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On Perspectives & Jerusalem
Israel - Middle East
Friday, February 22, 2013
Alf Cengia

One of my favorite pastimes is browsing through book stores.  For me it's a bit like stepping into Dr. Who's Tardis time machine.  A quick five minutes stretches into a whole hour and a whole hour somehow compresses into five minutes.

My favorite bookshop was left behind in Melbourne when I moved, but I've since discovered that the local Half Price Books is a nice place to spend time in.  Some of the bargains have found places of honor in my library, but not all of them are books written by authors I agree with.

I like to see what the opposition view on a given topic is so that I can measure it with my own understanding.

When I saw a book on the New Testament perspective of Jesus' view on Jerusalem written by an accomplished Anglican minister, I decided to get it as a reference.  Also it came highly recommended by former Bishop of Durham Tom Wright and Wheaton Professor Gary Burge, who are esteemed scholars and contra Zionism.

A summary of the book's fundamental premise is that:

"...Jerusalem has lost whatever theological status it previously possessed. The way the Old Testament ascribes to Jerusalem a special, central and sacred status within the on-going purposes of God is not reaffirmed by the New Testament writers. Instead they see God’s purposes as having moved forward into a new era in which the previous emphasis on the city (as well as on the Land and the Temple) is no longer appropriate. The coming of Jesus has been its undoing...Jesus expressed his true love for Jerusalem not by acceding to its agendas but by denying them. Those who follow in his steps and who truly love Jerusalem may similarly have to resist some of the enticements which this city offers." (pp 319, 326)

Tom Wright affirms that that this "systematic treatment" of the subject right across the New Testament should make Christians take this book seriously.  Yet if the book's "treatment" of problematic passages such as Jeremiah 30, 31; Zec 2 and Acts 1:6-7 is any indication; the only agenda and denial are the author's own perspective of what God "really meant" compared to what God plainly stated.

Apparently, the problem for average lay readers is that they don't posses the keys to Old Testament puzzles (and a significant portion of the NT for that matter).  They lack the specialized training which enables one to understand that - whenever a particular text doesn't comport to a presupposition - there's always an innovative solution around that difficulty.

One solution is to take the iron-clad promises made by God to a specific recipient (Israel) and change that recipient's identity, the nature of the promises and their location (Jerusalem) through clever spiritualization.  Of course, you have to employ fancy concepts like "Fulfillment & Expansion Theology" to get away with it.  Another way is to invent a rule that states that anything you don't like in the OT has to be reaffirmed in the NT - or it just doesn't count.

But if all that is true then what does that say about God's character?

Of that same book, Dr Burge adds that this "correct view of the Jerusalem theme" should affect our biblical theology and our politics regarding Jerusalem today.  Christianity Today published Burge's five books on the Israel and Palestine theme that he suggests people should read. According to Mark Tooley:

"Burge’s book selection for Christianity Today asserts his overall narrative of Israel as an imperialist intrusion on indigenous Palestinians, for which America and especially America’s pro-Israel evangelicals are especially culpable. By telling stories of victimhood by Palestinians, especially the tiny Christian minority, Burge hopes to influence evangelicals towards neutrality or, better yet, pro-Palestinian advocacy."

Burge is dead right about views affecting "theology" and "politics".

He and Christianity Today are influential in shaping Christian perspectives on Israel - one through academic credentials and the other via broad media outreach.  In a nutshell, they advance the basic idea that Christian Zionism is a hindrance to Middle East peace because it influences and skews American policies and strengthens occupier-Israel.

As they see it, their work is to counteract that influence by discrediting Israel and Zionism.

Yet they give too much credit to Zionist influence and none to other factors impacting Israel and the Middle East region.  Neither Zionists nor Israel are twisting the arm of the Islamist extremist or affecting the insurgencies and uprisings in Syria, Egypt and Libya.

Zionists aren't affecting the pending economic collapse of Syria and Egypt - or the economic collapse of Iran.

In an article addressing a number of issues (including Iranian nuclear aspirations) and citing Heinrich Schenker, David Goldman concludes:

"The Muslim world is divided between backward and extensively illiterate countries like Egypt who cannot feed their children, and literate countries like Iran and Turkey where there are few children to feed. Cultures that do not wish to exist cannot be dissuaded from destroying themselves. The best thing one can do for doomed cultures is not to belong to them."

The aftermath of the so-called Arab Spring and the recent events in Egypt and Syria lend weight to that cynical observation.  It has nothing to do with Zionist political interfering or one's modified perspective on the "New Testament Jerusalem".

The same can be said of the recent "peaceful" Iranian interest in North Korea's nuclear tests.  No Zionist twisted the Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's arm to declare that his role was: “To set Israel on fire.”

According to Israel Today; one consequence of the Arab Spring is the ethnic cleansing of Christians in the Middle East:

"In the Israeli Arab town of Nazareth, the proportion of Christians has plunged to about 40 percent, the remainder being Muslims...in two of the holiest cities of Christianity in the Holy Land, the Christians today are a depopulating minority, living in great fear of the Muslim majority in their midst."

During a recent meeting in Nazareth, Greek Orthodox Father Gabriel Naddaf told Victor Mordechai that:

"Nominal Christians from the Nazareth Communist Party have joined with Muslims to persecute Christian believers who wish to serve in the Israel Defense Forces."

My assessment of the "Jerusalem" issue is that certain academics are protecting their traditional theology at the expense of a nation which is struggling to exist in a hostile neighborhood.  At the same time they are naively empowering the intolerant Islamists at the expense of the dwindling Christian population.

Perhaps it's time they changed their perspective on Jerusalem before Christians totally disappear from the region.

About Alf Cengia

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