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Israel, alas, is widely viewed with disdain, if not outright hostility, in the contemporary Western world.  The biggest exception to this sentiment is the United States and, arguably, the primary reason for this is the Christian Zionism of many American Christians, particularly Protestants. Caitlin Carenen’s recent book,  The Fervent Embrace: Liberal Protestants, Evangelicals, and Israel  is a history of  this phenomenon, in which she highlights some unexpected and, at least for a contemporary observer, surprising facts: First, it was the the  liberal mainline of Protestant Christianity which was most enthusiastic about Israel in the early years of its existence. At least prior to the 1967 Six Day War, many liberal Protestants supported Israel for humanitarian  reasons after the Holocaust though some of their liberal confreres continued to deny the legitimacy of a continuing Hebrew national existence following the establishment of the Christian church.

Liberal Protestant support for Israel, at least amongst its elites, eventually faded, of course.  At roughly the same time, the  the position of Evangelicals moved from positively-inclined but passive onlookers to the Hebrew struggle for statehood to active supporters of the state. Dr. Carenen here notes another important, and often overlooked, point: within Evangelical circles the emphasis has shifted. Rather than focussing so much on prophecies concerning the end times, Evangelicals now tend to stress the promise in Genesis 12:3, “I will bless those who bless you.”

The American Protestant world’s attempt to come to terms with its past anti-semitism, the Holocaust, and the founding of the State of Israel has been the impetus for wide-ranging and profound changes, and even while these changes have been different for Evangelicals than for liberal Protestantism, they have been more significant and thorough than a skim of the subject might suggest. For readers interested in this fascinating chapter of American religious history, I know of no more complete survey than this book.

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