Reflections on Fear and Faith

By Arthur Brown

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

-Matthew 22:36 – 40

After these things had been done, the leaders came to me and said, “The people of Israel, including the priests and the Levites, have not kept themselves separate from the neighbouring peoples with their detestable practices, like those of the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians and Amorites. They have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and their sons, and have mingled the holy race with the peoples around them. And the leaders and officials have led the way in this unfaithfulness.”

-Ezra 9:1-3

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them… There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

-1 John 4:16b – 21.

Fear, it seems to me, has always been a dominant force, perhaps one of the most powerful motivating factors in many of our attitudes, beliefs and behaviours. Even for those of us professing faith in Christ – whose love we are told ‘drives out fear’ – there are many things that we fear, if we are honest, which have the potential to negatively impact our witness. Individuals, or typically groups of people, who are in some way ‘different’ are a common source of ‘fear’ and this fear can of course result in hostility, or simply avoidance. Neither option seems appropriate for those called to live out the gospel among the nations. Continue reading

How Should Arab Christians React to Persecution?

By Martin Accad

The Arab Baptist Theological Seminary has just completed its fourteenth Middle East Conference/Consultation, organized by its Institute of Middle East Studies, the highlights of which were presented last week through our blog. Under the overarching concept of “disorienting times,” we explored the four themes of “Persecution and Suffering,” “Emigration,” “Hopelessness and Despair,” and “Minoritization.” The four themes were well integrated and tied together through a specific logical framework: The persecution that the MENA church has suffered historically has driven it to a sense that its status as minority was not simply a matter of numbers, but that it has been subjected to a process of subjugation which we referred to as “minoritization.” This process, which has led many to despair and to a general sense of hopelessness, continues to drive many to the search for new hope through emigration.

The bombing of two churches in Egypt on Palm Sunday last April, which claimed more than 44 lives, was a gruesome reminder that there are many still in this region who would seek the complete demise and disappearance of Christianity from the MENA. Continue reading

How Can the Church Be Prophetic in Today’s Disorienting Times? Highlights from Middle East Consultation 2017

From June 19 to 23, 200 participants from over 20 nationalities participated in our annual Middle East Consultation (MEC) titled The Church in Disorienting Times: Leading Prophetically through Adversity.

Each of the first 4 days of MEC focused on one theme. This year, morning sessions began with a theological keynote, followed by a local response and two witness accounts. These sessions ended with a participant from the West who provided a global crosscheck.

We are looking forward to the publication of a book based on the consultation proceedings. For now, we will provide you in this post with a glimpse of the presentations and conversations that took place at MEC this year.

Continue reading

Getting the Trinity out of the Ivory Tower

By Mike Kuhn

Are there any “ivory tower theologians” out there?

I’ve never seen an ivory tower…and I suppose that’s the point. Ivory tower theologians are presumably dealing with things nobody cares about, things that make no practical difference in day to day life.

I remember chuckling at “Owl” as I read the Winnie the Pooh books to my children (a long time ago). Poor old Owl, supposedly a symbol of wisdom, was inclined to pontificate in ways that failed to connect with life.

Sometimes I felt a little like Owl with my kids. Maybe that’s why I hesitate to write this blog. I wonder if the Trinity is an “ivory tower” issue in theology that, in reference to the Muslim world, should not be brought into the conversation. However, since my hesitation owes more to the rancor that has dominated the conversation than to conviction, I’ll go with conviction. Continue reading

From our Vantage Point: The Signs of the Times Unfolding in the Middle East Today

By Wissam al-Saliby

Earlier this year, I was flipping through the radio channels as I was driving from Houston to Dallas. I fell upon a talk show where, to my surprise, I heard the interviewee mentioning “Hezbollah and Iran.” I focused my attention on the conversation to better understand how our region’s politics are perceived in Texas. However, within a few minutes, Jimmy DeYoung moved from recent political developments in the Middle East to Biblical prophecy to forecasting that Arab nations will unite and attack Israel – a claim that I have heard so many times in the US, but that sounds incredulous, almost impossible, to a Lebanese who is seeing an ever increasing Arab dis-unity. The radio show and the connected website are called Prophecy Today. It concluded with a prayer for the Peace of Jerusalem, a peace that is interpreted in light of the preceding political and theological analysis.

End-Times_Industry

Prophecy Today (DeYoung) and other similar initiatives, usually run by one man, such as EndTime Ministries (Irvin Baxter), Rapture Ready (Todd Strandberg), and Restored Church of God (David C. Pack) all demonstrate similar geopolitical analyses of events that happens to be “always in line” with what the prophecies say. This “prophecy industry” manifests itself in websites, books, radio and TV shows, conferences, church pulpits, YouTube channels, and Internet advertisements. Continue reading

Middle East Consulation 2017 – The Church in Disorienting Times: Leading Prophetically through Adversity

MEC 2017b Flyer Final

CLICK HERE TO APPLY

Places at MEC 2017 are filling up fast. If you are planning to attend MEC this year, and have yet to apply [or have had your application approved but have not gone on to register] please do so as soon as possible to avoid disappointment.

IMES’ Middle East Consultation [MEC] has developed a fantastic reputation for providing a unique context in which the MENA and global church can come together to address the critical issues facing the Body of Christ in the context of the Middle East and North Africa. As always, MEC will include creative presentations from diverse perspectives, practitioner interviews and witness accounts, roundtable discussions, workshops, interfaith encounters with leading Muslims leaders, Biblical reflections, prayer and worship, and an opportunity to visit a local community to see firsthand some of the challenges faced by certain communities in the region.

However, we are changing our methodology slightly for 2017. Continue reading

Social Capital: Seeds of Friendship Growing into a National Symbol for Reconciliation

By Manal el-Tayar

Her voice quivered as she started speaking. One could sense how intimidating it must have felt for a twenty-year-old to address a crowd of religious leaders, politicians, ambassadors, civil society leaders, academicians and other notable delegates about her vision for a united Lebanon. As Alaa spoke, she glimpsed back a couple of times at Jennifer who stood by her. Jennifer’s beaming smile reassured her friend. Slowly, Alaa grew more confident in her speech and her words resonated with the audience.

The contribution of Alaa and Jennifer to the Celebration of the Annunciation[i] in downtown Beirut on Sunday 26th of March 2017 seemed to be the highlight for many in attendance. “You are the hope of the future,” said one ex- combatant in the civil war: Continue reading

A Reflection on Traffic through a Theology of Sin

By Caleb Hutcherson

Have you ever thought about your theology of sin in the middle of being stuck in traffic? That chortling I hear doesn’t faze me. And of course, you are right. My friends and family chuckle, too, at my goofy probing of the everyday with theological lenses. But, I think there is something to be gained when we recognize and reflect on how the actions and practices of everyday life are, in a very real sense, a form of speaking about God. Reflection can be short or long, focused or philosophical. But the practice of reflecting theologically on the everyday can help us to grow to be more mindful of the ways that our speaking about God (in words and actions) shapes and is shaped by life.

This particular reflection burst through the mind-bending frustration that built as I once again sat in traffic in Beirut, trying to get home from work. Continue reading

Re-Reading Our Times

The 1970s were defining for me. Those were my high school years. Growing up between Lebanon and the US gave me the opportunity to experience those formative high school years cross-culturally. I was a mid-western boy living in a Middle Eastern home. Recently, I’ve decided to reread some of my old high school English literature readings to see how my viewpoint has changed over the years.

One book, in particular, which caught me by surprise, was Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, written in 1899. Heart of Darkness is considered to be no. 32 on the list of the 100 all-time best English novels.[1] I love Conrad’s evocative use of English, which wasn’t his first language. In an economy of words, he takes us on a journey of the consequences of unbridled Empire. Continue reading

Theological Education as Formation for Prophetic Ministry

By Martin Accad

When we think about theological education in a country like Lebanon, we are forced to think differently from the way that seminary education has traditionally been understood in Europe or North America. In many seminaries around the world, both in the west and sadly also in the Middle East, students are still primarily taught how to interpret the biblical text largely for preaching purposes. They may also take a couple of counseling courses and some classes in pastoral ministry. They may be offered a limited number of courses in missiology, but often in the form of electives that students can opt out of. This reflects an older mentality, where the seminary views itself as operating at the service of ‘Christendom’ – a society where Christianity is dominant and where the church often lives with a triumphalistic mindset. A large proportion of seminaries, however, have become increasingly aware of functioning in a post-Christian world. Continue reading