Allies for Armageddon: The Rise of Christian Zionism by Victoria Clark (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press; 2007). 331 pages. Reviewed by Donald E. Wagner

Written by admin on September 27th, 2009

British writer Victoria Clark provides a comprehensive historical overview of Christian Zionism from its origins in the British Isles to its contemporary manifestations in the United States.  Her fluid style offers the reader an informative, well documented, and easy to read narrative.

Clark begins by taking us inside a typical Christian Zionist “Holy Land tour,” in her case with a Colorado mega-church. They provide for us their home-grown version of American Christian Zionism, including a right-wing, pro-Israel, end-time belief system that typically shapes the worldviews of these true believers. Their core belief is that the in-gathering of world Jewry to Palestine will bring about the second coming of Christ, when Jesus will defeat the anti-Christ in the final Battle of Armageddon, and set up his thousand year reign.

Clark traces the historic development of Christian Zionists to sixteenth century England as exhibited in the writings of Rev. Thomas Brightman, whose monograph “The Revelation of the Revelations” dates back at least to 1585.  Similar writers inspired the Puritans, such as John Winthrop –the first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony – to immigrate to the New World in the belief that their settlement drive served a divine purpose. The thinking of Rev. John Nelson Darby, who many call the “Father of Christian Zionism,” merged with other early evangelical thinking to create the “restorationist” movement (“the Jews must be restored to Palestine”) which gradually became a political movement in support of the Zionist movement.

Clark’s work on the American roots of Christian Zionism focuses primarily on evangelist William E. Blackstone, who organized the first official Zionist lobby initiative in 1891, a full six years before the founding of Herzl’s World Zionist Congress. Financing Blackstone’s petition drive was J.P.Morgan, John D. Rockefeller, and publisher Charles B. Scribner and support was found among U.S. Senators, U.S. Representatives, Supreme Court Justices, and numerous clergy.

By the time the Clark moves to her final chapter, “Talking Texan,” she has established an insightful historical context for understanding modern-day Christian Zionism in America. Their support for Israel is complex and muti-faceted: many confuse the Israel of the Bible with the modern state of Israel; some think Biblical prophecies are approaching fulfillment in modern Israel; others believe that after the battle of Armageddon, Jews will convert to Christianity and Jesus will rule from Jerusalem. Texas is spotlighted as the place where the erudite, theological debates of the 1800s were “simplified and sensationalized” and turned into “the gun-slinging, Armageddon-fixated ideology it is today, the prevailing system of the American south.” But this exaggerates the Lone State’s domination of the movement and improperly stereotypes Christian Zionism to be a southern phenomenon.  In fact, the movement has substantial influence throughout the United States, ranging from small Midwestern towns to southern California to the mega-churches of Colorado, and has a growing presence in Africa, Asia, and throughout Europe.

Clark’s foray into theological analysis is also problematic.  Her generic use of the terms “Evangelical” and “Christian Zionist” fails to distinguish the variety of tendencies that characterize these complex Christian movements.  Such personalities as televangelists Pat Robertson and Rev. John Hagee, former President Jimmy Carter, and head of Sojourners Jim Wallis, all claim the term Evangelical, but the first two are the polar opposites of the second pair.  Evangelical Christianity is an umbrella term that covers a variety of theological and political tendencies, of which less than 10% are Christian Zionists, who are more accurately described as “fundamentalists” or the right-wing of Evangelicalism.

A more thorough discussion was warranted of the powerful critique of Christian Zionism by the Heads of Churches, who represent the local Palestinian Christian community in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and inside Israel.  This indigenous Christian opposition challenges the heart of Christian Zionism and the central project of Israel and offers perhaps the most important assessment of Christian Zionism that is available today.  Sadly, the critique is hardly developed.

Aside from these flaws, Clark has packaged a phenomenal amount of historical material into a single volume. It stands as an important resource that you may want to keep in sight for the next couple of years.  The Christian right already has started to gear up for the 2010 Congressional elections and the 2012 Presidential elections. Christian Zionism runs deep in American culture and it has the institutions and grass-roots support to rally voters in support of its candidates.  So keep this useful book on your bookshelf, as the themes discussed by Victoria Clark are likely to be heard in the near future.

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The Rev. Dr. Donald E. Wagner is an ordained Presbyterian clergyman and is an Associate Professor of Religion at North Park University in Chicago, where he is the Executive Director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies. He served for ten years as the Director of Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding. His books include Anxious for Armageddon (1995), Peace or Armageddon (1993), and All in the Name of the Bible (1988). During the 1980s he was National Director of the US Palestine Human Rights Campaign.

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