Review: On the Road to Armageddon: How Evangelicals Became Israel's Best Friend
11/15/2004

Religious forces in the Middle East and in the United States are complex.
While Muslim, Jewish, Catholic and Orthodox perspectives arewidely known, account is
often not taken, however, of the strong millennial movement in the evangelical subculture,
which assigns a special theological significance to the State of Israel and its role in
Christian end-time thinking.

This volume provides a very helpful historical and theological analysis of the significance
of a Protestant Christian theology of history that gives special importance to the end-time
ingathering of the Jewish people, their evangelization and the ultimate destruction of the
majority of them, who do not convert to Jesus. This 'dispensationalist' view of biblical
prophecy has been a recurrent theme in Christian reform movements, most notably in the
Middle Ages under the Cistercians and Franciscans. The Catholic Church, however, set aside
this eschatological urgency at the Fifth Council of the Lateran (1517), but it survived
among some of the Reformers, was revived by John Nelson Darby and the Plymouth Brethren
in England and became popular in the American revivalism of the late 19th century.

In this view of history, Christ will take his elect with him into heaven in the "rapture,"
made so popular today in the Left Behind series of novels. During a period of tribulation
there will be other signs of the coming 1,000-year reign, the rise of the Anti-Christ,
the ingathering of the Jews, an intensification of evangelism especially targeted at the Jews
and, for some, the rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple.

This way of thinking is not a dominant motif in American Christianity, where only 36 percent
can be considered biblical literalists. In times of uncertainty, though, such as after
Sept. 11, 2001, polls show that 59 percent of Christians expected the events recounted
in the Book of Revelation to come to pass.

On the Road to Armageddon provides the history of how this dispensationalist view came to the
United States, how it was popularized in the evangelical subculture and the specific ways in
which historical events are interpreted in the light of this view of Scripture's prophetic
passages. Weber devotes two chapters to the complex relationship of this view of God's plan
to the Jewish people, and demonstrates how some dispensationalist evangelicals were supportive
of Zionism long before it was welcomed by American
Jews.

Chapters cover where the founding of the State of Israel fits into their understanding of biblical
prophecy, dispensationalists' ambivalence over the rights of displaced Palestinians and how
dispensationalists have developed their support for Israel. A final, chilling chapter describes
fringe dispensationalist groups that work with fringe Jewish groups to bring about the prophecies
in which they believe. The destruction of the mosques on the Temple Mount and the reconstruction
of a third temple with the restoration of Jewish sacrifice are among the objectives of these groups.
Of course, the Christians further believe that this will hasten the end of Israel and the
unconverted Jews in the great battle of Armageddon, in northern Israel.

The book is an engaging read, sympathetic and accurate while critical of the theology and
approaches to history that operate in these Christian communities. It also provides information
that will help the reader engage in understanding conversation, if not in dialogue, with people
who firmly hold to these convictions.

This sort of thinking is not leading to the forced conversions and open persecution to which
it led in the pre-Reformation period. Nevertheless, it does provide fuel for geopolitical imbalance
in an American culture that is notoriously influenced by religious ideas and theologies
of history that legitimate one policy or another in the nation's dealings with peoples
of the world. For that reason alone, it will be a useful book for Americans as they try to
understand their own cultures and for the rest of the world in its efforts to understand how
some Americans think and act.

*

Timothy P. Weber (Ph.D., University of Chicago Divinity School) is president of Memphis
Theological Seminary. He is the author of Living in the Shadow of the "Second Coming:
American Premillennialism, 1975-1982".

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How Evangelicals Became Israel's Best Friend

Seldom does a day go by without news coverage of violence-plagued Israel and American foreign policy
regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict. The United States has been one of the biggest supporters of Israel
since its formation more than fifty years ago, and American evangelicals have played a major role
in that support. In On the Road to Armageddon, Timothy Weber explores the historic relationship
between evangelicals and Israel, the relationship's dispensational theological roots, and
implications for the future.

Weber begins with an examination of the dispensational movement of the nineteenth century,
outlining its analysis of the coming apocalypse and the role that a formalized nation
of Israel would play. He describes the Zionist movement and events that led to the formation
of Israel in 1948, including the Balfour Declaration and the increased support for a nation
of Israel following the Holocaust. His concluding chapter, "Self-Fulfilling Prophecy,"
speculates whether ongoing dispensational support for Israel may be helping prophecy to happen.

Not only does Weber describe history and politics, he also explores the strong religious ideas
that fuel them. For example, despite their support for a Jewish state, evangelicals have grappled
with conflicting views of Jews, and many continue to evangelize them. Jews accept their support,
even though they are told that they will be destroyed unless they convert to Christ.
Weber questions whether dispensationalists who are convinced that there will be no peace
until Jesus comes can properly support efforts to make peace between Israelis and Palestinians,
and he explores why some Christians seem to care more about "unbelieving" Israelis
than Christian Palestinians.

A major work on an ever timely theme, "On the Road to Armageddon" is recommended reading for
anyone interested in American-Israeli relations, history, theology, and politics.

*
Timothy Weber's important and timely book illuminates the end-times beliefs that shape millions
of Americans' view of current events. Well-researched and historically grounded, "On the Road
to Armageddon" documents the phenomenal growth of dispensationalist prophecy belief in contemporary
America and traces dispensationalists' progression from passive observers of world trends
to avid participants in hastening history's apocalyptic end. Weber discusses the preachers,
organizations, and mass-market books that encourage uncritical evangelical support for modern-day
Israel's most uncompromising hard-line groups and their explosive agenda: a rebuilt Jewish temple
on a sacred Muslim site and ever-expanding Jewish settlements in Palestinian lands. He also traces
dispensationalists' deeply ambivalent eschatology, which anticipates Israel's glorious future
while also foreseeing either conversion or annihilation as the fate of the Jewish people.
This disturbing work deserves the widest possible readership.
Paul S. Boyer, author of When Time Shall Be No More

Unknown to or barely understood by most Americans, dispensationalist premillennialism is a bedrock
conviction of millions of evangelical and fundamentalist Christians. In "On the Road to Armageddon",
Weber has given us a balanced, well-written, and definitive history of this doctrine, its major
proponents, and its adherents, many of whom form the core of the Christian Right. It also clearly
delineates dispensationalism's real and potential impact on world affairs, particularly with respect to
Israel and Palestine. This book will serve as a valuable resource for anyone seeking to make sense of this
important aspect of contemporary American religion and popular culture. It should be required reading
for those charged with shaping American foreign policy.
William Martin, Rice University

Following his exceptionally valuable volume "Living in the Shadow of the Second Coming",
Weber provides us with a thoroughly researched historical and theological analysis
of the evangelical Christian attachment to Israel and its roots in premillennial
dispensationalist theology. With the ascendancy of the Christian Right in the United States
and its significant role in shaping U.S. foreign policy, Weber's book is a must read
not only for evangelicals but also for all who are curious about the role of the United States
in the Middle East and the popularity of end-times speculation in American culture.
Donald Wagner, North Park University

This is a real blockbuster. If you want to understand the current "Left Behind" obsession,
evangelicals' fixation with supporting the state of Israel, and the dangers of basing national policy
on eschatological speculation, this is the book to read. It exposes the inconsistencies in
dispensational thought about the future and warns us not to link the eternal teachings of
Scripture with the transitory events of our day.
Richard V. Pierard, Gordon College

This fascinating chronicle of a group of Anglo-American Christians widely derided but little
understood will go a long way toward answering questions many are just beginning to ask:
Why is the "Left Behind" series such an unexpected publishing sensation? Why do so many conservative
American Christians support the state of Israel? Why do some of these people support the construction
of a new Jewish temple in Jerusalem?
Gerald R. McDermott, Roanoke College

An excellent overview of the growth of dispensationalism, a branch of premillennialism, and
dispensational end-time predictions in America... Weber gives us a valuable history of dispensational
teaching that attempts to match predictions with changing world events."
George Westerlund, Library Journal