King's Evangelical Divinity School

22 December 2010

New Biblical Language Classes at Oxford University

Today's Guardian website reports the interesting story of how Oxford University has begun classes in Aramaic, which have proved very popular and are attended by, among others, leading academics from across the country. Jesus, of course, spoke a version of Aramaic (an Aramaic dialect was used in The Passion movie), while the endangered language was also widely spoken by Jews in Israel during the Second Temple period. The story, which is worth a read, can be found here.

20 December 2010

Some Rather Attention-Seeking Christmas Research

Apparently, scientists in Canada have just released some research exploring how Christmas trees make non-Christians feel excluded. Immediately one can't help but regard such studies as little more than typical academic attempts at sensationalism (better, attention-seeking). Funny how such stories as this always seem to appear during Christmas week (and usually from the same old culprits). In the cutthroat world of original research, all too often mediocre academics floundering to secure tenure do silly things like this in the hope of winning a few media brownie points.

17 December 2010

WikiLeaks, Spielberg and the Arab League

Apparently, one of the latest WikiLeaks cables just released details how blockbuster Hollywood director Steven Spielberg became the target of an Arab League attempt to boycott his films. The Guardian reports on a US embassy memo identifying a $1m donation by Spielberg to Israel in 2006 as a possible motive for their action. But this surely can't be the real reason, can it? After all, plenty of people, companies and indeed countries with whom the League does plenty of business with also trade with (and support) Israel. For that matter, several League members channel far greater sums into supporting anti-Israel terrorist organisations and infrastructure such as Hamas and Hizbollah, so one can't help but think the paltry amount of $1m (in the grand scheme of things), or indeed the donation to a nation regarded as an enemy, was not the real culprit here. (After all, if diplomats responded touchily this way all the time diplomacy would quite literally grind to a halt.) So either the League demonstrated breathtaking hypocrisy and double standards ("It's quite OK, actually, for us to support terrorism on the quiet, but we'll have none of this Jewish Hollywood director giving a few shekels to a worthy cause"), or else something else attracted the ire of the League.

Actually, I can't help but wonder if Spielberg's success in portraying something of the history and plight of modern Jewry - which challenges certain League members' attempts to demonise Israel - is the main issue here. Arguably Spielberg has successfully educated an entire generation concerning the modern plight of the Jewish people. I recall clearly back in the early 1990s when his somewhat powerful Schindler's List was released, as a Sixth Form tutor, being asked by a particularly intelligent student in response to the wide media coverage of the issue, "Sir, what exactly was the Holocaust? I've never really heard of it until now."Of course, the Holocaust wasn't particularly popular as a curricular issue back then (particularly depending on one's school and/or teacher). But Spielberg helped changed that, while future movies such as Munich arguably contribute to an understanding of Israel's sense of isolation and being targeted during the 1960s and 1970s. Thus, Spielberg offers an inconvenient truth for those who automatically demonise Israel, which one can't help but wonder if this had some bearing on the Arab League's motive.

Actually, as I re-read this I'm quite sure I agree with some of you thinking right now, "so what?", that this particular  WikiLeaks cable is a trivial issue, meaningless tittle-tattle that merits little serious attention or comment. I would tend to agree... except it demonstrates how if even someone as trivial as a Hollywood director so works up an entire diplomatic bloc into irrational paranoia, how can countries in the Middle East ever reach meaningful and rational peace accords. It is surely significant that those Arab nations which have signed peace accords with Israel did not attend that particular meeting.

22 November 2010

Honestly, I never thought this would happen

I'm truly sorry - so very,very sorry - to everyone who knows me and now feels I have let them down, my family, friends, colleagues and professional acquaintances. But I never, ever expected this to happen (honest). I have been a purist on this issue all my life, but finally I have been seduced - turned against my will - to the Dark Side. I fear I will lose many friends, colleagues, blog readers, even family, while others will undoubtedly pray incessantly for me night and day (though taking great care to keep their distance so as to ensure they too do not become unclean).

The source of my iniquity?

18 November 2010

Ghajar: A Microcosm of Middle East Territorial Disputes

Interesting story breaking across the Middle East concerning the Alawite village of Ghajar which straggles the Israeli, Lebanese and Syrian borders. Re-taken by Israel during the 2006 Lebanon War, in response to demands from the UN Israel has just announced plans to withdraw from the northern part of the village (regarded as Lebanese territory). The villagers, however, are outraged, saying they don't want to see Ghajar (pop. 2,200), divided by the UN. Indeed they want to remain under Israeli control and fear losing access to Israeli services. Indeed, after the 1967 Six Day War the villagers actually petitioned Israel to annex Ghajar, hoping one day to return to Syrian control but in the meantime keen to remain under Israeli control as a united village (the border runs right through the middle of the village). Most have accepted Israeli citizenship and do not want to see the northern part of the village ceded to Lebanon.

The problem is, far greater forces are at work here, such as Lebanon (including both Hizbollah and anti-Hizbollah political entities within that country), Israel, Syria, the US and UN. Each has its own vested interests in Ghajar, while each party is looking to put their own political spin on whatever happens. This is evident in the various angles taken by papers across the Middle East today since the Israeli cabinet's decision to withdraw unilaterally from Ghajar. Complicated, isn't it? But the complexities surrounding Ghajar pale into inignificance when compared with the Shebaa Farms, another disputed border tract of land which is part of the Golan Heights, claimed by Lebanon and occupied by Israel. Throw into the mix Lebanese domestic politics, Hizbollah's constant attempt to raise the issue to foment tension with Israel, Lebanon's subservient relations with Syria, Israel's own security interests, together with a lack of UN clarity about the status of the Shebaa Farms, and it gets rather messy, a complicated knot for which there is no Gordian solution..

My point? Consider how Israel's announcement about withdrawing from northern Ghajar has caused considerable consternation and complication, given the villagers want to remain under Israeli control. In short Ghajar is, in many ways, a miniscule example, or microcosm, of that headache which is Middle East territorial disputes and claims, while Shebaa is even more complicated. Yet these are tiny tracts of land in the grand scheme of things, paling into insignificance compared with, say, the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and some of the larger settlements (such as Ma'ale Adumim, which straddles East Jerusalem and has a population of some 40,000). And this is before we even get into Jewish ancestral and religious claims to the land stretching back at least 3000 years, A Jewish majority presence in Jerusalem in the 19th century, Muslim claims to all the land for religious reasons, or the security fallout following Israel's Gaza pullout (resulting in some eight or nine thousand rockets being fired at Israel and the subsequent war in Gaza). In short, anyone who thinks the whole dispute over land in the region can be overcome easily is arguably somewhat naive. Just look at Ghajar, then multiply the complexities a thousand-fold.

If you want to explore the issue of Ghajar further, here are several useful resources:

Newspaper report appearing in today's Independent

Blog entry from a student who attended a Washington seminar on this very issue (be sure to visit the link detailing more about the academic cartographer she refers to)

Foreign Policy analysis (article)

Also do a search and see how the various English-language Arab newspapers are reporting this today

12 November 2010

"God's Ongoing Covenant With Israel Not an Obstacle to Peace"

Interesting comment appearing yesterday on the First Things website. (First Things is a journal exploring church and state issues, the founding editor of which Richard John Neuhaus, who was pretty pro-Israel. Neuhaus, who dies last year, was an interesting character; first a Lutheran, then a Catholic, he was listened too and influenced many Evangelicals, not least because of his conservative stance on moral issues and push for Christian participation in the public square). The comment in question explores Catholic responses to the Jewish state and maintains that God's ongoing covenant with the Jewish people is in no way an obstacle for peace in the Middle East. It is written by the Anglican scholar Gerald McDermott, a professor at Roanoke and editor of the Oxford handbook of Evangelical Theology, and McDermott's comment is well worth reading.

11 November 2010

What Should We Do About This?

There's a tragic story reported in the Daily Telegraph yesterday concerning a Christian woman sentenced to death in Pakistan for blasphemy. It comes at a time when I've been collecting details of recent newspaper reports on the persecution of Christians in Muslim lands (see, for example, here, here and here), to write about the issue. I've previously commented briefly on this issue, and I was planning to post something more detailed, but Barry Rubin beat me to it so I thought I'd simply post a link to his article. His main question is, why Christians remain silent about the brutal persecution of Christians in some Muslim lands.

It's a difficult one, isn't it? On the one hand, we can draw attention to their plight but in doing so make the situation worse (I discuss this here, scroll a couple of articles down), but on the other hand by not speaking out perhaps we contribute to a narrative of Western Christianity appearing weak and indecisive, incapable of speaking out on behalf of its own. One thing's for certain: I think we should be supporting those charities, such as Barnabas Fund, which work on behalf of persecuted Christians elsewhere. As professionals with plenty of hands-on experience, many do an excellent job and know precisely how to go about dealing with this thorny issue. We should also be praying constantly for fellow Christians persecuted in foreign lands because of their faith, and perhaps at least raising their plight with our elected representatives so at the very least such issues can be raised during diplomatic, trade and state talks.

And I am reluctant to bring it round to this, but this whole issue begs another question. Why do we rarely seem to hear much about wider Middle East Christian persecution from many of those who frequently and vociferously criticise Israel over its purported maltreatment of Arab Christians.

10 November 2010

An Interesting Report from Manchester

Pretty interesting post by Joseph Weismann over at Seismic (and cross-posted by Harry's Place), which is well worth a read. Generally, I thought the piece was informative and thoughtful, especially given the history between Joseph and the Anglican minister in question. The report also highlights the nature of the ongoing debate within British Evangelicalism over its response to Israel and the Jews as God's people. Anyway, regardless of whether or not you leave comments on either of those sites, please do return and post your comments and thoughts here.

6 November 2010

Economics - Pretty Powerful Stuff!

This week Britain and France signed a unique defence cooperation pact that will see, of all things, the sharing of aircraft carriers for many years. Given  aircraft carriers represent important mobile extensions of sovereign territory, providing important and economic presence and permitting expeditionary warfare far away from our own coasts, this is quite a major long-term pact. It is significant, too, because it is unlikely to end there. Sharing major pieces of kit like this will likely lead to military cooperation between the two countries at lower levels too.

The reason for this remarkable pact? Economics, pure and simple. With a massive deficit, a Coalition government coming to power and finding no money left in the kitty, and a global austerity drive, this kind of pact saves money, big money. After all, it makes sense economically (though not so sure it will do so militarily further down the road). Ironic, too, that it is a Conservative-led government which has delivered it. Thus, the European Coal and Steel Community eventually gave way to the EEC, the EC and finally the EU. But far less known in the process was the attempt to establish a supranational European Defence Community (EDC) in the 1950s. Yet this new pact between two of Europe's biggest military powers could, conceivably, result in resurrecting the aims of the original EDC, that is, closer EU military cooperation, and who knows, maybe a precursor to an EU army. If the demise of the Cold War and the waning importance of NATO made it possible, the economic situation is the trigger that makes a future EU army quite likely. But who would have thought so, and especially the UK's involvement, less than a decade ago? In short, as with nearly everything, it all comes down to economics.

Which, EU armies and politics aside (and regardless of one's views concerning the feasibility of an EU defence force), the power of economics to change everything isprecisely what I'm getting at. Whether espousing Marxist materialism, Clinton's famous soundbite which pointed out  how ultimately it is economics that wins - and loses - elections ("It's the economy, stupid!"), economics is a powerful determinant of human behaviour. As such, it represents a fundamental challenge to Christianity and a Christian worldview. Whether anti-Christian Marxist materialism, the worse excesses of Capitalism such as greed and exploitation, or issues such as poverty, and so on, I suggest it is impossible for Christians to avoid this central plank of modern culture, society and human behaviour. It drives human endeavour, while its excesses are the cause of all manner of sinful activity ("the love of money is the root of all evil"). This is why it is essential for Evangelical Christians seeking to engage the public square to give considerable thought to developing a biblical theology of economics. After all, how can we challenge society and claim to have imaginative answers to pressing issues unless we do? There is a lot in the Bible about economics, and there are some theological books out there dealing with this very issue, but far too few. Interestingly, it has taken an economic downturn to create a more widespread interest in this topic, and I think we are going to see more publications in this field in due course.

3 November 2010

Press Release: Israel and the Church (8-9 Oct 2010)

PRESS RELEASE
Israel and the Church: A Common Heritage
and an Uncertain Future
(London, 8 – 9 October 2010)

The aim of this two-day conference, held at the London School of Theology, was to raise awareness within the Church of an alternative to the often polarised debate between supporters of Israel and the Arab population in Israel and the disputed territories. Speakers were Drs Darrell Bock (Dallas Theological Seminary), Mitch Glaser (Chosen People Ministries), Jules Gomes (Liverpool Cathedral), Richard Harvey (All Nations Christian College), Barry Horner and Calvin Smith (King’s Evangelical Divinity School). The event culminated with a concert by Nashville Messianic artist Marty Goetz. Jointly organised by Chosen People Ministries and King’s Evangelical Divinity School, the conference eventually involved most of the evangelistic works among the Jewish people in the United Kingdom. The conference hall was packed, and the presentations were at once direct and conciliatory in tone. The final session, modelled on the BBC’s Question Time programme, permitted delegates to raise questions with a panel comprising the various speakers.

During the conference, responses among speakers to the current Middle East conflict (including issues such as the land) were varied and nuanced. Yet all speakers were united in their challenge to supersessionism, affirming instead God’s continued plan and purpose for the Jewish people. The speakers also highlighted and eschewed the highly polarised and divisive nature of the current debate between supporters of both Israel and the Palestinian people, calling for greater objectivity and Christian charity towards fellow brothers and sisters in Christ holding opposing viewpoints. The conference also explored the detrimental impact caused by the unnecessarily pejorative language of the current debate, including how polarisation of opinion is causing Church disunity, how polemical anti-Israel and anti-Christian Zionist rhetoric is impacting Messianic Jewish identity and its relations with the Church, and the effects upon Jewish evangelism. All speakers also affirmed the need to share the gospel with both Jews and Muslims.

A conference volume is planned and additional papers to complement those delivered at the conference have been commissioned. Audio and video recordings and further details of the event are available through the websites of both host organisations (see below). It is our hope that as people become aware of this conference the tone of the debate will change somewhat, while replacement theology will give way to a greater appreciation of God’s continued plan and purpose for the Jewish people.

http://www.chosenpeople.org.uk/
http://www.kingsdivinity.org/

1 November 2010

Review of "The Jews, Modern Israel and the New Supercessionism"

The following review of The Jews, Modern Israel and the New Supercessionism: Resources for Christians appeared in the Summer 2010 issue of Pneuma Review (13.3). It's a rather nice review of my book and I asked for permission to reproduce it here, which was graciously given. Further details of the journal can be found here.

Calvin L. Smith, ed., The Jews, Modern Israel and the New Supercessionism: Resources for Christians (King’s Divinity Press), 164 pages, ISBN 9780956200600.

Finally—a single book that treats Replacement Theology, Israel, and the Jewish people with respect, reason, and biblical integrity. Over many years working with Christians I have encountered too many who will ardently profess that they are not anti-Semitic, yet continue to hold to the premise that the universal Church supplants biblical Israel. Consider for a moment how that must make the average Jewish man or woman feel to be told that God is done with them, that their role in God’s plan has ceased, that the blessings in the Bible proclaimed for Israel have been transferred to the church, and you begin to realize how thoroughly anti-Semitic this theology is.

28 October 2010

Into the Production Phase At Last

I have a new edited volume on Latin American Pentecostalism coming out shortly, through by the academic publisher Brill (Leiden and Boston) and entitled Pentecostal Power: Expressions, Impact and Faith of Latin American Pentecostalism. The book is the first regional volume in Brill's Global Pentecostal and Charismatic Series (of which I am a consulting editor). As well as commissioning the various chapters and editing the volume, I wrote the Introduction (which provides, among other things, a survey of the rise of Pentecostal Studies within the academy) and a chapter entitled "Pneumapraxis and Eschatological Urgency: A Survey of Latin American pentecostal Theology and Its Outworking". All peer review is completed, the book has undergone its various proof stages and it has now finally entered production. It is scheduled for release in December.

I'm really excited about this volume because it contributes something new to the existing literature on the topic. Whereas there is a myriad of studies exploring Latin American Pentecostalism emanating from across the disciplines, the tendency is an appraisal from the point of view of a particular discipline, so that (with notable exceptions) interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary studies are somewhat less forthcoming. Particularly scarce are theological treatments of the movement in that part of the world, where much of the academic inquiry has centred upon Pentecostalism's social and political impact. This volume likewise explores this important aspect of Latin American Pentecostalism, but a detailed theological treatment adds an important additional dimension to understanding Pentecostalism's worldview and its ensuing social and political impact. This volume, then, consists of three parts, with the first exploring Latin American Pentecostalism's history and identifying its various expressions, Part 2 provides theoretical treatments of the movement and its social and political impact upon the continent, and finally a third part is devoted to a theological appraisal of the movement. The volume brings together both seasoned, widely-published veterans and newer scholars in the field and from across various academic disciplines (theology, sociology, history, politics, anthropology), and the various chapters represent important contributions in their respective fields.

Further details of the book, including description, contributors, readership and cover image are available on Brill's website, while details of Brill's Global Pentecostal and Charismatic Studies series is available here.

19 October 2010

Giving up land for peace?

I have a question for those who broadly hold to the view that the modern State of Israel represents divine providence (though others, of course, are welcome to respond too). It is a serious question, aimed at generating some debate among those visiting these pages over how they respond to the realities on the ground and efforts by some sincere actors in the region (as opposed to those who merely exploit peace talks for their own internal political aims) to reach a peace in the region. It is a question I asked two of our panelists in our final session question time during our recent Israel and the Church conference held at London School of Theology a few days ago, yielding two quite different answers, thus demonstrating once again how it is impossible to portray those who believe God retains a plan and purpose for the Jewish people as essentially homogenous.

Anyway, the question is this: Are there any biblical or theological objections to Israel giving up land for peace? I mean, of course, a genuine peace, not giving up land which is seized upon as a sign of weakness (such as Hamas' response to Sharon's Gaza pull-out and its long-term piecemeal attempt to secure all the land and create an Islamic state). I would genuinely be interested to hear your views because many pro-Israel Christians grapple with this issue - arguably increasingly so - and it seems to me this represents an important defining line between two major expressions of Christian Zionism.

14 October 2010

Ahmadinejad's Folly

So today Iran's President Ahmadinejad informed the Lebanese during his controversial visit to that country that Israelis are mortal (code: they can be destroyed and the land taken back). Individuals are, of course, immortal, but what about a people, particularly God's historical people? The Jewish people were uniquely singled out for ethnic cleansing in the most atrocious and systematic manner imaginable in the twentieth century (and indeed throughout many centuries), and yet they survived. Moreover, the Bible indicates God retains a plan and purpose for the Jewish people (eg Jer 31:35-37, Ro 11:25-6 cf Is 59:20-21), regardless of whether or not Christians agree that the present state of Israel constitutes a divinely-ordained plan. Thus, leaving aside the continued folly, indeed paranoia, of someone supposed to be world statesman, it rather looks like Ahmadinejad - who seeks the destruction of Israel as desperately as the other antisemites who went before him - is on the wrong side of history. I warrant his ilk will disappear long before those he so irrationally detests. That is, after all, the general lesson history teaches us.

12 October 2010

A Brief But Interesting Conversation Concerning Progressive Dispensationalism

I'm not a dispensationalist by any stretch of the imagination. Indeed, far from it (my theology and influences are somewhat disparate and eclectic). Yet it is important to note how this theological system takes several different forms, and thus it is essential when discussing dispensationalism to define carefully which version one is referring to. Famously, of course, some years ago several dispensationalist scholars famously modified their position, leading to what is now known as "progressive dispensationalism". I had an opportunity to discuss briefly the nature of progressive dispensationalism with one of its architects just last week.

Like most tutors I have a special place on my bookcase, now running (quite literally) several yards of books in my own field waiting to be read (those working in the university sector will know exactly what I mean). Therefore, I've never really had chance to read the books setting out the case for progressive dispensationalism. So during our Israel and the Church conference this past week, I seized upon the opportunity to get it straight from the horse's mouth, so to speak, from one of the conference speakers - Darrell Bock - who, together with Craig Blaising and Robert Saucy, is the architect of progressive dispensationalism. Hence, on one of those numerous occasions last week while driving Darrell and Mitch around, tortuously negotiating London's horrendous traffic, I had a chance to ask Darrell to spell out, in a nutshell, the essence of progressive dispensationalism (I thought: why read the book when you can get the author to encapsulate it in a few sentences?) .

I began by pointing out my struggle with what I perceived as classical dispensationalism's seemingly arbitrary imposition of seven dispensations upon the canonical narrative. I qualified this, however, by explaining how I had no problem in principle with God dealing with humanity and revealing His salvific plan in successive stages. After all, the narrative of the Transfiguration highlights the central characters of Moses, Elijah and Jesus, corresponding to three stages of God's revelation, namely, the Law, the Prophets and finally Christ (who is the ultimate revelation, cf Hebrews 1:1-2).

Darrell agreed, noting (deadpan) how actually everyone is really a dispensationalist in one form or another, which, if you think about it, is quite true. Consider how at its most basic, of course, we can at the very least divide Scripture into the Old and New Testaments. Darrell then went on to speak of three dispensations (Israel, the Church, the Kingdom), quite at odds with how classical dispenstaionalism typically postulates seven eras. Progressive dispensationalism also seems to move away from the culmination and nature of the dispensations as classically understood. All in all, while it was a somewhat brief conversation it nonetheless piqued my curiosity.  Towards the end of the conversation, I asked why they didn't ditch the term "dispensationalism" altogether which, after all, is now laden with all sorts of presuppositions and baggage (some of it fair, some not). Yet Darrell's response was the importance of defining properly terminology before modifying and/or changing it, and actually I must agree.

I'm not saying I'm fully persuaded by this modified position. For example, as a premillennialist I subscribe to posttribulationism rather than pretribulationism (I can't get away from that ancient biblical phrase referring to the parousia - the Day of the Lord - and how, arguably, it loses its impact somewhat if stretched over a seven year, two-stage return of the Lord). But I did come away from the conversation deciding to look into their views further, adding Darrell Bock's and Craig Blaising's Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church: The Search for Definition (Zondervan, 1992) and Progressive Dispensationalism (Bridgepoint, 1993) to my "to read" shelf. After all, it is clear these guys have given this matter some considerable thought. They are no dummies, each with a string of conference papers, journal and book publications to their names (with respected theological publishers), and I respectfully suggest that, whether you agree with them or not, anyone creating straw man parodies of their position ultimately faces the very real danger of making themselves look quite silly.

I'd certainly be interested to hear from anyone who has read either book.

11 October 2010

About That Conference...

Well, the Israel and the Church: A Common Heritage and Uncertain Future conference, jointly organised by King's Evangelical Divinity School and Chosen People Ministry and held at London School of Theology on 8-9 October, was a great success. All places were booked (the chapel was filled to capacity) and speakers were Darrell Bock (Dallas Theological Seminary), Mitch Glaser (Chosen People Ministries, New York), Jules Gomes (formerly LST, now Liverpool Cathedral), Richard Harvey (All Nations Christian College), Barry Horner (author of Future Israel) and myself. The papers covered the issue from a range of angles, and we culminated with a Question Time type debate. We're preparing a press release for later in the week, and eventually a full conference report, and I'll post details here when both are published. A conference volume is also being planned, which will include papers already commissioned in addition to those delivered at the conference. In the meantime, further details and information about obtaining recordings can be found here.

Importantly, the speakers together demonstrates the complexities of this issue and during the course of the event I was approached by a number of people previously undecided on the issue who explained how helpful they had found the conference. Poignantly, one young woman who recently completed a university degree explained how she had attended this year's Greenbelt, which took a particularly biased anti-Israel position. She explained how she came away from the festival eager to promote its core message and lobby against Israel, but having attended this weekend's conference she had come to learn that in fact there was another side to the debate she had never encountered before, not just about the Middle East conflict but also a biblical and theological response to the whole issue of Israel. She expressed indignation Greenbelt had been so one-sided and planned to go away and research the issue further and much more objectively. This was precisely one of the purposes of the conference, to challenge the current narrative, demonstrate another point of view and to encourage a less polarised, more objective biblical and theological examination of the issues, which is right and proper among Christians of all persuasions.

More about Greenbelt and the Middle East here, here and here. (BTW, I believe Peter Tatchell was invited to be a speaker at Greenbelt this year, as discussed by Chris Lazenby and Keith Waters on the King's blog here. If so, it's pretty indicative of the political/theological line the festival takes.)

It was also good to meet several people at the conference who frequently post comments on this blog. My only regret is that I did not have more time to chat with people. Anyway, see about getting hold of those DVDs. More on this conference later this week.

5 October 2010

Still A Handful of Places

Most of the places for the Israel and the Church conference at LST (London) have been taken up. However, we still have a handful of spaces remaining if anyone is interested in booking at this rather late stage. Booking options allow you to reserve places for one, other or both days (full details here). But do hurry, as we've had a surge of last-minute bookings and thus only have about a dozen places left for the Friday, with roughly half that number remaining for the Saturday.

UPDATE

Apologies. Since posting this just a little earlier, I've since learned of several new bookings this evening, which means there are now only six places left for the Friday, with a further five available for the Saturday (we probably could, at a push, find room for a couple more on the Saturday - unfortunately we can't do so for Friday evening as we've booked catering for a maximum of a hundred people).

UPDATE (Wed 6 Oct)

No more places remaining for Friday evening. Also all 125 places fully booked for Saturday, though we are seeing if we can add a few extra chairs (maybe 5-10). Email office@kingsdivinity to be added to a standby list. First come first served.

4 October 2010

Pentecostals and Brazilian Politics

It looks like the former Marxist rebel, Dilma Rousseff, poll favourite and heir apparent to Brazil's President Lula da Silva, is going to have to face a runoff ballot for the Brazilian presidency next month. Despite a series of opinion polls suggesting she commanded well above the 50% of support needed to avoid a runoff, instead a last-minute surge of support for the Green candidate Marina Silva, who secured nearly a fifth of total ballots cast, resulted (as things stand at the moment) with Rousseff some 2-3 % shy of what she needed for an outright victory.

This result - if confirmed - is significant for Evangelicals for various reasons. First, Brazil counts one of the largest Evangelical - predominantly Pentecostal - populations in the world, with figures of between 40% and 50% regularly cited by commentators (though it is important to treat with care some of the inflated figures often bandied about, usually by Marxists and Catholics fearful of an Evangelical invasion, or else driven by Pentecostal triumphalism). Such a powerful bloc cannot be ignored in any election, and it seems in this instance Rousseff failed to convince Brazil's Pentecostals that she planned to liberate the country's abortion laws, together with introducing other social policies which Pentecostals would have found hard to swallow. Interestingly, many Evangelicals switched support to Marina Silva, likely explaining in part her surge of support at the last minute.  Significantly, the Green candidate Marina Silva is herself a Pentecostal belonging to the Assemblies of God.

Thus, Brazil's weekend poll yields several interesting issues for those interested in Evangelical engagement with the political sphere. First, despite the claims by some sociologists and political scientists in the 1960s and early 1970s that religion was in terminal decline as an important determinant of political outlook and behaviour, among Latin America's Pentecostals this has proved far from the case. Indeed, the explosion of Pentecostalism across the continent since the late 1970s has been instrumental in leading many social scientists to ditch secularisation theories.

Brazil's poll also yields another interesting story, namely, that any attempt to stereotype all Evangelicals as reactionary and on the political right lacks nuance. A case in point is how over the weekend many of Brazil's Pentecostals switched their support for a leftist government to another leftist presidential candidate from the Green Party. Clearly, then, Brazilian Pentecostals have little problem voting for someone on the left. Indeed, there is evidence to suggest that such a situation is far from new, at least as far as Latin American Pentecostals are concerned. Take, for example, 1970s Chile, during which time many Pentecostal leaders supported General Pinochet. However, in the early 1970s the evidence suggests that the majority of grassroots Chilean Pentecostals instead supported the Marxist Salvador Allende. Meanwhile, in Sandinista Nicaragua, depite the bulk of classical Pentecostals remaining apolitical or eschewing the revolution, nonetheless there remained a hardcore of 30% of Pentecostals who supported it. Thus, this weekend has demonstrated yet again the evolving and increasingly diverse nature of Evangelical politics.

For those interested in exploring these issues further, our M.A. in Theology at King's explores the nature and theology of the movement, including a module entitled History, Thought and Expressions of Global Evangelicalism, together with additional case study modules rooted in a survey of the movement in Asia, Northern Europe and North America, Africa and Latin America. Further details of the M.A. programme are available here.

1 October 2010

Enviro-fascism at it again

The green lobby constantly pushes the view that if you don't fall fully behind them, then somehow you're stupid, immoral, or downright evil. Disagreeing with the concept of AGW, even expressing the slightest doubt, inevitably attracts disdain, abus and vilification from among the more extreme elements of the movement. Thus, a form of thought control is the order of the day, and in many cases some of these eco-fundamentalists are as bad as medieval heretic-hunters or their modern-day totalitarian equivalent (hence the term enviro-fascism).

But even some within their number acknowledge their comrades crossed a line when the 10:10 campaign (which seeks to encourage everyone to reduce their carbon footprint by 10% in 2010... no pressure, mind you) aired a short video today which shocked even many environmentalists. Tongue in cheek? An attempt to bring humour to their message? Quite likely. A spectacular own goal? Most definitely! It demonstrates just how these enviro-fascists think (or rather, how they would have us think). Ironically, greenies keep trying to pull the video, realising how it has caused considerable damage to their cause, but somewhat mischeviously  climate change sceptics just keep on uploading it back on the Internet. James Delingpole over the Daily Telegraph has more on the story, together with a link to the film. Be warned, it's pretty graphic.

By the way, 10:10 have apologised today and pulled the film from their website. Indeed, but for this I had assumed it was all a con, so spectacular was this own goal.

13 September 2010

KEDS Question Time

I've previously posted here concerning a joint King's-CPM conference, to be held at London School of Theology on 8-9 October, entitled Israel and the Church: A Common Heritage and Uncertain Future. Recently, myself and Mitch Glaser were discussing how we might encourage those attending to raise some thoughtful and probing questions so that all of us - speakers, attendees and several attending members of the Christian press - get the very most out of this aspect of the conference. I, for one, genuinely believe this conference, which seeks to take a somewhat fresh approach to the whole Israel-Church-Middle East issue, will raise all manner of questions, and therefore we want to maximise the time and importance given to the Question/Answer aspect of the event.

As such, we're adjusting the timetable slightly so that an extra session will be added at the very end of the second day (Saturday 9th October), so that we have a panel of all the speakers to answer questions fielded by those attending the conference. The aim is to make this aspect of the conference very similar to the BBC's Question Time in order to encourage wider debate and offer something not always found at similar academic conferences. I will chair the event (though I admit, after attending several Question Time events and meeting David Dimbleby, I can't promise to be quite as slim, elegant and fluid as he), while speakers will take turns responding to questions fielded by those attending the conference (we'll even have introductory music to make it feel like the real thing, composed by our very own Chris Lazenby, B.Th. worship modules tutor!).

Cards will be issued at Registration for people to write their questions down, and we will try to get through as many questions as possible (panel members will not see questions beforehand). Questions which are brief, to the point and interesting (regardless of the ideological/theological stance they take) will likely go to the top of the pile, and each panel member will be asked to respond in turn. Where relevant, we will come back to panel members and the person asking the question to widen the debate. This will be a great way to end the paper aspect of the conference.

It's not too late to book for the event. Full details can be found here, and we really hope you can join us. (For King's students, so far I can confirm Andy Cheung, Chris Lazenby and myself will be there throughout the entire event and we'd love to catch up with you.)

9 September 2010

Burning the Koran: What It Tells Us

A story quickly moving up the news agenda in recent days is how a small church in Florida plans to burn copies of the Koran on the ninth anniversary of 9/11. The church's pastor maintains the event is designed as a protest against extreme Islam (rather than Islam as a whole), as well as drawing attention to how the U.S. is in danger of appeasing extremists within its own borders. However, the pastor and church have come under intense pressure to cancel the event, notably from world leaders and other high profile figures, but at a press conference yesterday the church maintained the event would go ahead as planned.

This is a fascinating story because it tells us all sorts of things - both explicit and implicit - about the world we live in. First, it demonstrates the power of 24-hour rolling news which has ensured pretty well everyone across the globe knows about it, together with how capturing the media's attention has in itself now become a valuable form of currency which if exploited efficiently through a stunt can command massive media attention. Thus, however you view them, a small, relatively insignificant group has played the media card masterfully, capturing media attention across the world. Ironically, many of the world leaders who condemn the proposed burning ceremony have only themselves to blame, contributing by their involvement in pushing the story to the very top of the news agenda. After all, when the likes of President Obama, Angela Merkel, Tony Blair, the Secretary General of the UN, and even the Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie, condemn the proposed ceremony, describing it as abhorrent and urging for it to be cancelled, it is inevitable the rest of us wil hear about it pretty quickly.

4 September 2010

Is Britain An Increasingly Secular Society?

I was one of those unfortunate people up and about at 7 am on a Saturday morning today. The plus side, however, was catching an interesting article on BBC Radio 4's Today news programme which coincidentally featured one of my two Ph.D. supervisors, Hugh McLeod, who is Professor of Church History at the University of Birmingham. Also taking part in the discussion, led by John Humphrys, was a Catholic commentator. Actually Professor McLeod didn't get much of an opportunity to contribute, while the somewhat articulate Catholic guest made some interesting and valid points in what was a thoroughly interesting discussion for those interested in the relationship between Church and State, covering questions such as the difference different meanings of secularism, the difference between secularism and pluralism, and whether state relegation of religion to the private sphere does in fact makes a country more secular after all. Anyway, given that most of you were snuggly tucked up in bed at that time I feel pretty confident you didn't hear the discussion, so I thought I'd let you know it can be found here (scroll in to around 33 minutes into the programme). I believe the link will be replaced when the next edition of Today is broadcast on Monday morning, so if you're interested you should listen to it before the end of the week.

1 September 2010

A Thoroughly Theological Conflict

Yesterday four Israeli settlers (including a pregnant woman) were gunned down by Hamas gunmen in the West Bank. Naturally, the world has focused on how the atrocity is likely timed to derail US-sponsored peace talks aimed at ending the current stalemate. A few commentators have gone on to dwell upon the significance of a Hamas attack in Fatah-controlled West Bank (the Hamas-Fatah rivalry is a major faultline running through Palestinian politics). Yet once again we hear very little about another major feature of this crisis, namely its thoroughly theological nature. I don't know much about the settlers who were murdered, but we do know they come from the Hebron area, which has attracted some of the most religious of Jewish settlers seeking to reclaim land for theological reasons. Meanwhile, just several days ago Rabbia Ovadia Josef, the spiritual leader of the Sephardic political party Shas, expressed the hope in a sermon that the Palestinian president and any Palestinian who persecutes Israel would be struck down by God. For their part, the perpetrators of the slaughter of the four settlers - Hamas - are likewise driven by a strong theological agenda: the total annihilation of the Jewish state and recapture of Muslim land. Israel's northern neighbour Hezbollah, of course, takes a similar line, as does Iran's presient Ahmadinejad.

In short, despite the views of secularists such as Netanyahu, Abbas, Obama, Cameron and the EU that they can somehow make a difference, this is a thoroughly theological conflict for which there can surely be no wholly secular solution. At a conference exploring the conference last year I made precisely this point, only to be told confidently by a civil servant that once politics and diplomacy could get a foothold , once the necessary bait had been dangled and suitably pragmatic agenda (together with ensuing benefits and pay-offs) set out, the conflict could eventually be solved. I'm not so sure. Indeed, I think such a view is as short-sighted as that expressed by some Christians, who seem to think that a purely ethically-driven approach (much like the materialist, this-worldly views espoused by liberal Protestants of the late 19th and early 20th centuries) will somehow yield results and bring the conflict to an end. Perhaps, with the diammetrically-opposed theological views of major players on all sides, the pragmatic approach is to concede there may never really be a full resolution of this conflict after all.

27 August 2010

Israel and the Church: A Common Heritage and Uncertain Future (8-9 Oct, London)

King’s Evangelical Divinity School and Chosen People Ministries are jointly hosting the above conference at the London School of Theology on 8-9 October 2010. Speakers are Darrell Bock (Dallas Theological Seminary), Mitch Glaser (Chosen People Ministries), Jules Gomes (London School of Theology), Richard Harvey (All Nations College), Barry Horner (author of Future Israel) and Calvin Smith (King’s Evangelical Divinity School). Full details of the conference, including programme, paper titles, speaker details and booking options, are now available on the King’s website. The conference also includes a meal on the Friday night and a concert scheduled for Saturday evening.

Don’t miss this opportunity to attend a conference exploring an increasingly polarising issue within Evangelical circles, together with its theological and missional impact, by speakers who between them have written and spoken widely on various aspects of the issue. Bookings are on a strictly first-come-first-serve basis, so book quickly to avoid disappointment.

24 August 2010

"It's Human Nature, Stupid!"

Remember Bill Clinton's famous observation concerning what winds people's clocks when they vote? "It's the economy, stupid!" This little phrase came to mind this evening while encountering two small bits of news. First, the Guardian speculates that Jerusalem's forthcoming light rail company may offer several segregated carriages along gender lines to appease the city's strictest Haredi (ultra orthodox) Jews. Later, BBC's Newsnight ran a package exploring why women wear the niqab, including an interview which featured three highly radicalised young women in sinister-looking garb. Newsnight also interviewed a young Muslim woman wearing a hijab (headscarf) who explained how, at university, she likewise had become radicalised and wore the niqab to prove her Islamic credentials within the group she was involved with, but had since shifted away from this radicalised position.

Both instances are, of course, grist to the mill for some rather radical atheists who despise any expression whatsoever of faith. "Religion causes nothing but trouble" and "Religions are the cause of all conflict" are common slogans among such fundamentalist atheists (as opposed to the live-and-let-live variety), and indeed it is true to a degree (though often exaggerated) that some of history's most bitter conflicts and society's greatest cruelties have sometimes been partially religion-driven. Fundamentalist religion - whether Islamic, Jewish or Christian - has sometimes caused a great deal of trouble. To be sure, arguably some religions are more adversarial and driven by religious conquest than others, but even some who claim to be Evangelicals have, for example, targeted abortion clinics in the name of God.

But fundamentalist atheists who pin all the world's woes on faith are denying a central point here. The fact is, some of the highly radicalised, strongly fundamentalist, frothing-at-the-mouth atheists themselves are no different from the very religious fundamentalists they abhor, whether Richard Dawkins' hysterical charge of parents "indoctrinating" their children with faith (together with the tacit suggestion they ought to be stopped or their children taken from them), or the myriads of aggresive fundamentalist atheists driven by hatred of religion who go much, much further in their denunciations (check out the comments section after the odd religious comment or article in the online version of a newspaper like, say, the Guardian and you'll quickly see what I mean). Ironically, such people are no different from the very religionists they themselves condemn for their views.

Elsewhere, too, other special interest groups likewise condemn people for not holding to the views they consider "moral", "correct", "decent" or "normal", whether extreme climate change proponents, vegetarians, xenophobes, free-traders, socialists, capitalists, patriots, liberal elites, neighbourhood watch members and allotment growers, or whatever. There are, of course, moderate versions of all these positions (except possibly the latter two, where disputes have been known to get pretty serious :). But unfortunately, all human societal units are inevitably replete with radical, fundamentalist, we-know-best variety bigots. In short, those who want to tell others what to do.

In other words, such a mentality is far from limited to religion, and going back to where we started, "It's human nature, stupid!" Some people just can't help telling others what to do.

19 August 2010

Back From Holiday... Israel Conference Pre-Announcement

Not quite back from my Summer break yet. Another week or two to go (because in the H.E. world nothing at all happens during the month of August). Nonetheless, beginning to prepare for the start of a new academic year and will gradually get back into blogging with several posts over the next couple of weeks. Apologies, but somewhat belatedly realised I should have informed readers there would be no posts for a couple or three weeks in August. Anyway...

Thought I'd start by pre-announcing the forthcoming joint conference organised by King's Evangelical Divinity School and Chosen People Ministries. The conference title is Israel and the Church: A Common Heritage and an Uncertain Future, to be held at London School of Theology on Friday 8th and Saturday 9th October. Speakers are Darrell Bock (Dallas Theological Seminary), Barry Horner (author of Future Israel), Mitch Glaser (Chosen People Ministries, New York), Jules Gomes (London School of Theology), Richard Harvey (All Nations Christian College), and myself. The Friday night session includes a meal. This promises to be an interesting academic conference drawing on a range of well-known speakers. Myself and Mitch Glaser are already working on editing a conference volume, to include several additional contributions from well-known scholars in the field. More details about the conference to be posted here in a few days.

In the meantime, you can book your place now (please note there are a limited number of places available on a first-come first-serve basis). Book and pay for your place here.

28 July 2010

David Cameron: Doing What Britain Does Best... and Worse

Britain's new government, led by David Cameron, is radically overhauling its foreign policy. In short, it has gone back to traditional British Foreign (and Colonial) Office first principles, focusing on developing relations which promise to build and enhance trade, rather than relying on old alliances or relations which are largely militarily-driven. Thus, Cameron has put together a high-profile team of high-ranking politicians and leading members of the business community as he sets about a whirlwind global tour aimed at making overtures to governments of emerging economies, rather than putting all his eggs in the EU and US baskets. For the Coalition Government, then, building strong trade relations with the likes of India, Turkey, Brazil and other emerging markets is the order of the day. It's a smart move. Look at the portfolio of most emerging market funds - which have largely outperformed funds specialising in typical Western blue chip stock - and you'll see these countries and others (notably China) are the ones to be doing business with these days.

Thus, David Cameron seems to be going back to the glory days of empire (minus the empire bit), focusing on developing a foreign policy which enhances global trade, together with all the benefits that promises, such as global influence, greater tax revenues back home and trickle-down wealth to keep the masses happy (the latter arguably a key reason why Britain did not witness revolution in the late 19th or early 20th centuries, directly contradicting Marx's view that as the world's most advanced economy Britain's proletariat would be the first to revolt). For Britain, empire (both formal and informal) was driven by trade and wealth creation, unlike some other countries' imperial designs fuelled by, for example, raw nationalism. Hence, this week the British PM issued veiled criticisms of France and Germany for stalling Turkish entry into the EU. For Britain Turkish entry not only widens the EU, directly challenging Old Europe's attempt to deepen it (a position which Britain is ideologically opposed to), but Turkey also offers a gateway to a whole new region to the east which is ripe for trade exploitation. Ditto Cameron's efforts in India yesterday, and no doubt Brazil and other emerging economies will soon be paid a visit from the British delegation. And it all seems to be working. Cameron's insistance that Turkey should be allowed to join the EU was music to the Turkish government's ears, which later claimed the visit heralded a new golden era in Anglo-Turkish relations. But none of this should surprise us. Britain has a long history (minus hiccups, for example during the last Labour government's military-driven relationship with the exterior) of such foreign policy success aimed at building trade. It is, after all, what Britain does best.

Unfortunately, it is also what Britain does worse, and Cameron has fallen headlong into the trap of pragmatism over idealism for the sake of furthering trade. I'm referring, of course, to his strong denunciation in unequivocal language of Israel concerning the Gaza situation (which he described as a prison) during his visit to Turkey. True, insisting Turkey must be allowed into the EU, together with denouncing Israel over the botched flotilla raid and criticism over Gaza (the current Turkish government's pet issue right now) was a Cameron masterstroke which will surely help open up Turkey and beyond to British business. But it comes at a cost, namely, deep suspicion within Israel concerning Cameron's public stance and motives. Let's be absolutely clear here: Hamas imprisons its own people (for example, ask the many Gazans hassled for wearing the wrong clothing on the beach or beaten for dancing with people of the opposite sex at weddings, not to say firing rockets at Israel which merely serves to attract the ire of the IDF).

Now for those who have no time for Israel, Cameron's undiplomatic language this week may not much matter. But the likelihood is that one day Cameron will have to visit Israel, one of the purposes of which will be to bolster trade links with the Jewish state. Israeli high-tech business, together with a string of innovative products and inventive entrepeneurialism, is forcing many countries, some not particularly friendly towards Israel, to trade with the country anyway. More important, however, is Western reliance upon Israeli intelligence concerning Middle East terrorism. This is the joke, really, public Western criticism of Israel while, behind the scenes, strong intelligence links and cooperation. Arguably, it is somewhat hypocritical.

So Cameron will one day visit Israel and make overtures. In other words, pragmatism will lead him to make a statement which makes his hosts feel good about themselves. Inevitably, though, it will anger those who were very happy when he said something quite different (for example, in Turkey). All in the name of pragmatic necessity, whether trade or intelligence cooperation. The problem is, Britain has a track record of playing both sides for its own purposes. Indeed, some of the current Arab-Israeli conflict can be laid at the feet of a Britain which, for its own purposes and interests, promised both Jews and Arabs a state of their own, knowing full well it was impossible to deliver both.

A pragmatic, trade-driven, playing-both-sides and thus occasionally-deceptive British foreign policy. It's what Britain does best... and worse.

16 July 2010

Time to Tone Down the Language

I've commented briefly in previous posts concerning the complexity surrounding how Messianic Jews seek to juggle their identity as both believers in Jesus and Jews (for example see here). Worse, Messianic Jews are faced with the impossible situation of proclaiming Christ, with all the sacrifices that entails socially and culturally, to their fellow Jews while simultaneously having to fend off repeated claims from the very Jews they share the Gospel with that the Church they belong to is anti-Israel, or worse, anti-Semitic. It is a crisis few of us really appreciate, compounded by how Jewish believers in Jesus themselves struggle to identify where exactly they fit in to the body of Christ, parts of which view them with suspicion.

Over at the Rosh Pina Project Joseph has written an interesting piece on that champion of Christian orthodoxy and defender of the traditional view of the divinity of Christ against the Arian heresy, Athanasius. Yet again, Joseph highlights this ongoing battle faced by MJs: a leading Church figure who defended orthodoxy yet who seemingly also spoke negatively of the Jews. Thus the essay points out how Jews who reject the Gospel juxtapose Athanasius' high Christology with his negative protrayal of the Jewish people, almost as if the two are somehow related. Joseph concludes:
The challenge then for those of us believers in Jesus with a high Christology is to demonstrate to Jewish people that we repudiate anti-Semitism, and that our Christology should lead us to a positive attitude towards the Jewish people, not a negative one.

Whilst we should redeem the more positive elements of Athanasius, sifting it away from the highly-charged politics of fourth-century Alexandria, we should loudly condemn the negative aspects of his writings.

Of all the identities he could have taken, our God chose to become a Jewish man with a Jewish body, living in first-century Israel. He lived with Jews, he breathed in and breathed out Jewish teachings, and he broke bread with Jews.
Now some may argue Athanasius was not truly anti-Semitic, that some secondary sources are biased in their anti-Christian interpretation and selective citation. Others better qualified in Church history than I in must decide. But this said, yet again we see another clear example of a Church which, throughout its history, has done itself no favours in the tone and nature of language it employs. It is quite one thing to challenge - and robustly at that - the theological distortion of Mosaic Judaism which is rabbinic Judaism. After all, the New Testament's Jewish writers squarely rejected such theology in their proclamation of Christ, who is the Jewish Messiah. Yet throughout much of its history, the Church's challenging of rabbinic Judaism has all too often degenerated into condemnation of the entire Jewish people themselves, so that criticism of a religious system has shifted to intense and vociferous criticism of an entire people.

Unfortunately, we face a similar situation today. Unlike traditional Reformed supercessionism which has carefully eschewed highly charged anti-Israel political language, the New Supercessionism is all too often politically inflammatory, polarising and divisive in its anti-Israel stance. This is a pity, not only because it makes Jewish evangelism so much more difficult, but also because within those circles are some committed Evangelicals who genuinely hold to a strong Christology. Unfortunately, yet again Christian orthodoxy is associated with a movement which - rightly or wrongly - is perceived by Jewish people as deeply critical of an entire people. Thus the Gospel suffers. It's time to tone down the language.

6 July 2010

Something Must Change

This one won't take long. Here's the story of a little boy born 17 weeks premature. That's a week earlier than the UK legal abortion limit. And this story is far from unique. Ideology aside (whether pro-life or pro-choice), 24 weeks is absolutely ridiculous. The majority of EU countries - by no means conservative, right-wing or anti-liberal - have a limit approximately half that of the UK. Something must change. How many viable Nathans - or for that matter Mozarts, Da Vincis, Shakespeares, Pascals, Churchills, Einsteins, Newtons - together with myriads of unknown but potentially brilliant, or loving, philanthropic, caring, inventive, intelligent, witty, careful, thoughtful , or indeed just plain normal human beings - have been needlessly lost forever?

3 July 2010

Today's Methodism: Distancing Itself Yet Further From Wesley?

Drawing on a 54-page report produced by a Methodist committee, this week’s Methodist Conference voted to boycott Israeli goods produced in Israeli settlements. The committee included pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel activists (do a search of some of the committee members to get a flavour), and thus predictably the report follows the same somewhat tired, ideologically-driven and polemical pattern of similar reports produced by other Protestant organisations in recent years. Its historical narrative is one-sided, selective and incomplete (since acknowledged by the report’s chair Revd Graham Parker, who cites time constraints) and therefore misleading. Worse, it relies heavily on controversial historian and Israel critic Ilan Pappe.

Meanwhile, while purporting “to help British Methodists understand better some of the complexities that surround the current situation”, the report’s list of recommended books exploring the conflict from a Christian perspective consists of the usual pro-Palestinian Israel critics, namely Naim Ateek, Colin Chapman, Gary Burge and Garth Hewitt. Thus it is clear there is no intention whatsoever to help Methodists understand the complexities of the conflict, but rather just one particularly simplistic view of it. As such, the report represents a top-down strategy, an attempt by intellectual elites (Cadre? Vanguard?) to indoctrinate the proletariat Methodist masses which, given Protestantism’s historical eschewing of hierarchical authority in favour of democratised theological enquiry, is distinctly unProtestant and medieval (to say nothing of cynical). It appears such a strategy is being increasingly exploited by anti-Israel Christians to counter a popular grassroots Christian unease with politicised supercessionism and support for Israel (including among some Methodists I know). Significantly the report relies on the Kairos Palestine Document, authored by Palestinian Christians which likewise does not reflect the divergent views I have personally encountered during fieldwork among grassroots Palestinian Christians (the theological perceptions of Israel among Palestinian Christian are far from homogenous). Again, another document imposing a top-down theology upon the masses.

1 July 2010

We Need to Get Over Being Offended

Yesterday's Daily Telegraph reports a new French law which fines and even imprisons individuals for insulting their spouse. Being charged for what you say, of course, is nothing new, but today's politically correct society has moved far beyond issues such as perjury, treasonable speech or threats to an actual effort to legislate against offending others. For example, just this week a council worker was found guilty by magistrates under the Public Order Act and fined £620 court costs for insulting a work colleague. The  circumstances were rather unpleasant, but I am far from convinced this should ever have reached a courtroom.

Now of course some insults and taunts can be hurtful, spiteful and even downright nasty and abusive. But is it really possible to legislate against offending someone? To be sure I understand a decent, civilised society does not want to see unnecessary insulting or abusive behaviour. Yet people say all manner of things and it seems patently unrealistic to think you can legislate to stop people saying things simply on the grounds they may offend others, whether by virtue of their gender, age, sexuality, religion, or a myriad other circumstances. Seeking to curtail genuine hatred possibly leading to violence is quite one thing, but wanting to protect everyone from being offended is quite another. Be that as it may, (il)liberal fascism's political correctness crusade seeks to do just that: outlaw offending others, even if that means creating so-called speech crime. The grave danger, of course, is the gradual erosion of free speech.

But what do I know about it? Some might argue that as a middle-aged, white, heterosexual male I'm unlikely to have experienced first-hand serious instances of racist, sexist or ageist abuse, or insults by virtue of my health or sexuality. But that aside, I do regularly experience abuse as a direct consequence of my faith, whether first-hand or via the media from those who are deeply angry towards Christianity or religion in general. Try reading some comments, too, left after some online newspaper article or other reporting a story which involves Christianity or Christians. Worse (for the believer) are those handful of people (usually in the Arts) who - now that blasphemy laws have by and large disappeared - do all they possibly can to be as offensive as possible towards Christianity, usually by insulting Christ in some quite outrageous manner. Note how they think long and hard about doing so (usually choosing not to go there) when saying anything disrespectful about the Muslim prophet Mohammed.

So how should Christians respond to such offense? Well, we're going to be insulted from time to time regardless (indeed such revile brings great blessing, Mt 5:11-12), while in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus instructed us simply to turn the other cheek. That's why I'm not a particularly strong fan of legislating to protect Christianity. I just want a level playing field so we're all treated the same. You can't legislate against being offended.

25 June 2010

"No pain? Well that's alright then"

Today the media details the findings of a report commissioned by the Department of Health which concludes an unborn child cannot feel pain before 24 weeks. The report maintains nerve endings in the brain are insufficiently developed for pain to be felt. Naturally, the report is being seized upon as justification for the current 24-week limit at which abortions can take place in this country.

Am I missing something here? We see those incredible three-dimensional images of fully-formed unborn children who move and grimace, while a pregnant mom will tell you how sudden sound and movement causes the baby to respond. Yet we are told an unborn child at 24 weeks cannot feel pain. But I dare say you prick a premature baby born at 22 weeks with a pin and he/she will feel it. You'd certainly be arrested for it. Or are the professionals in question suggesting the nerve endings in the brain miraculous appear at birth? Because if so I doubt it will be too long before even later-term abortion is justified on the basis it causes no suffering. You may think this is a ridiculous suggestion, but I once heard one well-known pro-abortion MP during a science committee hearing make the ludicrous statement that there was no scientific evidence a baby felt any pain until after birth.

But this is neither here nor there. What is relevant here is how the report challenges directly one of the key issues - pain and suffering of the unborn child - on which anti-abortion campaigners have challenged the current 24-week limit for some years and have secured considerable public support in the process. More importantly, there is evidence to suggest the current intake of MPs are are much more sympathetic to reducing the term at which abortions can take place while, significantly, new PM David Cameron has previously made clear he wants to look at this issue with a view to lowering the limit. Thus the Professor who chaired the review maintains we do not now need to revisit the upper limit, a position the Department of Health has strongly echoed this morning.

And here, in all its glory, is Stage 2 of the utilitarian argument for abortion. The first stage highlighted the suffering of women as a result of being denied an abortion, the social problems an unwanted baby might (might!) cause, and so on. Today's stage 2 goes one step further down the utilitarian route, denying abortion even causes pain or distress.Watch out for Stage 3: a challenge to the view that in the majority of cases abortion causes lasting psychological harm and depression among the vast majority of women involved. Watch how all the previous statistical and anecdotal evidence demonstrating this to be the case will gradually be reinterpreted and dismissed. I'm reminded of George Orwell's 1984 in which the leading character's day job was to censor and destroy all documents detailing a past history no longer convenient to the totalitarian state.

I know some of the issues surrounding abortion are complex, and I do not want to make light of very difficult situations and choices faced over choosing, say, between a mother or unborn child, aborting one twin to save another, genuine and horrendous physical handicap, incest, or even rape. Whatever one's views as Christians on some of these circumstances, such situations are traumatic and rarely reached on flippant grounds, and as Christians we do well to approach such issues compassionately and objectively rather than as reactionary zealots. But then there are the myriad of abortions which take place on the basis of nothing more than social convenience, with women all too often encouraged to have an abortion by some who are driven by purely ideological grounds. The problem, of course, is a population increasingly uneasy about the unnecessary pain and suffering of the unborn child. This report serves as a useful antedote to such sentiment.

I do not believe this report, the timing and nature of which are suspect and troubling. But that aside, purely utilitarian arguments do not justify abortion on the scale we see today anyway. There are strong moral reasons for condemning the holocaust of 200,000 unborn children every year in Britain for predominantly social reasons. That we have now reached the stage where it is denied such activity causes pain or suffering simply to salve our conscience is a travesty.

24 June 2010

Guest Post by Chris Lazenby: "There is no God. Or is there?"

I wonder how many KEDS students (if any) have read There is no a God by Antony Flew? The book is subtitled ‘How the world’s most notorious atheist changed his mind’ and was first published in 2007 by HarperOne.

This is a wonderful read for so many reasons. Professor Flew - a true scholar and former professor of philosophy at Keele, Oxford and Aberdeen - more or less wrote the rule book for the so-called “new atheism” with his 1950 essay ‘Theology and Falsification’. The blurb on the back cover of the book tells us that this became ‘the most widely reprinted philosophical publication of the last half century.’ He grew famous – as has Richard Dawkins – for his atheistic views, and debated and spoke widely around the world as to why he did not believe in God. In a debate in the U.S in 1998, he said this; ‘I know there is no God’, and claimed that a system of belief about God contained contradictions similar to ‘unmarried husbands’ or 'round squares.'

Flew was clearly a major thinker of the 20th and early 21st century. And yet, over the past few years, where discussion about atheism is so often paraded around our broadcasting media, his name is rarely, if ever, mentioned. This is probably because, towards the end of his life in 2004, Antony Flew changed his mind. As far as the new atheism goes, Flew is a fly in the ointment (no pun intended).

One of Flew’s guides in life was a line from Plato’s Republic; ‘We must follow the argument wherever it leads.’ The line is quoted several times throughout the book. And this is what Flew honestly tried to do as he journeyed through just about every knotty problem which theology, philosophy and science can offer, mostly from the point of view of a devout atheist. He, it was, who first coined the term ‘free will defence’ in criticism of Christianity and other religions which try to explain the evils of the world by putting them all down to man and his free will.

But following the argument wherever it leads, led Flew to a complete turnaround. I won’t go into details as I wouldn’t wish to spoil the story if you should decide to read it. But basically, certain philosophical and scientific arguments led Flew to change his mind. One notable blow to his certainty came in a debate with Terry Miethe, who laid out a particularly convincing version of the so-called cosmological argument (which I’ve discussed in other entries in this blog). Another came from the discovery of the complexities inherent in DNA. I quote from the book on page 75:
What I think the DNA material has done is that it has shown, by the almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce life, that intelligence must have been involved in getting these extraordinarily diverse elements to work together…. It is all a matter of the enormous complexity by which the results were achieved, which looked to me like the work of intelligence.
On page 76-78, Flew quotes Schroeder, dealing with the absurd argument in support of evolution which uses the well known example involving monkeys, typewriters and the works of Shakespeare. This section of the book made me laugh out loud as I read the mathematical probabilities for this and the sheer idiocy of the claim.

In a section starting on page 78, Flew has a subheading; ‘Duelling with Dawkins’, in which he recounts various ‘run-ins’ with that rather loud mouthpiece of the new atheism. This too is entertaining to read as Flew (in answer to Dawkins’ selfish-gene writings) says that… ‘natural selection does not positively produce anything. It only eliminates or tends to eliminate, whatever is not competitive.’ He goes on to describe Dawkin’s book The Selfish Gene as ‘a major exercise in popular mystification.’ He write; ‘Genes, of course, can be neither selfish nor unselfish any more than they or any other non-conscious entities can engage in competition or make selections. (Natural selection is, notoriously, not selection…’)

Did Flew have a “Damascus Road experience”? Not as far as we know, unless it came after the book’s publication. But what is clear is that he developed an interest in the Christian faith. On p24 he writes; ‘… when I later came to think about theological things, it seemed to me that the case for the Christian revelation is a very strong one, if you believe in any revelation at all.’ By the end of the book, he writes “Some claim to have made contact with this Mind (i.e., God). I have not – yet. But who knows what could happen next?”

An appendix at the end of the book is written by N.T. Wright, current bishop of Durham (though soon to retire), and well known theologian. Of this appendix, Flew writes on p160; ‘Wright’s response to my previous critiques of divine self-revelation, both in the present volume and in his books, comprise the most powerful case for Christianity that I have ever seen.’ These hints in his book lead me to hope that Antony Flew came to know his Lord before he died in April of this year and that he is now safely with him.

Chris Lazenby

22 June 2010

A Brief Moment to Comment on the Coalition

Apologies! End-of-year marking and examination season has been in full swing for several weeks, hence the lack of blogging. But I've finally been able to take a short break from college issues especially to watch the Budget. In doing so I was struck by how our political landscape has changed so much in this country in just six or seven weeks.

First, Cameron looks quite relaxed and statesman-like, while today the Tories seem to have regained their historical reputation for financial competence. It was weird, too, watching the Chacellor speak with LibDem Cabinet ministers on either side of him (clearly it was Cameron's turn for that seat hidden behind the speaker at the despatch box). Interesting, too, is how just a few months ago LibDem leader Nick Clegg was shouted down by Labour MPs when asking questions during every single PMQs, yet now he sits next to the PM and is one of the most powerful men in government (much to the livid anger, no doubt, of members on the benchs opposite... perhaps some of them realise now they were rather ungenerous to the leader of the third party, which I dare say contributed to his unwillingness to explore more seriously a Lib-Lab coalition). Funny, too, how our perceptions change. I always considered Clegg a bit of a joke, someone who promised everything knowing full well he would never be held to account as the leader of a third party unlikely ever to secure power. Yet now I see him in a quite different light. Not only was he educated at a prestigious English public school (arguably an ideal training ground for running Government), but he has also proved quite able to ditch ideology over pragmatic necessity. [Reading back I can't believe I just wrote that! My, how things have changed in the last few weeks.]

For their part, I think much of Labour looks not only tired and out of touch, but many of its MPs arguably come across as somewhat hypocritical. They regularly shouted Clegg down so his voice quite literally couldn't be heard at PMQs, and yet now Harriet Harman, during her Budget response, shakes her head in disbelief at the concept of the LibDems working with the Tories, as if "How could they? They are one of us!" Well clearly they should have portrayed that sentiment a little more generously when they had the chance. Hypocritical, too, is the shrill indignance emanating from some Labour MPs such as Chris Bryant and, a few weeks ago, David Blunkett (yes, you heard correctly, David Blunkett of all people) that the new Coalition government is guilty of briefing journalists rather than informing Parliament first! This, of course, from an ex-government which was contemptuous of Parliament (Blair: "I've never been a House of Commons man") and did precisely this kind of briefing (enter Alastair Campbell) for years and years. They need to take care. People have long memories and they could look rather silly if they continue to call the new government for the very things they engaged in for years.

Meanwhile, glad to see the current approach to politics seeks to use talent from across the parties, notably the welcome involvement of Frank Field and more recently John Hutton. I think the Coalition government has successully captured the middle ground of British politics which, years ago one would simply not have associated with the Tory party. Early Thatcher succeeded in doing so and the party remained in power for years. Later Thatcher and 1990s Conservativism failed to do tso and the results for one of the most successful political parties in Western Europe were disastrous. Labour needs to bear in mind the inherent dangers of a sharp, reactive lurch to the left. For all his faults, Blair recognised that along that path lies utter folly. As one who was somewhat doubtful (and who knows? It could all end rather quickly) the Coalition government looks increasingly serious, pragmatic, statesman-like and - it must be said - quite good. It is certainly much-needed at this time.

Anyway, back to those scripts for a nother few days. But before I go, on another note did you hear about the North Korean government's unfortunate broadcasting decision concerning World Cup football recently? The Stalinist state did not broadcast live North Korea's first match against Brazil, which is more the pity given how they managed to keep the mightly footballing nation to a highly respectable 2-1 result. No doubt buoyed by this result the Dear Leader and his minions decided to broadcast the next North Korea match live. Yes, that's right, this was the match which North Korea lost 7-0 to Portugal. You couldn't make it up.

10 June 2010

Christians and Personal Finance

An area I find intriguing and have wanted to blog about for some time is Christians and personal finance, specifically a biblical theology approach to handling personal finance. A Reformed Protestant focus upon thrift, evidence that better money management following conversion has contributed to Pentecostal upward social mobility in regions such as Latin America, and biblical theology themes such as good stewardship, all demonstrate the relevance of this subject for everyday Christians. The current economic climate, too, and what may yet transpire in, for example, the Eurozone (together with a wider global knock-on effect), arguably make it even more relevant. Today's brief post, then, will be the first of several thoughts on the issue over coming months. Of course, when it comes to personal finance there are so many issues to explore, but rather than spend time writing one or two lengthy, detailed essays offering a comprehensive biblical theology of personal finance I thought I would simply share brief thoughts as and when, beginning with the suggestion that wise management of personal finance is indeed a Christian principle.

The concept of good stewardship is well-established in Scripture. Drawing on the management of a household's affairs and finances, this theme of stewardship serves as a model for the oversight, organisation and management of ministries which God has enstrusted to His servants. And (tangentially) neither should we limit ministry to full-time or large-scale callings. Whether full-time, part-time or lay ministry, an important scriptural principle seems to be that, generally speaking, faithful and successful stewardship in small or relatively minor areas of ministry eventually lead to God entrusting us with greater ministerial responsibility (see Mt 25:24-28, Lk 16:9-11). So whatever your church job or ministry, regardless of how small or seemingly menial it appears, doing it well for the glory of God often proves we are ready and able to handle larger ministerial responsibility. In short, prove yourself a faithful steward in a little and the likelihood is God will entrust you with stewardship of a lot. (I should add, of course, that we ought not to extrapolate from this that smaller ministry is automatically a sign of failure. It is not. Sometimes God specifically calls people to ministries which by their very nature will never expand exponentially or be regarded as successful in strictly human terms. Jeremiah's calling, a prophetic ministry which went unlistened to and secured multiple enemies, is a case in point).

But I digress. Ministerial responsibility aside, it seems pretty clear that faithful stewardship and careful, wise management of finite resources are concepts which are well-attested in Scripture. Whether the thrift of the woman detailed in Proverbs 31, important lessons gleaned from the Parable of the Talents, or various references to good household management and stewardship, arguably there is plenty of evidence to suggest wise management of personal finance represents an important biblical principle. Moreover, given how as Christians we believe that all we have comes from God, it seems doubly important to exercise good stewardship over our personal finance. This is what I'm interested in touching upon over forthcoming months, exploring possible biblical and practical guidelines for the efficient management of personal finance, including issues such as debt, interest, saving, investing, and so on, together with Christian attitudes towards money and finances.

Sadly, the prevalence of the prosperity gospel and the damage it has caused has resulted in some Christian leaders reacting the other way, failing even to discuss what the Bible has to say about money, personal finance and Christians responsibilities in these areas. Yet many Christians are proactively seeking biblical teaching on these issues, not out of an obsession with money and finance (after all, it is impossible to serve God and Mammon), but rather basic biblical guidelines on good stewardship of personal finance. There is no doubt such stewardship offers enourmous benefits.

8 June 2010

Evangelicalism and Liberation Theology: Oil and Water

Several months ago I attended a lecture during which a Christian tutor of theology strongly affirmed liberation theology. I don’t know which surprised me more: that she was an Evangelical based at a thoroughly Evangelical college and seminary, that she received a standing ovation from her predominantly Evangelical peers, or that afterwards she was eulogised publicly in thoroughly Evangelical language by another Evangelical who pronounced her a prophet.

Within the Evangelical periphery there is increasing sympathy towards for liberation theology, particularly among some Pentecostals within the academy (conversely, it should be noted, other Pentecostals/Charismatics are diametrically opposed to liberation theology). Why might this be? The noted Pentecostal Studies pioneer Walter Hollenweger, formerly Professor of Missiology at the University of Birmingham, helpfully differentiates between Pentecostal pneumapraxis (experience of the Spirit) and pneumatology (theology of the Spirit), arguing that many Pentecostals’ experience of the outworking of the Spirit is strong, but their theological reflection of that outworking is somewhat less developed. This prioritising of praxis above theology has permitted some Pentecostals to become involved in radical ecumenical dialogue (including interfaith dialogue), to develop a radical political theology and, getting back to where we started, embrace liberation theology enthusiastically. This is because, for the Pentecostal academics in question, a shared pneumapraxis with one's dialogical partners is far more important than theological reflection and a carefully-boundaried set of propositional truths (which tends to define the broader Evangelical movement). Or put another way, a body of doctrine and tests of orthodoxy become subservient to what is perceived as a shared experience of the Spirit, which is why, say, some Pentecostals and Charismatic Catholics get on so well despite being poles apart theologically. In such cases, a shared pneumapraxis becomes an important (indeed final) authority on issues of faith and practice, while theology takes a back seat. Thus from time to time one encounters Pentecostal academics dabbling in theology of questionable orthodoxy which might raise eyebrows among peers.

Lest anyone think I’m having a go at Pentecostals here, let me reiterate again that very many Pentecostal scholars do not embrace liberation theology, while for many pneumapraxis is firmly relegated to a subsidiary role (after all, the Pentecostal academy is far from theologically or politically homogenous). Rather, my reasons for raising Pentecostalism just now within the context of liberation theology and orthodoxy are threefold: a) the lecturer referred to above is strongly Pentecostal, b) there now exist expressions of Pentecostal liberation theology in Latin America and elsewhere, and c) I am increasingly of the view that Evangelicalism (within which Pentecostalism is broadly located) and fully-fledged liberation theology are theologically incompatible – oil and water – and I suggest embracing wholly and uncritically liberation theology marks an important trajectory away from Evangelical orthodoxy. The purpose of this brief post is to explain why I believe liberation theology and Evangelicalism are incompatible, how one cannot embrace both simultaneously and coequally without substantially redefining one or other.

4 June 2010

What Utter Hypocrisy

Today Turkish PM Tayyip Erdogan quoted the sixth commandment to Israel in Hebrew, telling the Jewish state "Thou shalt not kill". He has also described Hamas as freedom fighters. This from the government which continues to threaten severing ties with any country which even dares raise the issue of the Armenian holocaust, presided over by Ottoman Turkey when over a million Armenian Christians were massacred in a myriad atrocities across the country during the First World War (if you don't know much about those events do a little research and the facts will horrify you). Of course, Turks today cannot be held accountable for events carried out a century ago in their name, while many in Turkey equally condemn the genocide carried out early in the twentieth century. But Erdogan and his government  not only threaten allies who raise the issue a century later, the PM also issued a veiled threat to expel 100,000 Armenians just a few weeks ago if the world continued to refer to the Armenian genocide. And now Erdogan quotes the sixth commandment to Israel. What sheer hypocrisy! Turkey's rhetoric this week merely reinforce the view by some observers that she is in a process of strategic realignment and is distancing herself from Israel. One simply doesn't use such undiplomatic language otherwise. That, of course, is Turkey's prerogative. All nations must do as they see fit, whether out of pragmatism, ideological reasons or to satisfy their domestic populations. But Erdogan's hypocrisy by quoting Scripture really is too much and until the present regime is replaced I, for one, will not be going to Turkey any time soon. Put on ice, too, are any planned study trips with students to visit the seven churches of Revelation.

Israel right or wrong vs Israel is always wrong

The truth about the flotilla is slowly coming out. The Independent details how an Al-Jazeera reporter acknowledges an initial small group of Israeli soldiers lowered to the boat were overcome and beaten, while Haaretz reports fears of three unconscious soldiers being taken hostage (the Al-Jazeera reporter details four captured Israeli soldiers). Given Israel's sensitivity about its soldiers being taken hostage (Gilad Shalit was abducted by Hamas four years ago and remains a hostage, while Hizbollah's abductions of Israeli soldiers led to the 2006 Lebanon war), this undoubtedly contributed to a second wave of Israeli soldiers boarding the ship who were apparently far more brutal in putting down the riot. We now have confirmation several of those on board were provocateurs, with family members back in Turkey acknowledging they sought martyrdom. We've seen the slingshots, complete with Islamist slogans and ball bearings, as well as other weapons. We've seen the videos of soldiers being beaten, too, though apparently the journalists who filmed them have complained Israel released the footage without their permission. Elsewhere, the Guardian reports on how Hamas has refused the flotilla aid which their propaganda machine had maintained was essential for the survival of the people of Gaza. Indeed, on the BBC Radio 4's The World Tonight the other day an Arab member of the Israeli Knesset openly stated the flotilla was not about aid, but rather making a political statement. Meanwhile, another ship is making its way to Gaza, also on a publicity mission and adamant it will not stop. Its cargo? Cement. Lest anyone think I've fallen for the Israeli propaganda machine, the media sources cited above are generally on the left and tend to be the most critical of Israel.

It all comes too late, of course. It always does. Israel has already been tried and sentenced in the court of public opinion before some of the facts even had chance to emerge. Time again Israel responds to provocations no other country would tolerate (imagine, say, Syria's reaction to settlers on the Golan firing some eight thousand rockets over the border). The problem is, Israel sometimes acts stupidly, as it did earlier this week. After all, the Hamas propaganda strategy and manipulation of the media is pretty slick and it was clear the flotilla offered a chance for valuable media coverage, which is probably why Israel sent in troops with paintball guns. But as we know it all went dreadfully wrong with tragic consequences.

What is galling is the instant demonisation of Israel by an hysterical media lynch mob whenever she is involved in confrontation. Whether her actions are clearly justified or else Israel acts foolishly (and make no mistake, her gung-ho military doctrine is sometimes a cause for concern), there is an immediate assumption within the Arab world that Israel is out to engage in deliberate murder. Elsewhere, Israel is instantly judged in the court of public opinion, while there is a notable absence of scrutiny of the other side. By the time the facts come out demonstrating Israel is not the demon everyone jumps to assume, it's too late. The damage is done, and the evil Israeli monster narrative is reinforced (which is precisely what the likes of Hizbollah, Iran and Hamas all want, while us poor Western saps dance to their tune).

Earlier this week a blog reader responded to my flotilla post by asking what outrage must Israel commit before I scream, "no, enough". My answer, I think, is that for many Christians the instant demonisation of Israel before the full facts have come to light, the same old anti-Israel propaganda and hysteria, the blatant ignoring of the wickedness perpetrated by Israel's enemies, the West's hypocritical demonisation of the only democracy in the Middle East (however imperfect it is), siding with Islamists and countries such as Iran, and (dare I say it) in some cases blatant anti-Semitism, all make it somewhat difficult for some Christians to join in the instant universal chorus of condemnation of Israel which is so ideologically-based and in many cases hatred-driven.

I'm no ultra-Christian Zionist who takes an "Israel right or wrong" position, and I do try (perhaps not always successfully) to be objective, seeking to point out when Israel when does wrong. But like millions of Christians who eschew supercessionism on the basis of Romans 9-11, I strongly believe God retains a plan and purpose for the Jewish people. When, then, a nation four-fifths of which is Jewish is immediately pilloried and demonised by those unwilling even for a second to consider that there may be another side to the story, it makes it very difficult to join in that condemnation until the full facts are known. After all, while an "Israel right or wrong" position is untenable, an "Israel is always wrong" position is equally unChristian. 

Sadly, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu was right when he recently observed that the world is against Israel. As for me, despite the sin in the land, the need for the Jewish people too accept Yeshua HaMashiach, the Jewish Messiah, however unpopular it is and however much people criticise me for it, I would much prefer to be a friend of God's historical people and take the time to establish the truth rather than be on that side which instantly demonises them no matter what.