King's Evangelical Divinity School

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)