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Reviewed by Paul C. Merkley


Christian Zionism, Up Close and Personal

A lucid, painstaking, and refreshingly open-minded account of a much-contested subject.

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The bottom line is that "born-again Christians are radically individual." Therefore, what an outsider needs is "a nuanced understanding" of the many different ways in which individual Christian Zionists combine their faith with their positions on public issues—and not least on the matter of Israel. "Evangelical Christians are so individualistic and diverse," Spector has found, "that it's hard even to identify and count them, much less to define their theology or measure their political convictions definitively." Instead, they are, he says, paraphrasing the historian Mark Noll, "like a river that runs through different denominations, including mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic churches. It passes through stand-alone churches and non-denominational megachurches, voluntary societies, and personal networks."

Spector closes with a chapter on a hardy conspiracy theory—that the mighty engine of Christian Zionism once captured the heart and mind of George W. Bush and thereafter directed his Middle East policy. The best-selling guru of spiritual anti-Zionists, Karen Armstrong, has expatiated on George Bush's "unconditional and critical support for Israel, his willingness to use 'Jewish End-time warriors' to fulfill a vision of his own … . He believes [she says] that God chose him to lead the world to Rapture." Jimmy Carter makes the same hysterical claim in more or less the same words. Pro-Palestinian advocates have clipped these and similar sentences for use in their diatribes against "Fundamentalist crazies" and "Neo-Cons." Spector brings in some interesting nuggets from contacts with Bush-White House people, while insisting (correctly) that the public record, available to us all, makes clear that Bush has never run with the Christian Zionists and that, in fact, the policy he has pursued towards Israel and the Palestinians has been anything but consistent.

I have to confess that I have not until now fully appreciated the range of positions that have been taken by the current cohort of eminent Christian Zionist personalities on such hot-button matters as attitudes toward Islam, attitude towards Arabs, attitudes toward George Bush's foreign policy, attitudes toward Iran and Ahmadinejad, attitudes on the great range of secular political matters, and so much else. Spector's recital is, if anything, a little too anecdotal and impressionistic; the effect might have been improved by more sections of summary. But there is no law against skipping a few paragraphs now and then when one feels that the point has been abundantly documented.

This is all overdue. Christian Zionism deserves respect and thrives on healthy examination. And this is good news, as Israel needs all the Christian attention that it can get.

Paul C. Merkley is the author of Christian Attitudes Towards the State of Israel (2001) and American Presidents, Religion, and Israel (2004.)

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