Evangelical Support for Israel Is about More Than Planning for the Apocalypse

A recent poll of evangelical Christians’ political views showed that sympathy for the Jewish state is less pervasive among the younger generations than among the older. Mark Tooley argues that the ideas of two pro-Israel Christian thinkers might appeal more to young people than those normally cited by Christian Zionists. He also dispels the common stereotype that the favorable views of evangelical Christians toward Israel stem primarily from the notion that the Jews’ return to Zion is a prerequisite for the messianic era, a notion that fits into a wider theology known as “dispensationalism.”

Most evangelicals believe that God’s promise of the land to the Jews is enduring, but belief in that covenant doesn’t automatically equate to preoccupation with end times. . . .

Here’s where [Reinhold] Niebuhr can be helpful. He was a theological modernist who rejected dispensationalism but . . . appreciated humanity’s fallen nature. Even as a young pastor he embraced the cause of persecuted Jews and their need for a homeland in Palestine. His support for Zionism increased during the Nazi ascendancy in the 1930s, during which he also abandoned pacifism in favor of armed resistance to the fascist powers.

Niebuhr’s Zionism caused friction with many of his liberal friends, but he was unrelenting. In “Our Stake in the State of Israel” (1957), an article in the New Republic, he lamented the West’s dearth of support for Israel, which was the “only sure strategic anchor of the democratic world” in the Middle East. . . . Niebuhr, a Protestant liberal of sorts, backed Zionism as a humanitarian, moral, and pragmatic necessity in defense of a long-persecuted people who were friends of democracy. That the Jews had a deep historic tie to the land, even if he declined to affirm an ongoing biblical promise, only added to his commitment to their cause. . . .

Another option exists for Christians and specifically for evangelicals in search of a sturdy perspective on modern Israel. Gerald McDermott, an ordained Anglican who teaches at Beeson Divinity School, one of evangelicalism’s most distinguished seminaries, has published two recent books and numerous articles on [what he terms] the New Christian Zionism, avoiding end-times dispensationalism but stressing that early church fathers and other Christian thinkers across the centuries, including the Puritans, understood as ongoing the biblical promises of the promised land to the Jews.

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More about: Christian Zionism, Evangelical Christianity, Israel & Zionism, Reinhold Niebuhr

 

Syria’s Downing of a Russian Plane Put Israel in the Crosshairs

Sept. 21 2018

On Monday, Israeli jets fired missiles at an Iranian munitions storehouse in the northwestern Syrian city of Latakia. Shortly thereafter, Syrian personnel shot down a Russian surveillance plane with surface-to-air missiles, in what seems to be a botched and highly incompetent response to the Israeli attack. Moscow first responded by blaming Jerusalem for the incident, but President Putin then offered more conciliatory statements. Yesterday, Russian diplomats again stated that Israel was at fault. Yoav Limor comments:

What was unusual [about the Israeli] strike was the location: Latakia [is] close to Russian forces, in an area where the IDF hasn’t been active for some time. The strike itself was routine; the IDF notified the Russian military about it in advance, the missiles were fired remotely, the Israeli F-16s returned to base unharmed, and as usual, Syrian antiaircraft missiles were fired indiscriminately in every direction, long after the strike itself was over. . . .

Theoretically, this is a matter between Russia and Syria. Russia supplied Syria with the SA-5 [missile] batteries that wound up shooting down its plane, and now it must demand explanations from Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. That won’t happen; Russia was quick to blame Israel for knocking over the first domino, and as usual, sent conflicting messages that make it hard to parse its future strategy. . . .

From now on, Russia will [almost certainly] demand a higher level of coordination with Israel and limits on the areas in which Israel can attack, and possibly a commitment to refrain from certain actions. Syria, Iran, and Hizballah will try to drag Russia into “handling” Israel and keeping it from continuing to carry out strikes in the region. Israel . . . will blame Iran, Hizballah, and Syria for the incident, and say they are responsible for the mess.

But Israel needs to take rapid action to minimize damage. It is in Israel’s strategic interest to keep up its offensive actions to the north, mainly in Syria. If that action is curtailed, Israel’s national security will be compromised. . . . No one in Israel, and certainly not in the IDF or the Israel Air Force, wants Russia—which until now hasn’t cared much about Israel’s actions—to turn hostile, and Israel needs to do everything to prevent that from happening. Even if that means limiting its actions for the time being. . . . Still, make no mistake: Russia is angry and has to explain its actions to its people. Israel will need to walk a thin line between protecting its own security interests and avoiding a very unwanted clash with Russia.

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More about: Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Russia, Syrian civil war