Christians and the Situation in Egypt
1. Are you free/comfortable to talk about the current political situation in Egypt and how the Church there is responding?
First of all, my Egyptian colleague Anne Emile Zaki will speak about this kind of questions to a broad American / Canadian audience on Monday: you’ll be able to listen to her online. For more information, see here.
Next, many Christians in Egypt are very happy that Morsi is no longer their president and they are much happier with the constitution that was accepted last week than with the constitution that was accepted under Morsi. Of course, not everybody sees the situation exactly in the same way: while many people see general el-Sisi as a true hero because he removed Morsi and would immediately vote for him as a president, others are less happy with the idea of an army person officially ruling the country.
2. I read that the new Egyptian constitution supports religious freedom. Does the Coptic Church and Evangelical Church have more confidence now? Is the persecution of Christians on the decline?
Morsi did not persecute Christians, but there were fears that under Muslim Brotherhood rule the rights of Christians would gradually be limited. Most Christians have good hope that under the current constitution and in the current political climate this is less likely to happen.
Generally spoken, unlike in some other countries, the stories of really bad treatment of Christians in Egypt are related to local situations, not to the government, neither Mubarak’s nor Morsi’s nor the current one. For example, although Christians sometimes experienced problems with building churches, they can freely go to church. Regarding the attacks on churches in Egypt in August, you may want to read the relevant posts at my blog. There are more at my Dutch blog, which you may try to read with Google Translate if needed.
The Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo
3. Tell us about the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo.
As for the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo, see the article of my colleague Dr. Michael Parker that I just shared. The seminary is about 150 years old, belongs to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Egypt (the so-called “Synod of the Nile”), trains pastors for that church, has branches in Alexandria (225 km north west of Cairo) and el-Minya (250 km south of Cairo), and serves both local and international graduate students with a master’s program with specializations in Biblical Studies, Christianity in the Middle East, and Systematic Theology. You can find more information about the master’s program on Facebook or at the seminary’s website.
I’m one of the fifteen full-time professors. Most of my colleagues are Egyptians, but there are also a few Americans. I myself am Dutch. I teach Biblical Studies and Systematic Theology, especially in the master’s program but also in other programs. My doctoral dissertation has been published as a book (On the Way to the Living God) and can be downloaded for free, but it can also be bought as a printed book or as an electronic book in Logos Bible Software.
4. What language do you teach in? What language does the student body worship in when it gathers?
Our chapel services are in Arabic. In our bachelor’s program (comparable to an MDiv program in America) I teach in Arabic with somebody who helps me out with the language. In our master’s program I teach in English because English is the official language of that program.
5. What are the theological distinctions between Evangelical Presbyterians and Coptic Christians in Egypt?
Slightly simplified, all Egyptian Christians are Coptic Christians: most of them are Coptic Orthodox Christians, others are Coptic Catholic Christians and again other are Coptic Evangelical Christians. This last group consists mainly of Presbyterians, although there are also Baptists, Brethren, etc.
6. So “coptic” means …?
According to a commonly accepted etymology, “Coptic” is derived from “Aigyptos,” the Greek word for “Egyptian.” So Coptic Christians are simply Egyptian Christians. Coptic is also the name of the language that gradually developped from the ancient Pharaonic Egyptian language, but that is not written in hieroglyphs but in Greek letters (and a few extra letters). Coptic was a commonly used language until Arabic took that place. Nowadays, it is only a liturgical language in the Coptic Orthodox Church.
7. How do you organize your topics in Systematic Theology?
When I teach Introduction to Systematic Theology, I usually choose a fairly common order of the topics: doctrine of God, doctrine of creation and of humankind, the person and work of Jesus Christ, the person and work of the Holy Spirit, eschatology (and what fits in between). In addition I teach courses on “pneumatology” (doctrine of the Holy Spirit) and “eschatology” (doctrine of the last things) because students have often questions about these topcis. To be clear, my colleagues Hani Hanna and Darren Kennedy teach more systematic theology courses than I do, because I’m also teaching Biblical Studies.
8. Tell us something about the student body. I assume they are largely from Egypt, but from what other nations do they come?
Yes, most students are Egyptians, but we have also had students from Sudan, Syria, Iraq, India, Norway, Germany, South Korea, etc.
9. Let me check my guts and ask how you handle the ambivalent relations between Egypt and Hebrews/Israel in the OT. I am imaging touching on The Song of Moses in a Biblical Studies class in Cairo.
When it comes to the Bible, Egyptian Christians identify themselves with the Old Testament people of God: the way God saved Israel from Pharaoh is the way God saves Christians today in difficult circumstances.
While conservative Muslims sometimes take a negative view on Pharaonic Egypt because it belongs to the time of ignorance and polytheism, Egyptian Christians are usually rather proud to be descendants of the Pharaonic culture. However, when they read the Old Testament, they do not identify with the Pharaohs in the Old Testament. By the way, the most famous Bible passages here are probably the Matthew 2 about the flight of the Holy Family to Egypt (what other country did Jesus visit?) and Isaiah 19:25 (“Blessed be my people Egypt”).