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Book Review, Don Wagner’s Dying in the Land of Promise: Palestine and Palestinian Christianity from

Book Review By Fred Strickert Don Wagner’s Dying in the Land of Promise: Palestine and Palestinian Christianity from Pentecost to 2000 (London: Melisende, 2001). ISBN: 1 901764 508. Don Wagner’s Dying in the Land of Promise: Palestine and Palestinian Christianity from Pentecost to 2000 (London: Melisende, 2001). ISBN: 1 901764 508. In a Dec. 23 Washington Post report (“An Urgent Appeal For the Holy Land U.S. Church Leaders Raise Plight of Christians, Palestinians in Call for End to Mideast Strife,” by Bill Broadway, Saturday, December 23, 2000; Page B09) on the unprecedented December delegation of U.S. Church leaders to show solidarity and support for the Palestinian Christian community, the writer informed American readers, “Most Christians in Israel and the occupied territories are Palestinians whose families converted generations ago.” The statement reveals two things. First, the general American readership still is unaware of the phenomenon of Palestinian Christianity aren’t they all Muslims and Jews?–and must be told. Second, even when an enlightened voice tries to put things straight, the matter is understated. The Middle East Christians surely must be the result of European and American missionary work. Don Wagner’s new book on Palestinian Christianity from Pentecost to 2000 shows rather that Western Christianity is the younger sibling in debt to the perseverance and missionary outreach of the mother church. The title of his book Dying in the Land of Promise is a reminder of the tenuous character of Palestinian Christianity on the threshold of the new millennium. Here the Washington Post writer could not miss the obvious. The urgent appeal of the church leaders was on behalf of “a dwindling Christian community in the land of Jesus’ birth.” The themes of deep-rooted Christianity and of the ominous character of death through conflict and emigration are interwoven throughout this history. Wagner sets the tone with a lengthy preface which brings the past and present together in six vignettes of representative “living stones” and which introduces the reader to the major problem of Christian emigration. Chapters one to three then present a general historical overview from the birth of Palestinian Christianity at Pentecost through its dynamic encounter with Islam characterized by tolerance and respect. Chapters four to six describe events which will effect permanently the church of the Holy Land from the rise of Zionism in response to European anti-Semitism, to the critical decisions of the British Mandate era, to the catastrophe of the Palestinians which resulted from Zion’s triumph. While the first six chapters are organized chronologically, chapters seven through nine treat the events of the last fifty years from a thematic perspective including the issue of land and land loss, the deliberate effort to negate the Palestinian national identity, and Oslo as the culmination of 50 different peace processes in the twentieth century. With all good intentions, the latter, while meant to give life, seemed destined to sing the death knell for Palestinian Christianity. It is thus appropriate that Wagner titles the final chapter “Death or Resurrection.” Here he asks whether “there are unique and perhaps not so unique roles for Palestinian Christians to play in terms of being a sign of ‘redemptive suffering,’ reconciliation, and seeds of renewal. There are a number of factors which make this a must read: 1. The plan of this book is unprecedented, balancing the broad historical overview of two thousand years of Palestinian Christian history with careful, incisive analysis of the issues shaping the current conflict. One senses the further one moves through the book the more the Israeli-Palestinian conflict takes over and dominates, stifling and strangling the earlier vibrant story of Palestinian culture and history. 2. Wagner’s specialization in understanding the modern, radical dispensational views of Christian fundamentalism other books include Anxious for Armaggedon, Peace or Armaggedon, and All in the Name of the Bible helps to enlighten the twentieth century part of the story, especially with regard to British politicians intent on granting to a third party (the Zionists) land that was not theirs to offer. 3. Wagner’s role as National Director of the Palestinian Human Rights campaign throughout the 1980’s adds a unique eyewitness dimension to many critical events of last quarter century and to the suffering which ensued. 4. Wagner is conversant with “The New Israeli Historians,” such as Benny Morris, Ilan Pape, and others, who with access to declassified Hebrew documents have recently offered a self-critical challenge to many of the tradition myths concerning the establishment of modern Israel. Wagner, as a professor of Religion at North Park

[Wagner, Don] University in Chicago, is skilled in presenting complex issues in a clear and readable fashion. He draws from deep wells of scholarly research and offers it up as a refreshing and cool drink. Each chapter begins with a lively story or quotation and ends with a series of summary statements. This all makes Dying in the Land of Promise an ideal resource for Bible classes and other adult study groups. I will certainly make this a requirement for students preparing for Middle East study tours. It is a book for which I have looking for quite some time. Dr. Fred Strickert Professor of Religion Wartburg College Waverly, IA 50677 Phone: 319-352-8346 Fax: 319-352-8213 email: Strickert@Wartburg.edu
2016-10-24T07:35:58+00:00 February 19th, 2001|Categories: News|