Many people in the UK get very concerned about the way in which the USA appears to give unbalanced support to Israel as opposed to the Palestinians. These people have linked US policy to the religious biases present in her politics. There is a strong evangelical influence, so it seems. Therefore, because of the apparent injustice in the Middle East (and this is not a point I want to argue one way or the other here) this adds to the reasons why evangelicalism is a bit of a dirty word in the UK.
I want to suggest that if the stand taken by the US government is indeed influenced by evangelical theology (and I am inclined to agree) then it is a glaring example of why theology matters in real life. It is a glaring example also of why theology must be right theology. It is not just evangelical theology that is at play here, but one form of it: ‘dispensational’ theology.
This is the view that the history of salvation is divided up into a number of periods, marked of by inaugural covenants. When a new ‘dispensation’ begins the old is gone. This is at variance with the classical Reformed view that there is an eternal covenant of grace the revelation of which grows and develops in history.
The upshot of this is that, for the dispensationalist, the physical nation of Israel holds a special place in God’s plan of salvation. The present ‘church age’ is a kind of ‘Plan B’ for the gentiles which runs in parallel with the Israelite ‘Plan A’. Part of the outcome of ‘Plan A’ is the restoration of Israel to the Promised Land. Dispensationalists believe this happened in 1948 with the establishment of a political entity, the state of Israel. Since this is obviously God’s outworking of His plans, Israel must be protected by whatever means.
With dispensationalism so strong in the US, it is no surprise that its politics take on the view of Israel seen today. It is not just a jewish lobby at work in the corridors of power, but a strong evangelical dispensationalist one.
But dispensationalism is flat wrong. It claims to be “rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15), by crassly marking off the dispensations in the way it does. As a result there is this biased view of the Middle East situation. The right view, which discerns the eternal plan of God expressed through his covenant relationship with his people, sees the true people of God only in Christ i.e. the church is the only people of God, who are citizens of His Kingdom, the spiritual kingdom which the nation of Israel under the Mosaic Law foreshadowed.
Politically, this means that there is no scriptural warrant to make a distinction between the modern day Israel and Palestine. To do so is to proclaim that God’s grace is given on the basis of race. The true “Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16) is made up people of many tribes and tongues, including converted Jews and Palestinians.
Those who hold to evangelical reformed theology have made this plain. In 2002 many pastors and academic teachers in the USA called evangelicals to reexamine their convictions in this area and not to take it for granted that the dispies are right in this.
Bad theology matters, and can matter with international consequences which affect millions of lives.