Blessed are the Peacemakers at Open Book

PalestineIn our second cycle for 2019 (starting Thursday 23rd May), we stare a half-century long wicked problem in the face. How should we understand and engage the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which lies at the heart of so much Middle-Eastern political unrest?


This bloody disagreement is so complex, and the perspectives so disparate and propped up by alternate facts, as to make it impossible to understand–let alone agree over–precisely what is going on. (Vox and Crash Course in History, however, offer a good start, as does the 6-part video history by Dr. Jonathan Kuttab).

A protester holds a placard as she stands next to Israeli soldiers during a protest against Israeli settlements in Beit Fajjar town south of the West Bank city of Bethlehem

A protester holds a placard as she stands next to Israeli soldiers during a protest against Israeli settlements in Beit Fajjar town south of the West Bank city of Bethlehem December 27, 2014. REUTERS/ Mussa Qawasma

At one level, and drawing on Neil Postman’s memorable phrase from Amusing Ourselves to Death, this seems like “impotent information”; it streams through our screens from such a distance that we are powerless to do anything with these horrible images of looming walls, water shortages, firing rockets, territory occupied, dismembered children, shouting voices, guttural cries and clashing flags. So, why bother studying such a contentious and seemingly intractable topic, from the relative safety of the antipodes?

Jesus at checkpointAt another level, it behooves any Christian who claims to follow the Prince of Peace as part of his beatitude community (exemplified here) to both pray for the shalom of Israel (Psalm 122:6), and to stand against injustice, irrespective of the perpetrator. And yet, this dual vocation exposes a fault line running through the heart of modern evangelicalism.


TOPSHOT – A man walks past graffiti depicting US President Donald Trump on the controversial Israeli separation barrier separating the West Bank town of Bethlehem from Jerusalem on August 25, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / THOMAS COEX (THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images)

Prominent American voices say that supporting Israel is a “big deal“, forging an interfaith partnership with pro-Israeli forces to carve out “Christian Zionism“. This both supposedly fulfils unconditional Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants permitting occupation of this land as a Jewish gift from God, and secures Jerusalem as the global centre for Christ’s rule from a rebuilt Temple initiating the second coming.

6205594305_119800573e_bAnd yet, a growing number of Jews and Christians, even conservative evangelicals, have recognised human rights abuses by the modern Israeli State in the name of religion; in place of ill-defined and ever expanding territory, they call for a two-state solution that protects both a formerly and currently displaced people group.

Processed with VSCO with ke1 preset

While we must be careful to avoid anti-Semitic beliefs that the Church has replaced Israel, it would seem that popular evangelical support for the modern state of Israel is premised on some poor theology and questionable history, failing to sufficiently grapple with the plight of the Palestinians, including many oppressed Christian brothers and sisters.

Israel-Palestine-Ben-HeineHow, then, can we take sides when both Israelis and Palestinians love Jesus, and each party has blood on their hands? Is there a path forward?

Following the true and better Joshua, before we justify any siege on today’s “Jericho”, we do well to ask our Saviour who alone is just to bear the sword:

Are you for us or for our enemies?”
“Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.”
Then Joshua fell face-down to the ground in reverence. (Joshua 5:13-15)

Tensions Remain High At Israeli Gaza Border

SDEROT, ISRAEL – JULY 18: An Israeli reservist troop prays near the Israeli-Gaza border on the morning of July 18, 2014 near Sderot, Israel. Late last night Israeli forces escalated their operation with a ground offensive, sending troops into Gaza. More than 250 Palestinians have lost their lives since Israel began operation ‘Protective Edge’. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

This series, then, is a poignant case study in a re-tribalising and polarised age, drawing us into deeper questions that we must all face:

Blessed are the peacemakers! Yet where is Christ in ongoing global conflict? How might his church wisely serve as agents of reconciliation, healing rather than exacerbating historical wounds?

B3-AA668_ISPAL_P_20180412134543Over four fortnightly sessions starting Thursday 23rd May (schedule below), editors Manfred Kohl and Munther Isaac will guide our conversation, having selected pivotal papers across various “Christ at the Checkpoint” conferences, hosted by Bethlehem Bible College in Palestine. Who comprises this conference?

We are a community of evangelical Christians who believe that following Jesus with integrity means that our lives are formed by our love for God, the teaching of the Bible and a fearless life of discipleship in the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We believe that one of the first hallmarks of discipleship is love for both our own community and for our enemies. We wish to find Jesus at the center of everything we do and to make his life our life. Which means finding courageous love for Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews alike.


Christ at the CheckpointWe’ll grapple with their 2018 book, Christ at the Checkpoint: Blessed are the Peacemakers (CCPwebsite; videos), chosen by Liz and Andrew Nichols. It gets into the complexities of following Christ as agents of reconciliation amidst very divided situations such as daily experienced by Palestinian and Jewish residents of “the holy land”.

In Andrew’s words, here’s why they thought this book was timely to explore:

Prison cities, refugees, targeted killings, arrests of children and demolitions of houses of families of activists, shooting of demonstrators, destruction of orchards, settlements, illegal occupations and annexations. Surely Christians would condemn this and support sanctions against such a nation … like they eventually did with Apartheid in South Africa. … But no! Christians, and in particular Evangelicals, seemingly suspend their faith when it comes to such acts committed by Israel.

Why is Israel singled out for this special treatment by the followers of Christ, and is it really justified by Scripture? Are we just not the worst hypocrites?

I discovered the material of  Bethlehem Bible College some years back, on line. They are dedicated to spreading the Kingdom of God in reconciliation between Jews and their Palestinian neighbours, but they do not shy away from engaging with and calling out injustice, and showing how Christians can no longer turn a blind eye to it.

bethlehem-wall-880x495Clearly, this book amplifies the less heard voice of Palestinian Christians. This shouldn’t, however, be taken as a one-eyed view of the world. No less a scholar than Old Testament Professor and former theological chair for the evangelical Lausanne global evangelisation movement, Dr. Chris Wright, offers this endorsement:

Having participated in two Christ at the Checkpoint conference in past years, I found them greatly challenging and informative. I was impressed with the range and balance of speakers and the desire to listen respectfully to voices from radically different perspectives, theologies and locations. I was also deeply moved by the willingness to share one another’s pain on both sides of “the wall,” and the profound longing for biblically rooted and defined justice, reconciliation and peace. For those of us who stand “outside” the realities of life in Israel-Palestine, there is so much to learn, so much to re-think, and so many dear brothers and sisters in Christ, both Arab and Jewish, to help us understand. We need to hear Christ in and through them.

In preparation for this series, you may find of interest my Malyon Theological College Chapel Talk on Exclusion and Embrace unpacking Genesis 16 and 21 from Hagar’s perspective (Aug. 22, 2018: video; slides), the Lausanne Movement’s “Larnaca Statement” (Aug. 2016) composed by Messianic and Palestinian Christians together (press release; introduction; statement), and from an internationally respected inter-religious scholar and theologian arguing for an ongoing biblical concern for the people and land of Israel (though still challenging fundamentalist Zionism), see the work of Gerald McDermott, in particular his books Israel Matters, Returning to Zion and Covenant and Hope, with a taste in his interviews herehere and here.

leesmith_041712_620px.jpgUltimately this is not about choosing sides. Whatever our view, we need to skirt both the Scylla of supercessionism (where Israel is replaced by the church and is ignored in the rest of the Bible) and the Charybdis of unthinking Christian Zionism (where the modern and largely secular nation-state of Israel is conflated with the ancient ethnic group of Jews, thereby baptising all they do and offering unconditional support to their possession of modern territory that unethically displaces and harasses Palestinians).

No easy task, but a crucial dialogue nonetheless!

Details below, and all welcome, whatever your faith commitment, tradition, or none.

201404-2Over 4 Thursday sessions (May 23 – July 4) at Andrew and Liz Nichols’ house (155 Burbong St. Chapel Hill; call Liz on 0415624982 if lost) we will dialogue with Kohl and Isaac’s Christ at the Checkpoint [CCP] and each other, discovering what it means to work as peacemakers amidst intractable conflict.

Check out the calendar below for key dates, and pick up your paperback or kindle version of CCP here.

{Want to join us virtually? We’re experimenting with Zoom so you can listen in, and share your thoughts, live streaming the experience. Download the pdf of the powerpoint slides (e.g. on schedule, e.g., click link for CCP1) to play on your computer, and then see what’s happening through a basic web-cam capture of the group. We’ll have a shared microphone so the sound won’t be great, but you should be able to hear what we’re each saying, add your own voice when you ‘unmute’ your microphone, and participate in the practices as best as we can short of teleporting materials to your living room! … … Log in around 7:00pm on the fortnightly Thursday to test your sound, then start the conversation with us around 7:20-9:10pm. New to Zoom? 50 second meeting joining video  here, and more detailed directions, especially for problem shooting, here.}

We have a soft-start from 6:30pm—feel free to rock up early and eat your dinner or share a cup of tea. (Park up top, on the left-hand side of our circular driveway.) At 7pm sharp we get into the night, finishing each night by 9pm with supper together and an unrushed chat over coffee. OPEN BOOK includes some basic spiritual practices and prayer, before unpacking the pre-reading scheduled for that night.


For each week, it helps to think through how the reading provokes you in 4 ways:

1) Questions: what didn’t make sense?

2) Challenges: what did you think was wrong?

3) Implications: what difference does this make for peace-making in a polarised world?

4) Applications: how do we live as a be-attitude community, brokering shalom?


OPEN BOOK, THURSDAYS 7PM | Kohl and Isaac’s Christ at the Checkpoint (CCP)
(Click session # hyperlink for liturgy/ppnt slides–e.g., CCP 1 below–and page numbers for the next reading. Virtual/Zoom participation via

May 10 | Pre-series Open Table dinner, on the theme of “Wisdom of Our Elders“. Who has impacted your life the most as a mentor? We’ll explore stories of ageing, what we’ve learned from those who’ve lived well and also would rather forget from our grumpy forebears. Generally, we’ll trade hard earned wisdom that gave many their grey hairs! Location at Nathan and Melissa McConaghy’s place (69 Sunset Rd., Kenmore, 4069).

May 23 | CCP 1, pp. 5-63: Introduction/About/Manifesto (5-13), and Part 1: Voices of Palestinian Christians: Ch. 1 “A Testimony to God’s Faithfulness” (15-20), Ch. 2 “The Arab-Israeli Conflict: A Palestinian Perspective” (21-30), Ch. 3 “The Delegitimization of Palestinian Christians” (31-44), Ch. 4 “A Testimony of Palestinian Women in the Midst of Conflict” (45-50), Ch. 5 “Transforming Hearts through Non-Violence” (51-63).

June 6 | CCP 2, pp. 65-119: Part 2: Biblical Response to Christian Zionism: Ch. 6 “What Can We Tell When We Return Home?” (65-74), Ch. 7 “A Biblical Response to Christian Zionism” (75-92), Ch. 8 “Abraham in the New Testament” (93-104), Ch. 9 “Christian Zionism as Imperial Theology” (105-119).

June 20 | CCP 3, 121-193: Part 3: The Gospel in the Face of Religious Extremism: Ch. 10 “The Gospel and Religious Extremism” (121-132), Ch. 11 “Jewish Extremism and a Gospel Response in Israel-Palestine Today” (133-142), Ch. 12 “My Jewish Neighbor” (143-152), Ch. 13 “Religious Extremism: Radical Islam and Violence” (153-178), Ch. 14 “A Christian Response to Radical Islam” (179-193).

July 4 | CCP 4, 195-250: Part 4: Blessed Are the PeacemakersCh. 15 “Evangelicals and Peacemaking” (195-206), Ch. 16 “Christ, Violence and Peacemaking Today” (207-222), Ch. 17 “Jesus, Muslims and Violent Extremism: Five Commands for the Road to Peace” (223-238), Ch. 18 “The Kingdom of God” (239-250).

July 19 | Open Table dinner, theme and location t.b.a.

Hope to see you there!


“War and Peace” at Open Table

Friday 6 April 2018 | Open Table


Bring a main dish to share, and come with a story to tell in response to the stimulus below, this time held at Andrew & Liz Nichols’ house (155 Burbong St. Chapel Hill; call Liz on 0415624982 if lost!) and facilitated by Noel Payne.
Welcome from 7pm, official kick off at 7:30pm. Any questions before the night? Call/txt Dave on 0491138487.

Art     | “Will You?”‘ … “Will take my hand? Will you help me find truth? Will you help me seek justice? Will you please, please, please take my hand? by Indigenous artist, Jasmin Roberts (for Reconciliation Week; see Common Grace’s write-up here)Will You_Jasmin Roberts
Text   | 2 Timothy 3:1-4 on “the last days”: “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” … and if you’re more of a story person, perhaps bounce off Jesus’ mixed advice on carrying swords for self-defence into the Garden of Gethsemane, in Luke 22:35-38, 47-53 (cf. Matthew 26:47-56: “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword” v52)
Poem | “Jesus of the Scars” by Edward Shillito (1872-1948), a Free Church minister in England during “The Great War” (WWI), himself discharged from the army with injuries from the battlefield:

Screen Shot 2018-02-17 at 1.28.48 pm

If we have never sought, we seek Thee now;
Thine eyes burn through the dark, our only stars;
We must have sight of thorn-pricks on Thy brow,
We must have Thee, O Jesus of the Scars. 

The heavens frighten us; they are too calm;
In all the universe we have no place.
Our wounds are hurting us; where is the balm?
Lord Jesus, by Thy Scars, we claim Thy grace.

If, when the doors are shut, Thou drawest near,
Only reveal those hands, that side of Thine;
We know to-day what wounds are, have no fear,
Show us Thy Scars, we know the countersign.

The other gods were strong; but Thou wast weak;
They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne;
But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak,
And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone.



Inspired by Leo Tolstoy’s 1867 book title oft’ quoted but rarely read, War and Peace as an Open Table theme invites you to share a personal story of violence and/or reconciliation as a gateway to global conflict and God’s shalom. 

War And Peace Quotes War And Peace | Book Quotes Hub | Page 3

To prime the pump, consider the dynamics fuelling and resolving the conflict:

  • Would all parties agree on who was the oppressor and the oppressed, or do these categories blur with who is telling the story?
  • What was the battle over–whether interpersonal, communal/tribal, or national/ethnic?
  • For each party, what did they hope to gain? Was there an ideal outcome, a win-win even?
  • What casualties and injuries were incurred? Have these wounds changed over time, whether deepening or healing–the scars becoming counter-signs of character?
  • What allies or medics came to your attention, helping heal the outcome of violence?
  • What held each party back from seeking a peaceful resolution, at least at first?
  • Describe the process of reconciliation, whether actual or potential, i.e., what it would take to re-unite the divided people. That is, what makes for peace?
  • How does this encounter, and telling this story, impact you in the present? Is it a redeemed memory, or an ongoing source of pain?
  • In what ways does your experience of violence offer a window into global conflict that grips our countries, and from which we turn to the heavens for relief?

Let the conversation begin! … Bring food and a story to share,
and join us as together we explore WAR & PEACE as the pendulum of human history.