The Course of Christian Zionism
There is no shortage of books looking at the history, problems, and prospects of the modern state of Israel. I try to keep an eye on developments and, like many, find it simply overwhelming. Narrowing a bibliography simply to religious books on this topic is likewise daunting. Occasionally I delight in meeting someone inside the Christian world who doesn't have an opinion on Israel, the Palestinians, and the Bible. Among conservative evangelicals, someone like this is a rare find.
This means that there is fertile ground here for professional historians to chart the recent history of Judaism in Europe, the development of the modern state of Israel, and how Western Christians have interacted with these developments. One of the best recent attempts has been Tim Weber's intriguing On the Road to Armageddon: How Evangelicals Became Israel's Best Friend (2005). Here Weber focuses on the evangelical camp that he knows well, showing how theology, particularly eschatology, has influenced how evangelicals look at Israel. To trace that theme, one simply has to follow authors such as Don Wagner (Anxious for Armageddon: A Call to Partnership for Middle Eastern and Western Christians, 1995), Victoria Clark (Allies for Armageddon: The Rise of Christian Zionism, 2007), and Stephen Sizer (Zion's Christian Soldiers?: The Bible, Israel and the Church, 2008).
Caitlin Carenen is a professor of history at Eastern Connecticut State University, and her book, The Fervent Embrace: Liberal Protestants, Evangelicals, and Israel (NYU Press), has all the markings of a Ph.D. dissertation completed at Emory University in 2008. However, it has been revised and rewritten to make it both thorough and highly readable.
Carenen's contribution tells the usual political story but draws in the vital role that religion has played in these events, something that politicians and policy-makers often neglect. The Fervent Embrace takes a broad approach that sweeps up not simply evangelicals but also, most intriguingly, the mainline church. She follows a basic historical outline in each successive chapter, moving from early European and American anti-Semitism in the 1930s right through to the formation of the Israeli state and to the evolving attitudes toward Israel in the church.
And it is full of surprises. For example, it is hard to believe that fundamentalists bought into the discredited Protocols of the Elders of Zion in the 1930s and contributed to anti-Jewish sentiments. Or that evangelical writing could view Jewish travails in Europe as opportunities for evangelism—rather than opportunities to call for a stop to what would become a racial genocide. It wasn't until November 1938, after Kristallnacht, that both mainline and evangelical ambivalence toward a Jewish homeland was resolved. But even then, dispensationalists protested anti-Semitism because Jews had to be converted before the second coming of Christ. Jews could become "the world's greatest evangelicals." Once the Holocaust engine began, however, the sheer horror of it brought all voices around: the killing just needed to end.