King's Evangelical Divinity School

31 December 2009

Some Predictions for the Forthcoming Year and Decade

It's that time of year when everyone's making predictions for the New Year, and because it is in fact the beginning of a brand new decade the prediction business is even more frenetic than usual. Not wishing to be left out I thought I'd offer my own tongue-in-cheek predictions for your consideration. (I think the one about the Homily Factor was my favourite.) Be sure to add your own suggestions for what the future years may bring. Happy New Year!

WORLD STAGE
Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad becomes a quite nice, decent sort of fellow who starts to hang out with American, Iranian Christian, Jewish, and even Iranian opposition chappies (who he apologises to for roughing up a bit with rubber hoses, which he concedes was somewhat unsporting). Saying nasty things about Jews becomes a crime, but because he has ended such unpleasant things as hanging, stoning, being beaten senseless by someone dressed in black leathers and riding pillion on a motorbike wielding bitumen-filled lengths of rubber hose, punishment instead consists of sipping pints of warm English ale (worse, stout) while talking about the rules of cricket and listening to Kenny G. for hours on end. Anti-Israel sentiment immediately fizzles away completely. Ahmadinejad also says nuclear bombs are quite nasty things actually, which the peaceful Iranian people don’t need after all. Unfortunately he offends some people when his government is caught smuggling arms to Israel through a tunnel under Lebanon and calls for the annihilation of that “illegitimate Islamist entity Hamas”, which he says should be pushed into the sea.

30 December 2009

Evangelicalism and Politics: Then and Now

The latest edition of the Evangelical Review of Society and Politics has just been published. Contributions include a new forum, with this edition looking at Evangelicals and war by Paul Alexander, Peter Dixon, Brian Edgar, Thomas Simpson and Derek Tidball; a paper examining pacifism by Stephen Vantassel; a piece exploring the Christian understanding of the concept of human ‘community’, by G.J. Clarke (Centre for Public Christianity), Andrew J.B. Cameron and Michael P. Jensen (both of Moore Theological College); and a paper which looks at the influence of the Christian Right in US presidential politics since Nixon, by David Cowan. There are also various book reviews and other items, including a short editorial I wrote revisiting Evangelicalism and politic, which is reproduced in full below.

To subscribe to the Evangelical Review of Society and Politics visit this link. Institutions can also subscribe via library providers EBSCO and Harrassowitz.

28 December 2009

My Preferred Paper on the Left

Remember the story of Israel supposedly harvesting the organs of Palestinians? An altogether different story now seems to be emerging. For details see Ha'aretz, then the apology just issued by The Guardian. The implication was that only Palestinian organs were harvested, while the apology makes clear this was far from the case (for example, organs from Israeli army members were also taken). Unfortunately the damage is done: Israel has been demonised yet again.

I, for one, have become increasingly disillusioned with a newspaper which seems to be overly obsessed with either attacking Israel, pushing global warming (including mocking those who are not convinced by the politicised science), or else a negative attitude towards reporting Christianity. For some left-wing balance to my everyday reading of the newspapers I've found myself increasingly drawn to The Independent. To be sure, it takes an anti-Israel stance (after all, the angry Robert Fisk is one of their correspondents) and also takes a pretty strong watermelon stance on global warming (green outside, red inside). But at least it has other drums to beat from time to time, it also seems less anti-faith, and it has a fresher website.

25 December 2009

UK pro-Palestinians and PA shoot themselves in the foot (again)

Another Christmas story developing just now. This time it's British pro-Palestinians (joined by the Palestinian Authority) making themselves look a little bit silly, even managing to alienate the very choir leader who actually champions their political stance. To the outsider I suggest it all looks, frankly, like it is nothing at all to do with truth or justice but rather ideology, even anti-Israeli prejudice. If the story has been reported accurately it would appear the group's leader quoted in the report is woefully ill-equipped when it comes to PR issues (or else possibly employed by the Israelis with the express task of making her group look like bumbling clowns! If so she'll be getting a bonus this week ;) Anyway, read the story here.

24 December 2009

Christmas and Christianity in the British Press

In an article written for the Evangelical Review of Society and Politics several years ago I noted how  Christianity and religious issues in general were fairly rarely discussed in the British press some years back. In short, religion was firmly relegated to the private sphere, a situation which existed throughout much of the twentieth century. However, with 9/11, the London and Madrid bombings, an aggresive new form of secularism, and responses to the anti-Judaeo-Christian legislation introduced during the the Blair (and now Brown) years, religion is making a major comeback in current affairs. So while a couple of decades ago you'd be hard-pressed to find a Christmas news story or comment in the press reflecting on the religious significance of season, today it is quite a different story. For example, just this morning as I flicked through the various British newspaper sites I came across numerous items of interest actually combining Christmas with faith (rather than Santa Claus, drink, gifts, travel, cooking or sport). Anyway, thought they might interest you so here they are...

Christmas and the Jewishness of Jesus

The other day I came across an interesting piece in The Independent by Dominic Lawson commenting on Christmas. What I found interesting about Lawson's piece was how perceptive it was in parts. I don't agree with everything he says (particularly the penultimate paragraph) but he did make an important point about the thoroughly Jewish nature of the Messiah and how this deeply offends some within Christendom, leading to an attempt by some to airbrush out this aspect of the person of Jesus. Indeed, there have been Evangelicals who have tried to deny the Jewishness of Christ, which raises all manner of issues. Anyway, Dominic Lawson's comment can be found here.

23 December 2009

What Happens to the Unevangelised?

As promised, a little more blogging this week, specifically something I said I'd raise a month or two ago. I've been really interested for a while in Evangelical responses to what happens to the unevangelised. For a movement which is absolutist and anti-postmodern, replies are surprisingly varied and pluralist. Anyway, let's look at some options. The fundamentalist says tough, they're going to hell. Problem is, what about the poor lady seeking to live righteously and do good in a society where the Gospel is never preached? The Calvinist says it matters not, as God has determined beforehand who goes to heaven or hell, regardless of our actions and beliefs beforehand. So what about free will, then? Doesn't such a view place all the blame on God? Lest the Arminian feel a little smug here, doesn't their approach shift people's chances of eternal bliss away from God (the Calvinist position) to everyone of us? I mean, by simply reading this blog (or sleeping six hours instead of seven, taking an hour lunch break instead of 30 minutes, ad infinitum) aren't we as Christians not doing our job of evangelising and thus as a result humans are being condemned to hell for eternity? Then there is the universalist approach, which says everyone shall be saved. The problem here is, why bother being a Christian in the first place? And what about the inevitable question of what happens to Hitler and Stalin? There are alternatives, of course, for example, the concept of postmorten salvation (didn't CS Lewis subscribe to a version of this?). Or else those who seek God shall find him. Problem: prior to salvation we are all dead in trespasses and sins, so how can we even look for Him? And isn't such a view drawing on works rather than faith in Christ?

Of course, I've parodied to a certain extent the views above with the aim of encouraging you to express your views. I've wrestled with this issue for some time and will candidly (and gladly) share my current position with you, but first I'd like to hear some of your views and thoughts first.

More Blogging to Come

Sincerest apologies for the lack of activity here in the last couple or three weeks, with just a post every three or four days. It has been so hectic with lots of writing, various college events, work associated with King's shift to Chester University, and various plans I'm working on for 2010. Anyway, at last Christmas has come to the Smith household and I can relax a little, and therefore blog a little more over the next week or so. So I expect to post a little more frequently (within reason, of course, bearing in mind this is a big family get-together for us) in the lead up to the New Year. In the meantime, glad to see a few votes coming in to my poll on spiritual gifts (to view, scroll down and see far right column), but with eight days left we need considerably more votes to help determine the theological background of readers. Talk to you soon.

18 December 2009

Review of "Religion, Revival, and Religious Conflict"

Some time ago Dr Doug Petersen (Vanguard University)  reviewed my first book exploring Pentecostalism in revolutionary Nicaragua (Revolution, Revival, and Religious Conflict in Revolutionary Nicaragua, published by Brill, 2007) for the Evangelical Review of Society and Politics. I value his review because 1) Doug is an insider-participant academic, rather than an external-observer sceptic, 2) In 1996 he wrote a critically-acclaimed survey of Pentecostal social concern in Latin America (Not by Might, Nor by Power: A Pentecostal Theology of Social Concern, Paternoster, 1996), and 3) Doug spent considerable time in Nicaragua during those days, and as well as knowing first-hand the situation on the ground he actually knew several of the people referred to in my book. Anyway, I am grateful to him for this review. Here is what he wrote ...

16 December 2009

You Couldn't Make This Up

Despite its liberal bias, on the whole I enjoy Newsnight, the BBC’s highly respected flagship news analysis programme. But tonight it went just a little too far, treating us to the quite amazing spectacle of an “experiment” by a leading scientist using two large plastic water bottles to demonstrate to an audience of a dozen or so sceptics that man-made global warming is indeed an imminently destructive reality. I don’t know which made the BBC look sillier: the two “leading” scientists who merely served to enhance my (and I suspect most other viewers’) scepticism, the deeply “sceptical” audience who were (surprise, surprise) suddenly swayed by the little bottle trick, that the piece was presented in such a way that it was actually believed viewers might somehow be swayed by the comparison of a two-litre water bottle with something as immensely complex as the globe we live on, or the rather brave attempt by the genuinely intelligent and perceptive newscaster with the unfortunate role of having to follow the package managing – somehow - to keep a straight face as he moved on to the next story. The words “laughable”, “tragic”, “hilarious”, “breathtaking”, “wolf wolf” and “Goebbels” all come to mind.

11 December 2009

Beware An Overly Dogmatic Interpretation of Luke 21:24

Here’s a little point concerning Israel and the end times of which I would be interested to hear your thoughts and comments. It concerns the prophecy found in Luke 21:24. Naturally, liberal Protestants who reject the concept of predictive prophecy will likely dismiss interpretations of this verse by those who take the opposite view. Nonetheless, for those with a high view of Scripture, whether they are pre-, post- or a- millennialists, dispensationalists or supercessionists, this verse deserves closer attention, not least because it goes to the heart of how some pro-Israel Christians view the modern State of Israel.

9 December 2009

I am a libertarian but...

Have you noticed how so many Christians love to tell each other how to live? Don't drink, gamble, shop on Sunday, listen to secular music, or else declarations on what you should or shouldn't eat, how often to fast or go to church, or whatever, the list can (depending on the particular Christian circles you mix in) be pretty endless. Meanwhile, despite claims to the contrary such a prescriptive mindset is all too often a means of determining someone's spirituality. In short, it degenerates into a form of judgementalism.

Lest some non-Christians feel somewhat smug at this stage, neither is this feature unique to Christianity. Whether telling you what is politically correct or not, that you must accept every form of behaviour as equally valid or (paradoxically) that some lifestyle choices are wrong, making you feel guilty about your eco-choices, or whatever, just as with judgemental Christians being told what to do or not seems nearly always to be couched in moral language: "If you do this, then you are moral/ethical (Christian equivalent: spiritual), but if you don't do this then your not". In short, it's human nature to tell people what to do.

However, there are those in the secular realm who are true libertarians. What individuals do, they say, is no one else's business, and neither other individuals, institutions, wider society, or the State have any right whatsoever to legislate against their personal choices. I must admit to a certain sentimentality towards such a view. Within a Christian context, what I do no one else's business. My relationship with God is exactly that - something between me and God - and as a (I hope) mature Christian I know exactly when I'm displeasing Him. Thus, it is up to me - it is my responsibility - to ensure everything I do and how I live is right and moral and biblically acceptable. This, in fact, is the whole basis of Paul's famous liberty of conscience passage in Romans 14.

The problem is, where do we draw the line? Choosing to live righteously or sinfully is all well and good, but we simply cannot do whatever we want, whether in the secular or Christian realms. And here, in fact, is where may draw a parallel between both spheres to determine the line which should not be crossed. In Romans 14 the apostle Paul makes clear that despite his freedom to live as he pleases in light of his relationship with God, he would not do anything at all which causes another brother in Christ to stumble. In short, what we do is between us and God, and no one else has the right to judge us. (I certainly don't want to judge anyone else's actions - I have enough judging and worrying to deal with my own life and how that might displease God). But when our public actions might have a detrimental effect on the faith of a brother or sister in Christ, then it becomes problematic. Thus Paul says we need to take care how we flaunt our liberty (providing it is not sinful), otherwise we become answerable to God and the wider Christian community.

And in the name consistency, surely this is how it should be with secular libertarianism. As a Christian, I may find all manner of behaviour within society deeply distasteful, even disagreeing with it profoundly. But ultimately, the actions of such individuals are between them and their conscience (and ultimately, of course, between them and God). Yet just as with Christianity, libertarians have no right to cross a particular line, namely, how certain actions will have a bearing on others around them. And here's the rub, isn't it? Whether exploitation, abortion, adultery, or whatever, too many actions carried out in the name libertarianism all too often cause misery and anguish for others. Whether Christian or secular, then, it's no one else's business what we do... until it causes misery and pain for others.

8 December 2009

Poll result and new poll on spiritual gifts

Participation in the last poll was pretty disappointing, considering the daily traffic this blog gets. Clearly I need to keep working at this to find the right formula or question type. Anyway, in that poll I asked which region you thought the next major conflict would be, and votes were split evenly between the Middle East and India-Pakistan (36% each), with just a few votes for other regions.

Let's see if the new poll is more successful. Maybe I need to be more theological, so here goes. In the new poll I'm asking if you think spiritual gifts are for today. Scroll down and vote on the far right column.

3 December 2009

Ten Features (8 bad, 2 good) of the Current AGW Debate

In the lead-up to the forthcoming Copenhagen summit, man-made climate change (also known as Anthropogenic Global Warming, or AGW ) is being even more ubiquitously reported in the media than usual (if that were possible), with a flurry of apocalyptic scare stories and grave pronouncements by government officials. Deliciously, the climate change ideologues have become more apoplectic of late, as Copenhagen looms and, one suspects, in the wake of the highly damaging so-called "Climategate" leaked emails scandal. Anyway, not wishing to be left out of the current media frenzy, here’s my ha’penny’s worth... Ten features (eight bad, two good) of the current AGW debate.

30 November 2009

Revision of JMINS

Since it was published in May this year some twelve hundred copies of The Jews, Modern Israel and the New Supercessionism: Resources for Christians have been distributed already. The success of the book in such a short time was totally unexpected, while the very many comments I've received from readers all over the world expressing support for the book has been very encouraging. Anyway, given the book's success I've begun to work on a revised and enlarged version for publication in late 2010, when we'll be adding several chapters, expanding on others, and generally enlarging this resource. In the meantime, if you haven't yet bought a copy of the first edition, in light of the forthcoming revision the present edition is now available at a special reduced price. Details can be found at http://www.thechurchandisrael.com/.

27 November 2009

My Thanks to the MP Speaking Out With Passion on a Vital Issue

Some of you who've read my KEDS blog contributions know how I've often written about the massive increase in various social services department up and down the country taking children into custody and forcing through adoptions, either to fill quotas or else because of ideological reasons, over the past few years. With the help of many Christians, churches and blogs across the country we even campaigned heavily on this very issue some time back (the Scottish forced adoption case). There are so many well-publicised cases going on right now, including the despicable situation of a young woman being told her child will be taken immediately into care when she gives birth because social services say she has learning difficulties (though professionals disagree). She has had to flee her home region.

Well, this week in Parliament is was good to see Tim Yeo MP stand up and speak with real passion on the issue, criticising strongly Suffolk Country Council for the manner in which they took a child into custody then, when challenged, changed repeatedly their reasons for doing so. Details can be found on this BBC News page. If you want something a bit less bland with lots more detail try the Daily Mail's take on it. Just bear in mind the Daily Mail has been running a campaign on this issue for some time now, so the story is emotively expressed. But so what? It needs to be.

It would be nice to see more MPs have real passion about issues like this, challenging the highly secretive family courts which have caused utmost misery for so many families. Up and down the country so many genuinely vulnerable children are left in homes where they end of suffering terrible abuse, even death, or else children are taken from innocent families by the local Stalinists for reasons of political correctness or just plain spite. How ever did we reach this stage in our country? It is tragic. But well done, Tim Yeo! I wrote to thank him and received a reply today from his secretary. It says:

Dear Mr Smith

Thank you for your e-mail of 26 November.

I have been greatly encouraged by e-mails like yours which I have received from a number of people who share the concerns I have expressed about this issue.

You may rest assured that I will continue to pursue it vigorously.

Yours sincerely

TIM YEO

26 November 2009

I Can't Help Feeling a Little Smug (sorry)

I've posted here several times on the issue of climate change and my scepticism is pretty well-known elsewhere. Importantly, ideological (rather than scientific) segments of the green lobby seem to engage in the worship of creation, rather than the Creator, and indeed part of the movement draw on ancient 'geolatrous' paganism such as Druidism. Leaving the purely scientific aspect to one aside, then, it is very much a religion with its own belief system, together with its own heretics (climate change deniers) and thus inevitable witch hunts.

23 November 2009

Stephen Sizer as Anti-Replacement Theology Champion?

I note Stephen Sizer will be speaking at Bethlehem Bible College's Christ at the Checkpoint conference (March 2010), aimed at promoting a reading and reflection upon Scripture from a distinctly Palestinian perspective. The title of Sizer's paper is "Israel and the Church: Challenging Zionism, Anti-Semitism and Replacement Theology."

Let's leave aside for the moment the supercessionist-heavy list of speakers (excluding, of course, Walter Kaiser, a respected theologian taking the opposite view), which suggests there is unlikely to be a much-needed Evangelical theological breakthrough on the Israeli-Palestinian issue at this conference and instead yet more preaching to the choir and plenty of back-slapping. If only those critical of Christian Zionism could intelligently disengage it from supercessionism, they might find they'd command wider support.

Anyway, the notion of Stephen challenging replacement theology appears somewhat incongruous. In the past, several other supercessionists have tried (not very successfully) to distance themselves from the label "replacement theology". You see, ditching punitive supercessionism while holding to variations of either economic or structural supercessionism (see R. Kendall Soulen's useful book The God of Israel and Christian Theology for definitions of the terminology) doesn't qualify as having eschewed replacement theology. True, there are technical differences between these variations of supercessionism, nonetheless all mean the same thing semantically and theologically: whether one maintains Israel has been replaced or subsumed by, or redefined/extended in light of the Church, however one chooses to word it, it is still replacement theology in concept and outcome. God's historic people are superceded.

Thus, given how, in our correspondence last year Stephen stated categorially the Jews are no longer God's chosen people, I will be interested to see how exactly he intends to challenge replacement theology. At the very least his paper's title is disingenuous, even misleading. It is certainly amusing. At the risk of sounding pejorative, it's like the Pope presenting a paper challenging Catholicism, or Benny Hinn criticising the excesses of Charismaticism. Though no doubt it will be embraced with gusto at the conference, it just won't wash across the wider theological world.

21 November 2009

How Do We Measure the Arts as "Good"?

Tonight BBC2 ran an interesting documentary looking at Berlin's architecture, with special reference to the city's chequered past and the Nazi era (the architect Albert Speer was cloesely associated with the regime). During the programme the presenter Matt Frei asks a question many of us have considered when it comes to the arts as expressed by extreme ideologies or megalomaniacs. In this case, Frei visited the Berlin airport Tempelhof (now in mothballs), the huge terminal so closely associated with the Nazi era, and asks how we ought to view such a structure in light of its pedigree. Should our perceptions of a work of art be based primarily on aesthetics or ideology? It's a difficult question, isn't it? Whether fascist, communist, Christian, Islamic, or whatever, what exactly determines if a work of art is good? It seems to me we are faced with two choices: either determining goodness on the basis of ideology (which makes us the same as the communists or fascists), or else say the ideology behind something has no importance whatsoever, and that we must appraise purely on the basis of a kind of postmodern, reader-response, subjective basis. In either case, art is not judged as good in its own right, but rather on what underpins it. Thus, neither option seems entirely satisfactory. So what do you think?

19 November 2009

Utilitarianism in the Bible?

Over the weekend, much to the acute consternation and collective groans of my poor family, I watched The Wild Geese (with Richard Burton, Roger Moore and Richard Harris) for the umpteenth time. It’s a 1970s war film about mercenaries hired by a mining magnate to rescue a politician held by a corrupt African regime in order to secure mining concessions. However, the mercenaries are double-crossed by their employer who, negotiating a better financial deal, abandons them to the local militias to save having to pay their contract. They are faced with fighting their way across hundreds of miles of bush pursued by the cruel regime’s bloodthirsty troops, with only a handful of the mercenaries surviving. Mercenary involvement in Africa’s wars of the 1960s and 1970s fascinates me, so I keep going back to this film (much to my family’s misery). When we’re undecided over what to watch and I start torumage through our DVDs, my family immediately guess what's coming and all chorus in unison, “Oh no, not The Wild Geese again!” and disappear with alacrity. I’m not sure I’ve ever watched the film other than alone.

17 November 2009

Interview with William Kay

Last year I interviewed Dr William Kay (then Reader in Pentecostal Studies at Bangor University, now Professor of Theology at Glyndwr University) for King's Evangelical Divinity School's Talks With Scholars.  He has researched and written widely on the subject of Pentecostal and Charismatic Studies, a burgeoning field within theological departments which, by virtue of the movement's widespread growth over the past quarter-of-a-century, is widely studied by observers and insiders alike. If you are interested in the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements and their treatments within the academy I'm sure you'll find this interview interesting.

13 November 2009

Palestinian Identity and Islamisation

A useful article published in The Guardian several weeks ago highlighted yet another piece of evidence which demonstrates how Hamas-led Gaza is becoming increasingly radically Islamised. This is just one of various such reports (for example, remember the wedding guests roughed up for their celebration regarded as thorougly un-Islamic?).

Interestingly, however, Palestinian radicalisation does not seem to be limited to Gaza. The Palestinians are traditionally secular in outlook, yet a book by Loren Lybarger, which first I came across some 12-18 months ago, suggest many (including in the West Bank) have become radicalised over the past decade or two. Of course, pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian commentators will explain this phenomenon in diammetrically opposed ways, but that aside I think Lybarger's book is useful for two reasons. First, it highlights the complex and divided nature of Palestinian identity, helping to explain why Palestinians seems to be so divided, and thus weakened, in the current Israel-Palestinian conflict. If you've ever wondered why Palestinians can't seem to get their act together, constantly bickering among themselves, this book might help to supply some reasons. Second, a strong shift towards Islamism among a traditionally secular people demonstrates, yet again, the thoroughly theological nature of this conflict. Those who think there is a purely political solution to the conflict are, in my view, living in another world.

9 November 2009

Juxtaposing the Berlin Wall and Climate Change

It’s twenty years today since the fall of the Berlin Wall. For those of us who lived during the Cold War who could have imagined we would one day sit at home, glued to our televisions, watching the fall of Communism? First, Polish reforms, then, like a row of falling dominos, Hungary, the Berlin Wall, Czechoslovakia, the Romanian revolution and summary execution of the Ceausescus, and so on. For a teenager of the Cold War years who listened surreptitiously at night in rapt fascination and trepidation to the Communist empire’s propaganda as churned out by Radio Moscow, the events of late 1989 were heady stuff.

6 November 2009

Evangelicals and War

Just a quick note which might be of interest to readers. From this month the Evangelical Review of Society and Politics is introducing a new forum to explore certain social and political issues of interest to Evangelical readers. The aim of the ERSP Forum is to provide an arena that allows Evangelical scholars to express their views without the constraints and cumbersome nature of debates normally carried out in academic journals, whereby the standard thesis-response-counterresponse approach can take months. Instead, contributors are simultaneously invited to comment briefly on a particular issue without seeing the responses of their fellow contributors prior to publication. The outcome of the first forum has been a collection of thoughtful and insightful pieces on war, and we think the forum is going to prove a most interesting addition to future editions of the journal. Contributors include a leading UK Evangelical leader and scholar, several Christian servicemen (one who leads a well-known charity), a former Australian EA leader, and a well-known US Pentecostal scholar and pacifist. For further details of the journal and subscription information visit the journal website at www.evangelicalreview.com.

5 November 2009

God and Time (continued)

Further to my recent post asking whether God knows the future without having predetermined it beforehand, several people (friends and family included) have argued that because God is outside time He can see the whole of the future before Him, regardless of whether or not He determined it. An analogy sometimes employed to explain this linear view of time is that of a book which sets out the whole of human history, a kind of timeline of humanity, in story format. As someone who has read this book God can see everything that is going to happen before it actually happens, so the argument goes, without having predetermined it, because He stands outside of time and can at once see the beginning, middle and end of the book.

2 November 2009

October Poll Results (and new November poll)

In October this site ran a poll with the question "Which of the following best describes your primary theological identity?" Respondents could select one answer only. Here are the final results:

Neoorthodox 17% (5 votes)
Pentecostal/Charismatic 7% (2)
Liberal Protestant 0% (0)
Catholic/High Church 3% (1)
Dispensational 14% (4)
Fundamentalist 10% (3)
Reformed 21% (6)
None of the above 25% (7).
Total votes 28

Thanks for voting. Unfortunately, there were not really enough votes to make any meaningful judgement about readers of this blog at this stage. Anyway, the next poll has now been posted. To view please scroll down and you'll find it half way down on the right. Please take the time to vote; the poll is active until end of this month.

1 November 2009

Interview With Derek Tidball

Recently, Derek Tidball (former Principal of London School of Theology) was interviewed by King's Evangelical Divinity School for our Talk With Scholars feature. (Be sure to take a look; my colleague Andy Cheung has interviewed various well known names in the theological world.) Derek is a well-known senior Evangelical leader here in the UK, and as such we asked him various questions related to Evangelicalism. His responses were perceptive and nuanced, and I just wanted to draw your attention to the interview which I think is very interesting. It can be found here.

Greek versus Jewish Mindsets

I've just finished another spy novel by one of my favourite fiction writers. In keeping with his style the climax is reached towards the very end of a highly convoluted narrative numbering various hundreds of pages. Actually, though, if you think about it, this emphasis on a climatic approach is very much the way we do things in Western Europe and the US, whether novels, storytelling, movies, indeed even academic research and scholarly papers. This is not a coincidence. Just last week I was reminded again of an important distinction between the Greek and Jewish mindsets when an authoritative Jewish Christian speaker, in an exposition of Isaiah 53, explained how the author sets out his stall from the outset and then spends the rest of the text marshalling his evidence in support of his initial declarations.

The fact is, Western society continues to be shaped by a Greek philosophical mindset stretching back several thousand years. Whether the approach of thesis-antithesis-synthesis, or this focus on climatic endings, we in the West are the product of Greek thought, which contines to pervade our society. To be sure, we must take care not to over-generalise. The Jewish approach is to blab the punchline at the outset then explain why, while the Greek (and his offspring) favour dragging out the story with a climatic building up of the tension so that the whole truth is only revealed towards the end. But of course there are exceptions to this generalisation. Modern Jewish society is increasingly influenced by the West, while here imaginative people think out of the box, that is, they think in ways other than they were conditioned to think. But this aside, the basic premise stands: Jewish (indeed Eastern) and Greek modes of thinking differ in approach, especially if we look to the expressions of thought in the first century. And this is important because it demonstrates how, as Greek offspring, we need to take care how we view and interpret the Bible, which is essentially a collection of Jewish writing. In short, it is a thoroughly Jewish book, divinely inspired to be sure, but expressed in the human language of Jewishness, and as such Western Christianity must take care not to impose upon it a Western mindset and thus interpretation.

29 October 2009

Intercultural Theology: Pluralist Relativism or Democratic Absolutism?

Several weeks back I asked for definitions of intercultural theology from both postmodern and Christian perspectives, offering a guest blog post for the best answer in 200 words or less. There were no takers (!) so I thought I’d better wrap up this one so we can move on. Here are my 200 words on the topic.

Intercultural theology is a broad term which can generally refer to the study of religion and cultures and often forms part of a missions/missiology degree. But more specifically it has two distinct meanings, closely related but quite different, within postmodern and Christian settings. Drawing on postcolonial theory and thus challenging Western theology’s automatic privileged position, both seek to explore how local factors, culture and worldviews shape theological inquiry. (Actually there is a delicious irony here, given the fundamentally Western nature of postmodern thought.) But whereas a postmodern understanding of intercultural theology emphasises pluralism and relativism, so that the outcome is a collection of various local theologies, none of which is right or wrong, a Christian approach to intercultural theology, though still emphasising pluralism and local theological engagement, nonetheless ditches relativism. Instead the focus is on how different cultures represent equal stakeholders in the formulation of theology (a view expressed by the pioneering scholar of Pentecostalism Walter Hollenwegger), so that it is not just a Western stronghold, yet in keeping with the Christian concepts of absolutism and truth there still exists such a thing as good and bad theology. In short, the postmodern approach regards theology as a pluralist, relativist exercise, while Christian interculturalists instead emphasise a democratic yet absolutist approach (that is, they are pluralist to a degree as long as the ultimate outcome is truth). So while both take a similar starting point (postcolonial theory), their outworkings they are poles apart.

28 October 2009

"To the Jew First..."

I spent the weekend in Golders Green, London, visiting with Mitch Glaser and Chosen People Ministries (CPM). Mitch wrote the foreword to my recent book and we will be doing some more things together, which I will post details of here in due course. CPM is not so much a Christian Zionist group as a ministry founded in New York in the 1890s by a former rabbi for the express purpose of sharing the gospel with the Jewish people. Thus, for CPM Jewish evangelism takes precedence over issues such as the land and supercessionism, and the ministry now works in various locations outside New York, including the ministry I visited in Golders Green.

I am passionate about Jewish evangelism. Romans 1:16, together with the whole of Paul's ministry as set out in the book of Acts, demonstrates our duty to share the gospel with God's historic people, and I strongly disagree with those Christian Zionists who choose not to share the gospel with the Jewish people on theological grounds. I'm not a dual covenantalist and believe there is only way of salvation... through Jesus, Yeshua. However, sharing the gospel in this way often leads to strong opposition from religious Jews. I've seen it many times, indeed experienced it first hand at, for example, the Western Wall. Ultra-Orthodox Jews throughout Israel and within Jewish communities react strongly - sometimes even violently - against "missionaries" and missionary activity, which they regard pejoratively as somehow an attempt to "Gentilise" Jews by encouraging them to ditch their Jewish religious heritage. Indeed, it is not unusual to have the charge of anti-Semitism levelled against those who share the gospel with the Jewish people, so bitterly are the "missionaries" viewed. Of course, this is a complete nonsense. To be sure, there is a way to share the gospel which is not unnecessarily arrogant or insensitive, but sharing about the Jewish Messiah and the need to accept Him as saviour cannot be anti-Semitic. Indeed, Judaism is itself a proselatysing faith. Nonetheless, sharing the gospel in Israel can lead to all manner of problems, and just this week I received a letter from an evangelist friend of mine there hassled by the ultra-orthodox anti-missionay organisation Yad L'eachim.  One is certainly reminded of how the early church, which was fully Jewish, was persecuted by the Jewish religious authorities in the book of Acts. And for those who take a broadly pro-Israel or anti-supercessionist line nothing will test your love of the Jewish people more than the reaction you will receive in some quarters for sharing the gospel with them.

Mitch and others have recently produced a book on the whole issue of Jewish evangelism which I look forward to reading. I've already had a glance through and together with contributions from various well-known and respected theologians, it tackles the issue from a range of perspectives and disciplines. As such, this is a useful tool for all Christians, regardless of their theological view of Israel. Whether espousing Christian Zionism or supercessionism, I don't think you will find the book unpalatable, but rather quite useful and challenging. It is entitled To the Jew First: The Case for Jewish Evangelism in Scripture and History, edited by Darrell Bock and Mitch Glaser (Kregel Academic and Professional, 2008), with contributions from Richard A. Averbeck, Craig A. Blaising, J. Lanier Burns, Arnold Fruchtenbaum, Arthur F. Glasser, Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Kai Kjaer-Hansen, Barry R. Leventhal, Richard L. Pratt Jr., Michael Rydelnik, Mark A. Seifrid and David L. Turner.

26 October 2009

Turkey, the EU and Religion

As the Lisbon Treaty approaches final ratification across the European Union, the search is now on for the new so-called President of Europe, with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair touted as a strong contender. I'm not sure Blair will get the position - he's a divisive figure in a Union which is itself divided over its own vision, with Blair's views falling firmly within one of those camps. Evidence of this EU schizophrenia is raising the issue, once again, of Turkey's proposed membership of the EU. Back in 2006 I wrote an article for the KEDS blog on the issue of the EU and Turkey, with a particular focus on religion, and listening to the debate on the news today I thought it might be useful to reproduce the article here. Just remember it was originally written over three years ago and because I've reproduced it without updating it, several bits may be slightly out of date.

24 October 2009

The Church, Messianic Judaism and Identity

Those of us coming from a Gentile background exploring the relationship between the Church, Israel and the Jews tend to look at it from our own Sitz im Leben, that is, by and large we focus on our responses to and views of the relationship between them. Less frequently do we explore the debate from the perspective of Jewish believers in Jesus who are themselves seeking to balance their identity as both Jews and Christians, as well as ascertain their relationship with the Church. Indeed, so complex is this issue that the current theological and cultural debate within Messianic Judaism (MJ) is becoming increasingly intense, even heated on occasion.

21 October 2009

Pneuma, SIzer and Your Comments

Further to my last post on 18 October, it seems all the contents of that particular edition of the journal Pneuma has in fact now been made available to the public. This means my review on Sizer, which was published in the same edition of the journal as my article I talked about in the last post, is also available for donwload. The full contents of that edition of Pneuma can be found here.

PS A lot going on at work right now so I haven't been able to respond to several useful and thoughtful comments posted in response to several of my previous entries. I promise I'll get round to them in a day or two. Please forgive me. I value your comments.

18 October 2009

Pentecostalism and Zionism in Revolutionary Nicaragua

Further to my post yesterday exploring regional variations of Christian Zionism, illustrations of which included classical Pentecostalism in revolutionary Nicaragua, I was pleasantly surprised to learn just today that an article I'd written for an academic journal some time ago which partially covered this point has recently been made available for free on the Internet to the general public. The article is entitled Revolutionaries and Revivalists: Pentecostal Eschatology, Politics and the Nicaraguan Revolution, which was published in the peer-reviewed academic journal Pneuma: The Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies 30 (2008), 55-82. Although my article only explores briefly the Israel/Zionism issue, nonetheless it deals at greater depth the Latin American section of my article posted yesterday, as well as saving those with a passing interest having to purchase my incredibly expensive book (which explores this and related issues in much greater depth). Anyway, please consider downloading and reading this recently released article. And should it be, at some stage in the future, this external link becomes broken for some reason, please do please let me know so I can try and post the original version again here.

17 October 2009

Understanding Christian Zionism: Theological and Regional Variations

Here is a paper I delivered recently to a Theology postgraduate group. Upon reflection I also thought it might also be useful for my undergraduate students taking my Church and Israel module, which forms part of King's Evangelical Divinity School's Bachelor of Theology programme., so I decided to write it up and present it here. You can also find a Powerpoint presentation for this talk (go to www.calvinsmith.org, click on Resources, and select Other Resources).  I hope you find the following paper interesting and useful. As always, I appreciate all comments, regardless of the view you take.

15 October 2009

Does God Know the Future?

Further to my last post on open theism, here's an interesting question for Christians to ponder: Does God  truly know the future? Consider the following. The whole of the future is determined by the choices people (or God) make. So, from day to day I make various decisions, each of which can take my life down a slightly (or even markedly) different path. Each of these paths, in turn, yields yet further choices which, again, create yet more alternative paths my life might take. Multiply this daily over many years and I am faced with a million different ways in which my life might evolve. Now replicate this six or seven billion times (to take into account the world's population) and the permutations become positively astronomical.

Now I'm not saying God cannot know all the permutations. If He is truly God, then of course He can. But how can He know the shape which the future will take in all of these billions of lives unless He has determined beforehand which of these permutations will take effect? In short, can God truly know the whole future unless He has foreordained it? And if He has written the future, then this surely means we do not have genuine free will to make choices, otherwise our choices might change the shape of God's plans for the future. So here is the choice facing us: either believing in a God who knows the whole future, which in turn means it has been preordained, thus we do not have free will and we cannot be held accountable for our actions, or else a God who indeed gives us genuine free will, meaning the future has not been preordained and cannot be truly known.

Actually, we know from Scripture that at least some of the future has been planned by God. Moreover, I think my last sentence in the previous paragraph is over-simplistic, offering a false dichotomy. I simply wanted to demonstrate here where open theism might lead when taken to its logical extreme. There are, of course, ways in which genuine free will and God's sovereignty to determine the future can be reconciled, to some extent. So, over to you. What do you think?

12 October 2009

The Openness of God

Some time ago I reviewed a book which caused quite a stir throughout the US seminary world, particularly those within the Reformed tradition. While I do not endorse everything the authors postulate (I thought several chapters were far better than others), nonetheless this book really forced me to think through at length some issues I'd already half-heartedly engaged with for several years beforehand. If you struggle with the whole issue of election, salvation, the sovereignty of God, free will, and the like, it is well worth a read.

The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God
by Clark Pinnock, Richard Rice, John Sanders, William Hasker and David Basinger (Downers Grov, ILL: InterVarsity Press, 1994). 202 pp. pb. £9.99. 0-8308-1852-9

10 October 2009

A Fun Exercise (maybe)

In a blatant bid to make this blog more interactive, I thought I'd pose the following challenge. I'd be interested to learn how many of you view intercultural theology as either a postmodern or democratic Christian exercise. OK, it all sounds gobledeygook (I doubt I spelt that correctly) so far, but here's where internet research can really shine (I've looked around and there's enough to get a debate going).

I'll give you some keywords to be getting on with : postcolonialism/postcolonial theory, postcolonial theology, postmodernism, pluralism, intercultural theology, Walter Hollenweger, absolutism, truth. Now here is your question, to answer in less than 200 words the following "What is intercultural theology?" The great thing is, this is a truly postmodern question... in other words, there is no right and wrong answer! But the answer provided will depend on whether your primary focus is postmodern or Christian.  Therefore, I suggest answers in two parts: What intercultural theology means for the Christian, and what it means for the postmodernist. The 200 words is deliberate, to force you to present it concisely and understandably.

Now the prize (I have a feeling I'm going to regret this): A chance to write a guest post of 500 words on the subject of your choice, to be published on this blog (providing it isn't indecent, ungenerous, or which could get me sued - I'll work with you on this). You can cover pretty much anything you like in the post, and take a stance diammetrically opposed to me on pretty much anything. But it can't be anonymous.  So, over to you... (this could be the most wonderful experiment or go so woefully wrong). Cut-off date: 25th October.

7 October 2009

Sorry! Cohn-Sherbok Book Review Again (I think)

Very sorry about this. On my resources site I found a broken link to this blog for my review of Dan Cohn-Sherbok's The Politics of Apocalypse. This either means it was posted here previously and I have someone deleted it, or else I never posted it on this blog in the first place. Anyway, if the former, please forgive me for posting it again. I just want to have all my book reviews on this site eventually. If I haven't posted this review here, well, here it is...

The Politics of Apocalypse: The History and Influence of Christian Zionism, by
Dan Cohn-Sherbok. Oxford: Oneworld, 2006. xv+221pp. pb. £12.99.

ISBN13: 978-1-85168-453-3

6 October 2009

P.S. Don't Forget the Poll

Many thanks for all the comments. However, the poll is looking somewhat dismal, with only 13 votes so far cast. Would really love to get a better idea of visitors to this blog before the poll expires in several weeks, so scroll down and select your answer on the right of the page. Many thanks.

Bibliography on Latin American Protestantism

Some time ago I began assembling a bibliography on Latin American Protestantism (which in the Latin American milieu really means Latin American Pentecostalism). To my shame this fell by the wayside some time ago (I'm so eternally busy) but I recently returned to it and, while far from exhaustive, it does provide a useful starting point for anyone interested in the topic. The bibliography can be found on my resources website and faculty page. I'll keep adding to this now that I'm back into it, while over time I'll be adding an Israel and the Church bibliography too. I also have other ideas (eg Pentecostalism and politics, biblical theology, and so on), but just one small step at a time.

4 October 2009

Christians and the Israel-Palestinian Conflict: Why and How?

Apologies for no posts over the past couple of days. Flu. Anyway, I'm often struck by the tone of the debate on the Middle East conflict expressed by Evangelical Christians, which so often mimics the at times quite violent nature of the "debate" (better, slanging match) caried out in the media, blogs and across university campuses. To be sure, I'm not saying every believer involved in the whole Christian responses to Israel issue foams at the mouth, engages in cut-and-run quips rather than reasoned debate, or makes their case simply by knocking down straw men or being unnecessarily pejorative, yet looking around it seems a good many Christians - on both sides - do. (I'm pleased that several discussions on this blog have proved the issue can be discussed reasonably and hope this will continue and grow.) My question today, then, is two-fold: Why is this the case? Why does this issue raise such passions which often take the debate down unwelcome avenues? And secondly, what are some of the ways, principles and rules which can help ensure a more logical, fair, reasonable, and indeed fruitful discussion?

I hope to get lots of answers here (if we get no comments this will be a total non-starter) to both questions from all sides. At some stage I'd love to see some kind of conference organised by and for Evangelical Christians from across the spectrum to debate these issues in a sincere, honest and friendly manner according to a set of universally accepted rules. I think it could really help deal with some of the more extreme elements which seem to hold sway over the debate. (Of course, as well as an idealist, the pragmatic aspect of my personality doesn't hold too much hope of such a debate any time soon, but you never know). Anyway, over to you...

1 October 2009

Latin American Pentecostalism's Success

I'm trying not to allow this blog become a one-issue arena, my original stated aim being to discuss my two primary areas of writing and research (the Church and Israel, together with Pentecostal Studies, particularly Pentecostals and politics, and more narrowly Pentecostals and politics in Latin America), as well as dipping once in in a while into my "bread and butter" teaching focus: biblical theology's contribution to hermeneutics.  Looking back (and at the post category states) I guess it's so far so good, with fairly equal treatments of both research areas. But not quite. I am also aware of a need to fulfil a promise in an earlier post to explain briefly why Pentecostalism is so attractive sociologically. So here goes.

30 September 2009

My Book Reviewed in Evangelicals Now

The Jews, Modern Israel and the New Supercessionism: Resources for Christians has just been reviewed in the Christian newspaper Evangelicals Now. I must confess I wasn't too hopeful about a positive review, given the paper's invitation to Stephen Sizer to review Barry Horner's Future Israel (about this, on his blog Sizer wrote: "O dear. I really don’t want to have to review this unpleasant little book but those nice people at Evangelicals Now have asked me to, so I will, eventually.") Thus, one blogger has questioned the newspaper's editorial policy on issues relating to Israel and Zionism.

28 September 2009

The Evolution of Liberation Theology (part 2)

Yesterday I discussed briefly two books by the same author (Mario Aguilar) which explore liberation theology, my original review of which appeared in the Church Times. In fact, Aguilar went on to produce a third and final volume in the series, which Church Times also asked me to review, together with another title surveying faith in Latin America that included a quite valuable section on Latin American Pentecostalism. My review article is available on the Church Times website.

27 September 2009

The Evolution of Liberation Theology

Although I write about Latin American Pentecostalism, from time to time I am sometimes asked about another expression of faith and politics which was important in 1980s Latin America: liberation theology. The big question, of course, is why liberation theology, which promised so much to Latin America's poor, has not met with anywhere near the same amount of success as Pentecostalism, which finds its greatest strength among the very same socio-economic group liberation theology sought to champion. I talk about this at length in the last chapter of my Revolution, Revival, and Religious Conflict in Sandinista Nicaragua and will post something about it here in due course. But in the meantime, for those who are interested in how liberation theology has evolved you might want to read the following review article I did for the Church Times. In short, I argue liberation theology's evolution has made it an essentially academic discipline played out in the university ivory tower, rather at the barrio (or shanty town) level. Thus, it has lost its very central defining feature: praxis.

25 September 2009

Review of "Israel, God's Servant"

Over the past few days I've posted various book reviews on titles exploring the relationship between the Church and Israel, together with a paper or two on the topic. I thought I'd move on to another issue for the next day or two, but in the meantime, here is my last review (for now) on books exploring this issue. The following book review appeared in Evangelical Review of Society and Politics 2.1 (2008).

Israel, God’s Servant, by David W. Torrance and George Taylor.
Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2007. 224pp. pb. £9.99.

24 September 2009

Christians, Ethics and the Treatment of Animals

My good friend Stephen Vantassel has recently published a book on the above topic, which I was privileged to read and comment upon prior to publication. He writes from a fairly unique perspective, having worked and published in both the scientific and theological worlds. Given how issues relating to the environment and stewardship are growing in Evangelical circles, I suggest this book is well worth reading. Further details about it can be found on Stephen's website.

Review of Gary Burge's "Whose Land? Whose Promise?"

The following book review first appeared in Evangelical Review of Society and Politics 1.2 (2007), 62-4. It was later reproduced in Pneuma Review 11.3 (2008), 69-71.

Whose Land? Whose Promise? What Christians
Are Not Being Told About Israel and the Palestinians,
by Gary M. Burge. Cleveland: Pilgrim Press, 2003.
xviii+286pp. hb. $23.00.

23 September 2009

Protestantism in Fidel's Cuba

The following book review appeared originally in the Bulletin of Latin American Research 28.4 (2009, 561-2) in a special edition exploring the fiftieth anniversary of the Cuban Revolution.

Corse, T. (2007) Protestants, Revolution, and the Cuba-US Bond, University of Florida Press (Gainesville, FL), xi + 194 pp. $59.95 hbk.

This important study explores a considerably under-researched field in Cuban Studies, namely, Protestant–state relations during the revolutionary period. Drawing on substantial archival material and various interviews with church leaders, Theron Corse focuses especially on how pre-revolutionary Cuban Protestant institutional bonds with their US counterparts have proved durable and resilient since 1959, while the selfidentity implanted by US missionaries has assisted Cuban Protestantism to survive a period of forced autonomy.

22 September 2009

Power, Politics, and Pentecostals in Latin America

The Internet can be a wonderful tool. With a little bit of know-how, together with the generosity of some scholars and their desire to see their work distributed to a wider audience once their article or book has run its natural course in the print world, one occasionally comes across full-text access to solid academic resources. A case in point is Power, Politics, and Pentecostals in Latin America, edited by Edward L. Cleary and Hannah W. Stewart-Gambino (originally published by Westview Press in 1997), which is a seminal work exploring the intersection of Pentecostalism and politics in Latin America. The book contains various excellent chapters on different aspects of the social and political impact of Pentecostalism - both explicit and implicit - across that continent, and this book is a vital resource for anyone interested in this field. I am grateful to the authors and publishers for making this title freely available and would encourage all my students exploring this field to engage with this book. The full text of Cleary's and Stewart-Gambino's excellent work is available here in both PDF and html formats.

21 September 2009

Review of "The Politics of Apocalypse"

Following on from yesterday's post about Christian responses to the Arab-Israeli conflict, here's a review of a useful book exploring Christian Zionism. While I don't agree with aspects of Cohn-Sherbok's argument, nonetheless he offers an alternative approach to Christian Zionism which, while critical, is somewhat less pejorative (and therefore more likely to engage its opponents constructively) than other books exploring the same topic. This review was posted on the King's Evangelical Divinity School blog in 2008.

The Politics of Apocalypse:
The History and Influence of Christian Zionism
Dan Cohn-Sherbok. Oxford: Oneworld, 2006.
xv+221pp. pb. £12.99.

20 September 2009

Consultation Paper: A Christian View of Israel

The following paper was delivered at the Concordis International consultation The British Churches and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, held at Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge, on 19 September 2009. (1)

The Jewish People in the Bible

In his important book The God of Israel and Christian Theology (Fortress Press, 1996) the theologian R. Kendall Soulen explains how second century responses to anti-Christian Judaism contributed to a distorted understanding of the canonical narrative. By canonical narrative we mean the thread, or overarching narrative that runs through the Bible (sometimes referred to as the Bible’s metanarrative). Establishing the central thread and tracing key biblical themes is a vital aspect of doing biblical theology.

18 September 2009

More Theological Resources

In keeping with the aims of this blog, I'm slowly building up a list of theological resources on this and my mirror site (http://www.calvinsmith.org/) in the fields of Pentecostal Studies, the Church and Israel, and hermeneutics (particularly biblical theology's contribution to it). It will take some time to do this but some resources are already available for browsing at the above site, including book reviews and some journal and conference papers. I'll announce any new resources here as and when they are posted on either site. Hope you find what's already there useful.

17 September 2009

Comment on Christian Worship in Modern Society

Public worship takes many forms depending on the church one attends. Styles include ultra-liturgical, traditional, easy listening contemporary, upbeat reworkings of old hymns, and so on. But perhaps the most popular (better, perhaps the most publicised) style is that found in ultra-modern churches that meet in auditoriums often filled with youthful, trendy congregations decked in the latest fashions (with not a tie and collar to be seen), led in worship by a line of similarly-dressed worship leaders and accompanied by a large, professional band playing contemporary music with a soft rock twist. Such churches take their cue from a large church in Australia, which many today seek to emulate (some successfully, others with considerably less skill).

Review of "Who's Afraid of the Holy Spirit?"

Together with the Calvinist-Arminian debacle, eschatology, and more recently responses to modern Israel, pneumatology (theology of the Holy Spirit) arguably represents one of the major fault lines running through Evangelicalism today and which has divided the movement throughout the twentieth century. As usual with these things, views have tended to become sharply polarised, with Pentecostals/Charismatics and cessationists often poles apart. But several years ago a book came out which contained a collection of essays on the topic by scholars and church leaders from a broadly cessationist perspective who sought to provide a fresh, less ideologically-rigid perspective on this issue. The book calls this position "progressive cessationism", and I was asked to review it for Pneuma: The Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies (29.1, 2007, 162-3). I think this book is well worth reading, regardless of your pneumatological stance. My review of the book is reproduced here with permission.

16 September 2009

Review of "Christian Zionism: Road-map to Armageddon?"

Here is a review of Stephen Sizer's Christian Zionism: Road-map to Armageddon? (IVP, 2006). This is a more detailed version of my book review, which originally appeared in Pneuma: The Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies (2007) and explored the book in light of Pentecostal Studies. 

An explosion of Evangelicalism (predominantly Pentecostalism) across Latin America during the 1980s quickly captured the attention of sociologists. Since then, this ripe field of research has been extended to include the social and political impact of explosive Pentecostal growth in Africa and elsewhere, while the entire phenomenon has arguably spawned a relatively new, interdisciplinary academic field, Pentecostal Studies, which is now well-established in respected universities and centres throughout Europe and North America.

Pentecostal Faith and Politics in Costa Rica and Guatemala

When I first launched this blog I discussed briefly the rise of Pentecostal Studies as an academic sub-discipline of theology. To a large part this is owed to the explosion of Pentecostalism across Latin America in the 1970s and especially the 1980s, which attracted the attention of sociologists, historians, political scientists and others keen to explore the extent to which this phenomenon has had on society and politics across that continent. Since the 1980s there have been numerous studies and book exploring this topic.

This is an area which I write about from time to time and I am sometimes asked to review books on the subject. Where possible I plan to post those reviews here. The following book review was originally published in Pneuma: The Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies 28.2 (2006), 374-6 (reproduced with permission).

15 September 2009

Protestantism in Revolutionary Nicaragua

In mid-2005 I completed my Ph.D. at the University of Birmingham, England, on the dynamics of Protestant-state relations in revolutionary Nicaragua (1979-1990). Some eighteen months or so later a version of my thesis was published by Brill (Leiden and Boston), leading a few months later to a kind invitation by the anthropologist Henri Gooren (now at Oakland University, Michigan) and the IIMO Centre at Utrecht University, The Netherlands, to be the keynote speaker for their Religion and Politics in Nicaragua Seminar.The paper I delivered was a brief synopsis of my research and first book. This paper is now available on the King's Evangelical Divinity School website.

14 September 2009

Review of "The Language of Symbolism"

Here is the second of two promised reviews of books exploring biblical theology (this review also originally appeared in Evangelical Quarterly - 80.1, 2008, 74-6).

Review of "Out of Egypt"

In my last post I briefly discussed biblical theology and promised to post several book reviews on the subject. The first (below) was originaly published in Evangelical Quarterly (78.3, July 2006, 274-6) and concerns an excellent book on the issue and how it relates to hermeneutics. Not for the faint-hearted, this collection of essays offers a theoretical rather than methodological treatment of where biblical theology and hermeneutics intersect. It also explains how postmodernism (ironically) paves the way for a return of the discipline within academic theology. More on this in my book review below.

13 September 2009

My Fascination With Biblical Theology

I launched this blog by outlining two areas of academic research I focus upon and write about: 1) the Church and Israel, and 2) Pentecostal Studies, particularly Pentecostalism in Latin America as well as Pentecostals and politics generally. Howevert, in addition I have several other areas which I teach, notably hermeneutics (biblical interpretation) and especially how biblical theology aids our understanding and interpretation of the Bible. Biblical theology is the discipline which focuses on the entire Bible narrative (or metanarrative, sometimes also referred to as the canonical narrative) and how every genre, form, text, Bible book, and so on, should be interpreted in light of this bigger picture.

Having been brought up in a strongly Evangelical household (several family members were in ministry) with an emphasis on the Bible as the divinely inspired and revealed word of God, any approach which focuses on the Bible as a unified whole with a central purpose and narrative was always bound to fascinate and draw me. That biblical theology is now in the ascendancy within academic theology (a development, ironically, arising out of a postmodernist worldview - more on this in the next post) makes this discipline all the more exciting. I developed King's Evangelical Divinity School's biblical theology module for the final year of the Bachelor of Theology programme, and I've also reviewed several books on the subject for the scholarly journal Evangelical Quarterly. I'm explaining this because, from time to time, I plan to post articles here on biblical theology and to comment generally on passages from a biblical theology angle because I believe it is such an essential, key tool for the biblical interpreter.

In my next post I'll include a couple of my Evangelical Quarterly book reviews in this field, which I hope you find useful. In the meantime, visit the website Beginning With Moses (see links, left) which I hope you find useful. Moreover, if you delve further into biblical theology as a hermeneutical tool, aim to consider its value in preaching, which goes to the very heart of the role and purpose of biblical hermeneutics. After all, biblical interpretation should have an outworking which makes us all better Christians. Indeed this is the very basis of biblically-based proclamation. Hermeneutics is not an end in itself, but rather a means to an end: the proclamation of the entire word of God so that it may be acted upon and shape us as Christians. In this respect, biblical theology plays an integral role in this bringing about hermeneutics's goal, but only really through a symbiosis of biblical theology and preaching.

New Book Review on Cuban Protestantism

I've just learned my review of a book for the Bulletin of Latin American Research has been published in a special edition of the journal marking fifty years of the Cuban revolution. The book, by Theron Corse, is entitled Protestants, Revolution, and the US-Cuba Bond (if you're in this item, be sure to hunt around as it available across the 'net for a range of prices). Obviously with the review having just been published I can't post it here yet, but in a nutshell Corse focuses on how Cuba-US Protestant bonds have remained durable and resilient since the 1959 revolution, while the identity implanted by US missionaries helped Cuban Protestantism to survive a period of forced autonomy.

12 September 2009

Brief Review of "Zion Before Zionism, 1838-1880"

While in Israel during my last visit I picked up an interesting-looking book from Steimatzky’s Bookshop on Ben Yehuda Street, entitled Zion Before Zionism, 1838-1880. It was written by Arnold Blumberg, professor of History at Townson University for forty years and a noted historian scholar who wrote seven monographs and various journal articles. I was attracted to the book because, together with early Zionist and Israeli history, the pre-Zionist period of Palestine intrigues me. We hear so much false history invoked in the current conflict, that is, false statements that have entered the current debate as “fact”. This is because history is such a powerful weapon in any political and military conflict, and especially where nationalism and nationalist sentiments are involved. For this reason I am always interested in studying the underlying historical facts associated with Zionism and Palestinia nationalism to determine accuracy and dispel myths.

Two Research Areas (Part 2)

On 11 September I explained how there were two academic areas in particular I research and write about. The first was Pentecostal Studies, which I discussed in that post. The second is Christian responses to the modern State of Israel. This is a broad area, encompassing biblical studies, theology, Middle East history and politics, ethics, and so on. Like the world, the Church is bitterly divided over this issue, with opinion sharply polarised and little focus on the middle ground. Over forthcoming months I will post some comments on this issue, exploring the topic from various angles and trying to engage more with the middle ground. In the meantime, consider my The Jews, Modern Israel and the New Supercessionism: Resources for Christians (to buy click on the book icon, right), which contains a collection of essays from various contributors exploring the issue from different angles and disciplines.

Part 1 (cont'd): Pentecostal Studies Resources

Further to my last post here are some useful sites for those interested in the scholarly study of the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements:
Society for Pentecostal Studies. Publishes the academic journal Pneuma.
Journal of Pentecostal Theology (academic journal published by Sage).
GloPent: European Research Network on Global Pentecostalism. Plenty of resources.
Allan Anderson's homepage (University of Birmingham, England). Lots of conference papers, articles etc.

11 September 2009

Two Research Areas (Part 1)

Aside from bread-and-butter teaching areas and interests, there are two academic foci I research and write about, the first of these being Pentecostal Studies. This is a fascinating area, though sometimes misunderstood by Evangelicals who personally might lean away from a non-Charismatic theology or experience. Technically, Pentecostal Studies is an academic discipline, that is, a sub-branch of theology which explores the history, theology and practice of the movement, regardless of whether this is done from an internal-participant or external-observer perspective. Thus, one does not necessarily have to be Pentecostal or Charismatic to specialise in Pentecostal Studies, while many specialists in the field keen to determine its social and political impact explore the movement strictly as a social phenomenon. Indeed, some students of Pentecostalism are agnostics or even atheists.

10 September 2009

Welcome!

Welcome to my new blog. Actually, I've been blogging for a while (though admittedly the posts have been somewhat erratic of late) over at the blog for King's Evangelical Divinity School, where I lecture. I will, of course, continue to contribute to the KEDS blog, but because I'm involved in several projects and have a variety of research and other interests I decided to launch my own personal blog. Nonetheless, any new KEDS posts I produce will also appear here, together with feeds to my earlier posts on that site. But do please continue to visit the KEDS blog, which features many excellent posts from my illustrious KEDS colleagues. In the meantime, I look forward to blogging on both sites!