land after the exile. That's why these Evangelical pilgrims/celebrants insist that their support for Israel is unqualified, that Israel must not give up a square foot of land to the Palestinians, and that bad stuff happens to Americans whenever Israel makes a move to give up land. It's God's will that Israel take and hold its historic territory right now.

Unfortunately for dispensationalism, the New Testament identifies the coming of Jesus and its saving aftermath as the fulfillment of the promises of postexilic return. The problem with dispensationalism is that it actually marginalizes the significance of Jesus.

Nevertheless, we are not as concerned as some are about dispensationalists' blind political support for Israel. Seven thousand Americans in Jerusalem sounds like a lot until one realizes that just about every medium-sized city in America has an evangelical church that has more people than that on a Sunday morning.

This event in Jerusalem is a meeting of fringe folks who have only the most marginal influence on policy. The American government has supported Israel for sixty years largely because it is a reliable ally in a part of the world where we really need a reliable ally, not because some people who have memorized the notes in the Scofield Reference Bible have undue influence at the State Department.

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