The Shadow of Christian Zionism

 

As the former professor of Theology and Jewish Studies at Moody Bible Institute and a scholar-in-residence at Jews for Jesus (JFJ), Louis Goldberg’s brand of Christian Zionism is an excellent example of a marriage that should never have taken place.[1] As a dispensationalist, Goldberg distinguishes between God’s purposes for the Jews and his purposes for the Church. In fact, his definition of a messianic Jew is not Jew who believes in Jesus but rather a Christian who happens to be Jewish.[2] It is unsurprising then that Goldberg’s theology of Zionism is an unfortunate mix of Christian fundamentalism, dispensationalism, and missionary-mindedness, all wrapped up in a veneer of Jewishness. The result is a theology and a hermeneutic quite divorced from those of the first-century rabbi Goldberg claims as his own.

In his article, “Whose land is it?”, Goldberg claims that the question of Zionism’s validity is straightforward if one only asks the right question: is the modern State of Israel a fulfillment of the plan of “the Lord of history” or merely a political happenstance?[3] The obvious answer, for Goldberg, is that Israel’s re-emergence was divinely orchestrated. Goldberg roots Israel’s right to the land in Scripture, dismissing any hint that the prophecies of the Hebrew Bible—or even the New Testament—might be of obsolete, tied as they are to events of the past. As a ultra-literalist, someone who reads Scripture futuristically, Goldberg firmly believed that the prophetic ‘predictions’ about Eretz Israel and its people are not tied to a historical past, but rather, to our present and immediate future.[4]

Goldberg’s rational goes something like this: The biblical promises concerning the land, which God gave to the patriarchs (Gen 15:18; 26:3; 35:12) and to Joshua (1:21), are still in effect. The land is and will always be divinely deeded to the Jewish people and the Jewish people alone. Likewise, prophecies like Jeremiah 29:10—where God promises to bring Israel back to the land [from their Babylonian exile]—were fulfilled in the re-creation of the Jewish state. Proof that the Modern State of Israel has God’s backing. Goldberg’s hermeneutic allows him to make four claims about fulfilled prophecy. First, when Jeremiah 31:8 says “Behold, I am bringing them from the north country, and I will gather them from the remote pats of the earth, among them the blind and the lamb, the woman with child and she who is in labor with child, together; A great company, they shall return here,” this passage is a prediction—now fulfilled—of Israel’s modern-day return to the land. Second, he argues that texts like Amos 9:5 or Jeremiah 31:40 foretold the finality of this national return. Third, even the manner of this restoration was prophesied (Ezek 37:7-17). Finally, the precedent of return was provided by scriptural events like the Exodus. Thus, Goldberg concludes that the Modern State of Israel has a Divine, scripturally foretold and substantiated right to the land.[5]

Not only does Goldberg see the land of Israel as unequivocally belonging to the Jewish people, he also sees the West Bank as occupied territory, not occupied by Israel but by the Palestinians. He expresses puzzlement that “pressure has always been exerted on Israel to give up territory for no reason to those who rejected any peace treaty.”[6] He also lays the blame for the failed peace negotiations solely on the shoulders of the Palestinians, who—frustrated by a changing culture and lost identity—reacted with civil-disobedience, organized acts of violence, and intifadas. “On a human level,” Goldberg argues, “the atrocities of the past, and those that continue today end up only in burying the hope for future discussions on “the situation.” …Under all the pressure brought to bear on Israel, God has fought for his people as he did in the ancient world.”[7] He showed marked antipathy towards the Palestinians, and, because of his literalist biblical hermeneutic, selectively choose the biblical promises with which he concerns himself.

As an apocalyptic dispensationalist, Goldberg sees current events as fulfillment of Scripture, signs that the countdown to Armageddon has begun. In his article “Haman, Hitler, and Now Hussein: Another Holocaust?”, Goldberg paints Saddam Hussein and the nations who do not support Israel as “Jew-haters” who are laying the foundation for another holocaust:

… with Israel once more on her ancient soil and enjoying freedom she has not known for 2,500 years, how in the world can we talk about another holocaust? How would nations and leaders ever permit such a situation ever to occur again?” We have to listen to what God has said in His Word and also to what Jewish traditional writings have to say. One Scripture passage declares with jolting clarity: “Behold, I am going to make Jerusalem a cup that causes reeling to all the peoples around; and when the siege is against Jerusalem, it will also be against Judah. And it will come about in that day that I will make Jerusalem a heavy stone for all the peoples; all who lift it will be severely injured. And all the nations of the earth will be gathered against it.[8]

According to Goldberg’s reading of Zechariah 12-14, at least 2.5 million Jews will die in Israel alone, and the horror of it will be like nothing else in Jewish history. He quotes Shlomo Gorden, a former senior Israeli intelligence officer, who said, “We are now entering the long, dark tunnel…we already hear the footsteps of Messiah as we begin our dark experiences!”[9] Only at Israel’s darkest hour will Messiah return to usher in a new age. The irony, as Stephen Sizer aptly points out, is that although Goldberg is a Jewish author, his theology could easily be construed as anti-Semitic. After all, according to him God has ordained a second, far more terrible, holocaust. This is classic Christian Zionism: The Jewish State is only important because its existence furthers Christian goals.

As a key example of a JFJ voice, Goldberg’s theology is disquieting. JFJ justifies Israel’s military activities by claiming biblical precedence and Divine command.[10] Just as God commanded genocide in Canaan as a process of land acquisition, so to the Jewish people have a Divine right and mandate to use whatever force necessary to regain and preserve their land. After all, “to our knowledge, God does not change.”[11] As Louis Goldberg puts it:

To whom does the land belong? Based upon God’s statement to Abraham (Unto they seed will I give this land, Genesis 12:7), and corroborated by the prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures, we can only declare that the land belongs to the people of Israel. Ultimately Israel will have all that was promised in its entirety to Abraham.[12]

The consequences of Goldberg’s theology, and that of the JFJ movement, are profound. Instead of bringing the message of Jesus, the Jewish messiah, to the Christian world, Goldberg brings the poisonous message of Christian Zionism to a Jewish audience. This Christianity is in antithesis of Jesus’ message to love one’s neighbor, to worry only about the present and to do good to those who hurt you. Goldberg’s message is that the ends justify the means, and both the Palestinians and the Jews are inevitable fatalities in a prophetically foretold, Divine drama they are helpless to prevent. Goldberg’s dispensationalist position leaves him wide open to criticism by people like Stephen Sizer, who argue that Christian Zionism “…errs most profoundly because it fails to appreciate the relationship between the Old and New Covenants and the ways in which the latter completes, fulfills and annuls the former.”[13] Yet neither Goldberg’s literalist, Christian Zionist hermeneutic nor Sizer’s anti-Zionist, spiritualistic hermeneutic are reflective of Messianic Judaism, or organizations like the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations (UMJC) or First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ).[14]

As a follower of the Jewish rabbi from Galilee, Goldberg was in a perfect position to bring Jesus’ message of love, forgiveness, peace and reconciliation to a modern world desperately in need of it. Unfortunately, he instead took Christian Zionism and sold as somehow Jewish. Today, there is an increasing movement to distance Judaism, its ethical principles and moral values, from Zionism.[15] A movement away from the Zionism of figures like Louis Goldberg is crucial for the Christian, and especially the Messianic-Jewish community. As a movement that firmly situates itself in Judaism and the Hebrew Bible, Messianic Jews must abandon the vestiges of dispensationalism, and its literalist hermeneutic, and begin again.[16]

[1] Jews for Jesus, founded in September 1973, is a Messianic evangelical mission agency dedicated to converting Jews to Christianity and faith in Jesus as Messiah.

[2] Yaakov Ariel, Evangelizing the Chosen People: Missions to the Jews in America 1880-2000 (Chapel Hill, NC.: The University of North Carolina Press, 2003), 236.

[3] Louis Goldberg, ‘Whose Land Is It?,’ Issues 4.2.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Goldberg, “Whose Land?”

[7] Goldberg, “Whose Land?”

[8] Louis Goldberg, “Haman, Hitler, and Now Hussein — Another Holocaust? (January 1, 1992), http://www.jewsforjesus.org/publications/issues/8_1/hussein

[9] Goldberg, ‘Haman, Hitler, and Now Hussein’.

[10] Ibid., 152.

[11] ‘Zionism.html’ Jews for Jesus FAQ, http://www.jewsforjesus.org

[12] Louis Goldberg, ‘Whose Land Is It?,’ Issues 4.2.

[13] Stephen Sizer, “An Alternative Theology of the Holy Land: A Critique of Christian Zionism,” The Churchman (June 1999): pp?. Sizer, “Christian Zionism: Justifying Apartheid in the Name of God,” 151. http://churchsociety.org/docs/churchman/115/Cman_115_2_Sizer.pdf

[14] http://www.ffoz.org; http://www.umjc.org

[15] Alan Hart, “Judaism and Zionism: A Divorce in the Making…?” http://www.alanhart.net/judaism-and-zionism-a-divorce-in-the-making/ See also the work of Daniel Boyarin, like Radical Jew and The Jewish Gospels

[16] Lisa Loden, “Where Do We Begin? The hermeneutical Questions and Their Effect on the Theology of the land,” The Land Cries Out (eds. Salim J. Munayer and Lisa Loden; Eugene, Oregon: Cascade, 2012), 40-62.

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