Review of Robert Nicholson, “Evangelicals and Israel”

The author is intelligent, knowledgeable, and thoughtful–but also generally wrong: http://mosaicmagazine.com/essay/2013/10/evangelicals-and-israel/?utm_source=share&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=share-via-email

I won’t go into great detail, but here are just a few points:

1) Eschatology is a BIG deal for evangelicals. In my many years of encounters, conversations, bull-sessions, and scholarly exchange with evangelical Christians, I cannot remember many times of serious interchange when the subject of eschatology did not come up. Nicholson is right that evangelicals do not agree on the details, but wrong when he downplays the importance of eschatology. In fact, I would go so far as to say that evangelicals are obsessed with both end times (all it takes is a cursory google search to see this), and that’s why evangelicals don’t always agree. In any case, in almost every scenario, Jews do not fare well. The “voluntary” conversion that Nicholson identifies is also generally accompanied (no matter which scenario) by the mass death and slaughter of the vast majority of the Jewish population. In fact, those Christian end time images of genocide (which one also finds in some Catholic depictions) have inspired antisemites for centuries, including the Nazis.

While eschatology may say nothing about the actual future, it does say something about the ways in which some Christians view Jews–and it’s not good. It says that Jews are not worthy of life in the same way that believing Christians are worthy of life. It implies, in essence, that Jews are somewhat less than human. To be fair, the view of Jews as sub-human (which the Nazis glorified) also applies to members of other faiths and to agnostics and atheists,* but Christians have had a special relationship to, and history with, Jews. For that reason, the symbolism and language of eschatological discourse and the implied status of Jews as sub-human means that Christian-Jewish relations are fraught with particular dangers and risks.

The relentless drive to convert Jews to Christianity, which characterizes most evangelicals, also presumes that Jewish practice and belief without Jesus Christ are insufficient for full human status.

2) Christian evangelical anti-Zionism is not simply a left-wing phenomenon. The author does not discuss the conservative Christians who hold disturbing views on Jews and Judaism and oppose the state of Israel. This is nothing new and has existed for a long time.

3) Since the topic of Christian Zionism, particularly CUFI (Christians United for Israel and John Hagee), has come up in many Jewish communities, I have warned that the worm will turn. There may be a substantial number of Christian Zionists today, but many of their ancestral co-religionists persecuted Jews and opposed the state of Israel. A movement which owes much of its theology to Martin Luther and other antisemites cannot just shed its inheritance in a decade or two without a serious discussion and eventual confession. And I have not seen that take place–not even remotely. Until I do and until enough time passes afterwards, I do not think that Jews should place much faith in alliances with Christian Zionists.

What’s more likely to happen is that Christian Zionists will eventually perceive Jews as intransigent and difficult because Jews are not willing to convert. Then, when their frustration reaches a tipping point, these same Christian Zionists will turn on Jews. That’s what I think is happening now. It’s not a question of “liberal” (whatever that means) evangelicals, but rather the inevitable reemergence of hatred and prejudice that has always sat lurking just beneath the surface.

This does not mean that I am opposed to conversations (which I still relish) or even to occasional alliances on very specific issues of mutual interest. I remain deeply committed to Jewish-Christian dialog, especially to the interfaith study of biblical texts, the history of Jewish-Christian relations, and theological reflection. However,it does mean that we Jews need to be clear-headed and honest about our interlocutors. The naivete, or perhaps willful ignorance, of many in the Jewish community (especially the organized Jewish community) is an even greater danger than the antisemitism of many Christians. If we Jews were more self-aware and sober in our understanding of the evangelical point of view, I would feel a lot more comfortable about Jewish-Christian relations on Israel.

And, by the way, I would have much to say that is critical of the mainline Christian community as well (especially their siding with Palestinians and their reflexive criticism of all Israeli policy), but they do not currently seem to present the same set of problems for leaders in the organized Jewish community that Christian evangelicals do. In addition, we Jews will have to confront our own prejudices and assumptions about all Christians, including evangelicals.

This article by Robert Nicholson has the potential to further cloud the minds of many in the Jewish community and lead them astray in a time of anxiety. In my view, especially when it comes to Israel, we Jews are on our own, and the sooner we realize it, the better off we’ll be. Hope, if I dare pronounce that word, comes from a survival instinct that has guided our community for over three thousand years and from the realization that resilience is part of our spiritual makeup.

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DR. LAURENCE H. KANT (LARRY KANT), MYSTIC SCHOLAR: Engaged Mysticism and Scholarship in the Pursuit of Wisdom; Discovering meaning in every issue and facet of life; Integrating scholarship, spirituality, mysticism, poetry, community, economics, and politics seamlessly. Historian of Religion: Ph.D., Yale University, 1993 (Department of Religious Studies); Exchange Scholar, Harvard University, Rabbinics, 1983-84; M.A., 1982, Yale, 1982 (Department of Religious Studies); M.T.S., Harvard Divinity School, 1981; B.A., Classics (Greek and Latin), Tufts University, 1978; Wayland High School (Wayland, MA), 1974. Served on the faculty of Cornell University (Ithaca, NY), York University (Toronto), and Lexington Theological Seminary (Lexington, KY). Works in many languages: Ancient Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Aramaic, Syriac, English, French, Italian, German, Modern Greek (some Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish). Holder of numerous honors and awards, including The Rome Prize in Classics (Prix de Rome) and Fellow of the American Academy of Rome.
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One Response to “Review of Robert Nicholson, “Evangelicals and Israel””

  1. Avatar We Jews says:

    We have much more to worry about from our own side of the fence than the Christian Zionists. As I’ve said previously:

    “When your core belief structure is essentially the DNC platform (as it is for such a large majority of American Jews), eventually Torah becomes not just extraneous primitiveness but more invidious hetero-normative white-privileged hate-speech. Even the most effusive Reform/Conservative hand-waving won’t change the basic ‘rethugnikkkan-ness’ of the text. Most of these people’s kids won’t want to be tied to Judaism (whether the parents are intermarried or not) because it’ll be so unacceptable in polite society. Intermarriage is just a point in the cascade of actions leading to the end of an association with one’s ethno-religious group. However, people start this cascade because their primary metaphysical framework is not Torah or even ‘Yiddishe Seykhel’. We didn’t need the Shabtai Tzvi people, and we don’t need these guys. The answer is not to debase ourselves and our religion at the altar of coastal / European morality, but rather to let them go. They may not accept that they are ‘gone’ yet, but let’s see how many grandkids they have, let alone how many stay Jewish.”

    That said: Christian Zionists definitely notice the preponderant worldview of Jews is secular liberalism and not Torah-based morality. Indeed they notice that Jews often reject parts of the Torah that prevailing social values deem ‘untoward’ – such as Vayikrah 18… Two of my very good friends are evangelicals and are always expressing interest in understanding Judaism. They have never tried to convert me and indeed celebrated my girlfriend’s conversion to Judaism (she is now my wife). Yet I am constantly barraged on facebook by my Jewish friends’ criticisms of Israel. Suffice it to say I am much more worried about my lunatic brethren than the outsiders (Josephus might’ve said the same – and isn’t there nothing new under the sun?)

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