King's Evangelical Divinity School

28 December 2011

Brazilian Pentecostalism and Popular Culture

Brazil's Pentecostals wield considerable political power (as the last presidential elections demonstrated). But Brazilian Pentecostalism - one of the most populous expressions of the movement anywhere in the world - is also beginning to have a significant cultural impact upon the country. A Guardian report yesterday highlights how Evangelical artists and performers of popular music are being offered record deals and their own gospel music record labels by the main record companies, while a major secular television station has begun to cover gospel festivals. The Guardian story is available here.

27 December 2011

Former Tory Leader's Son on Anglican Anti-Semitism

Today Nick Howard, son of the former Conservative Party leader Michael Howard, has published a lengthy article on a well-known political website severely criticising anti-Semitism in the Anglican Church. The essay is noteworthy for several reasons.

First, it demonstrates how the Middle East situation continues to be propelled up the religio-political ladder. Seen as a fringe theological issue several decades ago, Christian responses to Israel, the Arabs, Islam and Middle East Christianity are increasingly a key issue for believers today. That it emerges at a time when Evangelicals are firmly ditching private faith in favour of engaging with the public square is no coincidence. Thus, Christians who fail to search their Scriptures and engage theologically with this issue, preferring instead to bury their heads in the sand, are in danger of appearing irrelevant when it comes to one of the big issues of the day.

Howard's essay also suggests some Anglicans have not capitulated to the anti-Israel narrative so embraced by some of the Church of England's elites. If in doubt, visit the Anglican Friends of Israel website or the Archbishop Cranmer blog, one of the best known political blogs in the UK. (Indeed, within Catholicism, not noted for its longstanding historical sympathy towards the Jewish people, there's even a Catholics for Israel group.) I've met lots of Anglicans who are deeply uneasy by some of their fellow Anglicans' intense dislike of Israel.

All this raises another issue, namely, how anti-Israel public proclamations by Christian elites are not necessarily echoed by grassroots believers within the same circles or organisations. Consider, for example, the many anti-Israel and Palestinian nationalist declarations emanating from within a particular segment of Palestinian Christianity. Such statements, signed by leading Palestinian clerics, are often light years away from the views of many everyday Arab believers who express theological views about Israel and the Jews quite at odds with those of their leaders. Indeed, some Palestinian believers I've interviewed express considerable frustration at how their everyday spiritual and pastoral needs are ignored or downplayed by their leaders who are more interested in playing politics, or else demonstrating to the Palestinian Authority that they're good nationalists.

Such proponents of Palestinian liberation theology do well to note the failure of another form of liberation theology, in Latin America (where the movement originated). It also quickly became a vehicle for elites to express religio-political ideology rather than ameliorating the very constituency - the poor - they originally professed to champion. Thus, as Latin American liberation theology became the  preserve of anti-establishment academics and revolutionary priests set on ideological and class warfare who claimed to opt for the poor, the poor looked elsewhere for spiritual and material succour. As one observer famously stated,  "While liberation theology opted for the poor, the poor opted for Pentecostalism".

But perhaps the most significant aspect of this article is how it demonstrates just how serious the whole issue is becoming for the Church. Note this is not your everyday blogosphere tittle-tattle, but instead a rather well-known Christian making some very serious accusations of fellow Christians. It's certainly far from the typically wishy-washy language we've come to expect from the Anglican establishment (which the author seems to acknowledge early on in the essay), and as such it absolutely demands careful consideration and further research to determine its veracity. It is incredible that given the horrors of the Holocaust which took place just a few years ago we're still talking today about the existence of anti-Semitism in the Church.

16 December 2011

Israel's DFM on the Peace Process

Here's the second of Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon's Youtube videos on the Middle East peace process (I posted the third of Ayalon's three videos here, which was released by Israel at a press conference held at the UN). For those who have little knowledge of the history surrounding the conflict it's quite enlightening, miles away from the false narrative now accepted uncritically by so many.

13 December 2011

About the Palestinian Refugee Issue

Putting behind it a pretty long and dismal history of ineffective PR relying on poorly-dressed male politicians with atrocious accents woefully failing to put forward Israel's case, the office of the Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon has just produced this slick video to counter some of the myths perpetuated concerning the Palestinian refugee issue. Ayalon, who features in the video (without a rolled up shirt sleeve, open collar or undecipherable accent in sight), cites various facts about the refugee issue that politicians and academics have known for years, yet which are all too often conveniently swept under the rug in favour of the myth-making and subjectivism so prominent in today's popular responses to the current conflict. The Palestinian refugees have indeed had a raw deal, and their leaders, together with the political elites of the wider Arab world and indeed the UN, must accept their considerable share of responsibility for the current situation.

9 December 2011

Israel and the Church Bibliography

In a comment thread following on from my Revelation TV debate with Stephen Sizer last month someone asked if I could recommend a reading list of books exploring the issue of the Church and Israel. On my faculty page I have several bibliographies and I've since updated the Church and Israel reading list, which is available here.

7 December 2011

New Year, New Opportunities

We're fast approaching the New Year resolutions season (most of which will fall by the wayside before the end of January) and we've posted something on the King's school blog which might be of interest to some readers. Why not take the opportunity to consider making a New Year decision with a difference this Christmas? More details here.

21 November 2011

King David Street souk (Jerusalem Old City)

Here's a video filmed this evening walking down the King David Street souk (Arabic: market) in Jerusalem's Old City, inside the Jaffa Gate. The video shows just a small section of this mainly Arabic market in one of the Old City's main thoroughfares. I've uploaded various other video clips of my current visit to Israel and will upload more before I return this weekend. I'll post several here but to view the rest visit www.youtube.com/calvinsmithvideos. My aim is a series of short clips offering insight into the topography, history, culture, religion and everyday life of the country. If you subscribe to the channel you'll be notified whenever new clips are uploaded.

20 November 2011

Jerusalem

Hi, currently in Jerusalem so blogging is going slow right now. However, I plan to post a link to a new Youtube channel tomorrow evening with video clips I will film which I think people will find interesting. I'm spending my time during this particular trip here in Jerusalem, the Dead Sea valley, the Golan and northern Israel (Syrian and Lebanese borders), and parts of the coastal strip. I'll be uploading clips (internet connection permitting) each evening and will organise Youtube settings so anyone subscribing will receive notification each time I post a video clip. My aim is to post brief clips (typically 30-90 secs) which move beyond tourist stuff to offer insight into the topography, history, culture, everyday politics and aspects of the theology of the land. The aim is a series of brief snapshots for those wanting to know more about this part of the world. I hope you enjoy it. More late tomorrow evening.

Update

I've now created a YouTube channel www.youtube.com/calvinsmithvideos. There are some clips uploaded already, with many more to follow over the next few days. You can comment on videos, and if you subscribe to my YouTube channel I think you're notified automatically whenever I upload a new video clip (if any veteran YouTubers know othewise or have additional advice please do post details here).

17 November 2011

The Jews, Modern Israel and the New Supercessionism

Since the TV debate on the Church and Israel we've received requests for the little book I edited in 2009 entitled The Jews, Modern Israel and the New Supercessionism: Resources for Christians. Unfortunately it is currently out of print. However, because there were five print runs and copies were ordered by various booksellers, I believe the odd copy is still available through some organisations (e.g. CFI) and smaller independent booksellers (possibly through Amazon).

The book is currently being revised and several new chapters added (including one by Ron Diprose, author of Israel and the Church). I expect it to be published in the first half of 2012.

15 November 2011

Allowing the text to speak for itself

Biblical interpretation can be hard work, with all manner of pitfalls the interpreter of Scripture must avoid. Two issues in particular represent serious challenges to the hermeneutical task. The first is the danger of so focusing on interpreting individual texts that the establishment and interpretative value of any overarching narrative of the Bible as an essential hermeneutical tool is lost. Synchronic interpretation at the expense of a   diachronic approach represents a serious loss to the interpretative process, particularly for the Evangelical interpreter for whom the canon of Scripture exhibits internal unity and purpose as the revealed word of God.

In short, it's all very well (and an essential aspect of exegesis) to study individual short texts in depth, historically, linguistically and of course theologically. However, unless these texts are related back to and interpreted in light of the wider narrative running through the Bible, the hermeneutical process is incomplete. This focus on a theological and canonical interpretation is known as biblical theology, which seeks to establish overarching themes and narratives throughout the whole Bible. (Incidentally, the term "biblical theology" has had several meanings in the history of the academy, so my definition above should not be confused with these.)

13 November 2011

Guest Post: The End of God?

The following is a guest post by Chris Lazenby in response to the documentary The End of God? aired on BB4 on 10 November.

As is often the case with modern documentaries on science and religion, this one seemed designed from the outset to try and destroy any remaining faith people may have in a supreme being. Dr Thomas Dixon, the presenter, informed us at the very outset that: ‘in the battle between science and religion, it would seem that science has won the war. Is there any room left for God?’

12 November 2011

TV Debate: Has the Church Replaced Israel?

Ninety-minute debate between Stephen Sizer and Calvin Smith, broadcast live by Revelation TV on 9 November 2011.


Has the Church Replaced Israel? (TV debate) from Calvin Smith on Vimeo.

10 November 2011

That TV Debate

As some of you know, last night I participated in a live television debate with Stephen Sizer, vicar/pastor of Christ Church, Virginia Water and author of several books on Christian Zionism. It was good to meet Stephen at last and discuss some of the issues. I also appreciate the very many kind words received from so many people via email, text and phone since. Other than expressing the odd opinion on a news clip I've never been on TV before, so I was initially a little nervous, but by the end I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I thought the debate was good-natured and interesting and I hope viewers found it informative and helpful. Anyway, I have permission to distribute the recording so in due course I'll upload the entire ninety-minute discussion here. Thanks again for all your kind words and encouragement.

9 November 2011

Ortega's Re-election

So Nicaraguan leader and former Sandinista guerrilla Daniel Ortega has just secured another term as President (despite the constitution barring it). Ortega, of course, was one of the nine Sandinista comandantes during the 1979-90 revolutionary period. Ousted in 1990, after which the Sandinistas ominously vowed to "rule from below", Ortega made a remarkable comeback some years ago and has retained and strengthened his grip on power ever since.

7 November 2011

With Ilan Pappe On Their Side

The chaps over at Rosh Pina report the interesting news that the filmmakers of the anti-Christian Zionist film With God On Our Side have had to retract a purported quote by David Ben-Gurion because it seems there's no record of him having said it. The problem is, the reliability of this quote was questioned more than three years ago by the revisionist historian Benny Morris after the now disgraced Independent columnist Johann Hari (critic of Israel and now it transpires - somewhat ironically - serial mis-attributor of quotations) used the quote in an offensive anti-Israel tirade. Apparently this erroneous quote is attributable to the anti-Zionist historian Illan Pappe who is not noted for being an objective historian interested in facts. Thus, one cannot help but wonder what other factual errors the film contains given its reliance on Pappe.

4 November 2011

Messianic Alarm

I've previously posted on some of the issues contributing to diverse expressions of Messianic Judaism (MJ, also Messianic Jews), for example MJ self-identity as both Jewish and Christian, the movement's relationship with (and role within) the wider Church, and Torah observance. I'm particularly concerned at how vociferous anti-Israel sentiment within segments of Evangelicalism further complicate Messianic Jewish self-identity as believers in Jesus, together with their relationship with the Church. It can't be very easy to identify oneself as both a Jew and a believer in Jesus while some in the Church openly and systematically demonise Israel (flatly refusing to see both sides of the story). Furthermore, it makes it so much harder for a Messianic believer to share his or her faith with another Jew if what is being offered is inclusion within a body which is critical and polemically one-sided in the current Middle East conflict. That the Church has a long history of anti-Semitism only compounds that point.

Thus Messianic believers are increasingly alarmed by some of the extreme rhetoric emanating from within parts of the Church. There is considerable disquiet at the harm it is causing MJ-Gentile Christian relations, together with MJ efforts to evangelise the Jewish people. There is growing criticism, too, of how some MJs are dialoguing with anti-Israel Christians, for example through the forthcoming Christ at the Checkpoint. An open letter posted yesterday to Messianic leaders and congregations raises this very point. It provides some insight into how the movement is feels under siege and seeks to respond to the current anti-Israel rhetoric and activism evident within Evangelicalism.

3 November 2011

Still Making Mistakes

A few days ago Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas conceded the Palestinians and Arab world had made a mistake by rejecting the 1947 UN partition plan, choosing to go to war instead. Israel, of course, won the war, expanding and consolidating its territory in the process. Had the original partition plan been accepted how different the Middle East might have looked today.

1 November 2011

Is Social Justice Essential to the Church's Mission

Today the issue of social justice is increasingly discussed by Evangelicals who ask whether or not it represents an essential aspect of the Church's mission. Christian Post reports on a debate between Albert Mohler and Jim Wallis on this very issue, recently held at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Illinois. One issue arising out of the debate appears to be the fundamental importance of defining terminology. What, for example, does social justice mean exactly? For some it quite clearly represents a whole political ideology, for others it is a much more fluid and broad term. Whatever your view, the recently held debate (and comments posted by bloggers following the Christian Post story) demonstrates the need to define terminology before getting involved in debating issues.

Further details of the debate can be found here.

27 October 2011

Useful Theological Website

Here's a useful website I want to recommend. It is by Dr Mike Vlach, a professor at The Master's Seminary. Mike is also on the editorial committee of the Evangelical Review of Society and Politics, which I edit. Though the site hosts various valuable theological resources, particularly useful, I think, are Mike's excellent resources on supersessionism. He also has a new book out on this issue.

Security Matters


Last night three rockets were fired at Israel from Gaza, the first since the Gilad Shalit exchange. Typically,  it went largely unreported in the West. Yet the security issue lies at the heart of the Middle East conflict (not the only issue, but a core consideration nonetheless). Israel is simply not going to negotiate anything away - land, blockades, checkpoints - until it can guarantee its own security. Neither are we talking about home-made rockets here; both Hamas and Hezbollah are currently being armed by Iran, and all three openly seek the destruction of the Jewish state.

"Leave it to the UN and the world to guarantee Israel's security," some say. "Let's demilitarise the region and reach peace accords". The problem is, Israel doesn't feel it can rely on the UN. Remember how, after the 2006 Lebanon War, UN troops were stationed along the Israel-Lebanon border to calm the situation and guard the region? Last month I took the photo above during a visit to the border. Note the Israeli homes right up to the border. The road behind them (lined by some fir trees) is in Lebanon. And if you look carefully you'll see a solitary white-painted UN armoured vehicle. From our various vantage points high up this seemed to be the story along much of the border. It hardly inspires confidence.

26 October 2011

Why He Won't Debate

This guy revels in controversy and ludicrous, unsustainable polemical declarations, much to the consternation of millions of Christians worldwide. But at last, it seems, he's met his match, his comeuppance... and he knows it! That's why he's running scared from this debate, offering the most bizarre of excuses for doing so. Full details here, while a source on the opposite side of the political spectrum likewise criticises him here. Both well worth reading. (BTW he's previously been interviewed on Revelation TV).

25 October 2011

Remnant versus Nation

A key passage in the current debate over whether God retains a plan and purpose for the Jewish people is Romans 9 to 11. By the end of chapter 9 one might be forgiven for believing Paul is arguing for so-called fulfilment theology. Fulfilment theology argues that the promises given to the Old Testament congregation are fulfilled in the New Testament congregation - the Church - of which believing Israelites become a part. The term is favoured by those eschewing the label "replacement theology" (embraced by many throughout Church history) because of its elitist and negative overtones suggesting the Church has superseded Israel. Yet this theology likewise argues that Israel is subsumed within the Church (in his analogy of the wild olive in Romans 11 Paul says the opposite, that Gentile believers are grafted into Israel, rather than the other way around). It also says God has finished dealing with Israel as a nation (by nation I mean the entire Jewish people rather than the State of Israel). In short, fulfilment theology argues for the fulfilment of the OT promises, and that's fine. But the problem is that it does so at the negation of the Jewish people for whom God no longer retains a plan and purpose as a distinct people. So fulfilment theology is replacement theology in all but name, de facto if not de jure supersessionism.

24 October 2011

Two Books (and Jews in the land)

Just wrapping up Jacques Doukhan's Israel and the Church: Two Voices for the Same God. Short but nonetheless a very interesting and thought-provoking read for those engaging with supercessionism, as well as those exploring the role of Torah within Messianic Judaism (Doukhan is not explicitly concerned with MJ and Torah observance, nonetheless he raises issues which are relevant to those exploring this topic). Useful, too, is his discussion of the thoroughly Jewish nature of early Christianity, and his view that the schism between the synagogue and church was later than is often assumed.

More about the book when I review it properly in a day or two. In the meantime I've just ordered Moshe Gil's A History of Palestine, 634-1099 (though at nearly a thousand pages it may be a while before I offer a detailed review!). Gil's book provides a detailed treatment of the Jewish presence in the land during this period. I also have several other texts on order tracing a Jewish presence in the land before this period, as well as throughout the Ottoman era. The standard anti-Israel (and indeed anti-Jewish) line that Jews only arrived in the land during the last century is, of course, a fallacy... there has been a continuous Jewish presence in the land of Israel since the exiles returned from Babylonia some 2,500 years ago.

21 October 2011

Stuart Dauermann on Messianic Judaism

I've previously blogged briefly about Messianic Judaism (MJ), as listed here. I also commented on the issue of MJ identity and its relationship with the wider Christianity here. Look at some of the comments posted... interestingly this whole debate is in such flux that arguably several of the commentators have moved on quite a bit since then.

For those interested in the fascinating theological area of the relationship between Gentile and Jewish believers today I've just come across a very interesting short video by Stuart Dauermann. I don't necessarily agree with everything Stuart, together with his colleague Mark Kinzer (who both subscribe to TOMJ, Torah-observant Messianic Judaism), state on this issue. My primary concerns are the dangers of excessive legalism and parallel ecclesial structures at the expense of true unity in Christ. Nonetheless, Stuart makes some valid points in the video and his focus on this issue merits close attention.

I had the pleasure of chatting at length and getting to know Stuart during a conference on Jewish Evangelism held at Fuller Theological Seminary earlier this year, after we were introduced by Chosen People Ministry's Mitch Glaser (both are doctoral graduates of Fuller). Listening to his presentation and having the opportunity for us to chat several times over coffee on various issues, I found him to be intellectually stimulating, thoughtful, charming, and passionate (while at the same time managing to eschew polemic excesses). It is always pleasing to encounter a true academic who genuinely loves Jesus and with whom one can have a generous debate, but yet helps you theologically reflect and think upon an issue you might take a slightly different stand upon.

So despite my reservations of aspects of TOMJ I consider this an honest debate within the wider MJ movement, and I think Stuart's video is a useful starting point for those seeking to immerse themselves in this issue. The video can be found here. 

20 October 2011

Ultra-strict Jewish sect trashes ice cream parlour

The Daily Mail reports an ultra-strict Jewish sect which recently trashed an ice-cream parlour in the Mea Shearim district of Jerusalem for modesty reasons. I know the district well, having spent quite a bit of time there over numerous visits. It's a district you certainly can't drive a car in during Shabbat, while dressing immodestly is at your own risk.

Mea Shearim offers an important insight into how Israeli society is increasingly divided along sacred and secular lines (whether ultra-ultra religious, quite ultra-religious, robustly-but-not-really-ultra-religious, somewhat strongly religious, fairly mildly religious, nominally religious, slightly anti-religious, and downright religiously hostile). For those not interested in the intricacies of discerning the quite bewildering number of expressions, branches and sects of Israeli Judaism, the important point is that Israeli society is strongly divided between religious and non-religious lines (indeed there is real tension between the two), which in turn can have quite an important bearing on Israeli politics. It has to be seen and experienced at length to begin to understand, and those opining on the Middle East conflict without fully realising the role of religion (or opposition to it) in the national psyche miss an important point.

Anyway, the Daily Mail article is available here.

19 October 2011

What Does This Tell You?

Freed female Palestinian terrorist to Gaza children: I hope you will become martyrs. Wafa al-Biss, who was freed as part of the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange, was sentenced to a 12-year term for planning to blow herself up near Be'er Sheva's Soroka hospital in 2005.
By Reuters
Tags: Palestinians Gaza Hamas prisoner exchange Fatah Israel terrorism
A would-be Palestinian suicide bomber freed by Israel in the prisoner swap for soldier Gilad Shalit told cheering schoolchildren in the Gaza Strip the day after her release on Wednesday she hoped they would follow her example.
"I hope you will walk the same path we took and God willing, we will see some of you as martyrs," Wafa al-Biss told dozens of children who came to her home in the northern Gaza Strip.
No need for any comment or analysis. Full story here. 

A Surprising Source on Shalit's Treatment

In the wake of the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, held captive by Hamas for five years, The Guardian (of all newspapers) issues a report concerning Hamas' treatment of detainees:

Hamas has been criticised for its treatment of Palestinian detainees. A youth activist detained in August, Mohammed Matar, told Human Rights Watch that he was kept in a cell too small to allow him to lie down to sleep and given food "that was so bad that I threw up when I tried to eat it". 
Palestinian human rights organisations have repeatedly accused the security services in Gaza of arbitrary detentions and torture and complained that the Gaza courts rarely reject prosecutions built on confessions extracted under torture.

Clearly this is an understatement (and given The Guardian's track record of reporting the Middle East conflict one might be forgiven for wondering if such understatement is purely down to the classic British focus on a rhetorical device). Of course, the report is also careful to qualify its assessment of yesterday's pictures of a gaunt Shalit juxtaposed with busloads of far healthier-looking and somewhat more belligerent former Israeli prisoners. Yet the report is useful stab at honesty nonetheless.

The full report is available here.

18 October 2011

Gilad Shalit Released

Thankfully today Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit’s physical ordeal is over (I say physical because, after five years of Hamas captivity, I’m sure there’ll be various emotional and psychological issues to deal with). The cost is one thousand Palestinian prisoners, half of them exchanged today, the rest in a few weeks.

From a pragmatic Western perspective Israel’s longstanding policy of getting its soldiers back no matter what, even if it means exchanging them for hundreds of Palestinian militants or terrorists, represents a fundamental military and security weakness. That Israel is prepared to engage in such exchanges even to retrieve the remains of dead soldiers merely compounds that point. It is a policy which is frequently exploited by Palestinian leaders, knowing that if a terrorist operation goes wrong and cell members are captured, or a suicide bomb vest fails to detonate, they’ll eventually get them back through a prisoner exchange like today’s (a somewhat raw deal, it must be said, for the failed suicide bomber sent back to have another go). I’m not aware of any country that shares Israel’s policy of getting its soldiers back no matter what… it simply ties a military’s hands.

17 October 2011

Hillel Cohen's "Army of Shadows"

I'm currently wrapping up my reading of Hillel Cohen's scholarly and fascinating Army of Shadows, an historical work exploring Arab responses to Zionism in British Mandate Palestine prior to the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. Cohen identifies and discusses a substantial portion of the Arab population which, for various motives, provided the Zionists with support and assistance, whether selling land, providing political or economic support, or extend security help. The book identifies a range of motives, whether genuine support for the Zionist project, idealism, support driven by opposition to the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Hajj Amin al-Husseini or his vision of nationalism, clan or village benefits and motives, personal reasons (e.g. economic gain), and a recognition of the inevitability of a Zionist state and the need to work with rather than against the Jews.

12 October 2011

As Christians We Should Know Better

As I prepare for a forthcoming television debate on Israel I've been doing a little research into how the issue is currently being played out in the Church. One is immediately struck by some of the extreme and pejorative language employed by some Christians against others, for example describing Christian Zionism/Zionists as deviant, heresy/heretics, apostasy/apostates, or even "an abomination" who have rejected Jesus.

Such language belies a lack of sophistication (Christian Zionism is hardly theologically or politically homogenous, while does a belief in a Jewish homeland - however that may be constructed or whatever its exact borders - really make one a heretic? That's an awful lot of Christians who love Jesus unnecessarily besmirched and excommunicated). Also, extreme language is often employed by people who lack reasoned arguments and evidence, and history is replete with fanatics and idealogues relying on invective to conceal weak arguments. It is a salutary reminder to those of us supporting the view that God retains a plan and purpose for the Jewish people not, in our zeal and passion, to fall into the same trap. Thus, for example, labeling anyone espousing replacement theology an anti-Semite is not only unhelpful, untrue and unChristlike, it arguably suggests an inability to challenge soundly this theological view. To be sure, some individuals espousing replacement theology have crossed over into anti-Semitism, and given the Church somewhat inglorious history on this score it is essential to identify and challenge it whenever it rears its ugly head. But overuse merely cheapens its currency.

10 October 2011

Support Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani

The Iranian pastor has been found guilty of apostasy from Islam, but because he refused three times to recant his Christian faith in court when given the opportunity he therefore now faces the death penalty. The story has attracted considerable attention from the world's media. A final ruling is expected today or early this week, but some observers note that the death penalty may be implemented without any prior announcement (as has happened in Iran the past). Please pray for Pastor Nadarkhani and consider becoming involved in the campaign supporting him. Further details of this travesty and how to get involved on Pastor Nadarkhani's behalf are available on the Christian Solidarity Worldwide website.

27 September 2011

Northern Israel, the Golan, Syria and Lebanon

I'm currently touring Israel with several of my grown-up children (we're visiting my oldest daughter, who presently lives and works here). Right now we're driving around the Golan Heights and northern Israel, and we're staying a couple or three miles from the border with Lebanon. This is a fascinating area, well off the beaten track for most pilgrimage tourists, but one which gives valuable insight into what makes Israel tick, together with a more general insight into the nature of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Two miles from where we're staying is Kyriat Shmona, where over a thousand Hezbollah rockets landed during the 2006 Lebanon War.

Yesterday we drove up Mount Bental, taking photos into Syria just a stone's throw away with Damascus some forty miles away, before spending some time in the Druze town of Madjal Shams on the slopes of Mount Hermon (various new houses being built here). From time to time you encounter the odd relic of the 1967 Six Day War (an abandoned tank here, painted in gaudy colours and sporting and Israeli flag, or a more sombre memorial remembring the Israeli war dead over there). Today we visited the border town of Metula, a stone's throw from Lebanon (we photographed a UNIFIL tank and vehicles patrolling the border, compete with UN initials and emblems). Yet despite being in one of the world's tensest conflict zones, for now all seems peaceful. It is a beautiful area, with scenic views from the mountains which are so militarily strategic. One is also struck by the intense amount of agriculture on the Israeli side,whether by idealisic kibbutniks, or the Druze orchards producing goods which apparently they can export to Syria. For many Israelis here existence seems to represent a form of resistance, driven by idealism in the face of danger. Why else would anyone set up home a stone's throw from nations intent on your destruction? One is also struck by how this area is so central to Israel's security - overlooking the country's Galilee basin and water supply as it does - and I can't see how the country will ever give up land for peace as long as there are Iranian proxies based right on her borders in Lebanon or Gaza, or with Syria right next door, particularly when giving up land in Lebanon or Gaza failed so dismally. Seeing the terrain here one begins to appreciate much more fully Israel's obsession with security and how this must be addressed before there can be any chance of land swaps.

22 September 2011

Forthcoming Television Debate on Israel

I've been invited to take part in a live television debate on the issue of Israel with Stephen Sizer. With just the two of us (and the presenter), together with no less than 90 minutes set aside for the discussion, we can really delve into the issues properly (can't wait!). It's being broadcast by Revelation TV in the first part of November. I'm currently in Israel so will post more details upon my return to Blighty.

UPDATE

I now have full details of the programme. Please pass these on or post a link on your site...

Date and Time: 9 November 2011 (9.00 - 10.30 pm)

Revelation TV is available through Sky, a ROKU Box in the US, or online at http://www.revelationtv.com/watch_now.

With 90 minutes to spare, this programme promises an opportunity to discuss in considerable depth this issue and how the current debate is being played out in the Church. Looking forward to what promises to be a lively and robust debate!

19 July 2011

What Is Your MP Doing About It?

Recently the Equality and Human Rights Commission's (EHRC) chief Trevor Phillips defended the traditional liberties of Christians caught out by equality legislation, going on to highlight several cases are currently with the European Court of Human Rights. It may have taken Phillips a while to realise just how far the pendulum has swung to one side, at the expense of religious freedom, but at least he has now recognised how the interpretation of equality legislation in this country is firmly and institutionally discriminatory against Christians.

On his blog yesterday Cranmer took up the matter, highlighting how a Member of Parliament has sponsored an Early Day Motion supporting the EHRC's intervention and the need to defend religious liberty. Yet His Grace noted with alarm how so far only nine MPs had signed the EDM. Today the situation has improved only moderately, with 14 MPS supporting the EDM. And while in years past Conservatives would have strongly supported such a motion, so far only three Tories have signed.  Meanwhile, where are the DUP signatures?

Few EDMs get debated in Parliament, regardless of whether they have the backing of a great many MPs, so strong parliamentary support doesn't necessarily guarantee the issue will be discussed in the Commons or translate into a re-examination of how Christians in the UK are currently discriminated against (though there is a chance it might). Conversely, however, a lack of support for an EDM such as this could easily be interpreted by liberal elites as evidence that Parliament has no concerns whatsoever about the continued erosion of religious liberty. On the other hand, several hundred signatures might well serve to act as a shot across the bows of those elites aggressively seeking to push religious views firmly into the private sphere. So what is your MP doing about this? Signing an EDM costs very little, and who knows what a short email or letter might do.

23 May 2011

A Useful Book

Chosen People Ministries UK have just published a book on Jewish evangelism, which I was asked to endorse. I read through the book, a very helpful and practical guide on how to share your faith with Jewish people, as well as a thoroughly helpful book for anyone seeking to learn more about the Jewish root of Christianity and Messianic Judaism. CPM have opened a Facebook page to promote the book, which can be found here.

20 May 2011

Are You Ready For the Big Day?

About fifteen months ago during a visit to the United States I posted a brief comment about the beginning of the end of the world. Well,  I hope you're good and ready because that day has come upon us, and is, in fact, tomorrow (21 May, about tea-time, I think). If you want to know a little more about the event and the preacher who predicts it, the Independent ran a story about it back in March (interestingly listed as their most viewed story today).

Actually, I'm not too worried. As I said in my original comment last year, the fact Harold Camping doesn't have the best of track records on this issue, together with Jesus' words in Matthew 24:36, would rather suggest we'll still be here tomorrow evening. Incidentally, the New York Times offers an interesting piece looking at how the issue has divided some families. I can't help but feel some people are going to be feeling slightly embarrassed tomorrow. But when it doesn't happen, don't be too surprised to see the emergence of a Plan C with this preacher saying, "No, I really do have the right date now." (Who knows? Could be third time lucky.) Alternatively, he could just disappear with some of his followers, leaving the rest of us to wonder if indeed we missed the rapture.

13 May 2011

Pot, Kettle, Black

Last night on US television Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan made the following statement:

Let me give you a very clear message, I don't see Hamas as a terror organization. Hamas is a political party - it emerged as a political party that appeared as a political party... it is a resistance movement trying to protect its country under occupation. (Source: Haaretz)
One wonders how he would feel if other national leaders were to express similar views about the Kurdish PPK... wait, we already know. The words pot, kettle and black all come to mind.


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NB This was originally posted on 12 May. However, Blogger had some technical problems and data posted after 11 May was lost. I've therefore recreated the comments below based on the original notification emails. 

8 May 2011

Peas in a Pod?

Tonight a UK television channel aired a reality show following a popular medium who featured at one of the main entertainment venues in Margate (in fact, not too far from me). The similar methodology employed by Psychic Sally and several well-known televangelists was quite uncanny, including: the celebrity status of the medium/televangelist, the inevitable build up of expectations among attendees before the show, the announcement during the show of a name/illness/situation and asking the person affected to come forward (have you noticed how the relevant divine/spiritual authority never seems to provide the person on the stage with the full set of details, requiring them instead to go through a process of Twenty Questions?), providing further insight into that person's situation once they have come forward, and then - having had their their divine/magical credentials confirmed - offering advice/words of wisdom/solutions to seal the contract.

Unfortunately (and rather sadly), there are other ways in which such people are reminiscent of here-today-(not always)-gone-tomorrow televangelists, namely: the business nature of the contract, exploiting the genuine grief, suffering and/or expectations of the individuals seeking solace or help, the disproportionate impact of charletanry on the most vulnerable, granting of false hope, and the thoroughly business nature of the whole episode. Sadly, people like tonight's popular medium and her televangelist counterparts have existed for years. As the Preacher notes, "There is nothing new under the sun" (Ecc 1:9).

2 May 2011

You can't make peace with such people

We condemn the assassination and the killing of an Arab holy warrior. We ask God to offer him mercy with the true believers and the martyrs.
          Senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh
          (reacting to the death of Osama bin Laden)

I rather suspect there will be little mercy for someone who remorselessly killed thousands and brought untold misery to many more. And these are the very leaders which people (including some Christians) expect Israel to make peace with. There can never be peace with Hamas.

(See Haaretz and Reuters for further details)

28 April 2011

This is a joke, surely?

A story which defies belief. I must admit, I initially doubted the story's authenticity; surely no academic could possibly be this stupid. But yes, do a search for the journal and you'll find it in the submission guidelines. Incredible!

27 April 2011

Thankfully, Christians haven't ever had to put up with the 'd' word

According to the Guardian newspaper, PM David Cameron at PMQs today sparked Labour fury when he told opposition front bench spokeswoman Angela Eagle to "Calm down, dear". It seems it was the second of those 'd' words which caused considerable offence on the Opposition front benches. Actually, there seems to be some confusion as to who Cameron was taunting, whether Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls, his wife (also a frontbencher), or Angela Eagle, but all that is beside the point. So is the fact that hardened senior Labour politicians - including Ms Eagle - seem to have got so hot under the collar over that most frightfully offensive, demeaning and hate-filled of words, the 'd' word. I quite concede Dave's use of the 'd' word is frightfully spiteful, utterly filthy and breathtakingly denigrating, but perhaps it demonstrates how such delicate flowers as Ms Eagle should avoid the brutal, rough and tumble world of Westminster politics. For his part, the PM maintains this was merely a reference to those well-known (if rather annoying) Michael Winner adverts where he keeps saying, "Calm down, dear, it's only a commercial". Whatever the truth may be, I guess those involved will simply have to put up with what British Christians so very often now hear all the time, namely, that we should get used to it, grow a thicker skin and stop getting offended so easily (though actually, I rather think it takes more than the use of the word "dear" to get us frothing at the mouth... after all, in recent years we've had to put up with somewhat more distasteful language and anti-Christian vituperation than this).

21 April 2011

This is not about protecting identities

Looks like the UK government may have to, after all, release figures detailing the numbers of late abortions (i.e. carried out after 24 weeks) which, theoretically, are only permitted in cases of extreme physical abnormality or danger to the woman. These figures have been kept secret since 2003. Pro-abortion campaigners and the Department of Health strongly oppose the information being released, arguing it may lead to the women and doctors involved being identified and harassed by pro-life campaigners. Yet it is not immediately clear how releasing statistics identifies anyone. What seems rather clearer, however, is how releasing these figures will demonstrate that the country's abortion laws are regularly flouted, resulting in unborn children in the latter stages of pregnancy being aborted for minor abnormalities.

19 April 2011

A Zionist Muslim?

Well, maybe that's a tad ambitious, despite how some syndicated columns have run the story, but Ha'aretz' interview with a former journalist and leftist member of a Zionist organisation who is now a committed Muslim is certainly an interesting one, full of paradoxes and oxymorons. It certainly helps to demonstrate the complexities of life in the Holy Land, rather than the unsophisticated and deliberately polarised mischief-making we all too often hear from anti-Israel activists (whether Christian or secular) who have little understanding of life, faith and politics in the Holy Land. Whether or not you agree with his views, the interview with Kassem Zaid is well worth a read. Particularly interesting was the following comment he makes:
...there are a lot of advantages to living in Israel. On the personal level, Arab individuals can lead their lives in dignity, there is a senior citizens allowance, there is a guaranteed income allowance and no one suffers from abject hunger. My personal dignity is not trampled upon.

2 April 2011

How Not To Be Taken Seriously

Imagine, purely hypothetically, if Israel indiscriminately fired a missile at an Arab bus station, killing one person and wounding around 30 others. I don't mean an Israeli retaliatory attack, or a missile fired at a target hidden within the bus station, or an act carried out during  war. I just mean imagine if the Israeli military, completely out of the blue and for no reason whatsoever, decided to blow up a bus station in the Arab West Bank or Gaza. There would - rightly - be complete uproar and utter global condemnation. At the vanguard of such protest would be the many Christians who are deeply critical of Israel and despise Christian Zionism. After all, they have a track record of criticising Israel's actions whenever the opportunity arises. Well, it has been a little over a week since a terrorist bomb - completely unhypothetically - was denotated at Jerusalem's main bus station with the express intention of causing as many civilian casualties as possible. Yet we've barely heard a squeak from the Christian anti-Israel brigade. Indeed, so far I've only come across one Chrisian organisation critical of Israel which released a statement condemning unequivocally the Jerusalem bombing (earning my respect, despite disagreements I may have with them, as an organisation to be taken more seriously).

28 March 2011

Middle East Unrest

There's a lot going on in the world since I last posted anything here, notably across the Arab world. I've been asked various times by concerned Christians what the wave of Arab protests and clamour for change might mean for Israel. I think this is because some within the media, together with several commentators on the political left, have interpreted the wave of anger on Arab streets as something specifically aimed at authoritarian regimes supported by the West. Indeed, this is how it appeared during the early stages of unrest across the Arab world. Thus, some Christians express concern that with the fall of the likes of Egypt's Mubarak, Israel has one less friend in the region, and if other pro-West Arab regimes likewise fall to the masses clamouring for change then Israel's security in the region is weakened considerably.

Actually, I'm not sure I agree with this analysis.

14 February 2011

Apologies!

Apologies for not being a very good blogger of late! Occasionally college commitments mean lulls such as this. Nearly there, anyway. Off to America this week and hopefully will have more time to blog during my travels. In the meantime, my colleague Chris Lazenby, who has attended an Anglican church for many years, recently wrote a piece on Anglicanism and baptism over on the King's blog which you might find interesting (he's clearly exercised by what he reacts to). Anyway, it is reproduced with permission below.

24 January 2011

Remembering Christians in Gaza

The Egyptian authorities investigating the recent bombing of a Christian church in Alexandria, which killed 21 worshippers, have stated the attack was carried out by a Palestinian Islamist group working out of Gaza. Details of the story can be found in the New York Times (Google it and you'll also find it reported from different angles cross various news outlets). Is it true? Quite possibly. Several observers suggest Egypt is simply trying to ease sectarian conflict in the wake of the attack, while the group has denied the story. But of some things we can be quite sure. For example, the Gaza-based group is definitely Islamist in nature, with links to the extremist Abu Qatada, currently imprisoned in the UK. The group belongs to the Dagmoush clan (a Hamas rival in Gaza), which operated in true mafia style. They held the BBC reporter Alan Johnson and participated in the kidnap of the Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit. Meanwhile, the group has been linked with the attack on a Christian bookstore in Gaza. More details about the clan be found in a Spiegel report here and an early Guardian analysis here.

7 January 2011

Press report on our recent Israel and the Church conference

Just came across this piece published by Christian Today reporting on our recent Israel and the Church: A Common Heritage and Uncertain Future conference, jointly organised by Chosen People Ministries/ Chosen People (UK) and King's Evangelical Divinity School and held at London School of Theology in October. Further details of the conference, including how to obtain recordings and videos, can be found here. A detailed conference report is due imminently, which will be published on both the King's and Chosen People sites. Meanwhile organisers are currently negotiating publication of both the conference's and additionally related, solicited papers in several volumes.

5 January 2011

Bravo BBC!

This week I watched a repeat of the BBC's six part documentary Auschwitz: The Nazis and the 'Final Solution' on one of the repeat entertainment channels on Sky. Originally broadcast in 2005, the series traces the establishment and history of the Auschwitz death camp using various documentary sources and eyewitness accounts of the atrocities committed there. The result is a series which is both compulsive and repulsive, as one seeks to grapple with the concept of how humans could plan the systematic murder of millions of fellow humans in that manner, and what went through their minds as they engaged in the most unspeakable acts of cruelty and horror. The problem is, we forget so easily, which is why the BBC is to be commended for making a quality documentary like this.

4 January 2011

From One Leftist Paper to Another

Happy New Year to you all! I trust you enjoyed the opportunity to relax, spend time with family and charge your batteries in preparation for yet another (hectic) year.

A report in today's online Haaretz, a left-leaning Israeli newspaper, reminds us how the close of an old and start of a new year marks that season of surveys and summaries of the outgoing year. Thus Haaretz reports on how the Guardian, a UK newspaper also on the political left, analysed its tags for 2010 to discover Israel ranks fifth in the newspaper's stories on foreign countries, leading the Guardian to ponder if it is "disproportionately preoccupied" with Israel. Surely not!