Thursday, 19 January 2006

Evangelicals, Zionism and the holy land

One of the strangest and most unsettling aspects of contemporary religion is the support of Zionism by conservative evangelical Christians. This evangelical obsession with Zion demands a theological response; and my friend Kim Fabricius (who also posts at Connexions) offers the following critique:

First, in his ecological/geographical study Jesus a Jewish Galilean, Sean Freyne argues that, while affirming the special place of Israel in God’s providence, Jesus nevertheless had a permeable understanding of Jewish identity and stoutly rejected the holy war ideology of the Hasmoneans. Freyne also suggests (a) that Jesus’ interest “was in the creator God rather than in the God of Sinai and the Exodus, and that his lifestyle was based more on the story of Abraham than on that of Moses”; and (b) that these emphases “are very much in line with Isaiah’s trajectory also and reflect the outlook which supports the servant’s mission and values.”

Perhaps more importantly still, with respect to the primitive church, N. T. Wright observes: “The Land no longer functioned as the key symbol of the geographical identity of the people of God, and that for an obvious reason: if the new community consisted of Jew, Greek, barbarian alike, there was no sense in which one piece of territory could possess more significance than another. At no point in this early period do we find Christians eager to define or defend a ‘holy land’.... [T]he world, I suggest, is the new Land.”

The conclusion I draw is this: that for Christians “the Land” is otiose as a literal theological category; like the Temple, it can only function typologically. In which case the evangelical obsession with Zion is rather like a man frenetically trying to keep a candle burning in broad daylight.

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