"Tough Love" Toward Israel?
* Thank you for the careful, thought-provoking articles reviewing evangelical attitudes toward Israel [Oct. 5]. Timothy Weber's cover article was instructive. Calvin Shenk's sidebar was pastoral, and the article on Brother Andrew was challenging! You mentioned an organization linking evangelical churches with Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza; your readers might be interested to know that there is another program matching families and churches in North America with Palestinian families whose homes are threatened with demolition by the Israeli government. Christian Peacemaker Teams (Chicago) coordinates this program in cooperation with several Israeli groups (including Rabbis for Human Rights) who together form the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions.
For those who want what is best for Israel, it is important to see that as distinct from supporting whatever the current government of Israel does; we must not lazily assume there is one Israeli point of view. The Bible shows us a God who loves all, and who consistently sides with the oppressed. Maybe it is time for us to practice "tough love" toward Israel.
Rich H. Meyer
* Weber cites Richard Cizik's belief that "most evangelicals simply have not thought through the issue of Jewish settlements in Palestinian territories." This troubling indictment grabbed my attention more dramatically than Weber's history of the dispensationalists' prophetic excesses. In our rush to help Jesus take his place upon David's throne, have we forgotten the gospel of peace?
David R. Darval
Christian Friends of Israeli Communities (CFIC) appreciates being labeled "one of the most innovative humanitarian organizations supporting Israel," but we protest three inaccuracies in Weber's cover story:
(1) I am misquoted as saying "God is sending Jesus back to Israel to set up his kingdom." The quote was that God is sending "Messiah" back. (2) You say, "By the end of the war the Jews were now well armed and ready to force the issue of statehood," and "by November  the better-trained Israeli troops had prevailed." Jews who escaped Auschwitz (and other camps) to emigrate to their promised homeland were re-interned to concentration camps in Cyprus. Jews already in the Holy Land were harshly regulated, forbidden to own weapons, and not allowed military training. Instead, the Brits trained Palestinians, turning military bases and weapons over to them when they departed on May 14, 1948, leaving the Jews defenseless. Pentagon generals gave Israel three weeks at the outside to succumb to the combined onslaught of British-trained, Petro-provisioned armies of the seven surrounding Arab states. (3) It is an insult to be told one must be a dispensationalist to support the re-establishment of Israel.
I believe the way to get blessed is to find out what God is doing and cooperate with that process. CFIC is trying to do that.
Theodore Temple Beckett, Intl. Chairman
Christian Friends of Israeli Communities
Colorado Springs, Colo.
* Tim Weber's essay on the untold story of Israel and evangelicalism was eye-opening and convicting. He accurately described how some far-fetched evangelical eschatologies have directly affected the way Christians view the modern secular State of Israel today. Friends who are Palestinian Christians tell me they feel abandoned and wounded by our refusal to embrace them and recognize their suffering. And they are perplexed that we view everything through an "end time" lens, even Israel's failure to be faithful to its own covenant with God.
I was speaking with a British worker from an evangelical relief organization based in Jerusalem who summed up this perspective poignantly: "Genesis 12:2 says that those who bless Israel, God will bless. America is doomed if it does not give Israel everything it wants." And what of our Arab brothers and sisters in Christ, I asked, who sometimes suffer in Israel? "They are simply in the way of God's plan for the ages."
Prof. Gary M. Burge
Weber performed a valuable service in tracing the impact of dispensationalism on evangelical attitudes toward Israel. However, the article cries out for the telling of another story—one which, so far as I know, has never been told in a mainstream Christian publication. This is the story of Arab attitudes toward Israel as expressed in the popular press, in books and pamphlets, and in other cultural forums. Like the story Timothy Weber tells, it involves a complex mixture of religious and political agendas, of scholarly (or pseudo-scholarly) and populist discourse. Many readers of CT, I believe, would be shocked not only by the virulence and the intransigence of these views but by their wide acceptance within the Arab world. The telling of this story would not provide a warrant for Israel to violate with impunity the human rights of Palestinians, or of anyone else, but it would provide a tonic dose of reality therapy.
John Wilson, Editor
BOOKS & CULTURE
Carol Stream, Ill.
Weber's assertion that dispensationalism has been the leading force behind evangelical support for Jews and Israel is a shock to the millions of evangelicals who don't believe its unbiblical tenets (e.g., that the church is a mere parenthesis in history).
It isn't doctrine or theological systems that make us love the Jew and Israel, but Jesus Christ himself. Furthermore, where would the church be without the Jew?
The beliefs of dispensationalists wax and wane. But Jesus Christ and his love for the Jew and for Israel remain forever!
Congregational Christian Churches
The forced admixture of faith and political ideology always results in a compromised faith. Evangelicals who support Israel should do so for political reasons alone. Otherwise, there is an inevitable, subtle diminishing of Jesus' claim to be the Messiah. Dispensationalists who continue to rewrite the scripts for fanciful end-time scenarios should be reminded of the words of the Christ himself: "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36).
Timothy D. Pyles
* Is it a bad thing that God is moving across denominational lines to give the church a heart and love for Israel? Should we believe the replacement view and just forget about them since God [in their eyes] has anyway? Yes, we are part of the grassroots "fringe" movement you refer to, and either support or directly participate in nearly all the ministries you mentioned. But isn't it just possible that God can still work outside the carefully patrolled confines of "the system"? I fear that "the system" is so concerned that there be no "strange fire" on the altar that there is for the most part no fire on the altar.
Norm and Annie Schaaf
The Benefit of the Doubt
Your October 5 editorial ["The Prodigal President"] sets up a false contrast between sinner Clinton and sinner (Prodigal) Son: "There is a huge difference between being found and being cornered." In our Lord's sly and wondrous parable of the overwhelmingly gracious, grace-filled Father, we aren't told whether the Son was truly penitent. From the Father's standpoint, the Son is "found." But from the Son's standpoint, the trigger-motive is hunger (Luke 15:17, NIV, "starving to death"), not repentance. He "came to his senses" (same verse) in realizing that his diet would improve if he returned home.
Clinton was cornered by Starr, the Prodigal Son was cornered by hunger. Each carefully crafted his cover speech. Neither is the other's moral superior. But Starr and the Father are very different. The former kept demanding that the cornered make full confession and grovel. The latter broke into the canned speech before the groveling.
You are right that "only God knows" whether Clinton's repentance is genuine. Grace, the graciousness of the American people, should assume it is. Let's give him at least the benefit of the doubt.
* Thank you for the powerful editorial on why Clinton's apology misfired. I appreciate the courage and insight of that editorial. It is sad that Mr. Clinton appears to desire the power and prestige of being President more than he desires the grace and forgiveness of God. Seems to me there was another "Rich Young Ruler" who had a similar problem.
Rev. Gary Preston
* Although I didn't vote for President Clinton, it grieved me to see CT's editorial writers take such a hard line against him. A publication for and by evangelical Christians should take the lead in forgiveness, regardless of the kind of confession or apology offered. Jesus did not come to condemn, so why do we think our role is to judge? A song we used to sing had the words, "They shall know we are Christians by our love." Does President Clinton know we are Christians by our love?
San Diego, Calif.
* The President never confessed anything at the prayer breakfast or anywhere else, but he admitted to something only after getting cornered. What did he say he was sorry for? Was it even necessary for him to do it? No, it wasn't necessary for him to make this pious admission, and that is one big reason why I am so suspicious of his motives. He invoked the church in an age when we supposedly live in a separation of church and state. When it is convenient for him and many with a liberal ideology to invoke religious ideas, they do. When it's not, they stifle and inhibit religious ideas at will. All bets are off now until Bill Clinton stands for Jesus Christ and bans abortion.
Apologies or Repentance?
* In his opinion piece, "Me? Apologize for Slavery?" [Oct. 5], Gordon Marino wrote that "many white students … are being asked to feel guilty and repent for racist institutions and actions in which they themselves had no hand." Marino then explains that we must apologize and repent for the privileges we enjoy today, benefits gained through centuries of suffering by African-American slaves. Good as far as it goes. But Marino fails to understand why guilt remains even when apologies are made. His piece fails to grapple with the deep meaning of repentance. Apologies are easy, repentance is not. Apology without repentance fails to address the problem of guilt.
The real problem is our desire to have our cake and eat it too. Is it any wonder that superficial apologies without restitution (restoration fourfold) only deepen our sense of guilt? We are as unrepentant for the American Holocaust, the atrocities committed against Native Peoples of North America, as we are for the institution of slavery. Apologies are cheap (though not unimportant) while Christian discipleship is costly. When will the church begin to talk about sacrifice, equity, and redistribution, if not restitution?
Bruce D. Martin
Eastern Mennonite University
* Why single out black slavery or, for that matter, why stop with American history? Following his own logic, Professor Marino owes me an apology because his Roman forebears enslaved my British kin.
* I am a peace-loving person and really don't have a quarrel with anyone, no matter the color of their skin. But what about the racism I have experienced through verbal abuse and sometimes under threat of physical abuse simply because I made eye contact with an African American in the hallway of my school? What always fails to be mentioned in articles and news reports on racism is that (believe it or not) racism goes both ways in America. How much repenting, sorrow, anguish, and even apologizing will it actually take for blacks and whites to be reconciled? Has anyone ever heard of a biblical concept called forgiveness? If I am a racist and responsible for horrible abuses that happened years ago, then I ask for forgiveness from every black person in America; but please accept my forgiveness by embracing it and putting the transgression behind us just as Jesus has forgiven all of our sins and doesn't keep throwing them in our face after we have asked for forgiveness.
Casting blame over such a vast gap of time, space, and logic reveals a graceless scorekeeping spirit. Repentance is our mutual criterion for group identity; it runs far deeper than race. We need to condemn slavery and move forward on mutual terms.
Joel Mark Solliday
New Haven, Conn.
A Fresh Look at Hell
Sincere thanks for a fresh look at the issue "Is Hell Forever?" [Directions, Oct. 5]. Every evangelical should be disturbed at the millions continuing to reject Christianity because of its medieval and unbiblical portrayal of Satan and his angels as the eternal tormentors of souls in hell. As for the lost souls, Christ plainly declared, "Fear him [God, not Satan] who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." Jesus died to establish his right to justly destroy Satan and his angels—as he did Sodom and Gomorrah!
The struggle does not end with Satan eternally torturing billions in hell, and Jesus left to reign over billions less in heaven. It is through God's lake of fire—the second death—that he silences the protesting wails of the lost. Then eternal harmony will extend across God's vast unspotted universe.
Norman L. Meager
For thoughtful believers who recognize that the Bible clearly teaches the fact of hell, the crucial question has to do with its duration. Where the duration of after-death punishment is expressed, the Greek word used is aionion, usually translated as eternal. However, the word literally refers to an age or ages to come, and an age has an end as well as a beginning and a middle. Thus, the "accursed" will go away into aionion punishment and the righteous into aionion life. Those deserving retribution will pay the penalty of aionion destruction/ruin away from the Lord's presence (2 Thess. 1:9). The only mention of postmortem punishment beyond aionion is reserved for the Devil, the Beast, and the False Prophet. The Greek term for never-ending duration is used solely with reference to the bliss of Christians, when Christ comes and takes them to be ever with him.
Ruth Pera Dodson
- A letter from Prof. Donald G. Bloesch in the October 5 issue erroneously contains an unintended letter s in the following sentence: "I oppose a gender egalitarianism that erases real differences between men and women but hold [not holds] to the full equality of both sexes under God and to women in ministry."
- The Web site address in the Arts article regarding the Christian Performing Artists' Fellowship [Oct. 5] should read www.ChristianPerformingArt.org
- The correct e-mail address for Shari Plunket in Conversations [Oct. 5] is sp1rsRt@dnai.com
CT regrets the errors.
Brief letters are welcome. They may be edited for space and clarity and must include the writer's name and address if intended for publication. Due to the volume of mail, we cannot respond personally to individual letters. Write to Eutychus, CHRISTIANITY TODAY, 465 Gundersen Drive, Carol Stream, IL 60188; fax: 630/260-0114. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org ( * ).
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