With God on Our SideChristopher Harrell (Actor), Stephen Sizer (Actor),
Porter Speakman Jr. (Director) |
“I dare anyone to see this film and remain unchanged.” Steven W. Haas – Vice President/Chief Catalyst, World Vision United States
I have to agree—my view was changed. I had previously believed that a premillenial interpretation of prophecy is essential to consistent Biblical theology and the alternative postmillennial and amillennial interpretations—though errant—were not dangerous. I now believe that such “alternatives” are not just wrong, but extremely dangerous. And to be sure, these filmmakers claim to be moved by the same concern.
Now one of the important principles employed by any fair-minded analyst is balance. When we approach a challenging subject we really must allow ourselves the opportunity to hear both sides of the issue as presented by the best advocates. Then after coming to a conclusion, we either strengthen or weaken our case by what, and by whom, we choose to characterize the differing perspectives. Discerning analysts will reject caricatures. Unfortunately, this film begins with the pulpit-pounding harangue of John Hagee as the representative for what is introduced with foreboding—Christian Zionism. It soon becomes apparent that this bellicose voice was chosen to cast a shadow over Christians who support the existence of the nation of Israel.
After presenting some choice examples of zealous Christian Zionists, the film introduces us to a reflective pastor’s son and family who once traveled to Israel among naïve evangelical tourists. Though previously taken in by the “Israeli script,” they are now better informed by thoughtful journalists, philosophers, and theologians. With this enlightened guidance, they now believe that Israel has presumptuously claimed to be a “fulfillment of Bible prophecy, turning a desert into a land filled with milk and honey.” According to Gary Burge, a recognizable evangelical scholar, Israel has foisted on these tourists a “jaundiced view of Palestinian life."
In this way the filmmakers begin our schooling with a highly selective history lesson of those events that suppossidly identify the specific, modern root of the Middle Eastern crisis. The Balfour Declaration is tagged as the primary Western propaganda piece that triggered what Arabs deemed an unjust UN Partition Plan and later what Palestinians called The Nakba, or The Catastrophe—the 1948 Israeli Declaration of Independence. However, this postmodern history fails to mention the concurrent rise of European/Arab anti-Semitism, which the League of Nations, the United Nations, and the Balfour Declaration sought to address by supporting a “national home for the Jewish people.” And inconceivably, the brief reference to World War II only once mentions the Holocaust in passing, and this without a single remark!
The filmmakers move on to introduce a series of impartial experts including proud-postmodernist Ilan Pappé (2), leftwing anarchist Norman Finkelstein, activist and anti-Semitic sympathizer Ben White (3), and the philosopher/mountaineer Ron Dart who it appears has no academic qualifications to expound on “prophetic Judaism”. The primary voice cited for Christian reconciliation is Salim Munayer. However, Dr. Munayer believes that such reconciliation will occur when Christians work directly with the terrorist leaders of Hezbollah and Hamas (4). The filmmakers do cite the opinion of two differing South African pastors: Evan Albertyn who argues that the effect of the Separation Barrier is worse than Apartheid, whereas Malcolm Hedding describes the motivation as a security measure that is 98% successful in stopping terrorism. So here it appears the filmmakers believe a more compassionate response would have aimed lower—say 50%? This section concludes with the political allegation that Israel is “using security as a pretext to grab land.”
What follows are some heart-breaking cases that illustrate the terrible living conditions for Palestinians. Such cases do appear to represent otherwise documented forms of injustice and inequity toward Palestinians, primarily by the settlers who are sometimes enabled by government inaction. However the film is grossly imbalanced by failing to provide any context to understand the devastating impact of terrorism on Israelis, Palestinians, and Christians. Burge goes so far as to assert that, “Palestinians are not defined by the radical wing of Hamas or Hezbollah necessarily, or Islamic Jihad.” The truth is that Hamas is a ruling political party in Gaza, from which it launches thousands of missiles into Israel, and its avowed purpose is the annihilation of Israel. And what Hamas is to Palestine, Hezbollah is to Lebanon. However, to justify their imbalanced perspective the filmmakers set cases of real Palestinian suffering in juxtaposition to some apparently cold, albeit disconnected, remarks by John Hagee. In response to these claims, representatives from Messianic Jewish congregations throughout the world have now issued a joint statement of concern about this imbalanced perspective and the implications for the existence of Israel (5).
In the next section the filmmakers express concern about how certain interpretations of the Bible are to blame for the current situation. So, once again we are presented with a series of transparent caricatures. It seems the root of Christian Zionism can be traced to those “notorious… dispensationalists”: John Darby, C.I. Scofield, Hal Lindsey, and Tim LaHaye. The conviction that certain Old Testament and New Testament scriptures might be fulfilled in the future is summarily dismissed with a trivialized and disdainful review of the premillennial interpretation of scripture. No attempt is made to compare and contrast the alternative postmillennial or amillennial interpretations. And there is certainly no admission that the filmmakers might favor the Preterist notion that most, if not all, Biblical prophecy was fulfilled in the past! (6) Of course, this would explain their obvious disdain for prophecy dealing with the future. One of the most serious allegations is that dispensationalists believe that there are two covenantal pathways to God: The Church and the Nation of Israel. Now apart from the fact that only a minority of Christians who have ever believed in a preemillennial return of Christ were dispensationalists, the falsehood of this generalization has long been acknowledged by leading postmillennial and amillennial theologians (7). Yet futurists are broadly characterized by comparison to the “average” marauding crusader who “thought he was living in the End Times," or modern futurist Dave Hunt because he identified Saddam Hussein as the Antichrist because of his appearance.
Gary Burge is the lone credentialed evangelical scholar offered to characterize the range of Christian interpretation of Biblical prophecy. Though some leading Preterists find they must acknowledge a high proportion of Biblically faithful leaders have held premillennial views over the entire history of the church (8), not so with Burge. Of one thing we may be sure, neither Burge nor the filmmakers can be accused of trying to motivate us with the scriptural merits of one view compared to another as do more responsible scholars (9). There is not even a serious attempt to build a Biblical case for their particular interpretation of scripture. And not one Jewish scholar is interviewed or cited to defend the Biblical basis for the existence of Israel.
So after this one-sided presentation of select historical, political, theological, and personal conditions in Israel, Gary Burge presumes the right to confess the sins of all evangelicals, “What has happened, is that we as evangelicals have endorsed an Israeli domestic policy that has placed over three million people under military occupation and has created the largest refugee population in the entire world…Why is this defended by the Christian Church? How is it that we don’t see the suffering of so many people who are made in the image of God?”
In all of this the filmmakers appear unable or unwilling to acknowledge the history of Jewish suffering at the hands of Europeans, Arabs, and Muslims that continues to the present hour. Certainly Burge does not recognize any of the past or present wars, massacres, pogroms, and terrorism against Jews that have threatened their survival. We are led to believe that there are actually no existential threats from Hamas, Hezbollah, or Islamic Jihad terrorists integrated in the Palestinian and Lebanese societies, much less from their financiers—the apocalyptic, genocidal death cult now controlling Iran. And there is not a hint of the peaking anti-Semitism throughout the Middle East—and now the West—with an ever-increasing drumbeat for the complete annihilation of Israel.
At this emotional turn in the film, a murky question is slipped in, “Is modern Israel the same as the collection of people who are descended from Abraham?” So here we have that old anti-Semitic slur, “Who knows if they are really Jews anyway.” Next we are presented with an obscured view of the first few verses of Genesis chapter 12 (Jerusalem Bible) about which Rev. Stephen Sizer simply says, “The New Testament teaches us to interpret God’s blessing of Abraham in the context of Jesus. Jesus said, ‘Abraham rejoiced to see my day.’ And Paul’s teaching that we are all children of Abraham by faith.” Now whatever the filmmakers mean to infer by these comments, the pertuity of the nation of Israel is clear throughout all of scripture. For example in Jeremiah the LORD declares, “Only if these decrees [daylight, moonlight and starlight, sea tides] vanish from my sight,” declares the Lord, “will the descendants of Israel ever cease to be a nation before me” (Jeremiah 31:35-37, NIV 1984). And Paul unquestionably addressed Israel’s existence in the “context of Jesus” throughout Romans chapters 9-11. He underscores the Old Testament pattern of God making “irrevocable” promises to Israel with a rhetorical question, “Did God reject his people? By no means!” (Romans 11:1,29 NIV 1984). Then after an extended explanation of the reasons “God has not rejected his people”(v2), Paul delivered his closing argument:
"Lest you be wise
in your own
sight, I want you to understand this mystery, brothers: a partial
come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And
way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, "The Deliverer will
from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob"; "and this will be
my covenant with them when I take away their sins." (Romans 11:25-27,
Burge closes this section ostensibly concerned with Biblical theology by asserting that “One of the most important questions that Christians need to think about… is…, Do we have a ‘one covenant theology’ or a ‘two covenant theology’?” He goes on: “When people criticize that ‘one covenant theology’ they often call it a ‘replacement theology’, which is a misnomer, because there is no way that the New Testament teaches that, perhaps, a gentile-Christian covenant replaces the Jews. No, on the contrary, the early church, the early messianic church, was a church made up of Jews initially and then was joined with Christians (sic).” So it appears that Burge, the film’s chosen representative for the post-millennial and amillennial perspectives, doesn’t appreciate his views being labeled “replacement theology” so he counters with another label—heretic. Informed analysts realize there is no justification in the film’s repeated allegation (7). All of this appears to be an attempt to justify the filmmaker’s case that the modern nation of Israel is an illegitimate fraud and this motivated by their belief that God had long ago rejected the nation of Israel! We might now appreciate why Jews are concerned about yet another rise of anti-Semitism in the name of Christ. Burge concludes that a theology that does not align with his own “neglects the centrality of Jesus Christ and there is a second alternative track that doesn’t require Christ.” So to the heresy allegation is added infidelity.
Now here we can acknowledge that some espousing a premillennial view of scripture have crossed the clear red line given by Jesus concerning the time of his return. He warned that, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matthew 24:36 NIV 1984). Yet Hal Lindsey actually published a book titled, The 1980 s countdown to Armageddon (10). And there are examples of self-styled prophecy teachers who have erroneously identified The Anti-Christ among the many anti-Christs that scripture predicts (1 John 2:18; 2 John 1:7; 2 Thessalonians 2:3). Now, as always there are those who teach and live in direct contradiction of Biblical directives, however the premillennial view of scripture has been held and maintained by Biblically faithful Christians from the very beginning of the church through to the present hour. A balanced review of this critical issue would have acknowledged this historical fact.
Further, it appears there are instances where Jews in Israel have wronged others including Palestinians for which the case of Hebron cited in the film appears to be an example. So here finally is a representative Jewish response to the filmmakers of With God on Our Side:
“There is no government in the world that is always right or blameless. What is true of other governments is also true for Israeli governments. Responsible criticism of policies and actions is justifiable and healthy, provided it is without double-standards. Israelis themselves, as well as Jews around the world, engage in such criticism. However, to expand legitimate political criticism into challenging the right of Israel to exist, or denying the historical importance of the land of Israel to the Jewish people, or denigrating the authenticity of Judaism, is morally unacceptable.” (11)
Now some endorsing the film’s perspective claim that Christians who support Israel are effectively "herding them [Jews] into Palestine where two-thirds will die in an apocalyptic Jewish Tribulation"(12). There are indeed many existential threats to the nation of Israel, however support from the West including the United States and its Christian citizens is not the source. The root is found in the resurgence of anti-Semitism among a majority of Israel’s neighbors. It seems that many in the West have become immune to the nuclear ambitions of the mega-maniacal Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who openly announced they will soon be “wiping Israel off the map.” However, the comparatively "moderate" Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi has recently urged his people to “nurse our children and our grandchildren on hatred” for Jews and Zionists. He then goes on to describe Zionists as “these bloodsuckers who attack the Palestinians, these warmongers, the descendants of apes and pigs” (13). The state of affairs in the Middle East is now so far from being an “Arab Spring” it seems more accurate to call it an “evil scheme.” The prophetic scriptures appear to have foreseen these very events:
Ezekiel 38:10-16: “‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: On that day thoughts will come into your mind and you will devise an evil scheme.  You will say, “I will invade a land of unwalled villages; I will attack a peaceful and unsuspecting people—all of them living without walls and without gates and bars.  I will plunder and loot and turn my hand against the resettled ruins and the people gathered from the nations, rich in livestock and goods, living at the center of the land.”  Sheba and Dedan and the merchants of Tarshish and all her villages will say to you, “Have you come to plunder? Have you gathered your hordes to loot, to carry off silver and gold, to take away livestock and goods and to seize much plunder?”’
 “Therefore, son of man, prophesy and say to Gog: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: In that day, when my people Israel are living in safety, will you not take notice of it?  You will come from your place in the far north, you and many nations with you, all of them riding on horses, a great horde, a mighty army.  You will advance against my people Israel like a cloud that covers the land. In days to come, O Gog, I will bring you against my land, so that the nations may know me when I show myself holy through you before their eyes.’”
Through this film we learn that certain emboldened advocates of the alternatives to a premillennial interpretation of scripture have moved on from trying to convince Biblical Christians to set aside prophetic scriptures since they now prefer politics. And mind you, if those advancing theses “alternatives” have it wrong, their politics will impact not only the future of Israel, but of the entire world (14). So, it has really come down to a test: How does the application of a particular interpretation of scripture affect the world: for a blessing, or for a curse? Time and the scriptures will tell.
Tim Nordgren, 2/24/13