While evangelicals still overwhelmingly support the nation of Israel, Millennials are more likely to be indifferent to the subject according to new Lifeway research. When asked their perception of the country of Israel today, Lifeway’s research shows a slow decline of approval. 76 percent of respondents age 65+ have a positive view of Israel, but that rate drops with each generation and bottoms out with Millennials, who have a 58 percent positive view of Israel. However, the rate of direct disapproval for Israel is still fairly low—only 12 percent among Millennials—with 30 percent saying they’re not sure.
What We Mean When We Talk about the Middle East
President Trump’s announcement recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital a few days after Lifeway releasing its research findings make the conclusions gleaned even more interesting. These results are leading some to speculate that there has been an evangelical decline in theological teaching on Israel. Darrell L. Bock, a board member for Chosen People Ministries and director of cultural engagement at Dallas Theological Seminary, speculates that when Millennials think of the Middle East, “they’re more likely to think about Iraq or Iran or the impact of terrorism in the world, he said. The terror attacks on 9/11 changed the Middle East equation, and young people just aren’t sure where Israel is supposed to fit.”
This line of thinking presupposes that teaching about Israel equates with supporting Israel; however, the data suggest that at least some of evangelical Millennials’ views on Israel come from a shifting theology. Lifeway’s research shows Millennials are slightly more inclined to believe Christians have fulfilled or replaced Israel’s role in history, but the biggest theological shift concerns their view of Palestinians.
When asked if evangelicals should do more to care for Palestinian people, 66 percent of Millennials agreed, with only 7 percent disagreeing. This stands in stark contrast to the 65+ crowd, 54 percent of whom agree, and 23 percent of whom disagree.
“Evangelicals largely believe God wants Israel to be there, they also think God cares how the nation of Israel acts,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. “However, for the most part, younger evangelicals are indifferent about Israel.”
Israel-Centric Eschatology Vs. Restored Earth Eschatology
A possible explanation for this Millennial apathy is a theological shift away from an Israel-centric end times belief. For evangelicals who believe the Bible teaches a literally-restored nation of Israel, the sovereignty of Israel is seen as a Biblical must; however, within many evangelical denominations, this eschatological approach has shifted from “must” to a “maybe.” A look at James Choung’s revamped witnessing tool, The Big Story, is an example of a reconsidered end times theology. Rather than salvation being a way to get to heaven after death, salvation now becomes the first step in restoring God’s kingdom here on earth, a project that will become complete when Jesus returns and reigns over all creation.
Rather than an end times approach as seen in the Left Behind books—where Christians are raptured, Israel is restored, and then the world is destroyed and a new one created—Choung’s eschatology sees Christians participating in a “new kingdom” building right now, one that will be made complete when Jesus returns and rather than destroying the world, redeems it. In this theology, the Israel in end times prophecies represents the time when Jesus re-establishes his kingdom, and his shalom, over all the world.
It’s not that this eschatology is specifically taught in many churches, but more that many leaders of evangelical churches are increasingly influenced by it. Because of that, teaching on the importance of Israel isn’t a necessary component of discipleship. Whether this is concerning for the church depends on your eschatological views. For those with an Israel-centric end times theology, the trend is certainly worrying.
Differing Views of the Future
Author Joel C. Rosenberg, who helped underwrite the Lifeway study, is particularly concerned by this study. The author of The Last Jihad series, Rosenberg is a staunch believer in the Christian duty to combat Islam and protect Israel as part of God’s end times plan.
“Unless the church gives younger believers a healthy, balanced, solidly biblical understanding of God’s love and plan for Israel, overall evangelical support for the Jewish state could very well plummet over the next decade as Millennials represent an ever-larger percentage of the overall church body,” Rosenberg said.
What Rosenberg and Choung represent is the growing theo-cultural debate in evangelicalism about what living in light of the end times truly means. And according to Lifeway’s survey, it seems the gap between generations on this subject is growing.