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Books: Jesus, King of the Jews

Books | No. 1 evangelical bestseller mistakes anti-Semitism for Martin Luther's cry for Reformation

Issue: "China’s one-child policy," June 27, 1998

At times, San Antonio pastor John Hagee's Final Dawn Over Jerusalem seems a photographic negative of an anti-Semitic tract. But Final Dawn Over Jerusalem, the current No. 1 bestseller in Christian bookstores, fails because it deals with the Jews as a People, instead of dealing with Jews as people in need of Christ's saving grace. The book is in two parts, the first a defense of the Jews (though not necessarily of Judaism) and a rebuke to the church for anti-Semitism. The second part is an eschatological construct of what the end times will look like. "Painting with a broad brush" doesn't quite capture the style. Mr. Hagee's method is more akin to surgery with an ax. One example is a statement he makes about those who criticize the modern political state of Israel. "The quickest and most effective way to be on God's side is to stand with the state of Israel and the Jewish people in their hour of need." Actually, the quickest way is to accept Jesus Christ; but I don't think Mr. Hagee means to discount salvation. He's simply letting his rhetoric run away with him. Here's another example: "Understand this: no matter what the Arabs say about peace, their religion demands that they defeat the Jews." That's not quite accurate, either; Sunni Muslims (as opposed to Shi'ite Muslims) aren't nearly so militant. Mr. Hagee probably understands this, because he goes on to write about "Islamic fundamentalists," which is the sloppy phrase used by Western journalism to describe the Shi'ite sect. But he gets carried away at times and says things that are just plain wrong. "If God intended Jesus to be the Messiah of Israel, why didn't He authorize Jesus to use supernatural signs to prove He was God's Anointed One?" he asks. Uh, see John 20:29-31. And Mr. Hagee alleges, "Adolf Hitler loved Martin Luther's theology." Again, no; Adolf Hitler hated Christianity with its "effeminate," meek Savior. Hitler and the Nazis consistently attacked the Reformation for its allegiance to the Bible, with its "Jewish" ideas. It's true that two days before his death, Martin Luther wrote an anti-Semitic pamphlet, but as he pointed out himself, all have sinned and fallen short. It's unfair to focus on that one regrettable tract and use it to dismiss all of Luther's theology-especially since that tract has nothing to do with his theology. But his harshest words are saved for "replacement theology," which he builds into a classic straw-man argument. He contends that replacement theology (the idea that the church has replaced Israel as God's chosen people) and anti-Semitism-which he confounds together-are being taught in Sunday schools throughout the nation. But what he describes is the Christian Identity movement, not Baptist Sunday School Board fare. He fails to cite a single text to support his statements, so his argument is irreparably weakened. Then Mr. Hagee launches into his end-times constructions. Essentially, he predicts that a dictator will win power in Russia and that it will lead a "pan-Islamic" military assault on Israel. This will be Armageddon. But for now, he says, we must pressure the U.S. government to adopt an unshakably pro-Israel foreign policy. "Christians and Jews, let us stand united and indivisible on this issue: there can be no compromise regarding the city of Jerusalem. Not now, not ever. We are racing toward the end of time, and Israel lies at the eye of the storm." Rather than give a blank check to even the most morally bankrupt governmental policy that might emerge from a present or future Knesset-whether it restricts Christian missions or oppresses Palestinians-the better way to aid Jews, it seems to me, would be to tell one the Good News.

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