King's Evangelical Divinity School

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.