King's Evangelical Divinity School

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.