King's Evangelical Divinity School

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)

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.

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.