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Chris Wright and the Bible of Reformation

chris-wright
Photo: Michael Adel, Bridges Cultural Center

This article was first published at the Anglican Diocese of Egypt.

 

Visiting Egypt for the 500th anniversary of the European Reformation, Chris Wright aptly taught on Biblical preaching. And in his public lecture to nearly 300 people on January 26, he focused on the centrality of the Bible for all reformation.

Ecclesia semper reformanda,” Wright said. “The church must be continually under reformation, renewed by the Bible.”

Bishop Mouneer Hanna Anis of Egypt invited Wright to All Saint’s Cathedral in Cairo to train Anglican clergy how to minister the Word of God in their churches. In a series of four presentations he emphasized godly preaching must be both Biblically faithful and culturally relevant.

Wright is the international ministries director of the Langham Partnership, dedicated to educating pastors toward theological maturity. The ministry began under John Stott, rector of All Souls Church at Langham Place. Wright has a PhD in Old Testament ethics from Cambridge University, and encouraged the clergy not to neglect this great treasure.

“The Old Testament was the Bible of Jesus,” he said. “And if we neglect it we deprive our congregations of a great deal of depth about who Jesus is.”

Wright is the author of more than 15 books, and his Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament is one of ten that have been translated into Arabic.

And in his translated public lecture, he expounded on how Ezra and Nehemiah set a reformation pattern later followed by Luther, Calvin, and other Protestant pioneers.

Expounding on Nehemiah 8-10, Wright outlined four essential movements. The first focuses on the ears, as the Word of God is read and listened to. As Ezra and Nehemiah brought together the whole people, so did Luther make the Bible accessible for the masses. And not just the masses, but political and spiritual leaders also come under its authority.

The second movement focuses on the mind, as the Word of God is translated and taught. As Ezra and Nehemiah helped now-Aramaic speaking Jews understand the original Hebrew, so also Luther translated the New Testament from Greek into the German vernacular. Both also ensured that those they instructed were equipped to teach others.

The third movement focuses on the heart, as the Word of God produces weeping and rejoicing. Ezra and Nehemiah led the people into an understanding first of their sinfulness before God, but also in realization he is their gracious redeemer. Similarly did Luther guide Germans in knowledge of judgment and grace, and provided also a wealth of hymns and liturgy for communal response in praise.

The fourth movement focuses on the hands, as the Word of God prompts finding and doing. Ezra, Nehemiah, and Luther were purposeful students of the scripture, engaging it far beyond the duty of ritual. And as Luther would rediscover that though salvation is through faith alone, he and the Old Testament reformers insisted it is a faith that never stays alone. True faith produces the fruit of transformation as God’s commands are put into practice.

These movements are an essential part of Biblical preaching, as Wright made clear in his seminar lectures as well. In addition to the Anglican Alexandria School of Theology, Bishop Mouneer Anis invited also the Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical seminaries to participate. Though expecting around 60 people, 135 attended, including the Archbishop of Sudan and three additional Sudanese bishops.

To all he gave the same message, as relevant in Europe 500 years ago as it is today.

“As heirs of the Reformation,” said Wright, “we must search the scriptures together and respond with all sincerity and joy.”

 

 

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Arab West Report Middle East Published Articles

Egyptian Education and the Journey to Islam

Christiane Paulus
Christiane Paulus

From my new article on Arab West Report:

When it comes to Egyptian education and Islam, Christiane Paulus is both a critic and supporter. So much so, she adopted both.

Paulus is a German national, resident in Egypt since 1998. She is currently a professor of Islamic studies and Protestant theology at the Azhar University, through the medium of the German language. Her journey here is a story all its own.

Paulus studied Protestant theology and postmodern philosophy in Marburg, Germany, with the intention of becoming a Lutheran minister. But in 1988, before her final tests, she married her husband, an Egyptian Muslim. Unless he converted to Christianity, the church ruled she could not receive her preaching license, as both spouses needed to be of the faith.

Years thereafter Paulus remained in her Christian faith, even after moving to Egypt with her family.

Paulus does describe what she finds are the culturally derived faults of the Egyptian education system, with consequences falling directly on religious and political relations:

Dialogue, Paulus believes, is a subject of the social sciences – a discipline largely ignored in Egyptian education. Curriculum, methodology, and pedagogy have remained stagnant since the Nasser era, when a resistance to new ideas was the norm. Since then, however, both students and teachers have sought to escape the system. At the basic level this involves the reliance on private tutors; for those able it means enrollment in private or foreign schools.

Women, she noted, are in general educated relationally. This equips them for dialogue more readily than men. But in addition to educational lacking, the Egyptian culture is bound by concepts of honor and shame. Together with pride, this produces an atmosphere of ‘not talking’. An Upper Egyptian husband, for example, will ignore his wife and stay silent with her when upset. Outside the family, discord produces the same result. The first casualty of Egypt’s political division is a lack of communication between liberals and Islamists.

But her focus in presentation was on what drew her to Islam as a religion. Much of this was due to the influence of her husband and his family, but it was also from historical study:

In 2005 Paulus read a book by the Egyptian Muslim theologian Amin al-Kholy, an active intellectual in the early 20th Century. ‘Islam and the Connection to Christian Reform’ summarized his presentation on the Protestant Reformation, representing the Azhar at the 1935 Brussels conference on the religious sciences.

Kholy noted that the early Protestant reformers – prior to Luther – emerged from areas long occupied by Muslims. From Spain under the Reconquista, Lyon, and Monaco, figures such as Peter Waldus and William of Ockham adopted ideas originating in Islam, translated them into Latin, and began applying them to criticize European Catholic Christianity. The Muslim populations of these areas had been forcibly converted into Christianity but retained their Islamic beliefs in secret. A few centuries later, Islamic-cum-Protestant ideas such as no mediation between man and God, private reading of the Scriptures, and clerical marriage began to take hold.

But she remains critical of prevalent Islamic thinking as well, which generally leaves their received religious heritage unquestioned:

Of course, a great deal of irrationality has entered the Muslim world, too. Where education is lacking the religious discourse takes over everything. Contrary to the prevailing religious spirit, Paulus says each individual Muslim has the right to read and evaluate Islam’s religious sources – the Qur’an and Hadith – weighing their value. The condition is to keep the Islamic culture of discussion respectful, objective, and academic.

This individuality also comes out in Paulus’ decision not to wear a headscarf.

Paulus is a charming person who is clearly a deep and sensitive thinker. Her testimony was given in a presentation with brief time for questions and answers; otherwise, it would have been useful to probe many of her arguments further. Please click here to discover them by reading the whole article on Arab West Report, and here for an Arabic language article on Paulus.

But less interesting than arguments is the story of an individual human being, seeking to make sense of the world. Tomorrow I hope to post a link to another recent article I have written, this time in the other direction.

 

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