18 Mar Interview With Stephen Sizer
Stephen Sizer is the Anglican Vicar of Christ Church, Virginia Water, England, and author of several books including Christian Zionism: Roadmap to Armageddon? and Zion’s Christian Soldiers. I have not read either book, but if I can wittle down my present reading list, I actually would be interested to read one or both books. Some of my favorite books are actually those that did a good job of making fun of Premillenialists like myself. Paul Boyer’s, When Time Shall Be No More and Gershom Gorenberg’s The End of Days are two of my favorite books. In any case, in a recent article by Melanie Phillips, entitled Beware the new axis of evangelicals and Islamists Stephen featured prominently as one of the evangelical collaborators with the Islamists. After posting the article, Stephen dropped in and offered what he felt needed to be corrected in Phillip’s article. Subsequently, Stephen and I e-mailed back and forth a couple of times as he allowed me to conduct the following interview. While I have some very strong disagreements with Stephen, (I am a Christian Zionist) I did want to give him the benefit of the doubt and offer him the chance to share where he is coming from. The conversation could have continued I’m sure for quite some time, but I wanted to respect his busy job as a Pastor and beyond that, I promised him the last word:
Joel Richardson: Many scholars will point to the quadrilateral combination of (1) reliance on the Bible, (2) Church tradition, (3) logic, reason, and (4) personal experience as the four primary basis’ for one’s theological method. In recent years, I have seen an increasing reliance on what might be viewed as a fifth leg, this being: (5) one’s political worldview as a primary basis for determining one’s theology. Would you say this is an accurate observation?
Steven Sizer: My tradition (the Church of England plus my conservative evangelical roots ֠concerted through Campus Crusade for Christ) is based on Sola Scripture ֠so (1) alone as the infallible word of God. Tradition, reason and experience are all important but secondary. Apart from radical liberal theologians I donӴ know anyone mainstream who would shape their theology around a political system. The CofE Article 20 states Ԕhe church has authority to decree forms of worship and ceremonies and to decide in controversies concerning the faith. However, it is not lawful for the church to order anything contrary to God’s written Word. Nor may it expound one passage of Scripture so that it contradicts another passage. So, although the church is a witness and guardian to holy Scripture, it must not decree anything contrary to Scripture, nor is it to enforce belief in anything additional to Scripture as essential to salvation.ԍ
Joel: In a room full of close friends, how would you best define your own political leanings?
Steven: I had a working-class background and so was raised on the principles of the Labour Party although my father was not a union man. I now live in a middle-class community and am more in sympathy with a Liberal-Democrat or Conservative stance. My politics is entirely issue based. I have only ever voted for one of the three main parties.
Joel: Would you say that these political leanings are a significant factor in your theology and most specifically in your eschatology?
Stephen: I have a deep concern for the poor and marginalised, the persecuted and the downtrodden (Luke 6:20-26; Ԓeligion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.Ԡ(James 1:27)
Joel: Amen. We are both in agreement that the plight of the orphan and the widow is premiere on Godӳ heart. Do you also recognize that numerous Old Testament passages place the Jewish people at the time of Christӳ return, among those who are also hated, persecuted and marginalized and whom Christ will fight for when He comes?
Stephen: I see the New Testament classifying people in different ways (Jews, Gentiles, Slave, Greek, etc). When Christ comes the NT teaches us there will be two classes of people ֠those who are ready and those who are not ֠one will be taken and one left behind. I donӴ find anywhere in the NT the belief that Jesus will fight for anyone when he comes, least of all those who have disowned him.
Joel: What system of eschatology do you adhere to?
Stephen: I can see merits in all four positions: preterism, amillennialism, post-millennialism and historic premillennialism. I see dispensationalism as a 19th century eccentric aberration. I want to be on the welcoming committee not the organising committee. If I had to choose IӤ go with the simplest ֠a cross between a partial preterist ֠since many of the prophecies did come true 33-70AD – and an amillennialist position. If there is going to be the full works as outlined in premillennialism then we will soon find out. What is going to happen in the future besides the imminent literal physical return of Christ and the day of judgment is in Godӳ hands and doesnӴ affect our gospel mandate ֠to the Jew first and then to the Gentiles (Romans 1: 14-17)
Joel: Do you believe that the return of Christ is yet still future event that the Church should look for?
Stephen: Yes. We should long for his appearing (2 Timothy 4:8). ԁmen, Come, Lord Jesus (Revelation 22:20)
Joel: Below are a small handful of passages that refer to the return of Christ. How do you understand these passages:
And now, beholdŠI will advise you what this people (the Hebrews) will do to your people (Midianites) in the days to come (literally Դhe End-TimesԩŠI see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel. He will crush the foreheads of Moab, the skulls of all the sons of Sheth. Edom will be conquered; Seir, his enemy, will be conquered, but Israel will grow strong. – Numbers 24:14,17-19
He will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth. Yahweh has spoken.ŠThe hand of Yahweh will rest on this mountain (Zion); but Moab will be trampled under him as straw is trampled down in the manure. – Isaiah 25:8-10
Who is this coming from Edom, from Bozrah, with his garments stained crimson? Who is this, robed in splendor, striding forward in the greatness of his strength? “It is I, speaking in righteousness, mighty to save.” Why are your garments red, like those of one treading the winepress? “I have trodden the winepress alone; from the nations no one was with me. I trampled them in my anger and trod them down in my wrath; their blood spattered my garments, and I stained all my clothing. For the day of vengeance was in my heart, and the year of my redemption has come. – Isaiah 63:1-4
My sword has drunk its fill in the heavens; see, it descends in judgment on Edom, the people I have totally destroyed. The sword of Yahweh is bathed in blood, it is covered with fatشhe blood of lambs and goats, fat from the kidneys of rams. For Yahweh has a sacrifice in Bozrah and a great slaughter in EdomŠTheir land will be drenched with blood, and the dust will be soaked with fat. For Yahweh has a day of vengeance, a year of retribution, to uphold Zion’s legal cause. Edom’s streams will be turned into pitch, her dust into burning sulfur; her land will become blazing pitch! (Isaiah 34:3-9)
I will gather all nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. There I will enter into judgment against them concerning my inheritance, my people Israel, for they scattered my people among the nations and divided up my land… Now what have you against me, O Tyre and Sidon and all you regions of Philistia? Are you repaying me for something I have done? If you are paying me back, I will swiftly and speedily return on your own heads what you have done. – Joel 3;2, 4
Stephen: I maintain that we must interpret them (and the theological concepts they contain) in the light of the way the NT teaches us to understand ҩnheritanceҠҲedemptionҠand ҉sraelҍ
Joel: What role do these various Old Testament prophecies regarding Jesus’ ultimate judgment against the surrounding nations /neighbors of Israel (goy cabiyb) and subsequent vindication of Israel have on your view of the Middle East today?
Stephen: What does the New Testament say about how we should view these kinds of prophecies? (Matthew 8:11-12; Luke 3:7-9; John 8:39; Matthew 21:33-41). The prophecies you quote do not trump those I have quoted. Just the reverse. The NT reaches that faith in Jesus Christ is the basis for membership of the people of God. John 15 should be enough to convince anyone.
Joel: So do I understand you correctly to be saying that certain Biblical passages actually ԴrumpԠothers? Would you say then that you actually hold to a form of Christian abrogation?
Stephen: How do you understand Hebrews 8:13? Ԃy calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.ԍ
This is a form of biblical abrogation is it not?
Or how about Ԕhe law is only a shadow of the good things that are comingخot the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship.Ԡ(Hebrews 10:1)
Joel: How do you deal with such passages? Do you perceive the face-value / literal interpretation of these passages to be dangerous to the world today?
Stephen: The assumptions behind the question seems to be what Jesus had in mind when he said, ԙou study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you possess eternal life (and dare I say it Ԭandԅ). These are the very Scriptures that testify about me.Ԡ(John 5:39).
And also in this passage ԁnd beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.Ԡ(Luke 24:27)
Any theology that is not Christ-centric is inherently defective.
Joel: I fully agree that the overwhelming prophetic emphasis of Scripture is Jesus and His Kingdom. The passages that I cited describe Jesus returning and executing judgment against various Muslim nations specifically for their mistreatment of the Jewish people and the nation of Israel. First the Lord uses the surrounding nations (Goy Cabiyb) to execute His discipline on Israel, but then He returns in essence to break that rod over His knee. Apart from disregarding these passages altogether, how can you reconcile them with your position regarding Israel? The passages are numerous, clear and their context is clearly the return of Christ. Could you please walk through and interact with these passages a bit more than you have thus far? Particularly the portions that I highlighted in red. In Revelation 19 where Christ is portrayed as donning a robe soaked with blood, with Isaiah 63 in mind, as cited above, whose blood will His robe be soaked with and what are the Biblically expressed reasons for such violence on His part?
Stephen: Jesus is coming to judge the living and the dead. I donӴ underestimate that it will be a horrifying event. I donӴ, however, limit his judgement to those of the Islamic faith who have rejected Jesus. The judgement applies to British, American and Jewish people also (John 15 for example)
Joel: I have heard you state in what I felt were rather cynical terms the notion that as a result of their eschatology, many premillenialists actually long for or look forward to the suffering and death of both Jews and Muslims. Using a very similar analogy, imagine if you would that my wife’s due date was in two months. Knowing that on that day, my wife will experience perhaps some of the worst pain that she has ever experienced, would you consider it a rather strange accusation to say that I am longing for my wife to suffer because I am looking forward to the day?
Stephen: I look forward to the return of Jesus, knowing it will also be a terrible day for those that have rejected him. Hagee and friends seem to be goading us headlong into an apocalyptic battle. See here. http://stephensizer.blogspot.com/2008/11/weird-and-wacky-theology-3-armageddon.html and here about America in the Bible http://stephensizer.blogspot.com/2008/11/weird-and-wacky-theology-4-america-in.html I do not recognise this view from Scripture.
Joel: I am in full agreement with you that the United States is not mentioned in Scripture. The Bible is thoroughly Jerusalem, Israel and Middle Eastern-centric from beginning to end. But do you really think that such accusations and slights toward premillenialists are actually fair or conducive to Christian unity?
Stephen: DonӴ get me wrong, I have a high regard for historic premillennialism. I am careful to cite what premillennial dispensationalists actually say and avoid too much interpretation. Usually what they say is sufficient. They do not need any help.
At the July 19th, 2006 Washington DC inaugural event for Christians United for Israel, after recorded greeting from George W. Bush, and in the presence of four US Senators as well as the Israeli ambassador to the US, John stated :Քhe United States must join Israel in a preemptive military strike against Iran to fulfill Godӳ plan for both Israel and the WestŠa biblically prophesied end-time confrontation with Iran, which will lead to the Rapture, Tribulation, and Second Coming of Christ.ԍ
Well thatӳ everything isnӴ it? The whole caboodle as we say in OӬ Blighty. Now I donӴ want to see anyone ҷiped off the face of the earthҠleast of all my Jewish friends, but bombing Iran back to the stone age wonӴ win us any friends in the Middle East, John. Trust me, IӶe asked them.
Joel: As a Historic Premillenialist, I am again in complete agreement with you that these statements are neither helpful nor representative of genuine Christian character or thought. However, I would also express caution that these extremist statements not be presented as normative, even among Dispensationalists. Extremist comments and attitudes from either side of the isle should be disregarded, I think you will agree. But would you be willing to concede that today in the Church there is also an equally extremist left wing anti-Zionist camp emerging that it also neither helpful nor expressive of true Christian character or Biblical thought?
Stephen: Yes I agree with you. 🙂 And not just on this either.
Joel: Below is the famous Sahih Hadith of the Ghurkad Tree. It is considered reliable and authoritative by all four Islamic schools of jurisprudence:
‘The Hour [of Resurrection] will not arrive until you fight the Jews and the rock and the tree will say: O Muslim, servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him!’
What role do you feel that such anti-Semitic foundations of Islam play in the current Middle East conflict between Israel and the Islamic World?
Stephen: Probably a lot. It is our responsibility to introduce them to the Prince of Peace through a ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5) and not try and outbid them, for example like Anne Coulter,
ԗe should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity. We weren’t punctilious about locating and punishing only Hitler and his top officers. We carpet-bombed German cities; we killed civilians. That’s war. And this is war.Ԡ
Joel: Once again, obviously I agree with you. Comments like this are ultimately carnal, unbalanced and unwise. But again, my concern is that in reacting to such attitudes, many are over-reacting / over-compensating and altogether losing a fair, balanced and loving perspective toward the Jewish people that is more in accordance with the left-leaning hyper-critical attitude toward Israel spirit of the age rather than according to the Spirit of God. My concern is that some continue to demand that the Jewish people concede yet again to a neighboring territory where a large enough percentage of the population desires to kill every Jewish man, women and child because of the Nazi-like indoctrination of violent Islamic anti-Semitism (as well as Christian replacement theology) poured into the minds of the general population virtually from birth. My concern is that in taking such a radically anti-Zionist attitude, this camp is only encouraging and reinforcing an ancient hatred that needs little encouragement. My concern is that in emboldening the enemies of the Jewish people, many from this camp are ultimately bringing about the fulfillment of the Biblical prophecies that speak of the surrounding nations joining together to invade Israel and kill a majority of the inhabitants there ֠namely the Battle of Armageddon.