Sunday, August 26, 2012

Breaking the Silence in Israel (updated)

As a progressive dispensationalist I believe scripture reveals that God will bring
Israel to national repentance at the end of this age (Rom. 11:25-27). Back in the spring of this year (2012) I posted a series of quotes from non-dispensational scholars that affirm what Paul plainly stated. Israel's best days are yet to come when, at the parousia, the Deliverer turns away iniquity from the nation and a great number (though not all) of its people are reconciled to their Messiah -- as Joseph was recognized by his brethran in ancient Egypt.

Progressive dispensationalism does not necessarily see a separate "program" for Israel in the future. Israel, upon repentance and faith, will be grafted back into the one olive tree of Abraham's faith (Rom. 11:23-24). Israel will have a distinct national identity in the age to come in fulfillment of numerous Old Testament prophecies and in accord with God's promises to the fathers. Indeed, Jerusalem will be the center of worship and the Jewish nation will occupy a central place. But it will stand among many nations of redeemed peoples that reign with Christ on the renewed earth. Collectively, these people are what we now know as the Church, a "ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation" (Rev. 5:9). Just as the Church today consists of Gentiles and "messianic" Jews, so in the age to come the Church will be multicultural, including "all Israel" (Rom. 11:26a) among its members. Distinctions among people groups will remain, however. [Another major version of premillenialism, the "historic" school, sees no future for Israel as a nation.]

Traditional dispensationalism, to which I once subscribed, believes in separate destinies for Israel and the Church. Under its schema the Church is caught up to meet Christ in the air sometime before the Great Tribulation (possibly many years or even decades before, according to J.N. Darby) and taken away to heaven, perhaps forever (not all traditional dispensationalists are in agreement on this point). Israel, meanwhile, will pass through the tribulation, the "time of Jacob's trouble," the seventieth week of the prophecy in Daniel 9. Then, as noted above, Israel will be redeemed and become the centerpiece of Christ's earthly kingdom. But its identity will forever remain differentiated from the Church.

Traditional dispensationalism helped spawn a renewed interest in the Middle East and the fate of the Jewish people. One unfortunate upshot of this was the emergence of "Christian Zionism." This strain of thinking involves a political fetish for the modern state of Israel. Seen as the resumption of God's prophetic plan, Israel is "in the land to stay" (as one of its proponents recently told me), and Christian Zionists, i.e. Christians who back the state of Israel, give unqualified support to that nation's policies on the basis of Genesis 12:1-3. A friend at work recently loaned me a book entitled As America Has Done unto Israel that says in no uncertain terms that the recent droughts, hurricanes, and economic distress in the U.S. are directly attributable to this nation having "forsaken" modern Israel in its land claims against its Palestinian neighbors.

The infatuation leads to loyalty normally reserved for one's own country. I regularly see some of my evangelical Facebook friends posting various "support Israel!" memes. One friend threw me for a loop by "liking" the IDF -- the Israeli Defense Forces. I suspect this was not about biblical prophecy but rather out of discomfort with the Muslim world. Certainly not all Israeli-liking evangelicals are dispensationalists or Christian Zionists, but simply declare their solidarity with "the one Middle Eastern democracy," "America's best friend," in contrast to its Muslim neighbors.

And what's not to admire about a military force that defeated multiple enemies in 1967? "God's chosen people" was the refrain I heard back then (of late, however, the IDF's success has notably flagged).

What we quickly forget is that many of Israel's neighbors are Christians -- Palestinians, Lebanese, and minorities in Syria and Egypt. There exists in Iran a small Christian community that finds itself in the crosshairs of potential preemptive aggression, either from Israel or the U.S. (say goodbye to the price of gasoline if this comes off).

Whether it is Christian Zionism with an apocalyptic fixation or simply a general dislike of and paranoia toward Muslims and Arabs, American Christians need to rethink the carte blanche they grant the state of Israel (incidentally, I do not for one second ignore or condone the many atrocities committed against Israelis by their enemies). Many of the Israeli government's actions are manifestly evil and cannot be justified, not even with citations from Joshua's campaign against the Canaanites.

To get a bit of perspective, I recommend Breaking the Silence, an Israeli web site where IDF soldiers give the inside story of abuses against Palestinians.

Let us pray for the peace of Jerusalem, and for repentance toward Christ, the Prince of Peace, among our Jewish and Muslim neighbors.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Rwanda: Say it Ain't So

Over at A Living Text Joel Martin has written a timely post ("Playing An Away Game") that warrants careful reflection for American Anglicans aligning with the Anglican Church of Rwanda (PEAR). As Joel points out, there is a backstory to the Rwandan genocide (as well as other dimensions of African culture and history) on which we Americans, in haste to prove our post-colonial credentials, haven't bothered to get up to speed.

There are important links in the post, especially one to a PDF of a scholarly paper by Phillip Cantrell (2007) on the link between PEAR and the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). Among Cantrell's troubling points is PEAR's complicity in the RPF-concocted narrative that Tutsis and Hutus are simply constructs of the colonial past (i.e., "we're all Rwandans now").

A Rwandan blogger responded to Joel's post, corroborating the existence of the PEAR/RPF connection. I looked at his blog and found this unsettling piece. Again, worthy of careful consideration.