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Summer 2012, Vol. 9

Book Review

Christ at the Checkpoint: Theology in the Service of Justice and Peace

Paul Alexander, ed.
(Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2012) 182 pages

Reviewed by Johan Mostert, Professor of Community Psychology, AGTS

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The publication of the Pentecostals, Peacemaking, and Social Justice Series by Paul Alexander and Jay Beaman as series editors highlights a global trend in Pentecostalism toward greater social engagement. We have seen this reflected in student interest in a graduate elective course on Pentecostalism and Social Justice at AGTS. Issues of global poverty, sexual trafficking, and HIV/AIDS have energized this generation in ways bound to influence the future of missions, the strategies for church planting, and perceptions of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.

But a new concern is emerging. Is interest in social justice just another passing theological fad? Will concern for the marginalized and the poor dissipate when it is no longer new? Alternatively, will this be the restoration of the vision of our forefathers of the Faith? Ralph Winter dreamed of the church’s recovery of our “First Inheritance” where social and personal transformation ran side-by-side.1

There has always been a need to ground Pentecostal pragmatism and emphasis on experience on sound biblical exegesis. The same holds when it comes to the development of a Pentecostal theology of social justice unaffected by political winds of change, patriotism, or traditional loyalties (something we had to learn during our transition to democracy in my native South Africa). Can we learn to rise above our cultural programming and embrace a theology of Kingdom when it appears to challenge some of our most cherished stereotypes?

There are few issues that will challenge the development of the theology of social justice like the ever-polarizing crisis of the Middle East and the plight of Palestinian Christians. Few issues on the ecclesiastical landscape are as tainted by party political loyalties, partisan biblical interpretations, general apathy, and ignorance of history. Against this background, a group of Palestinian Christians “motivated by their love for God, their love for Israelis, and their love for their fellow Palestinians”2 organized a conference in Bethlehem in March 2010. Christ at the Checkpoint: Theology in the Service of Justice and Peace is a collection of the essays presented at this conference and represents an unprecedented attempt to highlight the desperate plight of brothers and sisters in the Palestinian church, to expose the injustices taking place in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, to create a platform for serious engagement with Christian Zionism, and to craft a forum that could begin to overcome the obstacles to reconciliation and peace.

The book highlights the work of “examplars in a theological and social scientific study of Christians engaged in high-risk peacemaking, justice seeking, and social action.”3 These authors represent an impressive display of diversity: Palestinian and Jewish, dispensational and Kingdom eschatologists, theologians and peace activists. Some leaders, like Tony Compolo, identify modern populist eschatology as a major contributory stumbling block. Darrell Bock, a Dallas Theological Seminary professor with Jewish roots, suggests that even dispensationalist eschatology must contribute to the peace of Jerusalem by turning the hearts of people to one another. Alex Awad, a professor from Bethlehem Bible College, recounts his confusing experiences as a Palestinian studying theology in the U.S. and how the Christian Zionism of John Hagee, Jerry Falwell, and Pat Robertson tends to overlook the human rights of Palestinians. Colin Chapman, a lecturer in Islamic Studies in Lebanon, provides some practical guidelines on how to more effectively minister to the house of Islam. Several contributors provide practical steps that Christians of all theological and political persuasions can make to contribute to a resolution of the conflict.

Two chapters that make a major contribution to move the debate away from politics and traditional cultural programming to a theological debate are those by Salim Munayer and Gary Burge. Munayer, the founder and director of Musalaha in Jerusalem, contributes an outstanding theological analysis of the Theology of the Land. He unpacks the seemingly contradictory “borders” of the Promised Land as defined in Old Testament passages. He then analyzes God’s expectations of His people when they finally occupy the Promised Land. He comes to the stunning conclusion that the cosmic dimensions of the Abrahamic promise conclude that “the Land” cannot be a piece of real estate but rather should be reinterpreted as the entire world. He says that in order to fulfill all of God’s promises of bringing blessings to the nations, “the People” refers to all of God’s children.

Burge, from Wheaton College, embroiders on Munayer’s Old Testament exegesis with a chapter based on his 2010 Baker Academic book, The New Testament Challenge to ‘Holy Land.’  His conclusion is that from Matthew to Revelation the New Testament denies any Masada-style political vision for the Holy Land. He investigates the opportunity that the Early Church had to pursue this course of action in A.D. 66 and how they refused to be enlisted in a political rehabilitation of ancient Israel.

The theological analysis and fresh insights provided by these two chapters alone is more than worth the price of this book.

1 Ralph D. Winter, “The Future of Evangelicals in Mission: Will We Regain the Vision of Our Forefathers in the Faith?” Mission Frontiers (September-October 2007): 6-15.

2 Paul Alexander, ed., Christ at the Checkpoint: Theology in the Service of Justice and Peace (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2012), ix.

3 Ibid., x-xi.

Updated: Monday, October 29, 2012 9:49 AM