Arab Christians (’arab masihioun') by Geries Khoury
July 8, 2008
In the first part (pp. 21 – 82), Khoury points out three important interests in Arab Christian historical theology. These interests are: the correspondence between faith and mind, the gospel in Arab philosophy as well as theology, and ethics in Arab Christian literature. It is important not to read into the word “mind,” an epistemologically loaded term. Khoury is simply referring to the complementary association between divine revelation and human intellect. He says, “Faith and mind are twins in which one completes the other. If this is so, it is impossible for one to exist without the other for the existence of the first is a condition for the existence of the second.” (p. 28). Khoury then interacts with several philosophical and theological Arab Christian writings asserting the complementary correspondence between faith and mind (p. 41). This approach allowed many Arab Christians to interact with Muslims employing sophisticated intellectual arguments as well as faith assertions. They advocated the gospel courageously averring that the gospel has not been twisted or changed; otherwise there will not be different Christian denominations that differ on interpreting the same text (p. 48). In addition to employing the existence of several Christian denominations as an apologetical tool, Arab Christians argued for the unity of the same denominations on ethical grounds. They saw diversity in theology and unity in ethics i.e. moral decisions and godly behavior. They saw charity and love as the sign of perfection and the mark of all Christians (p. 78).
In the second part (pp. 83 – 166), Khoury focuses on current sociopolitical challenges of Palestinian Christians. These challenges include inter alia the existence of (1) a large number of Christian denominations (p. 86), (2) of false “demonic” and Zionist interpretations of the Bible (pp. 89-90), (3) of the Israeli oppressive occupation as well as an inappropriate understanding of the relationship of politics and faith (pp. 98-99), (4) of regional tensions between Muslims and Christians (p. 116), (5) of the dominance of foreign leaders in Palestinian church institutions (p. 151), and (6) of immigration.
In the third part (pp. 167-271), Khoury presents contextual Palestinian theological enterprises. His focus is ecclesiastical theology. Put differently, the church of Jerusalem is the mother of all churches. Consequently, it provides the ecumenical framework for unity as well as for incarnational theology (pp. 170-171). From his point of view, the ecumenical church is our savior (p. 173). The church must follow the path of Christ in serving the poor and the oppressed as well as in resisting oppression and promoting justice (p. 173). Furthermore, the ecumenical Palestinian church must also provide the answer to the identity crisis of Palestinian Christians. The church must provide an incarnational model that helps Palestinians to fight evil as well as to find their identity in a combination of faith and politics (p. 198). Khoury then provides a Palestinian reading of the New Testament arguing for the need of fresh interpretations of relating to enemies (p. 207), and of the sacredness of legitimate political resistance of evil and injustices. He also sees the need for dealing with the concept of promise, covenant, as well as violence in parts of the Old Testament (p. 263).
In short, Khoury has covered a wide range of topics. His first part is useful for introducing some of the theological issues of medieval Arab Christians. However, his second and third parts are not as valuable. It seems that the breadth of his subject matter has led him to a deficiency in the depth of his arguments. Granted, he asks several penetrating questions, but he provides very few helpful answers.