King's Evangelical Divinity School

26 November 2012

Should Christians Eschew a Pagan Setting?

At church yesterday one of the Bible readings concerned the healing of Naaman (2 Ki 5:1-19). Naaman was a leading Syrian military leader. He was also a leper. 

I'm sure you know the story well (it's a Sunday School favourite). A young Jewish slave girl captured in a Syrian raid against Israel explains to her mistress (Naaman's wife) that there is a prophet of God in Samaria who can cure her master of leprosy. Naaman approaches the man of God (the prophet Elisha) offering him riches in return for healing. Yet Elisha doesn't quite fit the stereotype of what Naaman expected an Israelite prophet to be. Instead of performing a grandiose magical rite Elisha instructs this warrior to go wash himself seven times in the river Jordan (from Naaman's perspective, not the nicest of rivers). Naaman is furious but, coaxed by his servants, eventually succumbs, whereupon his leprosy is healed.

When Elisha refuses riches offered for his healing, Naaman requests two mule-loads of Israelite earth to take home, upon which from now on he will make sacrifices to the Lord God of Israel alone. Apparently Naaman recognised the holiness of the land and that Yahweh was the One True God. 

It's quite a transformation really, from hardened warrior to astute theological observer. But what struck me this time 'round (I've read the narrative many times, but have you noticed how often we pick up something new each time?) is verse 18. After declaring he will worship only the God of Israel, Naaman says to Elisha:
In this matter may the Lord pardon your servant: when my master goes into the house of Rimmon to worship there, leaning on my arm, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, when I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, the Lord pardon your servant in this matter.” (ESV)

16 October 2012

An Introduction to Postmodernism

The following discussion of postmodernism was originally broadcast by Revelation TV on 25 September 2012.

25 September 2012

Postmodernism

Sorry for not blogging of late. Very busy time right now with the start of the new academic year, but will be posting some new articles soon. In the meantime, tonight Revelation TV are broadcasting a programme I recorded some weeks ago exploring postmodernism. Aimed at everyday Christians rather than an academic audience, the discussion explores what postmodernism is and how it affects the Church's message and mission, and also it's impact upon individual believers.. Tonight at 7 pm (UK time) on Revelation TV's Simply the Truth. Hope you enjoy it.

28 August 2012

Forthcoming Dates

For anyone interested, here are details of some of my public engagements in forthcoming weeks...

Friday 21 September (8 pm). Speaking at Hephzibah Marlow. 
Topic: Church contra Israel: Understanding Why

Tuesday 25 September (7 pm). Revelation TV's Simply the Truth.
Topic: Postmodernism.

22 - 24 October. Observer Status at the Borough Park Symposium on Messianic Jewish Identity, New York, USA.

Tuesday 30 October (7 pm). Revelation TV's Simply the Truth.
Topic: Demonism.

2 - 3 November. Speaking at Ezra International UK's first national conference, Colchester.
Conference topic: Israel and Christian Responsibility. My topic: TBA.

23 February (all day). Fellowship of Truth, Sawley, Notts.
Topic: TBA.

If your church, fellowship or event is interested in having me speak, contact King's Evangelical Divinity School. Further details of my research areas and topics are available on this blog and at  www.calvinsmith.org.

23 August 2012

The Jewish People and a Theology of the Land

In my own response to Christian anti-Zionism I have, by and large, focused on God's continued calling and purpose of the Jewish people, rather than explore the thorny and emotive issue of the land, as so polemically expressed and analysed in today's media reporting of the Middle East conflict. My approach instead has been to focus on how God retains a plan and purpose for the Jewish people, that He has not finished with them, for which I believe one can make a pretty straightforward and airtight biblical case. There are some good books which do just this, for example R. Kendall Soulen's The God of Israel and Christian Theology and Mike Vlach's Has the Church Replaced Israel?

Interestingly, my experience among many Evangelicals not particularly siding with modern Israel (indeed even opposing her) is that, when presented with properly explained biblical arguments against supersessionism, they tend to be more sympathetic theologically towards the Jewish people. In the majority of cases this will then go on to have some bearing on how they perceive and re-explore the current Middle East conflict. After all, if God has not finished with the Jewish people, and around half of the world's Jews live in modern Israel, then it's no longer so easy to dismiss Israel as theologically insignificant or anachronistic. Thus my strategy has, by and large, been to focus on refuting supersessionism and letting the issue of the land take care of itself.

20 August 2012

Christians, Money and Greed

Earlier this month I discussed Christians, money and greed with Revelation TV's Doug Harris in a programme which was broadcast live on 7 August. During our discussion we touched upon various issues, including giving, tithing, debt, the prosperity gospel, banks and the economic crisis. The video of the programme is now available in full below.

6 August 2012

Christians and Money

Currently in a blistering Southern Spain and burnt to a cinder. To see my lobster red face, tune in to Revelation TV's Simply the Truth programme tomorrow (Tuesday 7 Aug) at 7 pm (8 pm here), when I'll be discussing Christians, finances and greed live from their Malaga studio. Among other things we'll be looking at issues such as the prosperity gospel and the economic crisis.

23 July 2012

This Issue Will Not Go Away

Some months ago the interfaith Council of Christians and Jews issued a statement criticising Anglican vicar Revd Dr Stephen Sizer for linking to anti-Semitic websites (detailed here). The matter was brought to the attention of the police but was not taken any further. Since then, however, further claims have been levelled against Revd Sizer and covered by several newspapers. 

Over the weekend the issue was raised again at the national level, this time by Archbishop Cranmer, a widely-read UK political blog. Cranmer published a letter to the South East Gospel Partnership written by Revd Nick Howard (son of the former Tory leader Michael Howard) and James Mendelsohn, a senior law lecturer at Huddersfield University, in which they set out why they believe Revd Sizer to be anti-Semitic and call for the evangelistic partnership to disassociate itself from him. It is a serious charge and merits careful scrutiny.

This latest event in a long-running saga raises two important points. 

16 July 2012

Christians, Money and Greed

I'm on television again for a live one-hour broadcast on 7 August at 7 pm, when we'll be discussing Christians, finance and greed. We'll be covering issues such as tithing, the poor, the prosperity gospel, a biblical theology of wealth and money, a Christian response to the current economic crisis, and other related issues. The Bible has a lot to say on these issues, so it should be an interesting discussion. 

12 July 2012

Abuse of Scripture and Heresy

Here is the video in full of my television appearance earlier this week, discussing the use and abuse of Scripture together with the issue of heresy. (When you first press Play it may take 30 seconds or so to load.)



Dr Calvin L. Smith (King's Evangelical Divinity School, United Kingdom) discusses the use and abuse of Scripture, together with the issue of heresy and related issues, on Revelation TV's Simply the Truth, hosted by Doug Harris. First broadcast 10 July 2012.

9 July 2012

Tuesday 10 July: Hermeneutics and Heresy on TV

Tomorrow (10 July) I'm on Revelation TV's Simply the Truth, discussing the use and abuse of the Bible, together with the issue of heresy, with the station's presenter Doug Harris (from 7 - 8 pm).

In the programme, which was recorded, we explore a range of issues which I believe people interested in different aspects of biblical interpretation and what constitutes heresy will find helpful. Pass on details to anyone who may be interested. Revelation TV is available on Sky channel 581.

2 July 2012

Jaffa Food

Something a little bit different. With all the talk on this blog of theology, politics and conflict in the Middle East it's easy to forget how vibrant the region's culture is. Israel is particularly cosmopolitan, where Jews from across the world, together with their distinctive food, music, fashion and general outlook on life, live. It is also, of course, home to over 1.5 million Arabs, which has had a major impact on Israeli culture. During Ottoman times the Turks also had considerable influence upon the region's culture. The result is food in Israel which has a strong Arabic-Middle East flavour so alien to what many Westerners are used to.

David Williams, one of my students who once attended a King's B.Th. field trip to Israel, just sent me a link to a food blog of a chef who has visited Israel. The description of his experience at an Arabic restaurant in Jaffa, together with the pictures, made David's mouth water (both of us were always on the look-out for a new food experience during that trip). Seeing the pictures made my mouth water too. The food here is great, and really healthy. My wife can't wait to go back to Israel (she visited for the first time last November and we plan to return this November), and I'm quite sure we'll be visiting this Jaffa restaurant.

So for those of you who know the Middle East, and the rest of you who are missing out and should, visit David Lebovitz' blog of his time in Jaffa. Well worth it. Thanks, David, for the link. Readers are invited to add their own Middle East foodie links below.

28 June 2012

Christian Citizenship in Postwar Guatemala

My review of the following book was recently published in Pneuma: The Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies 34 (2012), 300-1. This important book will appeal to those interested in Latin America, Guatemalan Pentecostalism and politics, citizenship, ethnography, and Pentecostal practice and theology.

Kevin Lewis O’Neill, City of God: Christian Citizenship in Postwar Guatemala (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010). xxix + 278 pp. $55.00 hardback; $24.95 paper.

Conducted at the El Shaddai community, an urban, middle class, neopentecostal megachurch in Guatemala, the central claim of this compelling ethnography is that “neo-Pentecostal Christians in Guatemala City perform their citizenship through Christian practices and that these Christian practices make neo-Pentecostal Guatemalans into citizens” (3). Thus El Shaddai’s congregants engage with the political sphere primarily through prayer, fasting, personal morality, and examinations of conscience, firmly believing such practices yield tangible, observable social and political effects.

In a country where Protestantism is strong, middle class Guatemalan neopentecostalism has enjoyed considerable growth and political success over the years, culminating with the (controversial) presidencies of Efraín Rios Montt (1982-1983) and Jorge Serrano Elías (1991- 1993). Yet City of God shifts the focus upon Pentecostal politics away from such political activity, arguing too much scholarly attention has been lavished upon formal politics and leadership to the detriment of how Guatemala’s neopentecostals do politics through forming their citizenship. Focusing on three key dimensions of citizenship (political status, cultural identity and governing rationality), O’Neill explores how neopentecostals exhibit a sense of belonging, view citizenship, and take responsibility for governing themselves. Crucially, he analyzes how it is through Christian practices like prayer, speaking in tongues, fasting, emphasizing personal responsibility and morality, and engaging in spiritual warfare that they engage in genuine citizenship. Moreover, their desire to transform their nation demonstrates how neopentecostals do not dabble at the margins but rather represent “one of Guatemala’s most sophisticated effforts at making citizenship in postwar Guatemala” (xv), seeking to build a city, the city of God.

27 June 2012

Is Halal Meat the Same as Food Offered to Idols?

Back in 2010 the Daily Mail reported on how the UK's main supermarket chains were selling unlabelled Halal (Islamic ritually slaughtered) meat to their customers. I only cursorily read the article and gave it little thought at the time, though noted it seemed part of a creeping trend. For example, there have been various reports of local councils only serving Halal meat for school and hospital meals.

But this week I began to realise this issue is much more than a few isolated cases, so that billions of pounds of Halal meat is sold each year to unknowing customers across the land. Apparently, the vast bulk of lamb imported from New Zealand is Halal certified, while it seems Tesco, Waitrose and Sainsbury's admitted to the Daily Mail that they sold unlabelled Halal meat. Asda declined to comment. One Muslim commentator writing in the New Statesman bemoans the furore against Halal meat as another example of "Islamophobia". Importantly, though, his article highlights how Halal meat accounts for £3 billion of the UK's meat industry, with demand far exceeding supply.

25 June 2012

Egypt's Christians facing (even) tough(er) times ahead

The election of the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Mursi to the Egyptian presidency marks tough times ahead for Egypt's minority Christians. Or rather, even tougher times... Egypt's Christians have experienced considerable danger and violence in recent months and years. But the Mursi presidency threatens to take the situation to a whole new level. For example, it has been reported that prior to the election Mursi told a journalist that the second Islamic conquest was underway, while Christians would be forced to convert, pay tribute or leave the country.

Details of what was actually said are murky, with some commentators unsure that Mursi, seeking to woo Egyptian voters, would speak so candidly. But such views are widely held within the Muslim brotherhood, and it does not bode well for the country's besieged Christians. It is important therefore, for Christians throughout the world to pray for their safety and ensure they keep informed of the situation to advocate effectively on Egyptian Christians' behalf.

15 June 2012

Video: PA Mufti on Killing Jews

Watch this video, hosted on the Palestinian Media Watch website

Note, too, the fellow at the beginning introducing the Mufti (referring to Jews as apes and pigs). There's a translation beneath the video. The PMW website has loads more stuff on there. They're committed to monitoring extremist rhetoric in the Palestinian Territories.

In the politically-correct West, where everyone seems to get offended over the slightest thing, why don't elites over here get more agitated by this kind of rhetoric? For some discussion of this issue see this article by historian Alexander H. Joffe.

14 June 2012

Spain, Gibraltar and Colonialism

Spain is taking the issue of Gibraltar's sovereignty to the UN's decolonisation body, while simultaneously maintaining that the Rock's citizens have no right to self-determination. Priceless! 

(Nothing to do with theology, I know, but couldn't resist. For more details see the Daily Telegraph.)

13 June 2012

Bethlehem

Bethlehem: The Jewish city of David, Israel's greatest King, and also birthplace of the Jewish Messiah, who is the Son of David and also King of the Jews. 

Yet at this very moment in time Bethlehem is at the heart of a Palestinian/UNESCO effort to promote a Christian site in a process which, ultimately, is all about delegitimising Israel and promoting a rival statehood (incidentally free from Jews). Yet we hear constantly of Israel's "Judaisation" of their own ancestral homeland (including, it must be said, from several well-known Christian anti-Zionists).

Something doesn't quite square up here.

UPDATE

It appears Abbas may have politically miscalculated in claiming the Church of the Nativity was in imminent danger (HT James M).

Is it a sin to disagree with election?

Christian Post has a recent transcript of John Piper discussing whether rejecting the doctrine of election is a sin. Piper seems to be saying that rejecting God's idea of election is a sin. Or is he? One blogger on the Christian Post site wonders if what Piper is actually saying is that rejecting the Reformed doctrine of election is a sin. If so this would be scandalous. 

Reading both sources I can't quite decide. What I found fascinating, though, is that in the many comments following the blog post practically no-one focuses on the semantics issue. Instead those disagreeing with the blogger either take a somewhat vitriolic ad hominem approach, or else seek to present election as indeed central to orthodoxy. Piper's view aside (and I'd be interested on what conclusions you reached on what he was getting at), it made me realise how, for some Christians, rejection of the Reformed doctrine of election constitutes a sin. Which is scandalous.

12 June 2012

A CATC Among the Pigeons

CWI's Richard Gibson has produced a report on the recent Christ at the Checkpoint (CatC) conference held in Bethlehem, which can be found in CWI's Herald magazine (a copy of his report is also available online here). Gibson is particularly critical of how he believes CatC has damaged grassroots efforts at reconciliation between Messianic and Arab believers, which have been going on in the region for years.

It's worth noting that CWI, which is first and foremost an evangelistic ministry to the Jewish people, is neither dispensational nor theologically Christian Zionist (though their website is critical of supersessionism). Indeed, looking at their statement of faith they seem pretty Reformed. Which is what makes Richard Gibson's report the more interesting, given it's not coming from the dispensational wing of the Church.

11 June 2012

A Quite Different Evangelical Gathering in the Middle East

David Pileggi, Rector of Christ Church in Jerusalem, has asked for the following details of a conference of Middle East Evangelicals to be made public.

Reading through the press release below I was immediately struck by how very different this is from another recent Middle East conference held by Evangelicals. Where one was all about bringing in outside Evangelicals to make political points, this conference was held by predominantly Middle East Evangelicals to discuss issues affecting their region, preaching of the gospel and challenges facing believers in the Middle East. The earlier conference was unashamedly politically motivated, mischievously presenting one point of view only, whereas this conference eschewed politics and focused first and foremost on the body of Christ across the entire region. Where the earlier conference seemed predominantly about grandstanding, this conference was held in secret. Furthermore, where one conference largely failed to bring about reconciliation between believing Arabs and Jews, arguably causing long-term damage to Messianic and Arab Christian relations, this conference succeeded not only in bringing together Arab and Jewish believers from across the region, but also in furthering the gospel and needs of Evangelicals across the whole Middle East. What a refreshing change.

I could go on, but you get the picture. Here's the press release.
At the Crossroads - a unique gathering at Christ Church Jerusalem. 
"In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria … Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the Lord of hosts has blessed, saying, "Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance."   (Isaiah 19:23-25) 
Muslim background followers of Jesus from various Middle Eastern countries met with their Messianic Jewish and Christian counterparts May 7 – 12  in the Old City of Jerusalem at Christ Church, the oldest Protestant Church in the Middle East.  Although similar conferences have been held over the years in the Middle East, this is the first time such a gathering has been held in Israel. 
At the Crossroads convened in the context of Isaiah’s vision of a highway that will run from Egypt and Israel to Assyria - a model of worship and partnership for Christians across the region that will lead to the Middle East becoming a “blessing on the earth.”  
More than seventy delegates came from Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Lebanon, Israel, Iraq, Palestinian Authority, Cyprus, Armenia, Turkey, Europe and North America. Worshiping and praying together in Arabic, Turkish, Kurdish, Hebrew, and hearing testimonies about the blessings and challenges of following Jesus in our region were among the highlights of the conference.

10 June 2012

Church Shutdown in Iran

The International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran has just published a report on a crackdown on Protestant churches in that country. They write: 
At the end of May 2012, Iranian authorities forced the Assembly of God church in the western Tehran neighborhood of Jannat Abad to close its doors and discontinue services, a local source with knowledge of the Iranian Protestant community told the Campaign. 
The Jannat Abad church held its last services on 28 May 2012, after having operated in the same building for over 15 years; the church gained ownership of the building five years ago. The church, which provided two services per week for 80 to 100 attendees, as well as prayer sessions and bible studies, is part of an international Protestant evangelical network called Assemblies of God. The Jannat Abad church operated with the full knowledge of Iranian authorities as a branch of the officially recognized Central Assembly of God Church in Tehran but was an independent ministry, sources told the Campaign. 
In the past six months, authorities have reportedly shut down several other established Persian-language churches in Iran, arresting many of their members. Another Assembly church in the southern city of Ahvaz was shut down on 23 December 2011, just before Christmas. Authorities allegedly detained the church’s reverend, Farhad Sabok Rooh, along with his wife and two other church members, eventually releasing them on bail. On 22 February 2012, authorities arrested at least ten members of St. Peter’s Anglican church in Esfahan, including its pastor Hekmat Salimi, according to Iranian Christian news agencies. One detainee, a 78-year-old woman, was quickly released; the rest were held for nearly two months before being freed on bail. 
“The church’s work was a hundred percent spiritual. They had no attachment to any agencies, organizations, or political groups. And all their activities and budget came from the donations of their congregation,” the source added. 
While some existing churches are facing closure in Iran, no new churches have been able to obtain licenses from the Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance since the 1979 revolution. The Jannat Abad Assembly of God church conducted its services in the Persian language. 
The Campaign’s research for an upcoming report on the persecution of Protestant Christians in Iran indicates that the Iranian government has targeted churches which operate in Persian and evangelize, largely to prevent Muslims from learning about or converting to Christianity. Several Iranian church leaders told the Campaign that around 2005, coinciding roughly with the election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the government ramped up its repression of Protestant groups, and since 2009 the arrests of church members and limitations on churches have increased markedly.
Read the Campaign's report in full. 
PS For those who may cynically believe such reports are a precursor to an attack on Iran, the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran opposes such military intervention.

6 June 2012

Has God Rejected His People? Absolutely Not!

"I ask, then, has God rejected His people? Absolutely not!" (Paul the apostle, writing of ethnic Israel in Romans 11:1 - HSBC). 

Seems pretty unequivocal. And the implications of this short statement are considerable.

5 June 2012

Why on earth are we wasting time on Israel?

Recently an Egyptian television presenter aired a graphic video of a young man being beheaded by Islamists. His crime, according to the presenter? Apostasy. He had converted to Christianity and refused to recant. The story is reported by the Gatestone Institute's Raymond Ibrahim and its wider ramifications discussed in the Spectator. Ibrahim describes what happens in the video:
Then, to cries of "Allahu Akbar!"—or, "God is great!"—the man holding the knife to the apostate's throat begins to slice away, even as the victim appears calmly mouthing a prayer. It takes nearly two minutes of graphic knife-carving to sever the Christian's head, which is then held aloft to more Islamic cries and slogans of victory.
If genuine, the video is shocking. But no less shocking than the fact that we all know things like this happen all the time, that many Christians in some Muslim lands face unimaginable persecution and suffering. 

At this very moment Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani is currently awaiting execution in Iran for becoming a Christian. We periodically hear of Islamists attacking villages in Pakistan and parts of India, hundreds of Christians killed and churches torched in Nigeria, attacks upon Christians in Egypt, Indonesia, and elsewhere, Christians tried for blasphemy in Pakistan, harassment of churches and believers in Iran... the list is endless. Just trawl briefly through the Barnabas Fund website and you'll find numerous cases of Christians suffering horribly for their faith in Muslim lands.

Which all begs the inevitable question: If 38 of the top 50 countries where Christians are persecuted most are predominantly Muslim, why do some Christians insist on wasting so much time criticising Israel and her treatment of believers? 

Christians are not beheaded in Israel, they are not torched or killed by their hundreds. To be sure, some orthodox Jews in Israel dislike Christians and periodically mock them, even spit on them. Unpleasant and unacceptable though this is, it is pales into insignificance compared with what believers face elsewhere in Muslim lands. Indeed, even in the Palestinian Territories persecution of Christians is predominantly an Islamic affair. 

So why waste time on Israel when believers are suffering unimaginably far more elsewhere? There are two possible reasons: 1) Ignorance of the unimaginable situations in which many Christians in Muslim lands find themselves (if so, we should be sharing this information and links below with as many fellow believers as possible), or else 2) an irrational singling out of Israel. 

I could handle, indeed would be much more likely to listen to and engage with, Christians deeply critical of Israel in the name of purported persecution of believers in that region if they were equally enraged and livid about suffering of believers in Muslim lands. But very often that doesn't seem to be the case.

I, for one, from now on will be channelling more of my time into making known as widely as possible what Christians are suffering elsewhere simply for following Jesus.

Sources and Further Links

Gatestone Institute (report on Tunisian beheading)
Raymond Ibrahim (description of Tunisian beheading)
Spectator (comment on Tunisian beheading)


29 May 2012

A Thread Shedding Light on the Ongoing MJ Identity Debate

The fellows at Rosh Pina Project have posted a video and brief comment on some idiocy which seeks to claim Gentile Christians are somehow Israelites via the "lost" tribes. RPP also posts a link to a critique (better, demolition) of this teaching by Derek Leman, a North American blogger and leader of a Messianic synagogue.

But what's really interesting is the manner in which the thread develops on the RPP website, which helps to demonstrate some of the internal issues - particularly surrounding identity - which the Messianic movement is currently grappling with. For some background, one of the comments is from a former MJ who has returned back to Judaism, Derek Leman (a Gentile currently undergoing conversion to MJ) also comments, as do several Jewish believers (watch out for Dan Benzvi). Fascinating stuff! 

By all means add your comment at RPP, but please add any here too for if anyone wants to discuss some of these issues. The Gentile church is, by and large, ignorant of some of these issues facing the Messianic movement.

25 May 2012

More TV (this time exegesis and heresy)

On Tuesday 10 July I'm back on Revelation TV for a one hour broadcast. During the programme I'll be discussing the use and abuse of the Bible, together with the issue of heresy, with presenter Doug Harris for his Simply the Truth programme. I think it's scheduled for 7 pm but check listings. The channel is available on Sky, can also be viewed in the US if you have a ROKU box, and can be watched online. 

22 May 2012

Have Evangelicals Downplayed the Power of the Cross?

Christian contemporary music doesn't much appeal to me. On the whole I think the secular world does a better job (and at least when its artists behave badly you're expecting it). I also find some loud rock contributions somewhat distracting during worship. But that's just my personal preference.

One exception is Ricardo Sanchez's Power of the Cross which I first heard at a US conference earlier this year. What immediately stood out was the song's lyrics. While some rock worship songs are rather empty of theology, Sanchez's song focuses strongly on Christ's work at Calvary.

The power of the cross, of course, is a scriptural theme. The Apostle Paul explains how the cross lies at the heart of the gospel, so that for those of us being saved it is the very power of God. He writes:
For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. 18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Cor 1:17-18 ESV)
Evangelicals have always strongly affirmed and proclaimed this salvific aspect of the cross. An emphasis upon the cross is a defining characteristic of Evangelicalism. Evangelicals preach the good news of salvation through the cross, and indeed are even named after this good news (euangelion). The cross is also a central aspect in Bebbington's now famous quadrilateral (generally regarded as the standard definition of Evangelicalism): biblicism, crucicentrism, conversionism, activism.

However, I wonder if too many of us Evangelicals have focused so much upon the power of the cross in the life of the individual that we have relegated its wider power.

18 May 2012

Tonight at Leeds Messianic Fellowship

This evening I'm speaking at Leeds Messianic Fellowship at 7.45 pm. The aim of my talk is to explore the nature of the new supersessionism and look at why replacement theology is so prevalent today. If you can make it I look forward to seeing old friends and meeting new ones. Details of LMF and where they meet can be found on www.lmf.org.uk.

17 May 2012

Is this the best way to do it?

Received the following YouTube clip purporting to show a Word of Faith (i.e. prosperity gospel) preacher who, not knowing what is about to happen, has her theology publicly challenged and is rebuked by a Calvary Chapel pastor in her own church. It's painful to watch and raises some questions. But first, here's the video...



I have a problem with much of the prosperity message. Indeed, in preparation for a recent television discussion on heresy I participated in, my research led me to conclude that outside doctrines which question or deny the very person and work of Christ, the next big issue thoroughly condemned in Scripture as antithetical to the faith is the love of money and exploitation of the faith for greed (e.g. Annanias and Shapphira, Simon Magus, 1 Tim 3:6-10). In 2 Corinthians the Apostle Paul draws a strong link between false teachers who preach a different gospel (11:1-6), demand money for their ministry (verses 7-12) and who are servants of Satan (13-15). This kind of language is reserved for a select few in the New Testament.

16 May 2012

Israel: Colonial Project or Thoroughly Middle Eastern?

Yesterday the Arab world marked the Nakba ("catastrophe") commemorating the displacement of Palestinians following Israel's independence and the first Arab-Israeli war. Though the Palestinian refugee issue remains high profile (indeed a whole division of UN bureaucracy is given over to this single issue), the displacement of another Middle East (ME) people following Israeli independence is rarely discussed. I refer, of course, to nearly equal number of Jews forced to abandon their property and flee for their lives from Arab countries venting fury.

How the stories of both these tragic displacements are played out is very different. In one case, the vast majority of ME Jews fled to Israel, where they were welcomed, given a new life and opportunity, and today enjoy the full rights of citizenship and have contributed substantially to their country's economic success. In the other case, Palestinian refugees have, sadly, received no such welcome from the Arab world to which they fled, where the vast majority have few rights or citizenship.

14 May 2012

His Grace responds to the ASA

For context, see here. For His Grace's response to the Advertising Standards Authority see here. For plenty of comment on this ludicrous situation just Google "ASA" and "Cranmer".

Given the Archbishop's response I wonder if by now the ASA is severely regretting getting involved.

12 May 2012

His Grace persecuted by the ASA

Archbishop Cranmer is in trouble. Apparently, the Advertising Standards Agency is formally investigating His Grace and has demanded an official response for posting the following "homophobic and offensive" advert on his blog:


No, I don't understand any of it either. Read the full story over at Cranmer's blog. He's been swamped with comments and well-wishers.

If this is for real (and I must admit I double-checked to make sure it wasn't 1 April), all the ASA has succeeded in doing is contribute to the advert's dissemination far beyond the organisers' wildest dreams, as well as make Cranmer a martyr (again). I suspect we're going to see another Spartacus moment across the blogosphere.

10 May 2012

Handbook of Pentecostal Christianity

Last week I received my copy of the Handbook of Pentecostal Christianity, edited by Adam Stewart (Northern Illinois University Press). In the introduction Adam writes:
This book was written with two primary objectives in mind; first to assist college, university and seminary instructors who are faced with the task of introducing their students to Pentecostalism and, second, to serve as a compact companion for general readers who are interested in learning more about Pentecostalism. The increased scholarly interest in this religious movement has created a need for a concise, interdisciplinary text that can help instructors from various disciplinary backgrounds introduce their students to the wide array of necessary events, ideas, and figures that form its basic vocabulary (p 5).
So if you're interested in an scholarly introduction to Pentecostalism and Pentecostal Studies, you'll find this book useful. The book consists of fifty entries, two of which - Latin American Pentecostalism and Televangelism - are mine.



Click on the icon to order a copy from Amazon. If you do so through this link a small commission will be paid towards the work and ministry of King's Evangelical Divinity School.

9 May 2012

Canadian Minister Identifies What It's All About

A United Church of Canada minister has challenged his denomination's campaign which pushes for an economic boycott of Israel. Revd Andrew Love has spent time in the West Bank and is not uncritical of Israel, yet he believes the proposal minimises the Holocaust, is “biased and one-sided" and erodes a UCC commitment to strengthen ties with the Jewish community. He also expresses concerns about anti-Semitism. Revd Love also states:
I really want to believe this is the workings of a very active minority in the church. 
And with this statement the Canadian minister has surely put his finger on the pulse of what's behind organised Christian anti-Israel sentiment, not just in Canada but across the world. Well-meaning, sincere and objective individuals aside, there is clear evidence of a one-sided, ideologically-driven and frantically active minority of Protestant elites who, despite commanding little by way of wider grassroots support, nonetheless set about exploiting and capturing the system. In such cases it has less to do with peace than ideology.

I'm frequently reminded of how Marxist-Leninism historically employed similar strategies. It worked initially, of course, but inevitably the house of cards always eventually came tumbling down. One might think they can manipulate the grassroots, but history indicates that over time they usually see through it all.

Read the full report on the UCC here.

1 May 2012

Debate on ecumenism (Revelation TV, 24 April 2012)

Here's a live debate I participated in during a live broadcast by Revelation TV last week. The subject was ecumenism and the person I debated with was the Revd Elizabeth Welch (Chair, Society for Ecumenical Studies). The programme was Simply the Truth, chaired by Doug Harris.


Calvin L. Smith debates ecumenism, Revelation TV (24 April 2012) from Calvin Smith on Vimeo.

13 April 2012

Apologies From South Africa

Sincere apologies for not blogging over the past couple of weeks (various deadlines, commitments etc). I'm currently in South Africa and expect to be back posting comments again soon. In the meantime, if you're in the area I'm speaking tonight (7 pm) and tomorrow (10.30 am - 4.30 pm) on the subject of biblical interpretation at Christ Church, Jose Burman Ave, Hermanus, Western Cape. It's sweltering here, 90F (33C), so sorry about what you're getting back home.

21 March 2012

An English View of "Chosenness"?

There's a great documentary series currently on BBC television entitled How God Made the English. The first part - A Chosen People? - is still available on BBC iPlayer (be sure to view it quickly before it is removed). It's documentary-making in its prime and rousing stuff if you are English, offering fascinating insight in how England has proved adept at constructing powerful and enduring myths. In the programme the presenter explores how the English captured, internalised and actualised the biblical concept of the Jews as God's chosen people for themselves, so that the English became the new chosen people. This English sense of "chosenness" went on to shape and drive English identity, confidence and self-perceptions. The result is a sense of immense self-confidence (even superiority), all the stronger because it was perceived as having divine backing.

Yet this English sense of "chosenness" and superiority is quite at odds with the Jewish understanding of the concept expressed by the rabbi interviewed in the film. For him, being chosen brings with it considerable responsibility and consequences, neither does chosenness mean exclusivity or superiority over others. Chosenness is for a purpose, not a means in itself. This understanding is far removed from the historical English version explored in the documentary promulgating supreme self-confidence and a sense of superiority (I'm reminded of that saying, "An Englishman will treat you as his equal if you will treat him as your superior".)

This raises an interesting question. To what extent is this latter understanding of chosenness driving a rejection of the Jews as God's chosen people by some English churchmen who are vocal on these issues? In other words, is it their Sitz im Leben, their life context and setting as Englishmen, which has shaped their (mis)understanding of the concept of chosenness through the lens of an English sense of superiority (even arrogance), rather than an Old Testament understanding of chosenness (including all its duties, responsibilities and consequences)? I am asking the extent to which a specifically English preoccupation with and expression of supersessionism might have been brought about by a post-imperial rejection of English nationalism.

15 March 2012

Evangelicals and Guatemala's Civil War

A couple of days ago a Guatemalan court sentenced a former soldier to 6,060 years in prison for his part in the 1982 Dos Erres massacre during Guatemala's bloody civil war. During PhD fieldwork I came across some shocking human rights reports of massacres and abuses committed during Nicaragua's Sandinista-Contra civil war, but what happened at Dos Erres was truly brutal (for a report in Spanish see here, for some idea of its contents see the Wikipedia entry). Neither was this an isolated incident, with other military massacres and unspeakable atrocities by Marxist guerrillas replicated across Guatemala's highlands in a civil war taking as many as 250,000 lives.

The civil war looms large over Guatemalans to this day, and among them Evangelicals. In the Mayan highlands small indigenous Pentecostal groups were frequently targeted by Marxist guerrillas who considered them counterrevolutionary. Pentecostals were also co-opted by the military into civilian defence patrols (it was either that or find oneself on the receiving end of the government's brutal scorched earth policy in the region), which only served to intensify unwelcome guerrilla attention. Yet in the city there was a quite different expression of Evangelicalism - middle-class, educated, professional neopentecostals - notably the El Verbo church. It was a member of this megachurch who emerged as key player in 1980s civil war-torn Guatemala, Efrain Rios Montt, Guatemala's military leader during the Dos Erres and other massacres.

14 March 2012

Interfaith Council and Bishop Issue Statement Criticising Stephen Sizer

The RPP website has posted a link to a statement just issued by the Council of Christians and Jews critical of Stephen Sizer for linking to anti-Semitic websites from his blog. The Rt Revd Nigel McCulloch, Bishop of Manchester and chair of CCJ, said:
The content and the delay in removing the link from Mr Sizer’s Facebook page was disgraceful and unbecoming for a clergyman of the Church of England to promote. Members of the CCJ have described the website as ‘obscenely antisemitic.’
The full CCJ statement is available here. It is important to note that this statement is issued by a longstanding interfaith organisation and a Bishop of the Anglican Church. This is not (as some extremists will claim) a Zionist conspiracy.

Is Stephen Sizer anti-Semitic? It is a serious charge and not for me to say (others in the Anglican Church will now decide). I have sought to avoid some of the more extreme language in the current debate and avoid this term unless absolutely proven. In negotiations prior to our televised debate Stephen made clear he felt there was no place for discussing anti-Semitism (and other issues) in such a debate. I believe such a position is dangerous as it can be misconstrued, unfortunately it also meant we never had the opportunity to discuss this issue reasonably and openly.

But one thing is clear: when CCJ state, "We are conscious that The Revd Stephen Sizer’s contributions have caused widespread disquiet and hurt in both communities and led to confusion and polarization of views" they have identified a key aspect of this whole debate. Indeed I raised this very issue towards the end of my television debate with Stephen. The polemical and unnecessarily pejorative nature of the current debate is not helping anyone, and it's certainly not contributing to a nuanced understanding of the complexities of the Middle East. For that Stephen must take his fair share of blame.

I do hope we can all, at some stage, get to a less emotive and more objective examination of the Middle East crisis and the relationship between the Church and Israel.

12 March 2012

Confusion at the Checkpoint?

Now that last week's controversial Christ at the Checkpoint (CatC) conference is over, participants, observers and critics on all sides are beginning to take a step back to reflect upon events over the past couple of weeks and consider where next. As the conference wound up CatC organisers released a "manifesto" on the last day setting out their position in the wake of the conference. More on the contents of the manifesto in a moment.

Unfortunately there appears to be considerable confusion surrounding who actually drafted the manifesto, which was initially presented as a document produced and agreed upon by all delegates (when you read it you'll see why its strongly one-sided nature is hugely problematic for some of the Messianic delegates who attended). Several of the Messianic attendees have stated categorically they were not involved in producing the statement presented in their name, and indeed did not even know a statement was being produced.

For their part, CatC organisers also seem confused. The conference website has been changed to reflect Messianic objections, while the website of one of the CatC organisers, Stephen Sizer, has reflected no less than three versions of events over the weekend. Elsewhere another CatC organiser, Sami Awad, tweeted to confirm Messianics were involved in drafting the document. For their part Messianic participants are currently drafting their own statement which is expected to be released shortly. You can keep up with the various twists and turns on the RPP website, which has followed the story closely and has attracted comments by at least one of the Messianic delegates stating emphatically that he was not involved in drafting the manifesto.

8 March 2012

The Tornadoes, John Piper and God's Judgment

I was attending a conference in the US last week when a series of tornadoes wreaked havoc and killed around 40 people in the Midwest. These included an entire family in Indiana, including a 15-month old baby girl who was initially found alive having been blown several hundred yards from her destroyed home, but who has since died.

Unfortunately we've become used to Christians invoking God's name and declaring every such tragic event divine judgment, whether the 2004 Christmas tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, the 2011 US tornadoes, or whatever. And true to form, last week's tornadoes have proved too much to resist for those convinced they know God's mind and dare speak on His behalf. Perhaps the greatest surprise this time round, though, is a noted figure like John Piper going down this route, to the surprise of various US Christian commentators. However softer the language might be compared with previous statements by Christian leaders, and while Piper notes several of the objections below (though fails to answer them), his view echoes similar declarations: the tornadoes were caused by God and the reason was divine judgment.

5 March 2012

Messianic Jews and Christ at the Checkpoint (part 2)

A couple of weeks ago I posted on a joint statement issued by international Messianic leaders expressing concern about the forthcoming Christ at the Checkpoint conference, together with the conference organisers' response and my comment not he whole issue. Rosh Pina Project have now drawn attention to the publication of a highly detailed counter-response to CatC by these same Messianic leaders and organisations, who continue to express grave concern about the aims of CatC (RPP have worked hard to keep this issue in the spotlight). The statement is detailed, insightful and makes essential reading. It also demonstrates how a conference purporting to bring about reconciliation has totally alienated Messianic believers. Something is clearly wrong here.

1 March 2012

Make infanticide legal, says academic

The Daily Mail reports the following story based on an article published by an academic in the British Medical Journal:
Doctors should have the right to kill newborn babies because they are disabled, too expensive or simply unwanted by their mothers, an academic with links to Oxford University has claimed. Francesca Minerva, a philosopher and medical ethicist, argues a young baby is not a real person and so killing it in the first days after birth is little different to aborting it in the womb.
And the sad fact is, given how society arbitrarily and routinely states that late-term abortion is just fine, how can society actually disagree with her? How is, say, a late-term abortion on medical grounds any different from a killing a child for social or medical reasons a week after birth? What have we done that a respected member of our society can justify infanticide like this? (given this isn't some rather cynical attempt by an academic to get some much-needed publicity for an ailing career).

I worry about the world in which my grandchildren (not yet born) will bring up their own children.

28 February 2012

Pastor Nadarkhani still alive but...

A Fox report today suggests Iranian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, sentenced to death for apostasy from Islam, is still alive, for now. Significantly, the report suggests pressure as a result of an outcry from the West is causing the Iranian authorities to reconsider their decision.

Why not retweet every reference to this issue we come across to bring it right up the agenda? I've posted a couple of links and appeals on Twitter@Smith_Calvin. I also noticed Nicky Gumbel (Alpha) had called for a mass Twitter response today. I'm sure others are doing likewise. Letters to the Iranian embassy are important, but the more this goes viral (as it has been doing for some days) the more people talk about it, and importantly, Iran knows it's being talked about.

27 February 2012

That Alpha Video


In the church I spoke at yesterday they showed this Alpha video which went viral. Now I know it's really quite old now, and I'm showing I don't really keep up with these things, but it's actually the first time I've seen it and I thought it was great. My in-laws were not too impressed with the censorship bit, but I thought the video was pretty slick, especially the end where it all comes to rather swift and depressing end. A classic example of good advertising that makes you think.

Over the years Alpha has been both praised and criticised. Critics feel it is overly pneumacentric (Spirit-centred) at the expense of a clear focus on Christ (Christocentric). I've heard several proponents respond by pointing out how, as originally an Anglican initiative, the course originally sought to take unchurched Anglicans who think considered themselves Christians already (i.e. baptised as children, confirmed, married in church, not in regular attendance yet still considering themselves Christian) to show how Christian faith requires more than this, that it must be lived out through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Others criticise its links with Holy Trinity Brompton, where the Toronto Blessing phenomenon was apparently evident under then-vicar Sandy Miller. Others point to the fruit of the course, with many new people coming to Christ and finding a church.

What do you think? Are these criticisms justified or not? Does that Anglican unchurched argument adequately explain its pneumacentric aspect, or indeed is it more Christocentric than some critics believe? And to what extent is it reasonable for Alpha to be judged on what happened at HTB years ago? I visited the church some years ago, since Nickie Gumbel took over, and my distinct impression was how completely un-Charismatic it was. I'd be interested in hearing people's views, both for and against.

23 February 2012

Messianic Jews and Christ at the Checkpoint

Earlier this week Messianic leaders issued a joint statement responding to the forthcoming Christ at the Checkpoint conference. The statement is available here. (I mentioned this briefly in an earlier post), while the Messianic RPP site commented on it here. Later this week the organisers of Christ at the Checkpoint issued a response to the Messianic statement, which can be found here.

I have not really commented on this blog about Christ at the Checkpoint (CatC). However, in light of the public Messianic statement and the CatC response, now seems an appropriate time to do so, especially given the nature of this view expressed by CatC about the Messianic statement:
Your statement has undermined all these reconciliation efforts, given the wrong impression concerning our relationship with the Messianic body, and done harm to the unity of the body of Christ in the Holy Land.

Act Now on Behalf of Pastor Nadarkhani

Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani is currently in prison awaiting execution in Iran for converting from Islam to Christianity. Christian organisations, individuals and national politicians in various countries have been lobbying hard for Nadarkhani's release. However, reports have surfaced in the last day indicating his sentence has been confirmed and he could now be executed at any moment. Christian lobby groups are urging everyone to act now to put Iran under intense pressure to stop this from happening. For advice on how to get involved visit the Christian Solidarity Worldwide website. In the meantime it is essential for Christians everywhere to pray for Pastor Nadarkhani, together with his young family, during this desperate time.

20 February 2012

Joint Messianic Response to CaC2

Towards the end of last week four leading Messianic organisations in the US issued a joint statement in response to the forthcoming Christ at the Checkpoint 2 conference (hat tip RPP). The full statement is available here. This represents a significant statement for several reasons. First, it is measured and statesman-like, yet raises a number of valid concerns about CatC2. Secondly as a joint statement by several leading Messianic organisations, it represents an important expression of the views of Jewish believers in Jesus towards the conference. Third, the statement has been picked up by various major news outlets, as well as being supported by the wider Church.

One would hope and pray that the CatC organisers will at the very least engage seriously with and respond to such an important statement (as they have on their blog to other criticisms which they clearly do not take seriously). After all, this joint statement marks a significant expression of genuine Messianic concern about the CatC event, Neither can it simply be dismissed by  drawing attention to how several Messianic individuals will be attending the conference. Somehow much of the Messianic movement remains unconvinced of the aims and purpose of the conference, and if CatC indeed really is about seeking reconciliation, then surely the organisers must respond to the joint statement by the UMJC, MJAA, IMJA and IAMC.

18 February 2012

Part of the Problem: They Keep Saying "No"

On several occasions this blog has suggested the Palestinians have had somewhat of a raw deal. Yet much of the blame lies firmly with the Palestinians' leaders (see my comments here, here and here). Thus the Israel-bashers harm their own cause by ignoring how many of the Palestinian leaders, inept and often driven by hatred, are themselves responsible for a great deal of the situation the wider Palestinian people find themselves in. I'm reminded of the aid industry to Africa which, by ignoring systemic abuse whereby elites cream off the top, has resulted in the poorest parts of the continent remaining aid-dependent for decades. Ignoring one aspect of a situation merely compounds the problem.

Part of the problem is that Palestinian leaders keep saying no. They've said it regardless of the deal on offer since early in the twentieth century. Is this because these leaders are driven by unrealism, a desire for all the land, or perhaps an inability to approach the issue pragmatically? In an interesting article exploring the long history of Palestinians saying no proposed divisions of the land, Jack Schwartzwald believes that Palestinian leaders have been driven by an ideology which seeks to eradicate any Jewish national expression in Judaism's ancestral homeland. But, he argues, this is systematic of a wider Islamist intolerance towards non-Muslims across the Middle East. It's an interesting article, well worth a read, and can be found here.

17 February 2012

Catholics for Israel?

The ever thoughtful Messianic writer and teacher Stuart Dauermann is currently writing a multi-part analysis of the Catholic Church's shift over the past fifty or so years in how it views the Jewish people. What stands out particularly is Pope John Paul II's role in this dramatic shift of mindset (all the more significant given he was Polish). Dauermann is well aware of the Catholic Church's long history of contempt towards the Jews, but notes:
These sins are like black velvet which makes the diamonds of new developments stand out more brightly.
Be warned, he also makes clear that...
What I will be writing here will have little or no effect upon those for whom the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) must remain a stigmatized group and negative category. 
Yet what readers need to be aware of is that Dauermann has just concluded another series exploring Lausanne and the World Council of Churches' view of the Jewish people. Thus he juxtaposes a Catholic thawing towards the Jews with Protestantism's hardening of its position against them. So whatever your views on Catholicism, be sure to read what Dauermann is actually saying (rather than what some might think he is saying). It can be found on his website and part 3 is yet to be published.

Incidentally, some months ago I came across an interesting website by a group with the name Catholics for Israel. You can't read this page and then continue to bunch all Catholics together as anti-Israel. Some of the resources on this page demonstrate quite the opposite.

15 February 2012

What is the "Israel" Gentile Believers Are Grafted Into?

In Romans 11:17-24 the Apostle Paul likens Gentile believers to a wild olive shoot grafted into a cultivated olive tree.  The obvious question is, what is it that Gentiles are grafted into? Less obvious, it would appear from the widely differing interpretations, is the answer. Consequently there is considerable division among Christians over the relationship between the Church and Israel. This post explores this issue. It is rather lengthy (I do, eventually, get to an answer), but that's because I'm often asked about this so it makes sense to post something with a little detail I can people them to. Forgive me if the answer already seems somewhat obvious to you, while for those who disagree do please comment with your own views.

Incidentally, this issue is not simply a disagreement over some or other aspect of doctrine, having wider ramifications across the Church. For example, consider the nature of the current polarised (and sometimes quite bitter) debate among Christians. Quite shocking, too, is how some Christians will gladly align themselves for strategic reasons with forces that believers would never normally share a platform with to further their theology and aims in this regard. For some, too, the issue of Israel has become a test of orthodoxy, making it a basis for fellowship (for my part, while I believe it represents a major doctrinal issue for Christians today, I don’t consider it a test of orthodoxy). Then there are the wider detrimental effects of this issue, for example upon Messianic identity, the relationship of both Jewish and Arab believers to the wider Church, and Jewish evangelism. So don’t let anyone suggest it’s a minor issue best ignored. Such statements are born out ignorance of the detrimental effects, or else feeling theologically ill-equipped to deal with the Pandora’s Box opened when the relationship between the Church and Israel is first explored.

Anyway, back to the olive tree and what Gentile believers are grafted into. Some Christians believe they are grafted into the promises given to Abraham and Old Testament Israel. A variation of this viewpoint is that we're all grafted into the Church. Thus ultimately the Church is seen as the new inheritor of God’s covenant with biblical Israel. This view can take several forms, whether that Israel’s spiritual inheritance was taken away as a punishment and given to Christ’s new bride, the Church, or else that in Christ the old is done away with, so that Israel’s calling and purpose is fulfilled, and “lives on” through the Church.

12 February 2012

Entering the 21st century

Have finally taken the plunge and become a tweeter (or twitterer). Note the Twitter feed to the right of the page. No meaningless, boring or needlessly frivolous tweets, I promise. Rather, I plan to use it to draw attention to and comment briefly on all sorts of interesting stuff I come across relating to this blog's focus (so often I read something really valuable and plan to comment, but in the end time simply doesn't permit, but this looks like the solution).

So keep track of my tweets with the new feed gadget on this page, or better, why not follow me @smith_calvin? My feed automatically lets followers know when I post something new on this blog (in the next couple of weeks I'll be posting on what the Israel is which Gentile Christians are grafted on to, Romans 11:17-24, as well as the claim/current debate surrounding whether the Palestinians are the original ethnic inhabitants of the land, which you don't want to miss). Oh, and I've now added social network buttons after each post so they can be shared more easily.

8 February 2012

The Dissonance Between Supersessionism and Israel Redivivus

Stuart Duaermann is currently writing a book chapter on how the WCC and the Lausanne Consultation on World Evangelization relate to and theologise about the Jewish people. He's not finished yet but shares some initial conclusions with us on his blog. He does not believe Israeli policies alone attract their ire. Rather the "dissonance between supersessionism and Israel redivivus"is a key issue here, whereby the state of Israel represents an inconvenient and unacceptable symbol of Jewish strength for supersessionism. He concludes:
From long experience, the Church knows how to deal with Jewish weakness, neediness, and suffering: it does not know how to deal with Jewish strength. The Church has learned to deal with Jewish impotence, but not Jewish virility. Apart from keeping these things in mind, analyses of the root of Christian concern about “the sins of the Jewish State” will always be flawed.

7 February 2012

Christian Palestinianism, Christian Anti-Zionism, Palestinian Christianity and the Jewish Roots of Christianity

On his blog Olivier Melnick has a piece on how "Christian Palestinianism" contributes to the demonisation and thus delegitimisation of Israel. But this wider political effect aside, I was interested in Melnich's comment highlighting how Christian Palestinianism strips Christianity of its Jewish roots and seeks to de-Judaise Jesus and the Christian faith, creating a kind of modern-day Marcionism (a second century heresy which similarly relegated, better, ditched, the God and scriptures of the Old Testament).

Of course, an academic focus in recent years on the Jewish roots of the Church, 1st century Jewish-Christian hermeneutics, and the religious and cultural milieu of New Testament Christianity all demonstrate unequivocally the thoroughly Jewish origin and nature of early Christianity and how de-Judaising Christianity is pure folly. Neither is focusing on the Jewish roots of the faith the exclusive domain of nonsupersessionism, as important contributions in this field by, for example, N.T. Wright demonstrate. So recognising, appreciating and exploring the Jewish roots of Christianity does not necessarily translate into holding a nonsupersessionist view.

At this stage I think it might be helpful to step back for a moment and clarify some of the terminology which is bandied about, which unfortunately is not helped by how some of the new supersessionist authors present Christian Zionism (CZ) as a monolithic and extremist bloc. I suppose, at its most basic, we could say that just as CZ champions the Jewish people and is generally sympathetic to the modern State of Israel, so Christian Palestinianism (CP) champions the Arab people and supports the creation of a Palestinian state. Beyond this, the current polarised debate makes it is difficult to define either term more satisfactorily without being polemical or pejorative. But perhaps the way around this impasse is to define CP in exactly the same manner as Christian Palestinianists define CZ (a kind of mirror image, if you will). Thus just as some CPs define CZs as extremists, racists, condoning Israeli state terrorism and repudiating the Gospel, conversely extremist CPs are similarly anti-Semitic, turn a blind eye to Islamic terrorism and are pro-Islam. Alternatively, while some CZs support Israel but struggle with aspects of Israeli policy, likewise some CPs may support the Arab people but struggle with aspects of Hamas and Fatah. If you think about it this twin system of defining CP and CZ works rather well, allowing for moderate and extreme expressions on both sides. At the vey least it will certainly help to challenge the stereotype of CZ as somehow monolithic and extremist (the proviso being, of course, that there are also moderate expressions of CP).

To confuse the issue further, at this stage we should also mention Christian anti-Zionism. Whereas CP is defined by who it sides with (the Palestinians), Christian anti-Zionism, as the name suggests, is defined first and foremost by what it opposes. Thus theoretically Christian anti-Zionism need not imply wholesale, uncritical (or indeed any) support for the Palestinians, Palestinian Authority or a Palestinian state. Primarily Christian anti-Zionism is concerned with theologically challenging Christian Zionism. Thus the theological shift is away from either peoples in the Middle East (Arabs and Jews) to a theological debate and challenging the views of a segment of Christians within the wider church.

At the risk of complicating the matter yet further, it is also essential to differentiate between Christian Palestinianism and Palestinian Christianity. Like Christian Zionism, the former represents a bloc within wider Christianity which support and champions one of the peoples of the Middle East, whereas Palestinian Christianity represents an exclusively Arab expression of Christianity among the Palestinian people. Hence, Palestinian Christianity consists of Palestinian Anglicans, Baptists, Charismatics, Orthodox, Catholic, and so on, some of which are Evangelicals, others not.

In any debate exploring a complex issues, such as the Middle East conflict, it is essential not to generalise and oversimplify, always seeking to bring sophistication and nuance to the issue. This is why carefully defining terminology represents such an essential first step in any academic treatment of an issue. Thus it is important to recognise the technical and theoretical differences between Christian Palestinianism, Christian anti-Zionism and Palestinian Christianity. Utilising this terminology begins to help one see the different agendas and approaches of all three camps, allowing one to craft a separate and tailored response to each.

Unfortunately, and with important exceptions aside (for example, it is clearly the case that many grassroots Evangelical Palestinian Christians reject a version of Palestinian liberation theology espoused by their leaders), today it is not always easy to differentiate between Christian Palestinianism, Christian anti-Zionism and Palestinian Christianity. And going back to where I began this post, one of the important ways in which all three camps seem to be so similar is the way in which the Jewish roots of Christianity are relegated or ditched completely. Consider when was the last time you heard a well-known representative of either camp express a positive view of the Jewish roots of Christianity in a book, journal article, talk or blog post? Or how often is the Old Testament downplayed by church leaders in Palestinian Christian circles? One well-known minister of a historic Protestant denomination explained to me recently how, while attending several conferences with various Palestinian Christian leaders, they barely acknowledged the Old Testament. It is not surprising, then, that Melnick conflates all three definitions when he writes...
Christian Palestinianism is well on its way to de-judaize Jesus – a job that the gentile branch of Christianity generously contributed to, out of ignorance or pure hatred of the Jews over the centuries. CP will also continue to invalidate much of the Jewish Scriptures as history gets re-written and Jewish references get replaced to accommodate the “Islamization” of the Bible.
At a time when those Christians who believe God retains a plan and purpose for the Jewish people (including those who believe He has restored them to the land) are increasingly eschewing the extremes of Christian Zionism and seek to be more nuanced in their theological and political treatment of the issues, it is equally fitting and appropriate for our Christian brothers on the other side of the debate to challenge the relegation of the Old Testament and the Jewish roots, reprimanding and resisting any form of modern day Marcionism. The Jewish roots of the Christian faith is a given, a fact of life which supersessionist and nonsupersessionist scholars alike agree upon, and therefore any version of pro-Palestinian Christianity which denies the Jewish roots of Christianity arguably gives the dangerous impression of seeking to expunge Jews and Jewishness from Christianity.

5 February 2012

Luxembourg Jewry

Currently in (a rather cold) Luxembourg City for a weekend with my wonderful wife. Having spent various fleeting visits here over the last twenty or so years - usually passing through during my many relief trips to Eastern Europe as the Iron Curtain came down - this is one of those rather unusual European places I rather like. Part of the fascination is the nature of this tiny principality... I've always been fascinated with such places, for example Andorra, Monaco, Gibraltar and Liechtenstein.

Recently, though, I've become aware of the small Jewish presence here, which is nonetheless important for several reasons despite its tiny size. So I just wondered, apart from the standard Wiki and general web info, can anyone recommend me some decent sources on Luxembourger Jewry. Would also be interested to learn if there is a Messianic movement of sorts here. Thanks.

1 February 2012

Pentecostalism, Philosemitism and Social Justice

I'm attending the annual SPS academic conference at Regent University, Virginia Beach, end of this month. The ecumenical studies group is convening a panel to discuss and critique my latest edited book on Latin American Pentecostalism, to which I will be responding. However, I have another reason for attending. This year's conference theme is Pentecostalisms, Peacemaking, and Social Justice/Righteousness, reflecting the Pentecostal academy's continued interest in social issues. One of the keynote speakers is Sami Awad (Holy Land Trust), while one of this year's SPS conference organisers is Paul Alexander, a speaker at the forthcoming Christ at the Checkpoint event in Bethlehem.

At a time when some in the Pentecostal academy are increasingly ditching classical Pentecostalism's historic dispensationalism, and with it traditional support for Israel and Pentecostal Zionism, I wanted to explore the issue from a different angle, separating Zionism from nonsupersessionism and demonstrating how the latter represents an inherent Pentecostal position aside from its dispensationalism. I'll be highlighting and evaluating strong global Pentecostal philosemitism among, crucially, autochthonous Pentecostals with little or no connection with North American Pentecostals and their dispensationalism, before exploring ways in which Pentecostals might approach the current conflict by focusing on social justice without ditching their nonsupersessionism and philosemitism (too often, I believe, the polarised and pejorative nature of the debate forces Christians to choose one side or another, leaving little room to explore middle ground).

My paper, which will be delivered on 1 March, is entitled Pentecostalism, Zionism and the Middle East Conflict: Reconciling Inherent Philosemitism and Calls for Social Justice. I'll be posting a copy here after the conference (full details of which, including a full conference schedule, can be found on the SPS website). I notice there will also be a paper on Pentecostalism and Messianic Judaism on the same day.

31 January 2012

Two new blogroll sites added

I've added two new sites to my blogroll (which is currently under review, with more sites to be added/removed over the next couple of weeks). The first is the blog of Stuart Dauermann, a Messianic Jew based in California (a Fuller doctoral graduate) within the TOM-J movement. Yet despite the controversy surrounding this position Stuart is thoughtful, articulate, highly educated and, importantly, eschews a pejorative and polemical approach in favour of thoughtful, objective, and biblically-rooted analysis. You may not agree with all he writes, nonetheless he will make you think carefully about the relationship between the Church and the Messianic movement. I thoroughly enjoyed interacting with him informally several times over coffee last March while in California as a guest of Chosen People Ministries.

The second blog I'm adding to my blogroll is Olivier Melnick's Fight the New Anti-Semitism. I also met Olivier in California last March, and had the pleasure of getting to know him better at the MJ conference I attended just last week in Florida. Olivier is from an altogether somewhat different wing of the MJ movement than Stuart, yet an equally articulate and interesting character. A French Jew who expresses both a European perspective and an ability to be self-deprecating as a Frenchman (a most unusual quality from this [somewhat biased] Englishman's perspective), Olivier offers a valuable perspective on several issues as a thoughtful Jewish believer in Jesus originally coming from a more secular background. He's also  incredibly humourous (again, shattering this Englishman's stereotyping of the French), a good laugh as we'd say over here.

29 January 2012

A Case for Messianic Jewish Identity

This is the follow-up on Messianic Judaism I promised on Friday. But first, I want to describe a recent conversation with someone who strongly supports Israel, a dispensationalist who maintains God has not finished with Israel and believes the nation and people feature prominently in end times prophecy. Over time our conversation drifted to other related matters, and soon we were discussing the issue of Jewish believers in Jesus.

When I raised the issue of Jewish identity among Jewish believers in Jesus and how this has become a major theological and cultural debate within the Messianic movement, it quickly became clear he had not given the matter much thought. His response, based on Galatians 3:28 ("There is neither Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female...") was that in Christ there is no longer any distinction between Jew and Gentile, that through Calvary the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile had been torn down to create one new man from the two (Eph 2:14-15), thus rendering Jewish identity for believers in Christ an anachronism. For this champion of Israel, God's dealings with the Jewish people as a distinct people was limited to the eschatological realm (how Israel features in the end times), and that in Christ there is no sense of Jewish identity or distinctiveness.

27 January 2012

MJs in Florida

I've not blogged this week because I have been attending a symposium on Messianic Jewish identity in Orlando, Florida all week. The weather has been superb (27-28C, low 80s every day), while it's nice to be taken out to some great restaurants (the US is so good at hospitality). But unfortunately all good things come to an end and I'll be back in rainy old England this weekend. The conference has been fascinating, demonstrating not only how the current (and unnecessarily bitter) debate surround the relationship between the Church and Israel is having much wider (and serious) ramifications than at first glance, but also this week has highlighted some of the major theological and identity tensions within the Messianic movement. More on this later, but for now I have a flight to catch. Back to the rain (sigh).

19 January 2012

Top 50 Countries for Christian Persecution

Open Doors has published its 2012 list of 50 countries where Christians are most likely to be persecuted (hat tip to Cranmer for drawing attention to this). I found Open Door's list interesting for several reasons. First, although we hear constantly from certain quarters that Israel systematically persecutes Arab Christians, Israel is not on the list. Second, the Palestinian Territories are on the list. Then there's the point raised by Cranmer: that Muslim countries constitute the vast majority of places where Christians are likely to face persecution.

So yes, Christianity is in decline all over the Middle East, but focusing on a Christian exodus from the Holy Land for anti-Israel political reasons while ignoring Muslim persecution and other factors is just silly. For the sake of Arab Christians in the region it's time all of us, regardless of our theological views on some issues, stop beating about the bush and be honest about the persecution of Christians in Muslim lands (and this includes some Christian Zionists who would do well to focus more on the plight of Christians across the Middle East, rather than give the impression of having little interest in Arab Christianity).

5 January 2012

"Allow Assisted Suicide"

A committee of peers and academics chaired by the former Lord Chancellor Charlie Falconer has today called upon the government to permit assisted suicide for those terminally ill with less than a year to live. The Telegraph details one Anglican bishop's criticism of the commission as
a “self-appointed” group that excluded anyone who objected to legalising assisted suicide.
Aside from the group's clear bias in favour of assisted suicide, another objection to its findings is the whole issue of sanctity of life. But leaving both these issues aside, there is another, much more practical, objection to the commission's recommendations, namely, the "thin end of the wedge" argument.

Falconer's commission calls for legalising assisted suicide for those terminally ill with less than a year to live. By why stop there? How long, once it is enshrined in law, that the time limit is gradually extended? Meanwhile, the commission calls for voluntary assisted suicide on the basis of suffering. But who determines when suffering outweighs the need to end a life? And how long before there is a shift away from voluntary suicide on the basis of suffering to involuntary euthanasia based on what a doctor feels is in the patient's best interests? It's quite a short step between calling for assisted suicide for the mentally competent to recommending it as the most humane action on behalf of a terminally ill patient who is mentally deficient. Oh, and by the way, just because a doctor says you're going to die through illness doesn't necessarily mean you will (after all, this is what happened to me when diagnosed with incurable leukaemia 26 years ago).

Meanwhile, how long before terminally ill individuals feel duty-bound to end their lives - despite managing to deal with their own suffering - because of the burden (or inconvenience) they increasingly might feel they are to others or the state? And for that matter, why stop at assisted suicide (or involuntary euthanasia) for the terminally ill? How long before anyone who suffers a serious handicap is permitted to end their life, the presumption being that perfection determines quality and sanctity of life?

In short, legalising assisted suicide represents the thin end of the wedge, a situation which in time would slowly but inexorably broaden the rules to bring ever more numbers of individuals within the realm of euthanasia. We've already seen it emerge across Western society in the last four decades: abortion for serious disabilities, abortions for less severe disabilities, abortion on demand, voluntary euthanasia in exceptional circumstances, and in some cases involuntary euthanasia condoned by the state. Heavens, we already abort babies on the basis of a cleft palate or for purely social reasons. If Falconer's committee have their way, conceivably it's not a giant step from there to genetics and involuntary euthanasia for mental illness or disability (or even to save the state and health service money). Look at how quickly it transpired in Nazi Germany.

4 January 2012

The Written Word

While driving to work this morning I caught the first part of Melvyn Bragg's In Our Time broadcast by BBC Radio 4. The programme explores the role of writing and its influence upon religion, and I caught the first two sections on Christianity and Islam (I don't know what happened later in the programme). Some interesting details on, for example, the Codex Sinaiticus, by a British Library curator, as well as Mohammed and the Koran in the next section. A podcast of the programme is available here.

3 January 2012

Dershowitz on Israeli Human Rights

I've received a link to a short YouTube video featuring American lawyer, professor at Harvard Law School and political commentator Alan Dershowitz, in which he details a challenge he issues whenever he speaks publicly on the Middle East. Dershowitz holds a range of views from across the political spectrum, and as such there will always be people who will dismiss his views on an ad hominem basis. However, I'm interested to hear your views specifically on what Dershowitz says in the following video (it's a only a little over three minutes), which I'm posting here without comment.