Last Thursday in IBI we had a visit from Munther Issac of Bethlehem Bible College. He was over in Ireland speaking at the Bangor Worldwide Missionary Convention. In inviting Munther down to Dublin, we had no political or theological axe to grind. Christians have different political and theological views over land in the Bible and the place of modern Israel and this was an opportunity to explore and think about those differences theologically in an atmosphere of respect and civility. For as Christians, the unity of the body that we have in Christ is far greater than what we disagree about.
Munther spoke about being a Palestinian Christian, living with the reality of life in the West Bank. He also outlined a theology of the land and of Christian identity in the NT. He spoke with humility and a plea for fellow Christians to see beyond the assumption that modern day secular Israel has some sort of divine right to the land and to a place that is sensitive to the need for Israel to act with equality and justice.
This sort of unquestioning support for Israel, he argued, is blind to the suffering of Palestinians under occupation but also to deeper spiritual questions. The key question for followers of Jesus is not to argue about ‘divine right’ to the land but how can evangelicals be peacemakers in a context of deep division and entrenched violence? How can they love their enemies and work for justice and equality? How can Palestinians and Israelis share the land since neither are going to disappear?
The reasons behind many evangelical’s support of Israel are complex and I’m only sketching things here: a particular scheme of biblical prophecy that sees 1948 as an act of God bringing Jews back to their Holy Land; a dispensational theology that sees a separation between Israel and the church; an acute awareness of the horrors of the Holocaust; a fear of radical Islam and a political judgement that Israel needs all the help it can get to survive the surrounding hostility of the Muslim world; the strong support of the contemporary Israeli state among many Messianic believers, particularly in the USA.
So, it’s clear there is a lot going on here.
And for some, like ‘Jerusalem fever’ (when being in the holy city gets all too much) things begin to get all out of proportion. Some become zealous to the point of fanaticism; of not listening to others, of making agreement on these issues a test of orthodoxy; and of throwing around terms like ‘replacement theology’ as equivalent of being anti-Semitic and somehow being culpable for the rise of Islamic extremism and the persecution of Christians in the Middle East …!
So, a couple of posts will follow trying to think theologically about these things.
(civil) comments welcome.