Thursday, June 9, 2011

Fr. Georges Massouh Reviews the Book "Arab Contextual Theology"

The Arabic original, published in today's al-Nahar, can be found here.

Christian Theology in its Arab Context

There is no consensus among theologians about the necessary attitude to take towards contextual theology. There are those who make theology essential, unchanging in the face of changes in the historical, social, and cultural context and there are those who say that a theology without regard to the surrounding context is a sterile theology with no impact on the life of believers and society. This is why, for example, there is still no consensus about liberation theology in Latin America and Africa.

The researcher Antoine Fleyfel, in his book Arab Contextual Theology: The Lebanese Model (Theologie Contextuelle Arabe Modele Libanais, Paris: Harmattan, 2011) plunges into this theology and extracts the basic ideas from the works of five Lebanese theologians whose theological views were formed by their historical, civilizational, cultural, social, and political contexts and who worked to elucidate a Christian theology that responds to the concerns of their peoples and their region. These five theologians are: Fr. Michel Hayek, Fr. Youakim Moubarac, Met. Gregory Haddad, and Met. Georges Khodr.

Through his lively research, Fleyfel uncovers the distinguishing features of Arab contextual theology that are specific to the Arab environment. The concerns of this Arab contextual theology differ from comparable contextual theologies such as feminist theology, liberation theology, or Black theology which are concerned with the societies in which they are active or which occupy the minds of the theologians. This Arab distinctiveness is the result of the circumstances and events that pass through the Arab world and which must be addressed by Arab theological thought.

The five theologians are brought together by a number of issues, the absolutely most prominent of which is the issue of the Palestinian people who were forcibly and unjustly expelled. They work to dismantle Zionist claims and to refute them theologically and disprove their premises. These theologians also deal with the subject of sectarianism in Lebanon and the paths to improving relations between Lebanese and moving from a state of sectarianism to a state of universal citizenship. Likewise social issues do not escape their concern and social injustice and the gap between the rich and the poor form a focal point for their concerns.

A return to unity among Christians occupies a major place among these theologians’ concerns. The multiplicity of churches all rooted in this land causes them to search for mutual rapprochement within contexts different from countries that do not know such a multiplicity. For this reason there is an ecumenical peculiarity in the Arab world caused by the various Christian experiences that cannot exist in other countries.

The most important characteristic of Arab Christianities is their existing in human, political, social, civilizational, and cultural partnership with Muslims, especially since Arab Christians speak the language of the Qur’an, the glorious book of the Muslims. Hence the importance of Arab Christian theology with regard to Muslim-Christian dialogue and with regard to the concerns of Muslims and Arabs. These Arab theologians were among the first to point out the common ground that joins Muslims and Christians on the level of faith in the one God, in salvation, in common work for the sake of developing the earth and the benefit of man.

Antoine Fleyfel’s book is an obvious accomplishment among studies that deal with the importance of theology in the Arab and Lebanese contexts. Despite his addressing it to the French reader, it is a service to Christian Arab thought and we await its publication in Arabic translation so that it will be a testimony for Christians to take pride in, and a reminder to them that the path ahead is not yet finished.

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