King's Evangelical Divinity School

31 March 2010

Biblical Theology and the Modern State of Israel (1)

Been incredibly busy preparing for a forthcoming series of validation events. So in the meantime here's an essay I've presented in several formats in different places (more details in footnote 1). I recently realised I haven't really set out on this blog my theological reasons, particularly a biblical theology case, for my position on Israel. So I thought this might be of interest, though it was originally written several years ago and probably needs to be updated. 

Biblical theology is notoriously difficult to define, consisting of quite diverse meanings and methods at different stages in the field of biblical studies. (2)  At its most basic, biblical theology focuses on the unifying central story (the technical term is “metanarrative”) which runs through the Bible. Thus, biblical theology contributes to hermeneutics by drawing on the “big picture” to interpret the Bible’s various component parts, rather than simply limiting interpretation to the study of the Bible’s books and texts. Another (related) way of doing biblical theology is to establish and trace unifying themes throughout the Bible, for example, sacrifice, redemption, the people of God, and so on.

Israel is a key biblical theme drawing on both these methods. As well as an important biblical theology theme in its own right (Israel is mentioned or alluded to as many as 3000 times in both Testaments), Israel plays a key role in the Bible’s central story of redemption. Old Testament Israel is the people of God with whom He makes a covenant, reveals His laws, and ultimately through whom He sends a Saviour, a Jewish Messiah. Indeed, few Evangelicals would dispute Israel represented the revelatory vehicle for God’s plan of redemption. Where supercessionists and their opponents disagree is whether God continues to recognise and have a plan for Israel now that His salvific plan has been revealed.

The view that Old Testament Israel’s theological purpose has been superceded is referred to by the theologian R. Kendall Soulen as “structural supercessionism”. He traces how this position arose within church history by some theologians downplaying certain aspects of the Bible’s metanarrative (3)  (he prefers the term “canonical narrative”) while elevating others. (4)  In effect, the Bible’s central narrative can be reduced to four key events: creation, the Fall, Christ’s work at the cross, and the end (or consummation) of the age. If you think about it, all the Bible’s disparate components ultimately fit in with and are subordinate to these four events. But Soulen notes how, by focusing almost wholly on the Fall and God’s response (Calvary), the other two events (creation and consummation) are downplayed. Moreover, by focusing on the New Testament story of Calvary as the zenith of God’s eternal plan, the Old Testament is relegated in importance, and of course with it the role of Israel. Meanwhile, relegating the consummation of the age (which is, in fact, when the Bible narrative climaxes and ends and eternity begins) downplays the many eschatological passages in which Israel features so strongly. Indeed, it is no coincidence that those churches who downplay Israel’s role also tend to downplay the issue of eschatology.

Supercessionists also focus on other biblical theology themes to support their position, notably who owns the land. They note this was an important Old Testament theme but it is barely mentioned in the New Testament. Thus, it is maintained the land is superceded, spiritualised and replaced with a new kingdom of God which spans the whole earth, and Christians arguing for Israel’s right to the land are theologically wrong. I will not deal with the land theme here as Stephen Vantassel challenges this view eloquently and persuasively in Chapter 4. Another biblical theme employed by replacementists is Israel’s treatment of the alien, which I discuss briefly and challenge below.

26 March 2010

I've Been Quoted in The Times

Well, the Church Times anyway. But first some background.

Last year I was invited to attend a consultation hosted by Concordis International (a conflict resolution charity working mainly in Sudan) exploring the British churches' response to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Attendees of the consultation, held at Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge, on 19 September came from across the theological spectrum with a range of views on the conflict, and also included several historians and political analysts. Various papers were delivered and I was asked to present a paper setting out my theological position on Israel (see below).

An outcome of the meeting was the suggestion that a booklet be produced setting out the various views expressed as a resource for Christians wanting to learn more about the issues, to be circulated among British churches. Contributions express a range of views towards Israel, and my motivation was to provide an alternative viewpoint for readers to consider (my focus, by the way, is upon covenant rather than land, primarily challenging supercessionism). Concordis have now produced 2500 copies of the booklet, which was launched at an event in London last week, where I was invited  to be one of thee panelists contributing to a discussion chaired by the Rt. Hon.Viscount Brentford of Concordis International.

This week, Church Times published a story on the current disagreements between the Obama and Netanyahu administrations, going on to refer to the British churches and Concordis' booklet. Anyway, having been quoted (albeit a rather modest quote, blink and you'll miss it), I'm now sitting back confidently awaiting the urgent calls from the Times of London, Daily Telegraph and Independent, indeed the New York Times and the Washington Post too!

Seriously, though, please take a look at the Concordis booklet and pass on the details to anyone you think might be interested. Aside from the pdf version Concordis may have some printed copies available for distribution if you ask.

A Christian View of Israel. Original paper I delivered at the Sept 2009 Concordis event

Concordis booklet: British Churches and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

25 March 2010

Yemeni Jews

Today's Independent has a lengthy story on Yemeni (aka Yemenite) Jews fleeing persecution and settling in London and elsewhere, which is well worth a read. The history of the Jews of Yemen has always fascinated me, while the Operation Magic Carpet airlift of 49,000 or so Jews from Yemen and surrounds in 1949-50 on British and American transport 'planes represents quite an Exodus story. There are some reports of how many of the Yemeni Jews were fearful of boarding the aircraft because they came from ancient villages and had never even driven in a car. Two biblical passages became associated with the operation - Exodus 19:4 and Isaiah 40:31 - which refer to God saving His people on wings of eagles, and apparently the Yemeni Jews had to be reminded of these Scriptures to persuade them to board the 'planes.

The airlift also highlights how the Middle East conflict has created refugees on both sides, an important part of the narrative often ignored, with many hundreds of thousands of Jews, possibly a million, having fled Arab countries over the years, leaving homes and possessions behind.

Anyway, I think you'll enjoy the article and well done to the Independent for publishing it. Meanwhile, an interesting account of Operation Magic Carpet from the perspective of an Irish-American pilot involved in the airlift (dubbed the "Irish Moses") can be found in this New York Times story. For more on the history of the Jews of Yemen see this online encyclopaedia article.

24 March 2010

Polls, Israel and Can a Christian Be Demon-Possessed?

A short post covering several issues. First, some time ago I ran a poll on Israel. Here's the question, final results and a brief comment...

Which Best Describes Your Theological View of Modern Israel?

a) The State of Israel is without doubt the fulfilment of biblical prophecy
b) The Jews remain God’s chosen people but I'm unsure if modern Israel is the fulfilment of prophecy
c) The Jews remain God’s chosen people but I don't believe modern Israel is the fulfilment of prophecy
d) Because the Church is now the people of God the State of Israel has no theological significance whatsoever

Results were a) 50%  b) 28%  c) 6% and d) 15%.

Concerning the views expressed, it's quite clear many Christians continue to link the founding of Israel with biblical prophecy. But clearly a substantial proportion of voters (options b and c) are as much (or more) concerned with the issue of supercessionism than the land. Finally, this website has visitors who take a diammetrically opposed view of Israel from me (and they are welcome).

Of course, given the site had several thousand unique visitors during the life of the poll, votes cast were pretty low, so analysis is not particularly scientific. I'm posting a last poll for the time being, this time on an issue that really seems to work some Christians up. Given the recent and very public statement by a senior member of the Catholic Church that the Devil resides in the Vatican (which for some Protestants rather came across as a bit of an own goal), I've posted a poll on demonology and if a Christian can be demon-possessed (see column on right, about halfway down). I'll be commenting on this in due course after I've finished the Evangelicals and liberation theology piece, due shortly.

One other thing. I've been asked various times today to comment on a rather trite attempt to equate IDF soldiery with Herod. To be honest, though, it has all become rather unworthy of serious comment (reasons here, third comment down). I'm much more interested in engaging in serious academic/biblical treatment of the issues with both allies and worthy adversaries alike.

23 March 2010

British versus European Anti-Semitism

At last! The book's in with the publishers and I am free again (well nearly... I have a rather large mountain of work on my desk to clear). Time at last to get into blogging again as the week progresses.

In the meantime, I've been reading a comment in the Daily Telegraph by Charles Moore concerning the remergence of anti-Semitism in Britain. Moore makes the observation that in Europe anti-Semitism has traditionally been fuelled by fear, while in Britain it is motivated by contempt. I'm not sure the extent to which that is true any longer. For example, the rise of Muslim anti-Semitism in cities such as Malmo, Sweden, is driven by hate as anything (or perhaps it is fear-driven, not so much fear of Jews as of extreme Islam, so that anti-Semitism remains unchallenged). But I think I do agree with Charles Moore that in Britain anti-Semitism is driven by contempt. You only need to read through some of the many comments posted on the Daily Telegraph website to see that indeed this is the case.

20 March 2010

Nearly There!

This year I have definitely bitten off more than I can chew concerning writing commitments. My latest edited book on Latin American Pentecostalism has taken up all my time since returning home from the U.S. nearly two weeks ago, hence the lack of blogging. But nearly there at last, with the manuscript finally going to the series editors this weekend, after which it will be just three other books and several journal articles to finish by December (which is precisely what I meant by overcommitting myself this year).

In the meantime, here's a useful comment in The Guardian by Jonathan Chaplin of the Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics and also consulting editor for the Evangelical Review of Society and Politics.

16 March 2010

Hamas Announces "Day of Rage"

Hamas has announced a day of rage to mark the dedication of the newly-rebuilt Hurva synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City, which was destroyed by Arab League troops in the 1947 Arab-Israeli war. I'm struggling to understand why Hamas has taken this line. After all, I've seen this building and it's a fair way from the Temple Mount, in a part of Jerusalem that had a strong Jewish presence during the Ottoman period. Might it be because Hamas maintains Israel has no right at all, religious or otherwise, to any part of the land or city?

They just don't get it, do they??

Yet another exaggeration by the IPCC, this time an inflated claim about the destruction of rainforests. Meanwhile, the Advertising Standards Authority has rebuked the government for overstating the risk of climate change (and scaring three and four year olds half to death) in two nursery rhymes specially commissioned by Environment Secretary Ed Milliband (not sure why, then, he somehow feels he has been "comprehensively vindicated). These people just don't get it, do they? But thankfully it seems Climategate changed everything, so that these people can no longer say whatever they want to alarm us (or tax us more) without expecting to be challenged. Have you noticed how the debate on global warming is suddenly so much more reasonable, less ideologically-driven? Also, those of us who are somewhat sceptical of AGW may now at least speak a little more freely without  fear of being burned as witches or something. Such a pity some Christians exhibited this same heresy-hunting, witchfinder general-type mentality when the whole AGW issue first arose, making the rest of us feel like modalists, Montanists, or even Cathars, or worse, Arians. Meanwhile, North American recognition of and support for tackling climate change, quite fashionable since the election of President Obama, is already on the decline, while even the greenphile Guardian newspaper has published a curious story suggesting being green somehow makes you mean. Just several stories published in the last few days to ponder. Oh, and the coldest winter for several decades.

12 March 2010

Heaven Help Us!

I know, I know! In light of a recent lecture I attended I'd promised to post a comment explaining why Evangelicalism and liberation theology simply don't mix. Unfortunately, I'm still working on it. But the main reason for the delay is that since returning from the US I've had several major issues to deal with, including finalising a chapter for a new book, so please forgive me. I promise to post the liberation theology piece shortly.

But in the meantime, I thought I'd comment very briefly on the recent media fuss surrounding the distant possibility of Nick Clegg, leader of the UK Liberals (or is it the Lib Dems? They change their name so often), becoming part of a new government after the forthcoming general election as a result of the possibility of a hung parliament. My view is, let's hope and pray this is not the case. Here are my reasons why.

First, if it were to happen it would be extremely anti-democratic, that a minority third party could somehow disproportionately dictate terms in order to establish a new (but rather weak) government. Secondly, of course, such a move would only come at a cost, namely, the LibDems' insistance of the introduction of proportional representation (PR). Result? Well, currently we are looking at a once-in-a-generation event, namely, a hung parliament. Yet the introduction of PR would ensure a litany of hung parliaments every few years... in short, weak government. Indeed, those of you who strongly dislike Israeli governments, PR is one of that country's greatest political downfalls, where decision-making grinds to a halt.

But, of course, my main reason for dismissing the LibDems is how their current leader Mr Clegg is the first of a major (sic) political party to announce he is an atheist. It rather concerns me. After all, Gordon Brown claims to be a son of the manse and look where his moral compass has led this country. Meanwhile, Tony Blair expressed an obsession with issues of faith but he too let Christian values down pretty badly during his tenure of power. Imagine, then, in this climate a political leader who is pretty dismissive of faith securing an element of power in the forthcoming election (together with constitutional changes which secure that political role). Heaven help us!

10 March 2010

Sincere Apologies!

It's been a long journey back, so sincere apologies for not keeping the site up to date (whether posting or responding to comments) over the last couple of days or so. Trying to get back into the swing of things, though jetlag calls. Anyhow, I listened to a lecture strongly embracing liberation theology from an Evangelical perspective a couple of days ago, which for me raised all sorts of issues and I really want to comment on, so this will be my next comment/post in the next 24 hours.

8 March 2010

Blog From America 15 (the last hurrah)

With some hours to kill before the flight, I took the tram to the Mall of America after all and it is indeed pretty huge. And there is a whole theme park right in the middle of it. But the highlight was the no-holds-barred steak meal I'd planned (I have, after all, been working pretty hard so saw no reason why I shouldn't treat myself). Stuart, Dad, you're going to like this.

7 March 2010

Why Does the BBC Do This?

See this story on the BBC News website concerning horrific violence in Nigeria overnight leading to the death of over a hundred people, mainly women and children, macheted to death. Now read the same story as reported on the CNN website. Notice the major difference in how the story is reported? (Hint: One of the report identifies the religious affiliation of the victims, the other expressly avoids doing so, even to the extent that the report seems incomlete and somehow artificial).

Why does the Beeb do this? Is it driven by fear, either of opposition from or alienating a proportion of its Muslim audience? Or perhaps disdain for Christianity? All of the above? Lest someone feel I'm being overly-sensitive here, it's important to note the BBC doesn't have a particularly good track record when it comes to Christianity, while many feel Islam gets rather better treatment. Whether that is the case or not is for others to decide. But I suggest when a Christian village is attacked on a Sunday morning and a hundred people - predominantly women and children - are slashed to death with machetes, yet our national tax-funded broadcaster fails to report the full facts, it has hardly a wise act by a corporation regularly fending off accusations of anti-Christian bias.

Blog From America 14 (wrapping up)

My trip's coming to an end and I fly back tonight,. But guess what? Minneapolis has grown on me. The skyway system allowed the other day tgo walk around the city for a couple of hours visiting dozens upon dozens of these skyscrapers, replete with shops and businesses, all linked by walkways. Some of the lift doors are highly ornately decorated with fabulous marble and other decorative effects, while the shops are pretty classy. Streets still look empty though (too cold to walk around in them, it gets almost Artic here), and I still maintain the roads are crumbling.

My hotel room I've been staying in has this huge kingsize bed. The problem is, it is an electronic bed with a hundred different position settings! You'd think I would have had the best sleep ever. Unfortunately, I spent most of the first night going through all the settings and actually slept very little. I had to hide the remote control box eventually so I wouldn't keep messing with it. Plus my bed has seven or eight pillows (all different sizes and levels of firmness), so unfortunately this affected my second night's sleep as I indecisively shuffled them around, trying to ascertain which combination was the most comfortable (I never did find out). You can definitely have too much choice.

Will be catching the light rail to the airport in a few hours, then it's hanging around there for six hours (yawn). Flights worked out badly for this trip. But if I can drop my baggage off early I might go to the Mall of America, which is just a couple of stops from the airport. Supposed to be the biggest and one of the most spectacular in the country (it even has a theme park right in the middle of it). Anyway, if I go I'll let you know about it, and either way I might write another post from the airport.

When Blogging Makes a Difference

Archbishop Cranmer's blog has the story of a Methodist minister who is also a Labour councillor being deselected by his local Labour MP because he refuses to canvass on Sundays as this is when he's leading his church in worship. What's great about this story is how it has clearly got under the skin of the MP in question, who writes a rather shrill letter of complaint to Cranmer demanding he take down the post (he does no such thing, of course, choosing instead to comment on the inadequacies of her position and successfully highlight how this government is the most illiberal and anti-faith ever). It's worth pointing out that Cranmer's site is one of the leading UK political blogs with many thousands of readers, hence the MP feeling she had little choice but to respond. Oh that this blog might some day become so big as to wind up politicians like this. (I can dream, can't I?)

The Christian Academy and Christians in Politics

At the Evangelical theological conference I've been attending I am struck by how a substantial number of people I've listened to at debates or chatted with lean towards the political left (I think the preferred term is "progressive"). Now it is a truism that the academy always tends towards radicalism and the left. But it is also the case that in politics many politicians on the left move somewhat towards the right when they gain power (according to my politics professor during my MA studies, a classic historical example is the British Labour Party). Of course, there are exceptions to this and most rules. Thus, some people within the academy are on the right, while some on the left do seem to shift further leftwards when in power (though some of these, I think, are actually populists employing leftist rhetoric, but that is an issue for another day).

So the exceptions aside, what are the reasons for a left-leaning academy and politicians who shift rightwards towards the centre? I'm not sure, though I suspect in the case of the academy it is a place driven by idealism, as well as an arena in which to exchange ideas and in doing so challenge the status quo and the Establishment. Meanwhile, I suggest the cold, hard realities of the political world arguably lead politicians to ditch idealism in favour of pragmatism, firstly to get things done, and secondly, because there is a realisation that academic idealism and utopianism is somewhat of a pipedream in the real world. Enter Reinhold Niebuhr's Christian realism.

Whatever the reasons for both these political tendencies, I do not believe these two stereotypes of the academy and political world should be permitted to influence Christians in either arena. The Christian academy should certainly not be shaped by the world's currents, trends, political outlook, worldview and philosophy. Such postmodern ideals will pass one day, as indeed the scepticism of modernity's biblical criticism - and indeed various philosophical influences upon Christianity during its 2000 year history - has now passed into oblivion. And that's the point, isn't it? When the Christian academy permits the world to influence its mindset and worldview it enslaves itself to the dominant fashion of the pervadign Zeitgeist. This is, in a very real sense, worldliness, that is, allowing the world's values to rub off and influence the Church and its actions. Instead, the Christian academy should be thoroughly biblicist in its approach to issues (and not just issues but in shaping its own agenda and worldview), seeking to establish and walk its own path rather than emulate that of the secular academy. It should be radical by all means (after all, Jesus was incredibly radical), but being radical means being something completely different to what is already out there. Yet all too often, Christianity offers a carbon copy (and a poor one at that) of what the world has to offer. In short, the Christian Evangelical Left should not look much like the Democrats or Labour Party, while the Evangelical Right should not be a religious carbon copy of the Republican or Conservative parties. Indeed, there should be no Evangelical Left or Evangelical Right in the first place, as these are simply examples of how the world has rubbed off on us so that we even categorise ourselves on that basis. But of course human nature and things like political cleavage make it hard for us to shake off these ways of thinking.

Meanwhile, from the political perspective (and here is why, perhaps, Christians don't make good politicians) Christian politicians should not be driven by pragmatism and realism, because this is the route of compromise and watering down one's Christian, biblical values. Rather, the Christian politician should be driven by idealism and firmly challenging the status quo. But of course in this route lies a short political career.

It seems to me, then, Christian radicalism means a Christian academy which espouses realism and pragmatism, while Christian political outlook and activity should be zealously idealist and keen to challenge the status quo. But of course the opposite very often seems to be the case. Everything just seems so messed up, doesn't it?

6 March 2010

UK Christians and a Forthcoming Difficult Choice

The Daily Telegraph has run another interesting comment today on the Lords' ammendment to the Equalities Bill. It seems the changes which will likely force Anglican clerics, and indeed rabbis, Free Church ministers, and even imams (somehow I doubt the latter) to carry out same-sex union ceremonies or blessings in a place of worship, contrary to the will of either the church or minister in question, is an embarassment for the government. How so? After all, Gordon Brown's cabinet is the most secular ever. The embarassment, it seems, is nothing to do with substance but rather timing. A clash with the Church and unpalatable headlines is not what the government wants as we head into a general election in the next eight weeks.

So much for Gordon Brown's "moral compass" and his claim, as a son of the manse, to be driven by the morality imputed to him by his cleric father. I thought Tony Blair's administration did a real hatchet job on people and institutions and of faith and didn't see how it could get much worse. But of course I'd forgotten the old Stalinist days in Soviet Russia, where the state even managed to shape the way you thought and spoke. It's time to get rid of Brown now, for the sake of the country in general, but also because if reelected he and the people around him can and will do so yet more damage in terms of Christian values and freedom. The problem, of course, is who to vote for. Certainly the lesser of two evils, David Cameron is nonetheless some way down this ditching of Christian values route himself, though it is hard to see how he could be quite as antagonistic towards Christians as Brown has been. Perhaps some of it is rhetoric to win votes, but if so I suspect he will lose many others. The Libs' Calamity (self-confessed atheist) Clegg would likely seek to rival Brown's secularising agenda. Of the minor parties, the Greens are hardly Christian-friendly and UKIP is unlikely to make much headway. Pity we can't vote for the best among the main parties, all rolled-up into a Christian bloc, and I, for one, will be looking carefully at the alternatives to my sitting MP, who in correspondence between us nailed his colours pretty firmly to the mast.

5 March 2010

Excerpt 5, Pentecostalism and Politics in Latin America

For previous excerpts click here.


On 19 July 1979 Sandinista guerrillas entered Managua, capital of Nicaragua, thus bringing to an end the dynastic, despotic Somoza dictatorship. At the height of an insurrection costing thousands of lives, Somoza fled Nicaragua and guerrillas of the Frente Sandinista de LiberaciĆ³n Nacional (known as the Sandinistas) seized power.

This was a truly popular revolution, counting various sectors of society among its numbers. The Nicaraguan revolution was also significant for another reason: the central role religion played within it. During the insurrection, liberation theology Christians had aided the guerrillas in various ways, helping the guerrillas to secure victory, and the role of revolutionary Catholics was later recognised when four priests were given roles in the new Sandinista government.

Aside from this, the people of Nicaragua are deeply religious. Therefore, it is not surprising that religion played not only a significant role in the insurrection, but also during the ensuing civil war between the Sandinistas and Contras. During a Cold War in which Nicaragua represented an ideological battlefield, a bitter propaganda war broke out as each side sought to secure the moral high ground. Just as religion had played such an important role in the revolution, once again Christianity found itself at the heart of this new conflict, with Catholic Archbishop Obando y Bravo and Washington on one side, portraying Nicaraguan Christians as victims of a tyrannical regime, while on the other, Sandinistas and their liberation theology allies projected an image of full religious freedom and Christian support for the revolution. It was not long before Nicaragua’s Pentecostals became involved, not least because they were already suspicious of the Sandinistas, which they regarded as communists.

The deeply religious nature of Nicaraguans, the existence of two diametrically-opposed religious blocs in the country (Pentecostalism and liberation theology), a revolutionary government that demanded participation by all (neutrality was not an option), and the explosion of Pentecostal growth during the Sandinista regime, all make Nicaragua an interesting and important case study for exploring Pentecostal politics in Latin America.

Blog From America 13 (learning the hard way)

Staying at this plush downtown business hotel where the conference is being held. It's really nice: marble-floored lobby and walls, rich carpeting elsewhere, large plantpots with cactus and palms, and a lobby which rises literally 15 or so storeys high (the lobby is the core of the building, with the seventeen storeys built around it. Expensively-dressed business people everywhere. And of course this is America, where everyone expects to get tipped. By the way, I'm sure some Brits get a bad name over here  because they're unaware of how tipping works at restaurants. In the UK it's usually 10%, but sometimes it's added to the bill anyway so you don't bother. In some types of UK restaurants/cafes you don't even tip, or simply leave a token amount. But here in the US tipping is how waiters/waitresses make their income. Eating out is cheap here, but tipping 15-20% is pretty standard and generally expected. Yet a lot of Brits don't know this when they come here for the first time.

Anyway, in my hotel I was working away on my computer (brought lots of work with me) and didn't have time to go out, so I ordered a rather expensive hamburger and chips at $12.50. When it came, however, the bill was considerably inflated, with a $3 delivery charge, several dollars of tax and also a service charge tax of 15%, then the room service attendant expected a 20% tip (I suspect she was rather disappointed to get something somewhat more modest). So this hamburger came to a whopping $22-23. So I learned the hard way not to order room service here (I mean, I could have gone out and had a nice steak for that). But I'll tell you what, it was a pretty good hamburger. Still, at that price it ought to be.

Interesting Comment on Christians in Society

Came across this article in The Times by Frank Skinner last night, which I thought might interest you. Whether or not you appreciate his comedy (he can be rather crude at times) or whatever the more Protestant/Evangelical of you think of his faith (Skinner is a Roman Catholic), reading between the lines he makes some rather thoughtful comments and I was quite surprised by his at times appropriate use of Bible verses.The fact is, we have to take care that in exploiting today's pluralist marketplace of ideas to communicate our worldview and ideas as Christians, we do not embrace that other more negative pluralist value - standing up for and defending "our rights" and engaging in direct action - in such a way that we lose sight of Christ's teaching to "turn the other cheek". We will always be persecuted for our views (unless, of course, we become the state religion, and we've seen the disaster establishmentism has represented throughout the Church's history), and the sooner we come to accept that persecution is an inevitable price for following Christ, the less stressed we will be. And I say this as an idealist who frequently gets angry at how Christianity is sidelined and Christians have all manner of issues they disagree with on conscience grounds foisted upon them. "Turning the other cheek" is what has enabled me (admittedly not always successfully) to keep that anger in check.

Blog From America 12 (downtown Minneapolis)

I'm in downtown Minneapolis and it is a curious experience. Passed through several times, and of course the airport is a major hub, but this is my first time in the heart of the city. When I arrived I was struck by how empty the streets were of people, and how the city centre pavements and roads are just large slabs of (rather cracked) concrete. In all, I wasn't very impressed. Seemed a bit artificial. It was only after I went from my hotel to a shop across a first storey bridge (they call them skyways) that I realised much of the city centre's tower blocks are all interconnected by these skyways, which are walkways (almost like city streets) allowing everyone to shop and walk throughout the city centre yet keep warm (it can get very cold here). It's rather good, with various tower blocks forming this kind of mall, and some of the interiors decorated rather plushly. Several interesting buildings, too. Still rather quiet, though, but I've found the people very friendly and helpful. The downside is that my hotel room is perched twelve storeys in the air (I hate heights), with a large floor-to-ceiling window being one whole side of my room.

4 March 2010

About time!

According to this morning's Daily Telegraph Gordon Brown at last is going to put a stop to the politically-motivated abuse of our court system. About time! How can Britain ever be taken seriously as a peace broker if every time an Israeli official or politician comes to Britain they're threatened with arrest because a campaign group seeking publicity approached a magistrate? As usual, it's one rule for Israel and another for everyone else.

3 March 2010

Blog From America 11 (random observations)

Flying to Minneapolis tomorrow and driving across Michigan today. In the meantime, I thought I'd share some random observations of American life, culture and chatting with people while travelling over the past two or three days. First, I thought it was only in the UK where all too frequently one comes across five or six workmen at roadworks standing around sipping tea and watching a solitary worker dig a hole with a pickaxe. But it happens here too! I suspect the tea has been replaced with the ubiquitous weak coffee Americans drink by the gallon, and they probably chat about "those Dodgers" rather than "the United", otherwise the frustration you feel after sitting in a long queue of traffic for half an hour then pass the work crew responsible for the delay is exactly the same.

Television isn't up too much. News is highly parochial, very much soundbite-driven, while the number of adverts is ridiculous. Sometimes adverts breaks are literally just a few minutes after the last one, usually with no warning. You come to the end of a scene of a programme you're watching, then the very next second you're trying to work out why someone is talking about buttermilk biscuits and how this relates to the film's murder plot. Plenty of sitcoms and other stuff Americans do well (and badly), but news analysis and quality documentaries are few and far between. So yesterday evening I ended up watching Mexican TV instead, which was interesting. They broadcast their version of Candid Camera or You've Been Framed, where this fellow was stopped by a couple of Mexican policemen, they engineered a fight with a passerby, and then all chaos erupted. The fight became real, the actor policemen had to pretend to draw their guns and stop the victim from swinging out. When they finally told him he was on film it was a complete anticlimax, so angry and despairing was the target of the joke, and it took a good five minutes to calm the chappie down. Only then did the laughing begin, by which stage it wasn't that funny. 

2 March 2010

Who is a Jew?

Identity consists of multiple layers: nationality, ethnicity, class, religion, gender and various other factors. Concerning what makes someone a Jew, as far as orthodox Judaism is concerned religion represents an integral component of Jewishness, which is indeed why Messianic Jews are often denied permission to emigrate to Israel as they are no longer deemed Jewish. This is nonsense, of course, because one can be Jewish and an atheist. There are various other components which shape Jewish identity, for example, culture, history, language, and so on.

Blog From America 10 (worship)

Apologies for not posting anything the last couple of days. Been away from a connection and also very busy. Anyway, will try and get a couple or three posts published in the next day or two.

I spoke at two services on Sunday and one of the things I'm often struck by when attending a large church over here is the attention given to worship. Of course, worship differs according to which church or denomination one attends, but on the whole the various churches I've visited tend to have a choir, a band consisting of various skilled musicians, and worship leaders. Often times, churches which can afford it will employ a minister of music who is responsible for every aspect of worship. I really enjoyed the service on Sunday, and there is no doubt that when skilled musicians lead three or four hundred people in worship it can be uplifting.

The Church and Israel Teaching Day

I'll be doing an all-day seminar exploring various aspects of the relationship between the Church and Israel on Saturday 17 July (11 am - 4 pm) in Wolverhampton, West Midlands, organised by King's Evangelical Divinity School. Further details later, but we've hired a suitable church hall and places are limited, so if you plan on attending you should express your interest as soon as possible by emailing the college office at office(a)