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!

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.