Dispensationalism vs. the Rest of Evangelicalism on the Israeli/Palestinian Controversy

Dispensationalism is a theology that, among other things, believes that there are clear distinctions between Israel in the Old Testament and the church in the New Testament.

It holds that God has two distinct plans for the nation of Israel and for the church. God’s promises for Israel will be fulfilled through earthly blessings at a time in the future (in a "millennium" that is found in Revelation chapter 20 - interpreted as a literal 1,000 years when Christ will rule on earth).

God’s purpose for the church is different than that for Israel in that the church is promised to enjoy eternal life in heaven. Thus, before the final purposes for Israel begin to be fulfilled, the church will be raptured away from the world. So, contrary to the majority of Christians in the world and throughout history, Dispensationalists deny that the church is the “new Israel” or that all the Old Testament prophecies about Israel will be fulfilled in the church. They hold to the belief that these prophecies will yet be fulfilled literally in the ethnic nation of Israel.

I came to faith in a ministry heavily influenced by Dispensationalism. I still greatly admire a lot of Dispensational theologians (especially the progressive Dispensationalists like Darrell Bock, Robert Saucy, and Craig Blaising). Though I no longer hold to this theology, I have several friends whom I respect that do, so I am not here to bash this.

But there is one very disturbing consequence that flows from so many American Christians holding to dispensational theology: A seriously flawed political position on the contemporary nation of Israel.

John Hagee is one Christian leader that has taken Dispensationalism to its extreme conclusion: The advocacy of Christian Zionism. This radical form of Dispensationalism believes that Christians must support the nation of Israel against its enemies. Since Israel is God’s chosen nation, then Christians (and especially American Christians) must support Israel, no matter what. The most vocal in the Christian Zionist movement is the group Christians United for Israel. CUFI's main spokesman is Hagee, and among the board members are Gary Bauer and Rod Parsley.

To quote Hagee on the Christians United for Israel website,
“Why do Christians support Israel? Truth is not what I say it is. Truth is not what you think it is. Truth is what the Torah says it is; there’s the Torah way and the wrong way. Genesis 12 and 3 says I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you. We believe those blessings are very real and those judgments are very real. Where are the nations that have persecuted the Jewish people? Where is Pharaoh and his army? Where are the Babylonians? Where are the Greeks? Where is the Ottoman Empire? Where are the Romans? Where is that goose-stepping lunatic Adolf Hitler and his Nazi hoards? All are historic footnotes in the bone yard of human history. Where is Israel? Where are the Jewish people? They’re alive and well; they’re thriving; they’re prospering; they’re growing - even on a day of adversity they’re still going forward. Where is Israel? Where are those who are scattered throughout the Diaspora? The mighty right hand of God has gathered them from the nations of the world and Israel was miraculously born May 15, 1948. Israel lives! Shout it from the housetop - Israel lives! Let every Islamic terrorist group hear it - Israel lives! Let every tinhorn dictator in the Middle East hear it - Israel lives! Let it be heard in the halls of the UN - Israel lives! Let it echo down the marble halls of the Presidential Palace in Iran - Israel lives! Let it ring in the terrorist camps of Osama Bin Laden - Israel lives! Israel lives! Israel lives!”

However, Hagee’s theology opposes that of a large portion of American Evangelical Christianity. A few weeks ago, a letter was written and signed by thirty-four top evangelical leaders and sent to President Bush. It stated that, in spite of the efforts of Christian Zionists to promote their viewpoint as the only evangelical or biblical stand on the issue of Israel/Palestine, very many evangelicals are in favor of a two-state solution.
“We...write to correct a serious misperception among some people including some U.S. policymakers that all American evangelicals are opposed to a two-state solution and creation of a new Palestinian state that includes the vast majority of the West Bank. Nothing could be further from the truth. We, who sign this letter, represent large numbers of evangelicals throughout the U.S. who support justice for both Israelis and Palestinians.”

The letter states that these Christians are willing to hold Israel accountable for acts of injustice toward the Palestinians.

“As evangelical Christians, we embrace the biblical promise to Abraham: ‘I will bless those who bless you.’ (Genesis 12:3). And precisely as evangelical Christians committed to the full teaching of the Scriptures, we know that blessing and loving people (including Jews and the present State of Israel) does not mean withholding criticism when it is warranted. Genuine love and genuine blessing means acting in ways that promote the genuine and long-term well being of our neighbors. Perhaps the best way we can bless Israel is to encourage her to remember, as she deals with her neighbor Palestinians, the profound teaching on justice that the Hebrew prophets proclaimed so forcefully as an inestimably precious gift to the whole world.”

And, contrary to the Christian Zionist claim that only Israel has the right to this portion of land in the middle east, the letter says,

“Historical honesty compels us to recognize that both Israelis and Palestinians have legitimate rights stretching back for millennia to the lands of Israel/Palestine. Both Israelis and Palestinians have committed violence and injustice against each other. The only way to bring the tragic cycle of violence to an end is for Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate a just, lasting agreement that guarantees both sides viable, independent, secure states. To achieve that goal, both sides must give up some of their competing, incompatible claims. Israelis and Palestinians must both accept each other’s right to exist.”

The New York Times reported that John Hagee responded to the letter with ridicule:

“Bible-believing evangelicals will scoff at that message…Christians United for Israel is opposed to America pressuring Israel to give up more land to anyone for any reason...The Palestinian people have never owned the land of Israel, never existed as an autonomous society. There is no Palestinian language. There is no Palestinian currency. And to say that Palestinians have a right to that land historically is an historical fraud.”

Among the signatories of the letter are:
Ronald J. Sider, President of Evangelicals for Social Action, Don Argue, President of Northwest University, Raymond J. Bakke, Chancellor of Bakke Graduate University, Gary M. Benedict, President of The Christian & Missionary Alliance, Gary M. Burge, Professor at Wheaton College & Graduate School, Leighton Ford, President of Leighton Ford Ministries, Vernon Grounds, Chancellor of Denver Seminary, Stephen Hayner, former President of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, Richard Mouw, President of Fuller Theological Seminary, David Neff, Editor of Christianity Today, Glenn R. Palmberg, President of the Evangelical Covenant Church, John Perkins, President of the John M. Perkins Foundation for Reconciliation & Development, Leonard Rodgers, Executive Director for Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding, Jim Skillen, Executive Director of the Center for Public Justice, Glen Harold Stassen, Professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, Richard Stearns, President of World Vision, Clyde D. Taylor, Former Chair of the Board for World Relief, Harold Vogelaar, Director for the Center of Christian-Muslim Engagement for Peace and Justice, and Berten Waggoner, National Director for the Vineyard USA.

You can join me by going to the website of Evangelicals for Social Action and adding your name of support to it, which will be sent to the White House.

To read more on the Christian Zionist movement, I have a section here at Vanguard Church on this issue, with several links to articles.

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Ted M. Gossard said...

Bob, Thanks for all of this. When I get on my own computer, I'll add my name to the July 27 letter.

I too was raised in Dispensationalist theological thinking. I still struggle a little with ethnic Israel and what God might be doing with reference to them, as well as his plan of judgment and blessing of all nations. But I see the people of God consisting of all Jews and Gentiles who put their faith in Jesus as Messiah. The church is the holy nation, the Israel of God, I believe.

RonMcK said...

Bob. We are to bless and pray for all the children of Israel, but that is not the same as blessing the secular, socialist, militaristic government that currently rules the nation of Israel. The blind support that many Americans and many American Christians give to the Israeli government is quite frightening. It also hardens their spiritual blindness.

The irony is that the Israeli nation will not find true security while it trusts in military power and support from its American Big Brother. True peace will only be found when Jacob's eyes are opened and they learn to trust in Jesus. That will also bring great blessing to the rest of the world.

More on this in Three Sons of the Farmer.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Ron, Thanks for your comment. I find your thoughts helpful.

joe said...

thanks for the opportunity to participate in this. this has been a journey for me from one end to the other. this gave me the oppotunity to put a little feet to the faith. that was cheesy. anyways, thanks...

theologien said...

Hagee is a classic dispensationalist of the C. I. Scofield and Arno Gabelein school, and his theology shows that little has changed from their early 20th century biblicism.

He runs the same risk of most dispensationalists, when he over-literalizes the text, hence the bizarre politics and theology mix that he displays. They are to be pitied and prayed for, as they have zeal, but "not according to knowledge..."

Bob Robinson said...

Ted and Ron,

The best I've read on this is from Gary Burge. There's a couple articles by him in the link at the end of my post. If you want to understand a biblical counter-argument to the Christian Zionist movement, get his book, Whose Land? Whose Promise? What Christians Are Not Being Told About Israel and the Palestinians (Pilgrim Press, 2003).

Bob Robinson said...


Do Mennonites usually embrace Dispensationalism? I would not have thought that was a match.

joe said...

we don't traditionally. but our church has a mix of church backgrounds. so growing up, dispensationalism was taught. not over the pulpit, but through s.s. classes and the like.

not ot mention there was alot of YWAM influence in my life from my years on staff there

Ivy said...

I was overjoyed to see the larger evangelical community take a stand for justice. In the past many American Christians supported Israel no matter what they did. I lived in Bethlehem, in the Holy Land during much of the 1980s and witnessed first hand some of Israel's injustices against the Palestinians. This is not to justify terrorism in any way, but the modern state of Israel is not the same as the OT children of Israel. We continually pray for God's peace to reign in the land where his Son was born, lived, died and rose.

Bob Robinson said...

Thanks, Ivy, for your personal story here. It reflects many of the stories of others who live in the midst of the conflict that Gary Burge shares in his book (mentioned above).

Robert Easter said...

Eschatalogically, that's really a hard call. Too much Scripture seems really plain read as relating to a Pre-Mil interpretation, and winds up in the "mystery verses" cabinet when read Pre-, or A-Mil. The political thing though, has come with reports of "Christian Zionist" groups affirming rabbinical Judaism instead of holding to Peter's words in Jerusalem, "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved." Some smart person one time said, "We need to keep the main thing the main thing!" Jesus is the main thing- what do we need to do to carry that forward?