Category Archives: theology

Meet The Cast Of “With God On Our Side”

The film With God On Our Side – endorsed by Tony Campolo and Stephen W. Haas – purports to take another look at Christian theology regarding Israel:

This film demonstrates that there is a biblical alternative for Christians who want to love and support the people of Israel, a theology that doesn’t favor one people group over another but instead promotes peace and reconciliation for both Jews and Palestinians.”

What is this ‘biblical alternative’?

Leaving aside the secular Jewish anti-Zionist writer Norman Finkelstein, let’s look at those Christian leaders giving their opinions.

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N.T. Wright, Israel & The Holy Land

Have a look at this essay by NT Wright: The Holy Land Today.

Here is N.T. Wright’s parable about Israel:

Once upon a time there was a family who had lived in a great old house for so long that they’d almost forgotten they hadn’t built it themselves. They loved the house and its grounds dearly; they knew every room, every nook and cranny, every stick and stone on the property.  They had suffered much because of violent and abusive neighbours, and were reduced in circumstances to the point where some of the fine rooms in the house were shut up, and some fields left uncultivated.  One day, to their alarm, a woman swept up the drive in a car, announced that she was in charge now, and proceeded to throw some of the family off the estate altogether, herding many of the rest into little encampments, while she took over the best parts of the house and grounds. When they protested, she called up her powerful friends, who gave her money to see her through.  Now, a generation later, the family have grown used to her, but many, particularly the younger generation, are asking why they have to put up with this intolerable situation a moment longer.

The ‘new woman’ here is the Jews of 1948 turning up to turf up the ‘old woman’ of the Palestinians – a narrative which ignores the reality of the fact that members of both families had been living in historic Palestine for centuries.

When it suits theologians to disposess Israel of God’s covenant promises, the Jews represent the “old” who have been replaced by the Church, and when it suits them to dispossess Israel of her right to the land, the Jews represent the “new” who have no home in Palestine.

At times, NT Wright speaks about Israel like the Three Bears spoke of Goldilocks:

To this day there are Jews living in those Palestinians’ houses, tilling their fields, sleeping in their beds, eating off their china, and quite likely quoting Deuteronomy to back it all up: houses you did not build, fields you did not plant, vineyards you did not grow.

NT Wright is cynical about Jewish concerns of anti-Semitism manifest in hostility towards Israel:

The Jews came in on the high moral ground of their sufferings in the Holocaust: the Yad Vashem memorial, in modern West Jerusalem, stands both as a horrific reminder of the appalling sufferings of European Jewry a generation ago and as a strong appeal for the moral legitimacy of the present state of Israel.  Every criticism of Israel can at once be construed as a resurgence of anti-Semitism.

NT Wright seems to have a cartoonish view of haredi frum Jews. He does not mention the fact that thousands upon thousands of Orthodox Jews in New York are actually anti-Zionist, in particular the Satmar hasidim of Kiryas Joel and Williamsburg, and writes:

Among the Jews, of course, are a large minority, perhaps even a majority, who long for peace with their every breath who would only too gladly give up some land for the sake of it and who bitterly resent the importation from America of plane-loads of Orthodox cousins, fired up with passionate synagogue sermons from their ageing rabbis in Brooklyn, ready to arm themselves and take over the Promised Land.

NT Wright seems to be taking the example of Meir Kahane and applying it across the spectrum of Orthodox Jewry. He considers any support for the idea of a modern state of Israel as a ‘childish thing’ which fails to appreciate how Israel was actually fulfilled by Jesus:

Instead of Israel as a political entity emerging from political exile, we are invited in the gospel to see Israel-in-person, the true king, emerging from the exile of death itself into God’s new day.  That is the underlying rationale for the mission to the Gentiles: God has finally done for Israel what he was going to do for Israel, so now it’s time for the Gentiles to come in.  That, too, is the underlying rationale for the abolition of the food laws and the holy status of the land of Israel: a new day has dawned in God’s purposes, and the symbols of the previous day are put aside, not because they were a bad thing, now happily rejected, but because they were the appropriate preparatory stages in God’s plan, and have now done their work.  When I became a man, I put away childish things.

Rather than simply criticising Christian Zionism as what he regards to be faulty theology, NT Wright sees it as a modern version of the Galatian heresy:

To suggest, therefore, that as Christians we should support the state of Israel because it is the fulfilment of prophecy is, in a quite radical way, to cut off the branch on which we are sitting.  It is directly analogous to the mistake of the Galatians, who thought that if they were members of Abraham’s family they should go the whole way and get circumcised.

In fact, Christian support for the modern state of Israel denies the essential gospel of Jesus Christ:

It is similar to the mistake of which the Reformers accused the mediaeval Catholics, of supposing that in every Mass they were actually re-crucifying Jesus, when Jesus’ death had been once and for all, never to be repeated, on Calvary.  It is a way of saying that in the cross and resurrection God did not actually fulfil his whole saving purpose; that Jesus did not in fact achieve the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy; that his resurrection was not the start of God’s new age; that Acts is wrong, Romans is wrong, Galatians is wrong, the letter to the Hebrews is wrong, Revelation is wrong.  Say that if you like, but don’t claim to be Christian in doing so.

Ironically for someone apparently so concerned with not dividing Christians along ethnic lines, NT Wright all but ignores the 10-15,000 Israeli Jewish believers in Jesus in order to make the claim:

“In particular, as pilgrims we must take with the utmost seriousness the fact that almost all Christians living in the Holy Land today are Palestinians.  Yes, there are some Jewish Christians, some brave souls living their faith openly, and, I have it on good authority, many others who practise their allegiance to Jesus as Messiah behind locked doors, as certain of their forebears did between the first Easter and the first Pentecost. But most of those who worship God in Christ day by day and week by week in the Holy Land today are Palestinian Arabs”

This is worrying:

Many [Palestinian Christians] are tempted to make common cause with their Muslim neighbours, the Cross and the Crescent united against the Star of David.  Yet many know that even if the Arab world got together and succeeded where they failed in the wars of 1949, 1967 and 1974 – in other words, if they managed to eliminate or marginalize the state of Israel altogether – then the battle would be on to establish in its place an Islamic republic of Palestine similar to that in Iran and elsewhere, in which, as in many Muslim countries, Christianity would be at far greater risk than it is from the present Israeli government.  They feel themselves to be between the devil and the deep blue sea.

So Wright thinks Palestinian Christians shouldn’t unite against the Star of David because they’ll get a raw deal, not because it would be wrong or anti-Christian to do so.

One final point: nowhere does Wright speak about efforts to unite Palestinian-Arab and Israeli-Jewish believers in Jesus, concentrating instead on Western Christians uniting with Palestinian Christians.

It seems Wright falls into the same trap he accuses others of: dividing Christians along ethnic and political lines.

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‘Useful Idiots’ – pro-Hezbollah Christian MP says Jesus a martyr who fell against Israel

This post by DaveM is cross-posted from Harry’s Place with kind permission.

Once you step outside Hezbollah’s core constituency …

… you can pretty much split its non-Islamist supporters into two broad camps.

The first group either have absolutely no idea what Hezbollah really stands for or desperately want them to be something else which can be shoehorned into their own ideological framework.

Hezbollah are more than happy to help them out with this and will say all the right things to them in English.

Therefore it’s pretty safe to assume that here the overwhelming majority of this group do not speak or understand Arabic at all.

The second group know exactly what Hezbollah stands for and are attempting to shoehorn themselves into Hezbollah’s ideological framework.

The other thing that separates this group from the first is that they’re fluent in Arabic because it’s their first language. Which means that it’s virtually impossible for them to pretend Hezbollah is anything other than what it is, i.e. clerical fascists.

(There is of course a third group, which will at certain times allies itself to Hezbollah for strategic reasons. But Walid Junblatt is a whole other story which for reasons of time and space I’d rather not get into right now).

One of these guys is Lebanese MP Nabil Nkoula from Michel Aoun’s (Christian) Change and Reform Bloc who gave an astonishing speech recently at a Hezbollah commemoration on the anniversary of the assassination of their military leader Imad Mugniyah.

Dolly Ghanem LBC studios: “Hezbollah commemorated the anniversary of their leader Imad Mugniyah at the “wisdom” school in Jdeideh, Metn where MP Nabil Nkoula viewed the occasion as similar to the month of Lent for Christians and also considered Jesus a martyr [who fell] against Israel.”

Bissam Abu Ziad LBC Journalist: “Hezbollah reiterated at the ‘wisdom’ school in Jdeideh, Metn that the resistance [i.e. Hezbollah] brought down the logic of war for a undefined period time [meaning the threat from the Israelis is still there]. And also reiterated that any attack or aggression on Lebanon will result in a massive defeat being inflicted on Israel.

At Jdeideh Hezbollah commemorated the anniversary of the deaths of Sheikh Ragheb Harb, Sayyad Abbas Musawi and Haj Imad Mugniyah.

[Christian] MP Nabiil Maqoula spoke saying that the [only] way which preserves our honour is resistance against the enemy.”

MP Nabil Nkoula [Change & Reform Bloc] “This occasion, I consider it to be similar in significance to the month of Lent for Christians which has begun. Therefore this month, in regard to Christians, is also a month of resistance. For the Messiah he resisted the wicked, he resisted the Jews.

So with regard to us, as Christians, we consider that the very first martyr who fell against the Jews was Jesus Christ”.

The rest of the report follows with Aoun’s representative Kareem Habiib saying that the coming victory will change the face and history of the region. And then it’s just the usual Hezbollah stuff.

Unlike as in totalitarian states like Syria, where a speech of this nature would have passed without public criticism, some Lebanese such as theFoundation for Human and Humanitarian Rights have spoken out against it.

The school where the event took place claim that they were led to believe the event was for “Christian-Muslim dialogue” only later finding out that it was actually a Hezbollah event.

How many times has this also happened in the UK where front groups for extremists such as Hamas, Hezbollah and the Iranian regime have held meetings claiming to be ‘interfaith meetings’ and ‘discussion groups’?

Michael Young
, opinion editor of the Daily Star takes up the story under the title “Nausea and the Jdeideh incident” (worth reading in full)

“I realize that Hezbollah tends to provoke strange reactions in people, but somehow found myself ill prepared for the statement of the Aounist parliamentarian Nabil Nicolas last Monday at a commemoration held at the St. Joseph school in Jdeideh for three assassinated Hezbollah officials – Imad Mugniyah, Ragheb Harb and Abbas al-Moussawi.

In his speech Nicolas opined, after mentioning Hezbollah’s dead, that Christians considered the “first martyr against the Jews to be Jesus Christ.”

He then compared what had motivated Hezbollah’s martyrs with the Christian impulse to sacrifice, “especially as the Maronites have begun Lent, which is considered the month of resistance by Christians.” His colleague, Camille Habib, Michel Aoun’s spokesman, sounded a similar note, declaring that he hoped that St. Maroun would ensure that “we can get to Jerusalem and beyond, and beyond Haifa,” echoing a statement by Hezbollah’s secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah, during the 2006 war.

Nicolas’ theology was off, as was Habib’s geography, but the real question is whether the Aounists, when they speak in this way, expect us to take them seriously. Indeed, do they expect Hezbollah to take them seriously? In wanting to sound even more like Hezbollah than Hezbollah itself, the Aounists come across as members of a frightened minority, keen to curry favor with the more powerful than they by adopting their rhetoric.”

…So to watch as the Aounists now bend their religious symbolism out of shape to make it more compatible with Hezbollah’s political symbolism is truly nauseating……

…[yet] In its leaders’ oratory Hezbollah never concedes anything on its worldview, even to its allies.

When Nicolas compared Imad Mugniyah to Jesus Christ, the party faithful in the audience must have felt contempt for the Aounist parliamentarian. After all, even Hezbollah does not consider Mugniyah a prophet. What fools we’re friends with, they must have gleefully thought.

Useful idiots, turns out that it’s not just a Western phenomena by all accounts.

For an example of a British Christian theologian making offensive Hezbollah-Jesus comparisons, see this article.

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The FIEC speaks out against the BNP

From the FIEC:

The FIEC issued the folowing statement concerning the British National Party on 23 December 2009.

To all FIEC churches

We would wish you to be aware of a statement being made on a website in the public domain by the Rev Robert West, a parliamentary candidate representing the British National Party (BNP).

Mr West states the following: “I doubt very much that the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches oppose my views or the views of any genuine Christian and patriot, backed-up as they are by the holy Scriptures”.

Mr West has not contacted the FIEC office to find out what the views of the FIEC might be about this issue, and the FIEC regrets that Mr West has seen fit to make public reference to the supposed views of the FIEC without getting in touch with the office.

In fact, the FIEC strongly believes that the churches that make up the Fellowship would repudiate any idea that the Scriptures support the published policies of the BNP. There are elements within the policies of all political parties which are contrary to the Scriptures. In the case of the BNP, it appears to us that its policies seek to create an attitude of racial hierarchy which values people of some ethnic origins more than others. The Scriptures do not support any such policies, and we greatly regret that Mr West has asserted that they do, and in so doing, that he has linked the name of The Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches with his own erroneous views. Mr West is not in any way accredited by or associated with the FIEC.

Richard Underwood
General Secretary
The Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches

Well, this is about time!

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Stephen Sizer as anti-replacement theology champion?

Calvin Smith on Stephen Sizer’s proposed paper:

Thus, given how, in our correspondence last year Stephen stated categorially the Jews are no longer God’s chosen people, I will be interested to see how exactly he intends to challenge replacement theology. At the very least his paper’s title is disingenuous, even misleading. It is certainly amusing. At the risk of sounding pejorative, it’s like the Pope presenting a paper challenging Catholicism, or Benny Hinn criticising the excesses of Charismaticism. Though no doubt it will be embraced with gusto at the conference, it just won’t wash across the wider theological world.

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A Christian View of Israel

This looks like a useful paper from Calvin Smith for those interested in Christian theology amongst you.

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Should you take the “Jesus Radicals” with a pinch of salt?

Please read this comment from a prominent Jesus Radicals member before proceeding with the whole article. Jesus Radicals were unaware of Fleming’s activities with Tobin and Piper.

Here it is reproduced in full:

Hi,

I am one of the main people behind the Jesus Radicals website. We do not promote, teach, endorse or in any way link up with the ideas of holocaust deniers or anti-Semitism. You are absolutely correct to point out the influence of Jacques Ellul, whose writings continue to inspire many of us. John Howard Yoder is also a major influence. His book, The Christian/Jewish Schism Revisited, which laments the early split between Jewish Christians and other Jews, is another influence.

I was not involved in organizing the 2009 conference, but I am certain that the organizers were not aware of the things you pointed out about Eileen Fleming. From what I saw of her there, she did not say anything that denied the Holocaust, but her presentation was not well received and seemed to lack the sensitivity required to talk about race, ethnicity and class. She is not really an anarchist to be honest.

Here’s the original post; my concern about Fleming is expressed in the last four paragraphs.

Barthsnotes has a post providing more information about recent events at Gloucester Cathedral. As well as discussing Israeli preacher David Silver’s religious views, as does a commenter, Bartholomew also highlights that Hebden holds to Christian anarchist beliefs.

Keith Hebden is the editor of the Christian anarchist blog A Pinch of Salt. Hebden himself interestingly links to the story reported on This is Gloucester of his arrest and subsequent release without charge. Just as I was thinking that it seems rather odd to draw attention to ones’ own arrest without providing any further comment, I read a bizarre sentence on his blog in reaction to the arrest of CPT activists in Sweden.

Hebden wrote:
 

Whatever we do in the courtroom, or upon arrest, we are generating stories – like the prophets – that go beyond the actions we perform and take on a life of their own.

Whilst I’m of the opinion that getting arrested in order to generate stories is not the best way to get one’s message across, I can accept that this is Hebden’s position. However I wonder whether this affected Hebden’s decision to interrupt the service at Gloucester Cathedral. According to one eye-witness account:

The evening meeting was a worship service held in the actual cathedral (the nave, to be precise) and it was this that Rev Hebden disrupted in the manner described. At the point he made his protest, David Silver hadn’t even been invited to take the platform!

One also wonders whether Hebden’s calls for a boycott of Israel had anything to do with his opposition to Silver, an Israeli pastor, being allowed to preach in the Gloucester Cathedral. Hebden promotes this image on his blog and on his facebook profile:

 [boycott+zionist+goods.jpg]

For those unaware of the UK Jesus Radicals, Hebden’s religious and political views are of notable interest. Hebden has previously suggested that ‘Perhaps, in Britain, the Christian symbol of the cross should be replaced by the splintered skull. Why not, if the MPs insist on reminding us daily of their privileged use of the skull-smasher?’ Hebden has also cited recent protests and violence in Nepal as evidence that ‘There’s no such thing as a complete revolution, a utopian end-point.’

Keith Hebden’s Pinch of Salt blog has published an article by blog contributor “AdR”, accusing Israelis of ‘blackmailing’ the pope over his Nazi background, whilst drawing attention to Israeli gas companies whose global bodies profited from selling gas for gas chambers to the Nazis. This appears to me an unfair and insensitive reaction to the Israeli complaints about the Pope’s words over the Holocaust. 

Hebden himself has described the story of two women who broke into a politician’s home as ‘beautiful’, as the politician had excessive expense claims. Hebden commented:

“So why aren’t Christians doing this kind of thing? Some are but few; most of us are just looking on in awe and a certain amount of trepidation.”

Aside from the Pinch of Salt blog, Hebden is involved in the Jesus Radicals movement. Ekklesia identifies Hebden as a spokesperson of the UK branch of Jesus Radicals. Whilst the Jesus Radicals claim to be Christian anarchists following in the footsteps of Jacques Ellul, a Christian anarchist theologian and French resistance fighter, there is perhaps more here than meets the eye.

Interestingly the USA branch of Jesus Radicals hosted a conference last month in August 2009, where Eileen Fleming was invited to speak. Fleming was banned from the Daily Kos website for antisemitism. However, the Jesus Radicals‘ promotion of Eileen Fleming seems to jar with the Jesus Radicals’ interest  in Ellul and his theology, given that Ellul was awarded the title Righteous Amongst the Nations for his efforts to save Jews during World War II.

Fleming, on the other hand, has marched alongside Holocaust deniers (warning: link takes you to Far Right website of former KKK leader David Duke) Fred Tobin and Michael Collins Piper in Washington:

Perhaps though, the Jesus Radicals were unaware of Fleming’s involvement with the Far Right. Nevertheless, it certainly appears insensitive of the Jesus Radicals to the legacy of Jacques Ellul. Then again, perhaps Christian anarchist theology is moving away from Ellul?

For those new to Christian anarchist theology, Hebden provides this ‘primer’ to Christian anarchism on the UK Jesus Radicals website.

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