At the very end of April I wrote a positive review of the recently-released documentary, “With God On Our Side.” This film is, I believe, a much-needed critique of Christian Zionism, the school of thought which lends uncritical support for Jewish Zionism on alleged theological grounds. It’s therefore no surprise that some Christian Zionists and dispensationalists have already denounced this film.
One person who has chosen to slam this film is Jan Markell, known in certain Christian circles as a pioneer in the modern Messianic movement. Jan is the author of eight books and the host of “Understanding the Times,” a national talk radio show heard throughout the US on Christian radio stations. In 1975 she launched into ministry with “Jews for Jesus,” and much of her ministry has focused on Israel ever since. In 1982 she founded Olive Tree Ministries in Maple Grove, Minnesota (a suburb of Minneapolis/Saint Paul), a ministry she continues to lead.
Last month Jan wrote her own review of “With God On Our Side,” which I would like to interact with in this post. Her review is titled “Whose Side Is God On?” It was published on her site four days after the film’s release (on April 8, 2010), although her review contains no evidence that she had viewed the film by that time. In fact, she concludes her review by urging her readers not to see it either. It’s difficult to be objective when taking such a stance, but the reader may judge here whether or not her review is fair and responsible. For the sake of clarity, Jan’s words will be in RED font, and my remarks and interaction will be in BLACK font:
JAN: Today, one of the greatest seductions is that there could be world peace if only the Palestinians had a homeland. So this month, a new film was launched titled “With God On Our Side.” It is aimed at changing the end-time views of evangelicals and the theology that says the Jews are God’s chosen people and have a divine right to the land of Israel.
Praise God that these theological questions are being raised. Many evangelicals have indeed swallowed these lines for years without really giving them much thought. Who, in fact, does the New Testament affirm as God’s chosen people? For what purpose are God’s people chosen, and can unbelieving Jews possibly carry out such a calling? What exactly does the NT have to say about the land of Israel? More on these things in future posts… By the way, I don’t know anyone who believes that world peace will be achieved by granting a homeland to the Palestinians. Let’s mark this as exaggeration #1.
JAN: Porter Speakman, the movie’s producer, explains that there is a biblical alternative for Christians who want to love and support the people of Israel. He says there is a theology that doesn’t favor one people group over another but instead promotes peace and reconciliation for both Jews and Palestinians. That would be terrific if Palestinian leadership wanted peace with Israel. They don’t. They want a one-state solution and the destruction of Israel. So whatever theology Speakman refers to is bogus.
The actions and words of Palestinian leaders, one way or another, have no bearing on what is declared in Scripture. Palestinian leaders can say what they want, but the truth of Scripture still stands. Or would Jan have us believe that the collective voice of Palestinian leadership carries more authority than the Bible, in terms of how we relate to the people living in the Middle East? This film, incidentally, does not hold the Palestinian leaders in any particularly high regard, though it does advocate for the oppressed and suffering among the Palestinian people, a concern which Scripture certainly holds up as a priority. So, Palestinian leadership aside, does the Bible teach us to favor one people group over another, in this case the Jewish people? Or does Speakman’s “bogus” theology agree with the Bible? In my own review I began with these relevant passages:
“For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile–the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on Him” (Romans 10:12).
“In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 3:4-6).
“For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, ‘It is through Isaac that your children will be reckoned.’ In other words, it is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring” (Romans 9:6-8).
Much more evidence could be supplied to demonstrate that ethnic descent counts for nothing in the kingdom of God (e.g. Galatians 3:28-29, 5:6, 6:15-16; Ephesians 2:11-22, I Peter 2:4-10), and that the playing field has been leveled because of what Christ accomplished on the cross. Speakman’s theology is upheld on these points.
JAN: The film’s trailer claims, “Palestinian Christians lived here for centuries in this land. Suddenly they meet Christian groups of people who say the Palestinians are obstacles to the Second Coming of Christ. You need to move out to make room for the Jewish Diaspora to come here.”
Historical fact: No one urged Arabs living in the region to flee in 1948 and 1967 except Arab leaders themselves. This was for political purposes. Perhaps nowhere is historical revisionism more prominent than it is with issues surrounding the Jews, Israel, the Middle East conflict, and the Holocaust.
It’s indeed tragic that Arab leaders have too often exploited the civilian population of Palestine for political purposes. This does not make the underlined statement above entirely factual, though, nor does that statement come close to telling the whole story. One could make the case that the Arabs who fled in 1948 were actually among the more fortunate ones. Tens of thousands of Palestinians were killed that year, and some 700,000 made homeless, including many of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Whole towns and villages of formerly peace-dwelling people were either sacked by Zionists, or tricked into leaving “temporarily for their own safety” with the false promise that they could soon return. Robin Miller details some of the massacres which took place at that time in this very grim, but well-documented article: http://www.robincmiller.com/pales2.htm.
Elias Chacour is a Palestinian Christian who was 9 years old in 1948, and lived in one of the villages that was completely destroyed by the newly arrived Zionists from Europe. He personally witnessed the murder of unarmed villagers (many of them were Christians), and the removal of every last person from that village by brute force, trickery, or kidnapping. The same thing (or worse) happened to surrounding villages that he knew of. His excellent book, “Blood Brothers,” chronicles these and other stories, but this is far from being his only point. He also doesn’t come across as bitter as he tells his story. In fact, he presently lives among both Jews and Palestinians, working to see reconciliation between the two groups. His book is very much worth reading, for many reasons, and I hope to post excerpts from it in the future.
Historians continue to dispute the reasons for the large Palestinian refugee situation created in 1948 (see, for example, this Wikipedia article). I’ve seen claims that up to 68% of the 700,000 or so Palestinians made homeless at that time fled in response to orders given by Arab leaders. However, I’ve never seen a higher number than this, and most historians seem to say that this number is far too high. Granted that it was true, though, this still means that at least 225,000 Palestinians were made homeless in 1948 because of the actions of the incoming Zionists. This is nothing to make light of, especially if one teaches that this was a fulfillment of Bible prophecy.
Wikipedia also has a list of about 500 “Arab towns and villages depopulated during the 1948 Palestinian exodus.” According to the article, “Some areas were entirely depopulated and destroyed; others were left with a few hundred residents and were repopulated by Jewish immigrants, then renamed.” Older documents related to these events were newly released to the public in the 1980’s. Benny Morris, Professor of History at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (who regards himself as a Zionist), had previously written a book on this subject, but when he was able to view the newly released documents, he had this to say:
[W]hat the new documents reveal is that there were both far more expulsions and atrocities by Israeli troops than tabulated in the book’s first edition and, at the same time, far more orders and advices to various communities by Arab officials and officers to quit [leave] their villages, or to at least send away their women, old folk and children, fuelling the exodus.
JAN: Mark Tooley of the Institute for Religion and Democracy states, “Anti-Israel activists see American evangelicals as key to U.S. support for Israel. That is why they are targeting evangelicals with messages of pro-Palestinian solidarity as supposedly central to Christian compassion.
“The film’s main message to evangelicals is that the old religious Right crassly imposed a pro-Israel U.S. foreign policy based on its end-time theology, creating untold suffering among largely innocent Palestinians. The film suggests that more thoughtful, more compassionate evangelicals will reject that heritage and instead stand with the Palestinians as the victim group most needing Christian compassion.”
Tooley continues, “The film perpetuates a simplistic stereotype alleging that American evangelicals self-servingly only support Israel because a Jewish presence there is central to their blood-thirsty, apocalyptic dreams about the Second Coming of Jesus.” I hope other evangelicals are as outraged as I am at being called “blood-thirsty!”
I wonder if this outrage shouldn’t be directed toward Mark Tooley, as he is the one who chose to use this term. I watched the film from beginning to end, and I don’t recall anything like this being said. I’m not so sure that Tooley watched the film either. “Anti-Israel…pro-Palestinian”—must we be so polarizing? For one thing, I hope it’s understood that one can be critical of the policies of the secular nation of Israel without holding animosity toward the Jewish community as a whole. One may also demonstrate compassion for the Palestinian people without condoning everything said and done by Palestinians. Again, the film’s synopsis in part states:
This film demonstrates that there is a biblical alternative for Christians who want to love and support the people of Israel, a theology that doesn’t favor one people group over another but instead promotes peace and reconciliation for both Jews and Palestinians [underlining added; bold in original].
“With God On Our Side” attempts to promote equality and an end to the rampant and unbiblical favoritism in Christian Zionist circles toward the Jewish people. In doing so, it is rightfully pointed out that many Jewish citizens and leaders are responsible for injustices toward the Palestinian people, a point which the average Christian Zionist often refuses to see. Equal time and space might be given to Palestinian injustices toward the Jewish people if this film were not a critique of Christian Zionism, a movement that already works overtime in pointing out such injustices.
JAN: To sum it up, Israel and the U.S. are nasty imperialists, and Christian Zionist evangelicals only back the Jews because of perceived abused theology: God will bring the Jews back to the land. It rightfully belongs to them. The last days’ scenario centers around the Jewish people and nation. Say folks, I say we can’t change Scripture although many are trying to do so today!
No, but I hope and pray that Scripture will change us, myself included. As tempting as it is, I will refrain from doubling the size of this post in order to address the underlined statement above. In my own view, though (and that of John Owens, Jonathan Edwards, and others), suffice it to say that where the New Testament speaks frequently of “these last days,” it speaks of the last days of Old Covenant, temple-based Judaism. Natural Israel did indeed play a part in those last days, but the result was her judgment, out of which a faithful remnant was saved. That faithful remnant of Jews, though, according to the clear teaching of the New Testament, was not the least bit superior in status to Gentile believers, and such remains the case today. Furthermore, unbelieving Jews are entirely outside of being heirs of the promises of God, as are unbelieving Gentiles. All prophecy, and all of God’s promises, are fulfilled only in Jesus Christ (e.g. Galatians 3:16, 29).
JAN: What is true is that Palestinian leaders and the entire Arab world abuse them, not U.S. imperialism and anybody’s end-time theology. Evangelicals are strong supporters of Islamic evangelism around the world [VERY much to the contrary, only about 2% of all giving among evangelicals goes toward missions, and only a fraction of this 2% is directed toward Muslim outreach]. Many evangelical agencies have been raised up, particularly since 9/11, to reach out to lost Muslims, including Palestinians. One such organization is Joel Rosenberg’s Joshua Fund.
The film “With God On Our Side” wants increased U.S. pressure on Israel to accommodate Palestinian demands, facilitated by reduced U.S. evangelical support for Israel. It just won’t happen. We are smart enough to know that what they really want is Israel dismantled altogether in favor of a one-state solution: Palestine.
Sigh… And this conclusion was reached how? Certainly not by watching the film. Once again, here is the film’s synopsis in part: “This film demonstrates that there is a biblical alternative for Christians who want to love and support the people of Israel…”
JAN: Just what exactly is “Christian Zionism?” It is a movement supporting the return of the Jewish people to their rightful homeland and the resumption of Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel. Christians who fit into this category are almost exclusively evangelicals who believe God has a continuing special relationship with the Jews. He has a covenant with them that can never be broken. This is apart from the church. This is based on a literal and futurist interpretation of the Bible and the conviction that Old Testament prophecies concerning the Jewish people are being fulfilled today in the State of Israel.
This description of a belief that “God has a continuing special relationship with the Jews” sounds like classic dispensationalism, a doctrinal system invented by John Nelson Darby in the 1830’s. The idea that God maintains one covenant with ethnic Jews, and another with the body of Christ, violates the New Testament in numerous and very significant ways. Just to name a couple:  It creates two peoples of God, one a group of people who can trace their descent from Abraham according to the flesh, and the other a group of people who are spiritually descended from Abraham. For starters, see Romans 2:28-29, Romans 4:13-17, Romans 9:6-8, Galatians 5:6, Galatians 6:15, and Ephesians 2:11-22 for the truth on this point.  It makes Jewish believers superior in status and inheritance to Gentile believers, since a Jewish believer allegedly inherits the blessings of both groups and both covenants, whereas a Gentile believer only belongs to the one group and will never experience the blessings/promises set aside for the first group. See Romans 10:12 and Galatians 3:28-29 for the truth on this point and/or do a New Testament concordance search for the words “distinction” and “partiality.”
I’ll briefly make a couple of other comments regarding this paragraph from Jan above. First, I hope we can at least pause and consider the use of the word “rightful” when it comes to ownership of the land of Israel/Palestine. Did it ever truly “belong” to anyone other than God? Consider these words from God in Leviticus 25:23 to the people of Israel, “…for the land is Mine and you are but aliens and My tenants.” Blogger PJ Miller highly recommends, and rightfully so, a 2002 message by John Piper on this subject titled “Land Divine? – We Should Treat the Israeli-Palestinian Dispute As We Would Any Other” (a couple of eschatological differences aside, I recommend it as well).
Secondly, I hope we can also ponder on whether or not the modern state of Israel has anything to do with “Old Testament prophecies concerning the Jewish people.” Much could be said on this, but one question I have (out of many) on this point has to do with Ezekiel 36-37. These two chapters contain  a prediction of a soon return to the land (36:8)  one of the clearest predictions of this present New Covenant age (36:25-28; cf. 37:24-28) in the Old Testament. Why would Ezekiel have predicted a return which was to take place 2600 years in his future (as many popular teachers today will contend), rather than the return which indeed took place “soon” under Zerubbabel/Ezra/Nehemiah? Beyond this question, of course, one must grapple with the spiritual language used in these two chapters, and determine whether it speaks of this present New Covenant age—having begun in the first century AD (likely an amillennial understanding) or a future Millennial age (a premillennial understanding).
JAN: According to the film, “With God on Our Side,” Christian Zionism and our strange theology have muddied the waters more than any other entity! So, along comes a man who cannot stand the stench of Israel, Stephen Sizer. He is a Church of England priest who has written several anti-Israel books and anti-Christian Zionist books including Christian Zionism: Roadmap to Armageddon and Zion’s Christian Soldiers. Here are some more blood-thirsty images!
Sizer insists that the theology of Christian Zionists rejects some ethnic groups such as the Palestinians. He suggests we are using the lens of Bible prophecy and not the lens of justice. Most evangelicals will always choose the lens of the Bible so let Sizer bang his head against the wall in utter frustration. He has a great platform to do so on the program by the so-called “Bible Answerman”, Hank Hanegraaff. Who are some championing this film? Those who usually side with religious Left causes including Tony Campolo, Jim Wallis, Brian McLaren, Steve Haas from World Vision, Gary Burge from Wheaton College, and more.
These are baseless accusations and, to be frank, they are “hits below the belt.” The onus is upon Jan to prove that Stephen Sizer “cannot stand the stench of Israel,” and that his books are “anti-Israel.” According to his Wikipedia site, Stephen Sizer is a pastor at Christ Church in Surrey, England. He’s also an author, theologian, and an international speaker specializing in topics relating to the land of Israel. He affirms “the right of the State of Israel to exist within secure and internationally recognized borders,” and stands against anti-Semitism. However, he disagrees “with a political system which gives preference to expatriate Jews born elsewhere in the world, while denying the same rights to the Arab Palestinians born in the country itself.” His position is that what is known today as Christian Zionism has “no Biblical foundation or historical precedent.”
There are plenty of unbiblical viewpoints which are widespread in the evangelical Christian community here in the US, and on issues related to justice and compassion there is indeed much that is found wanting. One of the most influential evangelical leaders in the US is mega church pastor and author John Hagee. In the previous post we examined a brief video clip from him in which he states the following words: “God, in the book of Genesis, takes Abraham out and says, ‘I’m going to give you this land, to your seed forever.’ All of that land around Israel, that we’re now saying the international nations have control of, have no more control of it than you control the moon. That property was given to them by a mandate from God Himself, and it belongs to them. The Palestinians have absolutely no claim to it, not ever. It is the greatest historical fraud in the history of humanity.” For the implications of this statement as they relate to Biblical justice, please see that post and in particular the discussion following the above-mentioned video clip.
JAN: This film comes at a time when Barack Obama is going to try to impose a peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians. Obama is behaving as though he were President of the World, dictating borders and treaties even if one side does not want to participate. He is about to clash with the Lord God of Israel and America may never be the same. What other sovereign nation would put up with this scenario? None.
Gen. David Pretraeus has blamed the war on terror on Israel, saying that the perception in the Arab world is that America cannot “stand up to Israel.” As a consequence of that perception, Pretraeus said, America was losing support among the moderate Arab states. There are no moderate Arab states. But this is just one more American voice condemning our number-one ally and “the apple of God’s eye” (Zechariah 2:8). There is now talk that Barack Obama is going to shut down Israel’s nuclear program. What other nation would be on the receiving end of such abuse?
Some have concluded that Israel, while important, isn’t that important to the United States. The administration has “dug in” on its position and maintains that any Jewish construction in Jerusalem is an “Israeli provocation” and that the price for “peace” is a Palestinian state ethnically cleansed of any Jewish presence.
Though again there is much that could be said on these points, I would like to generally refrain from responding to the overtly political statements being made here, both for the sake of space and also to minimize the chance that this will become the focal point of discussions which might take place in the comment section following this post. Instead I’d like to focus on Jan’s interpretation of Zechariah 2:8.
If Jan is correct in her assertion that the modern, political, secular nation of Israel is “the apple of God’s eye,” then who was the apple of God’s eye from 70 AD until 1948 when there was no nation of Israel? Did nearly 19 centuries pass without God having a special possession to call His own? This time period covers much of the present church age, so what is the Church in God’s eyes? Chopped liver? On the other hand, this is the testimony of the New Testament regarding the Church, which is made up of believing Jews and Gentiles alike: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (I Peter 2:9). We need not look any further to discover who can rightly be called the apple of God’s eye.
JAN: So those behind this pathetic effort to demonize a group of Christian Zionists and, for that matter, demonize all of Israel, need to do a reality check. There are consequences. Covenants are involved: Genesis 17:6-7; Genesis 12:1-7; Psalm 105:8-15. God is on the side of those with whom He has covenants: Israel and believing Christians who call him Savior. He will never break a covenant. That you can count on. You and I are betting eternity on His trustworthiness. Watching Him perform His promises to Israel should give us great comfort!
God did, though, find fault with the Old Covenant (Hebrews 8:6-7), and Jesus now mediates a New Covenant that is “much more excellent than the old…enacted on better promises.” The first one is obsolete (verse 13). Regarding the land promise, it’s true that the word “eternal” is attached to it in Scripture. As stated in the previous post:
Let us take note that the covenant of fleshly circumcision was also said to be forever/eternal/perpetual [see, for example, Genesis 17:9-14, and note the language used]. The same was said regarding numerous temple-based rituals [Exodus 28:43, 29:28, 31:16-17, 40:15; Leviticus 3:17, 6:18, 22, 7:34, 36]. How does the New Testament deal with the non-land covenants/statutes which were said to be eternal? Should the “eternal” land promises be dealt with in a different manner? If so, why? Were they ever said to be conditional? Are we not heirs of a better “land” under the New Covenant? The land promise was first articulated to Abraham, but what city did he look forward to possessing? The answer can be found here:
For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God… These [Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, etc.] all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland… But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared for them a city (Hebrews 11:10-16; cf. Hebrews 12:22-24 and Galatians 4:21-31).
JAN: I think it is time someone woke up and smelled the bagels.
Yes, it is certainly time to wake up. On this we agree.
JAN: Note: The official Web site does not state that the film will be available in theatres. Currently, they just suggest buying it at Amazon.com. I recommend you not put more nickels in their coffers so they can make a more vitriolic sequel…