An Arab Baptist scholar told collegians in Nashville, Tenn., on Monday the 1948 establishment of Israel is “theologically insignificant” if the Bible is read from a Christ-centered, rather than a political and American fundamentalist, perspective.
Martin Accad, academic dean at Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beirut, Lebanon, challenged an overflow convocation crowd estimated at 350 students at Belmont University to move “from politically biased to holistic Bible reading” when interpreting Bible passages about God’s promises to Israel.
“Perhaps even hearing the words ‘Arab Christian’ seems like a paradox to you,” Accad said. But he reminded students that “Christianity started in my land and came to you.”
According to the Bible, Jesus visited Tyre and Sidon (Mk. 7:31, Mt. 15:21), two cities devastated in recent month-long warfare between Israel and Hezbollah guerillas in Lebanon.
Accad said Israeli bombs killed nearly 1,200 Lebanese, mostly civilians. Another 4,000 were wounded. Israel lost an estimated 150 dead. About 500 were wounded and thousands displaced when Hezbollah rockets fell on targets in northern Israel.
Despite the destruction, Accad said there have been “some positive outcomes, if you have the eyes of faith.”
Response to the displacement of an estimated 1 million Lebanese citizens, more than one fourth of a national population of fewer than 4 million, contributed to “a bonding together of Lebanese from various communities, both Christian and Muslim,” Accad said. Many Muslim refugees fled to majority-Christian regions, where churches opened their doors.
“That has brought together the Lebanese Muslims and Christians,” Accad said. “That in itself is a positive development.”
Beirut’s Baptist community took an active role in the relief effort. About 90 displaced people stayed at Arab Baptist Theological Seminary, established by Southern Baptist missionaries in 1960, while some 800 found shelter at Beirut Baptist School, where they received food and medicine. Baptist young people volunteered for activities with children. Churches held special services of intercessory prayer.
Accad expressed hope that such good will could open doors to healing of deep-seated wounds remaining from Lebanon’s 1979-1991 civil war, which had strong religious dimensions.
Most of the infrastructure rebuilt over a period of 15 years since the war was destroyed during the first five days of the recent attacks, Accad said. But much of the hate and bitterness behind the civil war still linger. “In many ways this latest conflict has given an opportunity for dealing with some of these emotions and feelings in the Lebanese population,” he said.
Accad said some good could also come out of the conflict if it forces the international community to look at the “real sources” behind the struggle between Israel and Arab states. He said movement toward “true resolution” of the conflict was derailed after terrorist attacks on the United States in September 2001. Accad criticized the U.S.-led war on terror as a “simplistic solution” to finding a way to quickly identify a problem and then seek a quick solution.
“One of the greatest developments of our day is attempts by politicians and media to dehumanize and demonize certain people,” Accad said. “After demonizing them, we can destroy them.”
“That is a strategy of warfare and foreign to the gospel of Jesus Christ,” said. “It saddens me to see it making its way into churches.”
Accad acknowledged that all Christians bring political biases to their reading of Scripture. “As an Arab Christian, I naturally would not be inclined to a dispensational reading” of the Bible, which he said is to blame for much of U.S. evangelicals’ uncritical support for Israel.
Accad said dispensationalism, the view touted by religious figures like John Hagee and popularized in the “Left Behind” novels by Jerry Jenkins and Tim LaHaye, emerged in the 19th century but did not adopt political ramifications until Zionism and establishment of the state of Israel by the United Nations in the mid-20th century.
Unlike some Arabs, who say Israel has no right to exist, Accad recognized the rise of nation states like Israel and Lebanon as “one of the moments that defined the 20th century.” But he said dispensationalists are wrong to identify God’s covenant with Abraham recorded in Genesis with modern Israel’s secular state.
Accad contrasted a dispensational reading of Scripture with a “covenantal” or “Christocentric” reading, which interprets Old Testament prophesies in the light of the coming of Jesus Christ.
Compared to the disciples, who were fixated with contemporary expectations for restoration of God’s kingdom, Accad said Jesus had “little or nothing to say about the land” occupied by the nation of Israel.
Referred by the disciples to the magnificent stone work of the Temple in Jerusalem, Jesus replied, “Destroy that Temple, and I will rebuild it in three days,” Accad said, a reference to Christ’s body.
“It reflects the worldview of Jesus that goes far beyond the stone and the land,” Accad said. “Jesus has virtually nothing to say about the land and the stone. Everything is focused on his own body and what he has come to do on the cross.”
Followers on the road to Emmaus in Acts lamented their hope that the crucified Jesus was the failed hope for the restoration of their nation, he said. “And Jesus tells them, ‘You fools! How can you still not understand? My death and resurrection are the keys to the restoration you are waiting for.”
New Testament writers used Old Testament terminology in new ways, he said, applying promises originally pledged to Israel to a heavenly inheritance promised to the church.
Accad suggested a “biblical recipe for peace” based on Micah 6:8.
Lack of “mercy,” he said, leads to government repression, which results in formation of more radical groups and armed resistance. Mercy, he said, “is more than pity; it is the opposite of judgment.”
“Mercy can only be exercised toward the weaker party,” he said. “It is only the strong that are able to show mercy to the weak. The fear is to show mercy will be viewed as weakness.”
Humility, he said, is the “leadership paradox” presented by Jesus. Accad said the question posed after 9/11, “Why do they hate us?” was misdirected. “No nation hates another,” He said. “It’s certain policies, certain attitudes, that are perceived as a threat and acted against.”
“Muscle-flexing” responses, he said, always lead to more violence. “Humility is not easy for the strong, who believe they can resolve conflict through violence.”
“You cannot fake justice,” Accad said, “at least for those who are suffering. They know if justice is being performed or not.”
Accad said the Bible makes “peace the paradoxical responsibility of all parties in a conflict.” To the strong, Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” To the weak: “Love your enemies and pray for those that persecute you.” Both verses, he observed, are rare references to Jesus’ description of what it means to be “sons of God.”
Accad said he believes it is more accurate to talk of “terrorist acts” than “terrorist groups.”
“The reality is one group’s terrorist is another group’s hero,” he said. He defined terrorism as “any attack that reaches unarmed civilian or noncombatant civilians. I’m not going to say innocent civilians, because no one is really innocent.”
Using that definition, he said, both sides in the recent Mideast conflict committed terrorist acts: Hezbollah by launching rockets over northern Israel and Israel by bombing an entire region.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.