A Mixed Up Minister?
What insights does the book of Jonah have for ministers today?
Led by The Revd Tom Stuckey, a former President of the Methodist Church.
Israel: His People, His Land, His Story
Any reflection on the Middle East, and especially the historical and contemporary role of Israel and its peoples, is fraught with potential for highly charged and differing personal, political and theological interpretations. However, genuine contributions to a greater understanding of the difficulties the region is facing must be welcomed, and this book attempts to offer an overview of ‘the Jewish people and the Land of Israel, their election and calling, their place in the world today, and in the end times’.
It is a collection of ten essays that set out to reflect on Biblical and historical themes with contributions on terrorism and peacemaking – a tall order indeed within 312 pages, and one of its weaknesses. As with many such collections, the writing and scholarship vary considerably. Some of the contributors offer academic interpretations, and others reflect more personal stances based on their ministries in the region.
Readers need to be aware that the essays are sponsored by Love Never Fails, a forum of 25 Christian ministries involved with the Jewish people, both in Israel and the Jewish diaspora. As such, the writing is generally supportive of a more Zionist understanding of the Jewish people in relation to the land of Israel. I noted that the editor had not included any indigenous Palestinian Christian writer’s reflection on these issues.
The work is strongest in Section 1 when it explores scripture, and rightly reminds the Christian church of its historical roots, the need for a more Jewish reading of the scriptures and a better understanding. There is a helpful contribution on the tragedy of anti-Jewish (as apposed to anti-Semitic) expression which culminated in the Jewish Holocaust of the last century. Nick Gray also offers a thoughtful paper in his essay in Section 4 on the issue of Palestinian refugees. However, I found several of the essays in this Section difficult to assimilate in their apparent judgement of fellow Christians and the apparent declining of other theological interpretations of people, land, peace and justice.
As with all things in the Middle East, there are many layers to the political story, but this collection of writings does not extensively explore those layers. Weaknesses emerge as the essays attempt to wrestle with the issues of land rights and the struggle for peace since 1948, little is said from the perspective of the Palestinian Christian and some of the historical facts are highly subjectively expressed.
Lady Susan Sainsbury in her Foreword writes that this is ‘a must-read for all involved with the Middle East, whether as friends, commentators or intercessors’. Certainly some parts of this book are useful, but ‘curate’s egg’ comes to mind.
I would encourage the book to be read in order that the broadest interpretation of the issues of the region can be explored, and certainly to understand this particular viewpoint. But I would caution the reader not to allow it to be the defining interpretation, especially of the political issues facing the peoples of Israel, both Jewish and Arab. Resources produced by Edward Said, Rev Stephen Sizer, Rev Dr Michael Prior, Canon Naim Ateek and Bishop Kenneth Cragg offer a different viewpoint. These should also be read if the reader wishes to take seriously views expressed by Palestinian Christians on justice and peacemaking in the region, and to explore other, equally evangelical ways, of reading the Bible.