Standing With Israel
A Note From Myles
An important part of the ministry of Beth Shalom is raising believer’s awareness of the challenges facing the state of Israel. It is our heart’s desire to see Christian leaders become “watchmen on the walls of Jerusalem.” We are grateful to Jamie Glazov of FrontPageMagazine for his permission to reprint the following interview. It confirms what we have been proclaiming for years, that Jews and Christians have a shared destiny that is unfolding before our eyes.
Standing With Israel
By Jamie Glazov
FrontPageMagazine.com | May 31, 2006
Frontpage Interview’s guest today is David Brog, a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School. He practiced corporate law in Philadelphia and Israel. He worked on Capitol Hill for seven years, rising to be chief of staff to U.S. Senator Arlen Specter and staff director of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He is the author of the new book Standing With Israel, an examination of evangelical Christian support for Israel.
FP: David Brog, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
Brog: Thank you very much for having me.
FP: What inspired you to write this book?
Brog: My curiosity about the topic of Christian Zionism stemmed from my years working on Capitol Hill. During this period, I was privileged to meet a number of Christian Zionists who impressed me by their devotion to Israel and their apparent love for the Jewish people. If there is one great theme to Jewish history, it is our lonely walk through the centuries. The Jews have known no great allies, no stalwart friends – we have lived and died facing a hostile world alone. Thus I found it intriguing to think that, finally, we had some very big friends standing on our side.
Yet the media told me not to get my hopes up. Television, newspapers and magazines all informed me that Christian Zionists were not real friends of the Jews, but enemies in disguise who support Israel out of a sick desire to see the Jews killed or converted at the End of Days. I started researching this book in a simple quest to discover the truth, to see if these purported friends were what they claimed to be.
What I learned in the course of my research far surpassed what I had expected to find. I became convinced that the evangelical Christians who support Israel today are nothing less than the theological heirs of the religious righteous Gentiles who sought to save Jews from the Holocaust. I decided that this was a story that needed to be told.
FP: Tell us what Christian Zionism is. Why do certain evangelicals support Israel so strongly?
Brog: “Christian Zionism” is a devotion to Israel as a Jewish state that is widespread and growing in the Christian world. And this devotion to Israel is the direct result of Christian theology. These theological roots come as a surprise to many, since Christian theology has typically not been very friendly to the Jews or their dreams of a state in their ancient homeland. But during the course of the 20th century there was a revolution in Christian theology towards the Jews which has dramatically changed the way that many Christians feel towards the Jewish people in general and Israel in particular.
To briefly summarize, for most of Christian history the dominant Christian theology towards the Jews was “replacement theology,” which held that when the Jews rejected Jesus as their messiah, God rejected the Jews as his chosen people. The Church replaced the Jews as the “Israel” to whom so much is promised in the Bible. Once the Jews were thus removed from God’s love, the door was opened to man’s hate. And this was a door through which generation after generation of Christians walked.
But ever since the Reformation, there have been some small groups of Protestants who have rejected replacement theology and who believe – as Jews do – that the word “Israel” in the Bible means the Jews. Under this reading, the Jews are still the chosen people, they are still in covenant with and beloved by God, and they are still the rightful heirs of the land of Israel. Christians who read their Bible this way tend to reject anti-Semitism and embrace both the Jewish people and their national aspirations in Israel.
In early twentieth century America, the nascent fundamentalist movement embraced this minority view and rejected replacement theology. As the fundamentalist movement grew and spread throughout America, the number of adherents of this positive theology towards the Jews grew as well, to the point that it is the ascendant strain of American Christianity today. Thus fundamentalist/evangelical support for Israel is not a trend, fad, or public relations ploy – it is a bedrock religious belief. It is hard to find support for Israel that is more deeply rooted.
It is also important to add that, after the Holocaust, the Roman Catholic Church and most mainline Protestant denominations recognized the danger of replacement theology and formally rejected it. But replacement theology under new names and guises is still out there, and it still does theological combat with the more Judeo-centric interpretation that drives the Christian Zionists.
FP: What exactly does it mean that the Jews are God’s “chosen” people? And if they are the “rightful” heirs to the land of Israel, then what does this mean exactly in terms of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the different possible solutions, peace formulas etc? What I mean here is that, according to those who believe in these religious themes, is there something that God Himself is actually against?
Brog:Religious concepts can be interpreted and applied in myriad different ways. Thus devout Jews reading the same Torah can come to radically different conclusions about the proper course for the State of Israel. Some orthodox Jews are anti-Zionist and believe that the State of Israel should not exist until the Messiah comes. Others are Zionists but believe that the positive commandment to save lives takes priority over the commandment to possess the Land and would therefore support certain territorial concessions. Others are territorial maximalists and do not want to give up one inch.
The same diversity of views can be found among evangelical Christians. While the majority of Christian Zionists – like the majority of Orthodox Jews – oppose territorial concessions by Israel, the extent of this opposition varies. Some Christians emphasize the commandment to possess the Land and would likely oppose territorial concessions under any circumstance. But most recognize competing theological imperatives and express a more conditional opposition. They tend argue that territorial concessions are a mistake because of present circumstances – i.e. Arafat was not a real partner for peace, and Hamas is certainly not a partner for peace. Under more auspicious circumstances, you would likely see a different reaction.
FP: Thank you. But sorry, once again, what exactly does it mean that the Jews are God’s “chosen” people? Does God actually choose certain people over others in terms of them being his “favorites” etc?
Brog: The term “chosen people” has been among the most misunderstood and mischaracterized in the history of the Western world. It is often assumed that the Jews who believe themselves to be the chosen people actually think that they are God’s favorites, better than others, a superior race. This simply isn’t true. On the contrary, it’s hard to find people who reject the idea of a superior race more strongly than do the Jews.
The Jewish concept of being “chosen” simply means that God chose the Jews as the people through which he would teach the world. By giving the Jews His laws and thus instructing the Jews how to live, God hoped to create an example – a light unto the nations – that would persuade all of humanity to likewise live in accordance with God’s laws. Jews do not believe that God chose us because we are somehow better or smarter than anyone else – this would have defeated His purpose of instructing all of humanity. According to Jewish lore, the only thing that distinguished us from the other nations was our willingness to engage in the experiment. As we Jews often joke, God might have had an easier time of it had he chosen someone else for this task.
FP: Why do many Jews dislike/fear Christian Zionists?
Brog: The long sweep of Jewish history has taught Jews to fear robust Christianity. For almost two thousand years, the Church was responsible for a long series of anti-Semitic atrocities from the Crusades to the Inquisitions to the countless Easter Day pogroms. And during these difficult centuries, those claiming to be the most devoted Christians were typically the ones leading the charge against the Jews. So Jews learned to equate zealous Christianity with mortal danger. This lesson is so ingrained in the Jewish psyche that it will not easily be removed.
What many Jews fail to realize, however, is that there has been an epochal shift in Christian theology towards the Jews. As described above, those Christians who taught replacement theology and persecuted Jews have, in America, been eclipsed by Christians who embrace the Jews as the elect of God. Along with this shift of Christian theology, there has been a concomitant shift in the effect that devotion to this theology has on the believer. Thus the ancient lesson has been turned on its head. In America today, the more robust the Christian, the more likely they are to embrace the Jews and their State of Israel.
FP: If these Christians who embrace the Jews are Christians, then they believe in Jesus being the Messiah, a concept that Jews reject. How do Christians reconcile the Jews’ rejection of Jesus and their (the Christians’) simultaneous embrace of the Jews?
Brog: It’s possible to love and respect people even if you have a theological difference with them. Christian Zionists tend to view Jews the same way that a newly orthodox Jew views his secular parents. He loves his parents and honors them in accordance with the Fifth Commandment. But at the same time he disagrees with them theologically, wishes that they would embrace his religious views, and won’t eat off of their china. The theological differences are real and important, but they are overshadowed by love.
In addition, it’s important to note that Christian Zionism has been greatly influenced by dispensationalism, a theology which has reconciled the ongoing election of the Jews with their rejection of Jesus. Dispensationalists believe that God works with mankind through different frameworks or “dispensations.” When humanity fails a certain test – such as Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden or all of humanity at the time of Noah – God reacts by starting a new dispensation. When the Jews failed to recognize Jesus as Messiah, God stopped his prophetic time clock, moved Israel offstage, and began a new dispensation in which he worked through the Church to instruct humanity. But once the Church has fulfilled its role, God will start his time clock again and return to his original plan of instructing humanity through the Jews. The benefit of this theology is that election ceases to be a zero-sum game – both the Jews and the Church can be God’s elect, and each has a central role to play in God’s plan for humanity.
FP: Are we at the moment witnessing the beginning of a Christian/Jewish reconciliation?
Brog: Absolutely. And it’s about time.
Christianity, of course, started out as a form of Judaism. None of the early Christians believed they were starting a new religion. They simply thought that they were adapting Judaism to their belief that the Jewish messiah had come. They expected converts to their faith to be circumcised and to observe the Jewish Sabbath and dietary laws. But, as described above, the nascent Church soon embraced a theology toward the Jews – replacement theology – which created a great chasm between Jews and Christians and lead to centuries of horrific anti-Semitism.
Today, with the growing rejection of replacement theology in the Christian world, the door is finally open to a Christian-Jewish reconciliation. It will take the Jews some time to walk through the door. After all, for so many centuries what lurked on the other side was anything but a warm embrace. But as trust continues to replace fear, the pace of reconciliation will quicken. With mutual respect, Jews and Christians will once again stress everything we share – which is enormous – rather than continuing to focus on what separates us.
World events are speeding this reconciliation. There is nothing like a shared enemy to make people realize how very much they have in common. The greatest external threat to both Jews and Christians today is from radical Islamic terror. And there is a wide gulf that separates Jews and Christians from these radical Muslims who share none of our basic morals or values. As we stand side by side in defense of Israel, the United States and Judeo-Christian civilization, Jews and Christians will turn towards one another and realize that what separates us is very small indeed.
FP: David Brog, thank you for joining us.
Brog: It’s been a pleasure. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to address this important topic.