Steven Jaffe

The lessons we can learn from David Pawson's Christian Zionism

David Pawson fought for Zionism in the church - but believed the principal way Christians should engage with Jews was to seek to convert them to Christianity.

June 08, 2020 11:26

One of the most outspoken defenders of Zionism in the UK died last month. But you have probably never heard of him.

David Pawson fought Israel's battles in the Church.

The descendant of a long line of Methodist preachers, Pawson - who was born in 1930 -  studied theology at Cambridge University before joining the RAF as a chaplain. He served as a Methodist Minister before leading a fast-growing Baptist church in Guildford.

Quietly spoken but often controversial, he became a much sought-after preacher, authored over 80 books and produced in excess of 300 educational videos. 

His Bible teaching - on many different subjects -  reached tens of thousands globally. In particular, Pawson stuck his neck out in Defending Christian Zionism.

The book - which he published in 2008 - was a rejoinder to Rev Stephen Sizer, once hailed as the leading proponent of anti Zionism within the church. Sizer, an Anglican vicar from Virginia Water,  had produced books and even a film denouncing Israel and Zionism and  their Christian supporters (he has since been discredited for repeatedly sharing antisemitic hate material on line). 

For David Pawson, his response to Sizer rested more on literal Biblical interpretation than on politics or current affairs.

Put bluntly, Pawson believed the promises made by God to Abraham and his descendants regarding the land of Israel - set out in the Book of Genesis - still held good for the Jews notwithstanding the advent of Christianity.

Indeed, he believed the connection between the Jewish people and the land of Israel to be an integral part of New Testament as well as Old Testament teaching.  

In Israel in the New Testament, David Pawson charted the on-going relevance of the land and people of  Israel to the Gospel of Matthew, Paul's letter to the Romans, and the book of Revelation - texts which few Jews would regard as essential Zionist reading. Pawson's New Testament commentary helped buttress and justify support for Israel amongst countless Christians.

However, it is lazy thinking to believe that all Christian evangelicals share Pawson's Bible-based love for Israel. In fact, many hold  contrary beliefs that the Church has replaced Israel, and that the promises made by God to Abraham over land have been fulfilled or rendered redundant by the coming of the Messiah who the Jews rejected. 

While dressed up in the language of human rights for Palestinians, the hostility to Israel expressed by many Christian denominations and church-based NGOs, such as Christian Aid, in fact reflect controversy raging within the church over the place of Israel in Christian theology.

While he enthusiastically educated large Christian audiences on Israel's astounding military victories and contribution to  technological advances, David Pawson's engagement with the British Jewish community was neither extensive nor deep.

Pawson believed the principal way Christians should engage with Jews was to seek to convert them to Christianity. He wished to proclaim "the truth of the Gospel" to Jews, not enter into "interfaith dialogue" with them.

Pawson berated many of his fellow Christian Zionists for prioritising building friendship with Jews over winning their souls.

No wonder therefore Pawson received very few invitations to speak at synagogues or Jewish-organised Zionist conferences.

However we ignore David Pawson, and the battles he fought within the Church over Israel, at our peril. 

Christian Zionism is one of the fastest growing faith movements today, politically significant in the USA and embraced by millions in the developing world. While it is growing, dynamic and surprisingly diverse, the cause espoused by David Pawson and millions of other Christians remains largely neglected or misunderstood by Jews today. 

Steven Jaffe is a consultant to Jewish community organisations in the UK on grassroots advocacy

June 08, 2020 11:26

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