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The crisis that isn't

Religion | Iran claims a pro-Islam forgery will cause a revolution for Christianity

Issue: "The brain trust," June 30, 2012

Iranian authorities claim that the discovery of a purportedly ancient gospel manuscript could cause the downfall of the Christian faith. The manuscript, called the Gospel of Barnabas, backs Islamic beliefs that Jesus was not the Son of God, but only a prophet who foretold the coming of Muhammad. Critics say the text is likely a forgery.

Turkish authorities seized the document in 2000 during a raid on an antiquities smuggling ring. The text remained obscure until earlier this year, when the Vatican requested to view it. Scholars have long known about other versions of the Gospel of Barnabas, and most regard it as a relatively late production, perhaps written by a medieval Islamic apologist. The Iranians contend that the newly discovered copy, written on animal hide, dates from the fifth or sixth century. "The discovery of the original Barnabas Bible will now undermine the Christian Church and its authority and will revolutionize the religion in the world," Iran's Basij Press said.

Critics note that images of the manuscript show writing (including a number of misspellings) in Modern Assyrian, a language not standardized until the 19th century. It remains unclear whether Turkey will allow independent scholarly analysis of the document.

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Reform and reaction

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Debate over Calvinism continues within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). On May 31 a group of SBC leaders published a statement titled the "Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God's Plan of Salvation," which expresses concern about Baptist "New Calvinists" and their goal of "making Calvinism the central Southern Baptist position on God's plan of salvation."

The statement acknowledges that Calvinism, with its emphasis on predestination and God's sovereignty, has played a role in Baptist theology from its 17th-century origins, and that not all SBC Calvinists have "demanded the adoption of their view as the standard." But it suggests that some radical Calvinists are trying to force their theology on their non-Calvinist Baptist brethren.

A number of Baptists, both Calvinists and non-Calvinists, have criticized the statement for fostering unnecessary division and unfairly representing Calvinism. Surveys indicate that a minority of SBC clergy are Calvinists but that larger numbers of young pastors promote the theology. Although two current SBC seminary presidents signed the document, Frank Page, the president of the SBC's executive committee, did not, saying that the denomination needed to focus on areas of agreement. -Thomas Kidd

Double standard

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New York City public schools continue to rent religious facilities for classroom space, even though they have prohibited churches from using their school buildings. Earlier this year, city officials banned and evicted most churches meeting in public schools, saying they wished to avoid unnecessary entanglements between religion and the state. Opponents of the policy ask why Sunday church meetings at schools (when no students are there) represent more of an entanglement than requiring public-school students to enter religious buildings, where they must occasionally view sacred symbols.

As The New York Times recently reported, space limitations force the city to rent space at approximately 50 religious institutions, including Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Protestant, and Jewish facilities. Alliance Defense Fund lawyer Jordan Lorence, who has represented some evicted churches, says, "The school district is in the weird and strange and contradictory situation of: schools meeting in former church schools, OK; churches meeting in schools, not OK. And I just don't see a whole lot of difference there." School officials note that they require all religious iconography to be covered, if feasible. Even so, the New York Civil Liberties Union argues that the city should not force students to attend class in a place that looks at all like a church. -Thomas Kidd

Thomas Kidd
Thomas Kidd

Thomas is a professor of history at Baylor University and a senior fellow at Baylor's Institute for Studies of Religion. His most recent book is Patrick Henry: First Among Patriots. Follow Thomas on Twitter @ThomasSKidd.

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