|Review: Passion for Israel|
Critics of Christian Zionism often portray it as a recent and rather strange development based on the doctrine of dispensationalism, which serious theologians, they claim (and among whom they of course include themselves), find ridiculous. These critics portray Christian Zionists as supporting the Jewish return to the Land of Israel because it lines up with their idiosyncratic understanding of the end times. Some Jewish critics of Christian Zionism agree with this charge. They might appreciate Christian support for Israel, but they suspect that it's driven by some sort of fundamentalist agenda, and that the Christian Zionists will eventually turn on Israel and the Jews if they hold out against accepting Jesus as Messiah.
Dan Juster labels such criticisms as "misconceptions," and to address them he wrote Passion for Israel: A Short History of the Evangelical Church's Commitment to the Jewish People and Israel (Clarksville, MD: Lederer Books, 2012). Juster traces the roots of the Christian Zionist vision back to the Puritans of the 16th and 17th centuries, and to a wide stream of Christian thinking that he terms "Evangelical Pietism," which has continued ever since those early days and has spread worldwide in recent decades.
Dispensationalism is often credited to, or blamed on, John Nelson Darby (1800-1882), an Anglo-Irish preacher and writer. But Juster says that Passion for Israel "has one big point. It is that [belief in] the restoration of the Jews and Israel is not from Darby but from the Puritans, and had wide support to the point of becoming British policy by 1840." Therefore the book provides a powerful resource in advocating for Israel among Christians--they don't have to line up with one particular, and arguably outdated, theological persuasion to support the biblical legitimacy of modern Israel. Instead, Christian supporters of Israel can cite a long and widespread tradition, and significant Christian adherents going back to Samuel Rutherford and the poet John Milton, American Puritan luminaries such as Increase Mather and Jonathan Edwards, the German pietist Count von Zinzendorf, and major British political leaders such as David Lloyd George and Arthur Balfour.
The book's main limitation is its brevity. It provides more of an outline of its subject matter than an in-depth treatment, and its 78-page format leaves one feeling frustrated. Juster cites Christian figures like those listed above, but rarely lets them speak for themselves. The reader learns about pro-Jewish Christian writings, but isn't given the opportunity to engage with them directly. A Messianic Jewish reader would also like to hear more about historic Jewish responses to early Christian Zionism, and what influence it might have had on Jewish perspectives on Christians and Yeshua.
Despite these limitations, Juster provides a long and broad-based pedigree for Christian support for Israel and the Jewish people, which will make it harder for Christian critics of Israel to dismiss this support. Passion for Israel is a valuable book for that reason and it's an inspiring book as well, as it portrays a living, prayerful, and impassioned tradition that has stood with the Jewish people for centuries.