MASTER'S SEMINARY JOURNAL

BOOK REVIEW

Zion's Christian Soldiers? The Bible, Israel and the Church


By Stephen Sizer
Nottingham, England : InterVarsity (2007). 199 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Michael Vlach
19.1 (Spring 2008) : 288-290

While reading Stephen Sizer’s Zion’s Christian Soldiers?, the thought crossed this reviewer’s mind, “Here we go again! Another book intended to save the world from the dispensationalists.”

Much like Hank Hanegraaff’s similar book, Apocalypse Code, also printed in 2007, Sizer argues that dispensational theology is not only wrong—it is dangerous! Even to the point of threatening the survival of our planet. For example, Sizer states, “The movement [dispensationalism] as a whole is nevertheless leading the West, and the church with it, into a confrontation with Islam.” But wait, it gets worse: “Using biblical terminology to justify a pre-emptive global war against the ‘axis of evil’ merely reinforces stereotypes, fuels extremism, incites fundamentalism and increases the likelihood of nuclear war” (19).

So not only are those who are dispensationalists wrong in their theology, they are pushing the world towards global annihilation. But that is not all. After the statement above, Sizer goes on to declare: “It is not an understatement to say that what is at stake is our understanding of the gospel, the centrality of the cross. . . .” (19) Thus, in addition to threatening world peace, dispensationalists are also threatening the gospel. Can the stakes get any higher?

Sizer also informs the reader that belief in a secret rapture of the church is to blame for many of the world’s problems: “Sadly, the mistaken idea of a secret rapture has generated a lot of bad theology. It is probably the reason why many Christians don’t seem to care about climate change or about preserving diminishing supplies of natural resources. They are similarly not worried about the national debt, nuclear war, or world poverty, because they hope to be raptured to heaven and avoid suffering the consequences of the coming global holocaust” (136-37). Thus, just about everything wrong with the world can be blamed, at least partly, on the dispensationalists, according to Sizer. Those looking for an explanation or even a footnote to substantiate such a claim will be disappointed.

To be sure, Sizer deals with some important theological and hermeneutical issues. As an admitted “covenantalist” Sizer argues that the church is the fulfillment (not replacement) of Israel. He argues that the dispensational approach of a literal hermeneutic of the OT cannot work because the NT is the fulfillment of the Old Testament. Those interested in hermeneutics will want to note that Sizer believes that “Jesus and the apostles reinterpreted the Old Testament” (36, emphasis added).

Sizer argues strongly that nationalistic expectations concerning a kingdom for Israel in the OT have been replaced by universalistic expectations for all people who believe in Christ. Sizer appears to miss the point that nationalistic and universalistic implications for the kingdom is not an either/or situation— it is a both/and. God can and will fulfill his promises to national Israel while bringing believing Gentiles into His covenant and kingdom program. Interestingly, Sizer claims that the disciples were “confused” when they asked Jesus, “Lord, is it at this time that you are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). Sizer’s claim is problematic, especially since the disciples had already received forty days of instruction about the kingdom from the risen Jesus (Acts 1:3). It should also be noted that Jesus does not correct their understanding; instead, He says that they cannot know the timing of this restoration (Acts 1:7).

What Sizer promotes in his book is pretty standard fare from a covenantal/supersessionist perspective. But as this reviewer surveys various books and articles that critique dispensationalism, nothing within this book is especially helpful or insightful that has not been stated as well or better by others. Sadly, because of the extreme statements within it, this work contributes to the increased polarization between covenantalists and dispensationalists.

In the end, this reviewer finds it difficult to take this volume seriously when reckless statements accuse dispensationalism of contributing to about every imaginable evil in the world. It also seems that such books have no ability to distinguish statements from certain individuals like John Hagee (with whom I have serious theological problems as well) and the beliefs of dispensationalists as a whole. Unless someone is interested in tracking the battle over dispensationalism and covenant theology, this work has little usefulness. This reviewer cannot recommend it.