In terms of the timeline of Christian theological development, from the perspective of the detractors from Christian Zionism, it is a rather recent phenomenon beginning in the 19th century with John Nelson Darby, whose perspective has currently led to an extremist pro-Zionist stance among top officials in the U.S. government (Campolo 2005); however, from the perspective of the proponents of Christian Zionism, it is a correction to the long history of Christian supersessionist readings of the New Testament, that ultimately lead to the distortion of the scriptures and terrible tragedies such as the Holocaust (Ice 2009; Blaising 2001, 435–437). From the outset then, we are dealing with a highly politically engaged topic in the history of Christian theology, so much so that any attempts to disentangle current political issues from it are most likely due to immense failure and deep political dishonesty (Boer and Abraham 2009, 98). Furthermore, we shall be defining Christian Zionism as the fervent, to the point of almost unconditional, support for the State of Israel as created in 1948 until the present day, due to theological convictions of the creation of the state as of supreme prophetic importance for eschatology as it is ultimately a precursor to the ‘Second Coming’ of Jesus Christ (Campolo 2005, 19–20; Boer and Abraham 2009, 90–91). After discussing the preliminary matter of the history of Christian Zionism, we shall examine the theological underpinnings of Christian Zionist theology, from a Christian theological perspective. It will be shown that while Christian Zionist theology may be perfectly coherent within a dispensationalist eschatological framework, it nevertheless has significant theological ‘gaps’ in terms of other sectors of Christian theology such as ecclesiology. Defining theological ‘gaps’ as those unaddressed tensions and issues within a theological framework (not necessarily ‘contradictions’), it will be shown that in terms of (1) Christian[1] ethnic reasoning in the New Testament, (2) Christian geographical reasoning in the New Testament, and (3) Christian understandings of the Hebrew Bible in the New Testament, Christian Zionism is replete with deep theological ‘gaps’ that have yet to be closed.

          Christian Zionism was one major crucial factor in terms of the Zionist project as a whole for not only did its initial theological underpinnings emerge 300 years before Theodore Herzl’s political ideology, but it was also a major component to the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 by the Balfour Declaration, brought forth by the Christian Zionist Arthur Balfour (Boer and Abraham 2009, 92). To begin at the beginning, the theological underpinnings of Christian Zionism are to be found in the popularization of a particular eschatology known as dispensationalism developed by John Nelson Darby, through the publication of the Scofield Reference Bible in 1909 (Campolo 2005, 20; Scofield 1967). Dispensationalism essentially divided the story of the Christian Bible into the five stages of (1) preparation of the Old Testament, (2) manifestation in the Gospels, (3) propagation in The Acts of the Apostles, (4) explanation in the Epistles, and (5) consummation in The Book of Revelation (Scofield 1967, x).[2] Furthermore, dispensationalism, by taking a ‘literal’ view of the fulfillment of prophecies in the Hebrew Bible concerning the Messiah, conjectured that the Israelites would have to return to the land of Israel before the ‘Second Coming’ of Jesus when he would fulfill the prophecies of the Hebrew Bible concerning the ingathering of the exiles in a literal fashion, with 1948 of course being the obvious sign of the fulfillment of their prophetic expectations (Boer and Abraham 2009, 103–105; Campolo 2005, 19–20). Lastly, with regards to dispensationalism, it is most important to see that it fundamentally regards, in contrast to ‘supersessionist’ theology, the nation of Israel and the Church as two different entities with two different theological destinies (Ice 2009, 1–3).

          Craig A. Blaising correctly points out that the fundamental question of dispensationalist theology is “Are there theological reasons to believe that Israel [defined by Blaising as an ethnic/national entity] has a future?” (Blaising 2001, 435). With this understanding in mind, there is also one other important theological feature of Christian Zionism that has come into the forefront, particularly in context of 20th century American Christian Zionism and that is of the continuation of the Abrahamic covenant, that Gen. 12:3, “And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curesth thee…” still holds for foreign policy issues (Friedman 2009, 50). Christian Zionism, it may be fairly said, has had a major influence on American foreign policy in particular, with its pro-Israel stance and support of Israel’s military endeavors. One example of which was the quelling of President Bush’s criticism of Israel’s harsh military tactics against Palestinian villages, by the Christian Zionist lobby in 2002 (Friedman 2009, 53). So then, having briefly examined the popularization of dispensationalism through the Scofield Reference Bible as the means for providing the prime theological underpinning for Christian Zionism and how those underpinnings have contributed to the development of the State of Israel, and its continued American support in particular, we will delve into the theological ‘gaps’ of Christian Zionism.

          With regards to ethnic reasoning in the Christian theological tradition it may be said that Christian Zionism operates with an extreme form of philo-Semitism. Blaising is outright in his stance that “…having Israel truly in the divine plan confronts us, I think, with the myth of an undifferentiated humanity” (Blaising 2001, 444; emphasis added). Blaising is well aware of how one of the key texts in the Christian New Testament, that of Ephesians 2:14-18, stands as an apparent foil to his understanding of ethnicity within a Christian theological framework (Blaising 2001, 448). Ephesians 2:14-18 argues that through Christ a wall that use to stand between the Jewish people and Gentiles was broken down, and furthermore that out of these two groups of people, Christ had made one ‘new man’. It is passages such as these that lead to many Christian apologists in later centuries to argue that ‘Christianess’ was itself a new ethnicity that had the universalizing tendency to bring together other ethnicities into a brand new way of being human through particular ritual practices (Buell 2002). What Christian Zionist theology argues then is that the division between Jewish people and Gentiles in some sense, even within Christian groups, still holds, and as a consequence it creates a great amount of ambiguity in terms of what the Church’s role in history has been.

          One can see this most clearly in the way Blaising attempts to construe a type of Christianity that contains within it a form of “authentic Judaism” that can be practiced by Jewish people and how “Jews as Jews and Gentiles as Gentiles can truly fellowship together in the blessings of salvation and the sanctification by the Holy Spirit which they share without distinction” (Blaising 2001, 447–448). Blaising wishes to maintain, within a Christian theological framework, both the distinction between Jewish people and Gentiles, and the idea that there is no distinction in Christ. However, Blaising goes further than merely the claim that the Jewish people by providing the Messiah brought salvation to the Gentiles, but wants to maintain that there is no distinction between the Jewish people and Gentiles while also holding that the Jewish people through God’s plan regulate the “whole of Gentile life on the earth” (Blaising 2001, 444). The theological ‘gap’ here in Christian Zionist theology is how exactly Gentiles and Jewish people in Christ can be considered equal and without distinction, while at the same time the Jewish people can be the theological equivalent of the conspiratorial view that a Jewish secret society runs the world (Arendt 1973, 24). The blessing upon the ethnicity of the Jewish people in much of Christian theology was thought to be that it was them that brought forth the Messiah for the salvation of the world (Wright 1994), but within a Christian Zionist frame of theology it would appear that the Jewish people are the once, forever and always blessed people by whom and through whom the world is blessed.

          Indeed, while in their admirable attempt to avoid the mistakes of a long history of past Christian anti-Semitism and supersessionism, Christian Zionism, by promoting such a view of Israel’s role, perpetuates a form of philo-Semitism that is equally filled with idealized/abstract ideas about Israel and the ‘Jews’ to the point that it is questionable whether is can be considered as genuine love for the Jewish people. Gershom Gorenberg, when he was on 60 Minutes, well articulated that Christian Zionists “…don’t love real Jewish people. They love us as characters in their story…If you listen to the drama that they are describing, essentially, it’s a five-act play in which the Jews disappear in the fourth act” (quoted in Campolo 2005, 67). Finally, in addition to this ethical problem of the complications of philo-Semitism involved in this theological ‘gap’, there is also the complication of how exactly in Christian Zionism can the traditional theological claim that God loves all people be sustained. It is questionable whether Christian Zionists could affirm (as much as they would in no doubt like to) with Tony Campolo that “…Christian Evangelicals believe in a God who loves Palestinians every bit as much as He loves Jews…” (Campolo 2005, 67).

          The second theological ‘gap’ involved in the Christian Zionist framework is that of Christian geographical reasoning. N.T. Wright points out that in Pauline theology, particularly in Romans 4:13, the Abrahamic covenant’s promise was not merely for a piece of land called Israel, but for the entire world. In addition to this, elsewhere in Pauline theology such as in Galatians 4:25-26, Jerusalem is portrayed as enslaved and is contrasted with the hope for the heavenly ‘New Jerusalem’ (Wright 1994). Essentially, Wright argues elsewhere, Christian theology does not have a “…theology of ‘holy places’ (on the model or analogy of the ‘holy places’ of a religion that has an essentially geographical base)…” (Wright 1994). Not that Christian theology does not view particular places as significant, but that it does not view those places as significant because of their geography. Many other places in the New Testament also allude to the fact that traditional Christian theology does not hold to any particular land mass as divinely sanctioned. For instance, in the Gospel of John, Jesus is depicted as having a conversation with a Samaritan woman, telling her that “Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain [Gerizim], nor yet in Jerusalem, worship the Father…But the hour cometh, and now is, when true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth…” (John 4:21-23).  It is a wonder then how Christian Zionist theology can understand the land of Israel as still divinely sanctioned land for the Jewish people in a Christian theological framework. The theological ‘gap’ implicit in Christian Zionist theology is that while wanting to keep the universalizing tendency of a Christian theology of geography, as proclaiming that there are no particular ‘holy lands’, it nevertheless also wants to keep the particularity of the land of Israel as ‘holy’, not merely for reasons of Christian tourism but as a divine sanction still in place. It is this claim that explains why for instance the Zionist project in a Christian theological framework should not have and could not have accepted either the Ugandan Resolution or the suggestion of Argentina as the land for the Jewish people (Hertzberg 1959, 74, 222), for it was not primarily about the protection of the Jewish people but about fulfilling the prophecy of the return to a particular divinely sanctioned land. Finally, there are also the violent aggressive expansionist policies that come along with this Christian Zionist framework.

As Campolo rightfully points out, the Abrahamic covenant in Genesis 15:18 stipulates that Israel should occupy all the land from the Euphrates River to the Nile, not merely the boarders of Israel as they are now (Campolo 2005, 66; Scofield 1967, 24). The result of which being, the theological sanction for Israeli expansionist policies.

          The ‘gap’ in geographical reasoning is similar to the theological ‘gap’ in ethnic reasoning in that it wishes to maintain the supremacy of the Christian claim to a message of salvation for all peoples, while at the same time maintaining a unique position for the Jewish people, not in bringing about the universal message of salvation (for that has already been brought about) but for reasons of a particular apocalyptic schema. These two theological ‘gaps’ are connected in their desire to keep the universalizing tendency of their Christian theology from the New Testament, while at the same time wishing to keep the particularity of the Jewish people/State of Israel. While rightfully wishing to abandon that particularity of the Jewish people as a cursed people, that often came with supersessionist readings of Christian theology (Ice 2009, 1), Christian Zionists also keep a particularity of the Jewish people as fundamentally different from the Gentile peoples in divine planning. The Jewish people and the land of Israel in a Christian Zionist theological framework, as is indicated by the theological ‘gaps’ both in ethnic and geographical reasoning, are not merely peculiar for their role in history and appreciated for the sake of cherishing Biblical story and memory, but are ontologically different by divine sanction, even if positive.

          The last of the three theological ‘gaps’ we will explore is that of the ‘gap’ concerning the New Testament’s understanding of the Hebrew Bible, the characters, and the importance of the story thereof for the emergence of Christ. Wright points out that one of the main convictions throughout much of the New Testament is that in Christ, all the Messianic prophecies were fulfilled once and for all (e.g. 2 Cor. 1:20 and elsewhere), and that therefore, in the attempt of Christian Zionists to show that they are taking the prophecies ‘literally’ as opposed to a ‘spiritually’ in their fulfillment (and therefore as yet to be fulfilled), is also the denial of this central conviction (Wright 1994). In addition to the New Testament’s understanding of the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Hebrew Bible, Christian Zionists also seem deeply unfamiliar with the Epistle to the Hebrews understandings of how some of the main characters of the Hebrew Bible understood their divine mission. For instance, the author of the Epistle of the Hebrews characterizes Abraham and Sarah, while moving to the Promised Land of Israel, as yet having “…confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth…” and were desiring of a country, a city built by God himself that was heavenly (Hebrews 11:8-16). In other words, the Epistle to the Hebrews understands the main patriarch and matriarch of the Jewish people to have been longing for a country that was yet not, for a city built by God, a heavenly Jerusalem, not merely the land of Israel that the covenant stipulated.

          The implications of this for Christian Zionism are absolutely astounding. One of their central premises of Christian Zionism, that of the Abrahamic covenant still being in force, is, from the perspective of the Epistle to the Hebrews, deeply flawed, for according to it Abraham’s own understanding of the covenant was not for a particular piece of land but for a heavenly city! The theological ‘gap’ for Christian Zionist theology is simply this, while after arguing that their perspective is closer to that of the New Testament and the Hebrew Bible, that the answer to the question of Israel as a national entity having a future is a ‘yes!’ affirmed by the scripture (Blaising 2001), it nevertheless ignores the central convictions of the New Testament that in Christ the Messianic prophecies of the Hebrew Bible were fulfilled and that the heroes of the Hebrew Bible were awaiting for a land brought about by God’s heavenly rule. Furthermore, by its almost undying conviction that expansion of the Israeli boarder is an unconditional good, which if not pursued, as in Ariel Sharon’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2006, will result in God’s judgment (Boer and Abraham 2009, 99–100), Christian Zionism almost reaches the point of declaring that Israel can do no wrong, for she is a divinely sanctioned country. By viewing the Israeli military in this manner, Christian Zionism unintentionally almost denies a central conviction of both the New Testament and the Hebrew Bible, that the nation of Israel[3] could sin or disobey God and that not all of its actions are of divine sanction but could be the product of the idolatry of politicians (Gopin 2004).

          In summation then, we have seen how Christian Zionism as the fervent, to the point of almost unconditional, support for the State of Israel as created in 1948 until the present day, has three central theological ‘gaps’ in its theological framework. The first two theological ‘gaps’, those in ethnic and geographical reasoning of the New Testament, are connected by their desire for both the supremacy of Christian universality, and the ontological particularity of the Jewish people/Land of Israel. The third theological ‘gap’ of Christian Zionism is in its proclaimed correct understanding of the Hebrew Bible, while yet ignoring the understanding of it as found within the New Testament itself, which Christian Zionism also implicitly wants to claim is correct. The tremendous political tragedies that have resulted from both Christian supersessionist theology against the Jewish people and Christian Zionist theology against the Palestinians shows just how deeply connected what is often thought to be ‘metaphysical’ theology is deeply dangerous physical and politically potent. Both in Christian supersessionism and in Christian Zionism there is still proclaimed a particularity of the Jewish people and the State of Israel; in the case of supersessionism, Israel is the accursed, and in the case of Zionism, Israel as the divinely sanctioned. The question as to what the affects of a Christian theology that said that the Jewish people, while having a wonderful heritage that the Christian faith is in no doubt grateful for, are essentially normal people, on the level of the rest of humanity, are yet to be seen. In the words of the prophet Amos in the Hebrew Bible, “Are ye not as children of the Ethiopians unto me, O children of Israel? saith the Lord. Have I not brought up Israel out of the land of Egypt? And the Philistines from Caphtor, and the Syrians from Kir?” (Amos 9:7).

Works Cited List

Arendt, Hannah. 1973. The Origins of Totalitarianism. New Edition. USA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Trade & Reference Publishers.

Blaising, Craig A. 2001. “The future of Israel as a theological question.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 44 (3) (September): 435-50.

Boer, Roland, and Ibrahim Abraham. 2009. “‘God Doesn’t Care’: The Contradictions of Christian Zionism.” Religion and Theology 16 (1) (June 1): 90–110.

Buell, Denise Kimber. 2002. “Race and Universalism in Early Christianity.” Journal of Early Christian Studies 10 (4): 429–468.

Campolo, Tony. 2005. “The Ideological Roots of Christian Zionism.” Tikkun 20 (1), (February); 19-20, 66-67.

Friedman, Daniel. 2009. “Christian Zionism and Its Impact on U.S. Foreign Policy.” Religious Studies and Theology 28 (1) (July 17): 47-62.  < http://www.equinoxjournals.com/ojs/index.php/RST/article/view/7006 >

Gopin, Marc. 2004. “Judaism and Peacebuilding.” In Religion and Peacebuilding, Coward, Harold G. and Smith, Gordon Scott eds., Pg.111–127. USA: SUNY Press.

Hertzberg, Arthur. 1959. The Zionist Idea: a Historical Analysis and Reader. New Edition. USA: Jewish Publication Society.

Ice, Thomas. 2009. “What is Replacement Theology?” Pre-Trib Research Center DigitalCommons@LibertyUniversity (106) (May 8). Accessed at: < http://digitalcommons.liberty.edu/pretrib_arch/106 >

Scofield, Cyrus Ingerson, ed. 1967. The New Scofield Reference Bible: Holy Bible, Authorized King James Version, with Introductions, Annotations, Subject Chain References, and Such Word Changes in the Text as Will Help the Reader. 1967 Edition. USA: Oxford University Press.

Wright, N.T. 1994. “Jerusalem in the New Testament.” In Jerusalem: past and present in the purposes of God, P. W. L Walker ed., 2nd Edition, Pg. 53–77. Carlisle, UK; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Paternoster Press ; Baker Books House. Accessed at:

< http://ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Jerusalem_New_Testament.pdf >  (no pagination)


[1] Using the term ‘Christian’ within the period of the New Testament, while up for debate, for the sake of brevity will not be discussed here.

[2] All quotations of Biblical sources will be taken from the KJV of the Scofield Reference Bible. In addition there are also much more complicated schemes of dividing up the dispensations, however these are not necessary for our discussion.

[3] One will rightfully notice that another unquestioned assumption that has been granted, that of the continuity of the current State of Israel and of Biblical Israel, has been prevalent in our discussion, but for sake of brevity it cannot be discussed here.

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