Arabic Christian Theology

A Contemporary Global Evangelical Perspective

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Editor(s): 
Andrea Ziki Stephanous
  • Grand Rapids, MI: 
    Zondervan
    , March
     2019.
     544 pages.
     $34.99.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9780310320265.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

With the rise of Zionism and the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, Christian—especially Arab Christian—theologians were compelled to examine biblical theological concepts pertaining to the relationship between the promises made by God to the Israelites and the lives of modern Israelis. Arabic Christian Theology: A Contemporary Global Evangelical Perspective is a collection of seven essays from Middle Eastern Evangelical scholars who attempt to elucidate certain theological concepts, such as Arab Christian attitudes towards the Old Testament; theology of the covenant; Jesus and Judaism; the overlap between religion and politics; the place of Christian women in theological context and protestant practice within the Arab context; the contrast between state power and Christ’s power as seen in the Cross; and the relationship between culture and identity. 

Christians are a minority—with Evangelical Christians being a minority within that minority—in the Middle East, living among a Muslim majority that is in conflict with the state of Israel. Editor Andrea Zaki Stephanous is the president of the Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services, the Protestant Churches of Egypt, and the Fellowship of Middle East Evangelical Churches, and is the author of numerous publications including Political Islam, Citizenship, and Minorities: The Future of Arab Christians in the Islamic Middle East (University Press of America, 2010). In this volume, Stephanouscompiles six essays, and composes a seventh of his own, which relate to Scriptural exegesis and the Israeli-Arab conflict.

Magdi Sadiq Gendi, author of the first essay “Arab Christians and the Old Testament,” begins by illustrating how both Christians and Muslims revert to the Old Testament in examining concepts of justice, war, and violence. Gendi then attempts to shed light on the Old Testament’s centrality  to the Christian faith in the light of Marcion of Sinope’s heresy during the 2nd century. Throughout the essay, Gendi offers his readers principles for investigating the Old Testament, while also paying attention to the textual, historical, and literary context.

Ghassan Khalaf’s “Jesus and Judaism” is the third essay, significant not only for its length, but also for its ecumenical tone as it engages with the theological views held by an Orthodox bishop and two Maronite priests. Here, Khalaf deals with the anti-Semitic claims that Jesus was not of a Jewish identity—that he was not, in fact, a Jew. The author provides a summary and evaluation of each of his subjects views, while also commenting on their logical coherence and methodology. Khalaf deals with titles from the Old Testament that Christians use to refer to Jesus, Jesus’ personal relationship to Judaism, and Christian reactions towards Judaism and the Jewishness of Jesus. Toward the conclusion of the essay, Khalaf attempts to provide a balanced view of what contemporary Christian attitudes toward Jews and Judaism should be, suggesting that, although Christians do not share the Jewish cause in relation to the establishment of the state of Israel, they should also not fall into the extreme of racism and hatred toward Jews.

Stephanous provides the final essay, “Culture and Identity.” He dedicates the first half of his essay to unpacking sociological concepts such as modernism, Arabism, and nationalism. Stephanous traces the history of Arab nationalism, the relationship between Arabism and Islam, as well as the various implications that this historical development had on Christian minorities. Stephanous sheds light on the religious phenomena—such as divine intervention, miraculous power, and identity issues—that Christians use in responding to isolation and marginalization. Stephanous then provides suggestions to assist evangelicals within Arabic speaking nations form an identity which combines their Arab heritage with their Christian faith. These suggestions include the promotion of an Arab theology of citizenship, the development of a Christian sense of loyalty and solidarity, and encouraging teamwork between Christians and non-Christians. Stephanous examines the pressing need for a contemporary language, one which is sensitive to the context of the Arab community in which there is a conflict between Jews, Christians and Muslims. To this end, he uses the Synoptic gospels as an example of how different authors formulated their narration of events based on the community in which the gospel was to be read (i.e., Matthew to the Jews vs. Mark and Luke to Gentile communities). 

Arabic Christian Theology examines the views of seven scholars of Evangelical theology, each with their own citation style. These inconsistent styles can be a hinderance when attempting to cross reference a source which the author cites. Furthermore, the authors tend to use a transliteration of Hebrew and Greek words without providing the word in the original language, making cross referencing the definition of the word as used by the author difficult. Finally, the editor should have introduced each essay in order to enhance the book’s coherence. Instead, the editor was content with a paragraph of biographical information about the author at the beginning of each essay. Without an introduction or conclusion, this makes identifying its thesis  rather difficult. 

The choice of authors provides an excellent introduction to the theological matrix through which scholars interpret the overlaps between religion, politics, and history. Although the book does not provide obvious solutions to the Israeli-Arab conflict, it introduces a theological lens through which scholars can evaluate this political conflict, with its biblical roots and its theological implications. Though the book does not identify an intended audience, it would be an asset to evangelical pastors in the Middle East who serve congregations that battle with the question of a Christian identity in an Arab context amidst the Israeli-Arab conflict. 

About the Reviewer(s): 

Andrew Abdel Malek is a graduate student at the Orthodox School of Theology at Trinity College, Toronto School of Theology.

Date of Review: 
June 30, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Andrea Zaki Stephanous is currently the Chairman of the Council of Services & Development, Synod of the Nile of the Evangelical Church in Egypt as well as the Editorial Manager of Agnihat El Nessour(Eagle’s Wings) magazine and director of Dar El Thagafa, CEOSS’ Communications House, and part-time lecturer at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo.

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