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The Land of Many Names
Towards a Christian understanding of the Middle East conflict

        PROLOGUE

The best way to approach a subject as emotive as this is to put one's cards on the table right at the start, so that there can be no misunderstandings or suspicions. To be as frank as I can, this is an attempt at a response to books that claim to represent 'different theological perspectives' but tend to lean towards just one particular perspective. In fact, of the 12 contributors to one such book, 11 are in basic agreement that the promises of God to Abraham concerning the 'Promised Land' have now been inherited by the Church and that the State of Israel is nothing more than a blip of modern history.

Do we, as Christians, go with the flow and play it safe? Do we follow the majority view just because this is taught in many Bible colleges and theological schools in the UK? The impression seems to be that a good dose of 'formal biblical and theological study' provided at these establishments will put you right on this issue and clear your mind of such nonsense as the restoration of Israel!

Does this mean that the majority of us who have not had the benefit of a formal Christian education do not have the tools to read the Bible correctly? Does this mean that only theologians are properly equipped to deal with such thorny issues as the identity of Israel and the Church? Does that mean that there's no point in consulting the Bible (particularly the Old Testament) on these matters, because we will probably get it wrong? Do we ordinary Christians not have a duty to examine the issues for ourselves? Also, how do these educational establishments arrive at their theological position? In other countries, notably the USA, the majority of schools would take a totally different perspective. Are we not all studying the same Bible?

These are good questions to ask because there is a lot at stake. Although these issues are not as vital as one's personal salvation, they are important for many reasons, not least concerning the faithfulness of God in His dealings with His people. Therefore it is essential that every Christian, whatever their educational background, should prayerfully seek the truth on such a key issue. There is no sitting on the fence here; there can only be one truth.

In August 2002 a group of evangelical Christians in the USA sent a letter to President Bush expressing their concern at what they saw as imbalance in American policy towards the Middle East conflict. One statement they made is worthy of note: 'Significant numbers of American evangelicals reject the way some have distorted biblical passages as their rationale for uncritical support for every policy and action of the Israeli government instead of judging all actions - of both Israelis and Palestinians - on the basis of biblical standards of justice.' When we get to the stage where Christians openly accuse others of 'distorting biblical passages' it is time for us to truly seek God's face and examine how there can be such a split in the Body of Christ.

The arena of conflict is the cauldron of confusion known as hermeneutics, which, for you and me, is concerned with how we should read and apply the Bible. The two key skirmishes are, firstly, how much of the Bible should be taken literally and, secondly, to what extent do we read the Old Testament in the light of the coming of Jesus in the New Testament. The trick is getting the balance right between these two factors and it is fair to say that the differences of opinion are caused by different emphases being given to each of them.

One barrier to the acceptance of a pro-Israel view in the UK is our natural conservatism, a fear of being sucked into what is viewed by some as the 'lunatic fringe'. Interpreting some key scriptures in a certain way is not necessarily going to turn you into a full-blown extreme dispensationalist or end-time fanatic, leafing through one of the hundreds of books on the subject for clues to the prophetic apocalyptic timetable. One must not be ruled by such fears and you should trust yourself with a certain degree of discernment. Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. Be real. We should be secure enough in our views to defend them to anyone.

It is all a matter of personal integrity. Be yourself. Be blessed.


The Land of Many Names by Steve Maltz, is published by Authentic Lifestyle for ?7.99. ISBN 1-86024-287-1
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