Book Review: Seeds of Turmoil by Bryant Wright
Bryant Wright, Seeds of Turmoil: The Biblical Roots of the Inevitable Crisis in the Middle East (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, 2010).
Bryant Wright, pastor of Johnson Ferry Baptist Church and elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention in 2010, has written a book entitled Seeds of Turmoil: The Biblical Roots of the Inevitable Crisis in the Middle East. In this book, Wright attempts to interpret the Middle East Arab-Jewish conflict according to a biblical point of view.
The book is divided into two parts. Part one entitled “The Founders of the Conflict” is Wright’s attempt to read Scripture and history in light of Scripture in order to explain the present Arab-Jewish conflict. This he sees is related to Abraham’s sin in begetting Ishmael (p. 7) who being the father of the Arabs is the ancestor of Muhammad and thus of Islam (pp. 14-15). In chapter 2, Wright writes about the promise of the land to Israel and the history of the Jews in that land until modern times.
In the next four chapters, Wright looks at the biblical narratives of the patriarch Abraham and his two sons Isaac and Ishmael, followed by that of Isaac and his two sons Jacob and Esau. Tracing the narratives, he details the conflicts between the siblings in the families. In chapters 7 and 8, Wright turns to our modern times and to interpreting recent historical events in the Middle East. Chapter 7 sees him detailing the history of the relation of the Jews with Egypt (pp. 94-96), Assyria (pp. 97-98) and Babylon (pp. 98-103) up till modern times, of which the latter two constitute modern day Iraq. In chapter 8, Wright names Iran as the biggest threat to Israel today, paralleling the Persian officer Haman the Agagite in the book of Esther with the current president of Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (p. 115), noting that both answer to just one man — “Haman to the king and Ahmadinejad to the great Imam of Iran” (p. 115).
Part two of the book consists of chapters 9, 10 and 11, detailing the Jewish, Islamic, and Christian perspectives of the conflict respectively. Wright then concludes the book by looking at three “burning questions” raised against his view regarding fairness and favoritism.
A main strength of Wright’s book comes in his study of the families of the patriarchs Abraham and Isaac in chapters 3 to 5. In page 52 for example, we are told from a study of Abraham’s sin in begetting Ishmael with Hagar that “acting in the flesh with good intentions to help God out is not faith. It is sin.” The rivalry between Jacob and Esau is poignantly portrayed, with the final paragraph in chapter 4 informing us that “because of parental favoritism and sibling rivalry, [Isaac and Rebekah] would never see their sons again” (p. 75).
Another positive of the book can be found in its description of the Jewish and Islamic perspectives on the Middle East conflict. Such would certainly be informative for non-Jews and non-Muslims to understand the mindset of the people involved in the conflict and therefore why the conflict continues to rage.
One thing that is certainly a plus point is Wright’s insistence that we as Christians ought to love and pray for the salvation of both Jews and Muslims. To the Jews, Wright tells us that we should learn from the apostle Paul who “had great sorrow and unceasing grief in his heart for his Jewish brethren” and thus we should similar love them and desire “for each Jewish person to know the love of Christ” (p. 135). On page 152 addressing the Islamic perspective, Wright similarly says that there is “ultimate hope in only one person—Jesus Christ,” furthermore adding in page 165 that we should be “praying for the Jews of Israel and the Arab Muslims to come to repentant faith in Christ so their hearts can be transformed from hatred to love, from revenge to forgiveness.” This theme is repeated once again in page 175 as he proclaims that the ultimate hope is found in God’s grace that is “available to all—Jews, Arabs, Gentiles.” Through all this, Wright makes it plain that the only solution for the conflict is salvation is by grace through Christ alone for both Jew and Arab.
The main problem in Wright’s book is his Dispensationalism. This can be clearly seen in the supposed “Christian perspective” section on page 160 whereby he claimed that the woman in Rev. 12:1-6 cannot be the church because “Jesus gave birth to the church, not vice versa.” Elsewhere, Wright wrote of God giving to Israel the promised land as an “everlasting possession”, stating that “everlasting means eternal. Everlasting means forever” (p. 30), ignoring the fact that the Hebrew word for everlasting (olam) does not necessarily mean eternity without end, as we can see for example in Deut. 15:17 and 1 Sam. 2:30. While certainly this does not necessarily mean that the promised land is not given to the Jews for all eternity, merely pointing to the word everlasting (olam) is insufficient to make such a case.
The “newspaper exegesis” method or interpreting modern news as ongoing fulfillment of Scripture by Wright is extremely problematic, not the least being that such “exegesis of the times” is only valid until the next change in the geopolitical situation in the Middle East. More seriously, such a method presupposes Dispensationalism which permeates the teaching of this book, a view which fails to see the complete fulfillment of the Old Covenant by Jesus, and therefore insists that Israel as a nation still has a special role to play in God’s plan for the end times, possibly complete with Jewish sacrifices in a third temple to be built on the Temple Mount. Here, it must be said that Covenant Theology is not anti-Israel or anti-Jew. We do not believe that the Church replaced Israel. Instead, Israel was intended to function as the Church in the Old Testament and the Church has merely expanded its boundaries to include the Gentiles under the New Covenant. Neither is Covenant Theology against the nation of Israel, but rather indifferent to it. This current reviewer happens to support national Israel, but is very much against the identification of the Jews as still being God’s special, chosen people, except if such identification is taken in the historical sense.
Lastly, it is interesting how Wright thinks that God can play favorites in the case of Israel and the Jews (pp. 169-170), but he is very much against God “playing favorites” in the case of Christians, being very much an Arminian who is against “determinism” (p. 172).
In conclusion, Wright’s book gives an interesting look at the Middle East conflict from a Dispensational perspective. While certainly as Reformed Christians we will find much to disagree on, it would certainly aid us in understanding the Dispensational perspective on the conflict which Wright brilliantly paints for us, and certainly it helps us in understanding the Jewish and Islamic perspectives on the conflict.