The 20th Century Revival of Christian Zionism

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In the early 20th Century, following the devastating toll of the 'Great War', and then the 'Great Depression', American fundamentalism became preoccupied with refuting theological liberalism and consequently interest in Zionism appears to have waned.

In a detailed history of the rise of 20th Century American fundamentalism prior to 1970, Erling Jorstad traces the right wing, anti-modernist, anti-communist and xenophobic agenda of the movement. There is significantly, however, no reference to Israel.240 Similarly, in George Marsden's historical overview of the rise of fundamentalism and evangelicalism in America between 1870-1930, he argues that despite some evidence of anti-Semitism, in the early 20th Century there seems to have been little interest in contemporary Israel.241

During the 1940's both prior to and after the founding of the state of Israel, liberal Protestant Christians such as Paul Tillich, William Albright and Reinhold Niebuhr were the principle allies of Israel, founding the Christian Council on Palestine in 1942. Niebuhr, as Professor of Social Ethics at Union Theological Seminary defended his Zionism on pragmatic grounds rather than religious ones in an article for The Nation in 1941. Persecution in Europe combined with restrictive immigration laws in America led Niebuhr to recognise the 'moral right' of the Jews to Palestine in order to survive as a nation.242 In 1946 he testified before the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry in Washington on behalf of the Christian Council on Palestine. While acknowledging the conflicting rights of Arabs and Jews in Palestine, he argued,

The fact however that the Arabs have a vast hinterland in the Middle East, and the fact that the Jews have nowhere to go, establishes the relative justice of their claims and of their cause... Arab sovereignty over a portion of the debated territory must undoubtedly be sacrificed for the sake of establishing a world Jewish homeland.243

Some notable dispensational leaders did, however, maintain a faithful and vocal commitment to an imminent realisation of the Zionist dream. Dr M. R. DeHaan, for example, founder of the Radio Bible Class World-wide Gospel Broadcast, who was regularly heard via over 600 radio stations world-wide, published his studies in the Book of Daniel in 1947. In a chapter entitled, 'The Jews and Palestine' he interprets the events before and after the Balfour Declaration in the light of Abrahamic Covenant and Belshazzar's "Handwriting on the Wall" from Daniel 5. His racist attitude toward the indigenous Christian and Moslem Palestinians is typical of Christian Zionists yet an inevitable consequence of his dispensational presuppositions.

Now the land of Palestine is the Holy Land because in His eternal purposes and program, God has set it aside for the one purpose of occupation by his peculiar people, the descendants of Jacob, and because it is God's Holy Land, anyone who tampers with it and seeks to separate its people from their possession comes under the judgment of God. This is the record of history...

Belshazzar, the king, stretched forth his hand and touched the holy things of God, the vessels that had been taken from the holy Temple in Jerusalem in the land of Judah. As a result, God brought swift and speedy judgment upon the nation and Babylon fell and came to a dismal end. Today the same thing is still true in principle, and the Holy Land, that little parcel of land... Is still the key to the world's problems. When the nation of that land to whom God has promised it by covenant is given full and free possession of the land, then only will the nations be at rest and the peace for which men strive shall finally be realised.

In recent years, there has been much indication of the fact that this is about to be consummated, and we believe we are sat the very threshold of that glorious time when Israel shall be fully restored top the land again and the millennial rest will be ushered in by the coming of the Messiah. Many Bible students were quite certain some twenty or twenty-five years ago that we had just about reached that period in history when Israel would be restored to the land and it would be a signal for the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a well-known fact established in history that when the tide of war was turning against the Allies in World War 1, it was a humble modest Jewish chemist, Dr. Chaim Weitzman, now world famous and very much in the news again, who came forward in the zero hour of the apparent defeat of the Allies with the formula for the most powerful explosive ever discovered up to that time, T.N.T., and donated the discovery to his beloved country, Britain, and that turned the tide of victory for the Allies... Then it was that Lord Balfour announced that in the event of victory over the enemy, the land of Palestine would be set aside and given to Israel as her national homeland. Well, you remember the war ended, and the Balfour declaration gave Britain the mandate over the entire land of Palestine, the Holy Land. Here we believe was the golden opportunity. She had it in her power and her right to clear the land of its unlawful possessors and make it exclusively the homeland for God's scattered people. However, for reasons of expediency or otherwise, this dream, this promise was never fully realized... If only the nations had been able to see their way clear to keep their promise to set aside the Holy Land as a national refuge and return it again to their rightful possessors to whom God had promised it, God might have raised many, many more of the see of Jacob like Dr. Weitzman to bring blessing and help to the nations of the world... And so the awful crisis continues and the unrest in the land is gaining by leaps and bounds.244

The combination of the founding of the state of Israel in 1948, the capture of Jerusalem and the West Bank in 1967, and the defeat on both occasions of the combined Arab armies, increasingly came to be seen as significant fulfilment's of biblical prophecy by a new generation of American and European dispensational fundamentalists.

Coincidentally, the New Scofield Reference Bible, a revision of the 1917 version, edited by Dr. E. Schuyler English and a team of dispensationalists including John F. Walvoord, was published in 1967 which, given its timing, inevitably fuelled greater interest in Christian Zionism.245 Ironically, Schuyler English had edited a young person's version of the Scofield Bible, entitled the Holy Bible, Pilgrim Edition, some twenty years earlier, in 1948.246 It is interesting to note that the popular edition of the Scofield Reference Bible was published in 1917 coinciding with the Balfour Declaration and in the words of Lord Cecil, 'the rebirth of a nation'247; the youth edition of Scofield with the War of Independence in 1948; and the 'new' edition of Scofield with the occupation of Jerusalem and the West Bank in 1967.

The 1967 'Six Day War' marked a significant watershed for evangelical Christian interest in Israel and Zionism. With the annexation of the West Bank Liberal Protestants and organisations such as the World Council of Churches increasingly distanced themselves from Zionism, whereas the same events fuelled enthusiasm among fundamentalists for Israel.248 For example, Jerry Falwell did not begin to speak about modern-day Israel until after Israel's 1967 military victory.

Falwell changed completely. He entered into politics and became an avid supporter of the Zionist State... the stunning Israeli victory made a big impact not only on Falwell, but on a lot of Americans... Remember that in 1967, the United States was mired in the Vietnam war. Many felt a sense of defeat, helplessness and discouragement. As Americans we were made acutely aware of our own diminished authority, of no longer being able to police the world or perhaps even our own neighbourhoods... Many Americans, including Falwell, turned worshipful glances toward Israel, which they viewed as militarily strong and invincible. They gave their unstinting approval to the Israeli take-over of Arab lands because they perceived this conquest as power and righteousness... Macho or muscular Christians such as Falwell credited Israeli General Moshe Dayan with this victory over Arab forces and termed him the Miracle Man of the Age, and the Pentagon invited him to Vietnam and tell us how to win the war.249

Billy Graham's father-in-law, Nelson Bell, the editor of the prestigious and authoritative mouthpiece of conservative Evangelicalism, Christianity Today, appeared to express the sentiments of many American Evangelicals when, in an editorial in 1967 he wrote,

That for the first time in more than 2,000 years Jerusalem is now completely in the hands of the Jews gives a student of the Bible a thrill and a renewed faith in the accuracy and validity of the Bible. 250

The most influential of all fundamentalist Christian Zionists of the 20th century is undoubtedly Hal Lindsey. He has been described by Time Magazine as 'The Jeremiah for this Generation', and by his own publisher as 'The Father of the Modern-Day Bible Prophecy Movement.'251 Lindsey is a prolific writer, with at least eighteen books dealing directly or indirectly with the End Times, his own radio and television programmes, seminars, Holy Land Tours, and by subscription, his monthly Countdown Magazine and International Intelligence Briefing.

Lindsey's most influential book, The Late Great Planet Earth has been described by the New York Times as the '#1 Non-fiction Bestseller of the Decade.' It has gone through more than 100 printings with sales, by 1993, in excess of 18 million in English, with a further 30 million copies in 31 foreign editions.252 Despite dramatic changes in the world since its publication in 1970, most significantly, it remains in print in its original un-revised form. Lindsey has subsequently become a consultant on Middle Eastern affairs to both the Pentagon and Israeli Government.253

This particular kind of reading of history, coloured by a literal exegesis of selected biblical scriptures, is dualistic, dogmatic, triumphalist, apocalyptic and confrontational. Lindsey's last but one book, The Final Battle, includes the statement on the cover "Never before, in one book, has there been such a complete and detailed look at the events leading up to 'The Battle of Armageddon.'"254

Lindsey confidently asserts that the world is degenerating and that the forces of evil manifest in godless Communism and militant Islam are the real enemies of Israel. He describes in detail the events leading to the great battle at Megiddo between the massive Russian, Chinese and African armies that will attempt but fail to destroy Israel. He and others like Louis Goldberg, a professor of Theology and Jewish Studies at the Moody Bible Institute, offer detailed illustrated plans ostensibly showing future military movements of armies and naval convoys leading up to the battle of Armageddon.255 These will merely hasten the return of Jesus Christ as King of the Jews who will rule over the other nations from the rebuilt Jewish temple on the site of the destroyed Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.256

Jerusalem will be the spiritual centre of the entire world... all people of the earth will come annually to worship Jesus who will rule there.257

One of the reasons fundamentalists appear so enthusiastic about such a terrible scenario may have to do with their hope of the secret rapture. Just before the final conflagration they believe Jesus will,

...'rapture' true Christians into the upper air, while the rest of humankind, was being slaughtered below. 144,000 Jews would bow down before Jesus and be saved, but the rest of Jewry would perish in the mother of all holocausts.258

The Moody Bible Institute and Dallas Theological Seminary have played no small part in promoting a Fundamentalist and Zionist eschatology among thousands of American ministers and missionaries.259 Charles Dyer, a professor of Bible exposition at Dallas even includes photographs allegedly showing Saddam Hussein's reconstruction of Babylon to the same specifications and splendour as Nebuchadnezzar.260 Dyer warns that this is evidence that Hussein plans to attempt to repeat Nebuchadnezzar's conquest of Israel, the only Arab ever to have done so. 'The Middle East is the world's time bomb, and Babylon is the fuse that will ignite the events of the end times.'261

An indication of how seriously fundamentalists take the military aspect of their apocalyptic scenario can be seen from the content of the itinerary used by Jerry Falwell in his Friendship Tour to Israel in 1983. It included meetings with top Israeli government and military officials and an,

On-site tour of modern Israeli battlefields... Official visit to an Israeli defence installation... strategic military positions, plus experience first hand the battle Israel faces as a nation.262

The demise of the Soviet Union, the rise of militant Islam, the success of the Allies in the Gulf War, and the approaching third millennium have only fuelled more imaginative speculations among fundamentalists, while the same anti-Arab prejudices and Orientalist stereotypes persist.

Long ago the psalmist predicted the final mad attempt of the confederated Arab armies to destroy the nation of Israel... The Palestinians are determined to trouble the world until they repossess what they feel is their land. The Arab nations consider it a matter of racial honour to destroy the State of Israel. Islam considers it a sacred mission of religious honour to recapture Old Jerusalem.263

Following the Gulf War, the Israeli Ministry of Tourism hired the Fundamentalist musician Pat Boon to promote pilgrimages in North America through a series of costly advertisements in Evangelical journals and on television. According to Wagner there are a number of Evangelical Christian Zionist leaders even more right wing than Falwell and Robertson, who in the 1980's had direct access to Reagan and the White House.264 These include Terry Risenhoover and Doug Kreiger who were very influential in gathering American support for the

Jewish extremist organisation, the Temple Mount Faithful.265 These particular Christian and Jewish Zionists believe that the Moslem Dome of the Rock must be destroyed and the Third Jewish Temple built in order to ensure the return of Jesus.266

To such Fundamentalists the existence of a Palestinian Christian church is either ignored completely, or maligned as theologically Liberal and spiritually dead, an irrelevancy in the inexorable movement of world history leading to the imminent return of the Jewish Messiah. Basilea Schlink, for example, berates the Palestinian Intifada as 'terrorism aimed solely at destroying Israel.'267 Her uncompromising views are typical of many other Zionists who elevate the State of Israel to a privileged status far above any human sanction or criticism.

Anyone who disputes Israel's right to the land of Canaan is actually opposing God and his holy covenant with the Patriarchs. He is striving against sacred, inviolable words and promises of God, which He has sworn to keep.268

The founding of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem in 1980 represents in some senses the coming of age of Christian Zionism as a high profile concerted international movement. The ICEJ was opened with the express intention of bringing comfort and support to the Jewish people and the State of Israel. It was built at a time when other governmental embassies were being moved out of Jerusalem to Tel Aviv in protest at Israel's occupation of East Jerusalem. Their promotional material includes the following explanation.

When the vision of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem was first given it was expressed in the following concerns; to care for the Jewish people, especially for the newborn State of Israel which includes standing up for the Jews when they are attacked or discriminated against, and for Israel to live in peace and security to care that the world wide body of Christ will be rightly related to Israel in comfort, love and prayer for her well-being, to care for the nations whose destinies will be increasingly linked to the way in which they relate to Israel, the care and preparation for the coming of the Lord.269

Among other things the work of the ICEJ specifically includes promoting Zionist pilgrimages, and imposing a Zionist agenda on pilgrimage itineraries. ICEJ are not alone in offering explicit support for Israel. Doug Kreiger, an evangelical fundamentalist listed over 250 pro-Israel evangelical organisations operating in America and founded between 1980-1985.270

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