A foot in two worlds – Review part 3

Posted: May 31, 2014 by J in Bible, Book review

CHAPTER 3        THE WORLD TO COME: THE NEW CREATION

Jesus came announcing God’s kingdom. His miracles proved that he was God’s king. He defeated the powers of this world. But his kingdom has not come in all its fulness yet. Nor has Satan been fully destroyed yet. 

But there is a ‘next world’ coming. It is the new creation. It is future. How is it related to the kingdom Jesus announced? Chappo doesn’t say, but we get the feeling that the next world is God’s kingdom. 

OK, so the book has an eschatological theme. Nice to see an evangelical braving this territory. The wider church has found increasing importance in eschatology over the past century, and we evangelicals have been more or less oblivious. So we welcome this effort to dip in and see what riches there are to mine, what light this theme has to shed on the business of discipleship.

This involves Chappo in some serious theology, he’s been more ambitious than usual here.  And sadly, this is where he runs into real difficulties, and the wheels start to come off his basic model. For Chappo the next world has not yet come. But if that world is God’s kingdom, then Chappo is telling a story in which God’s kingdom has not yet come. Stop and let that sink in.

Doesn’t Chappo see the kingdom as having come at all, in any way? Isn’t the new creation just the tiniest bit realised? If he thinks so, he doesn’t manage to tell us. The rest of the chapter is devoted to describing the new creation, the next world – and it is completely future. Revelation is the NT book where Chappo finds the new creation. Apparently the rest of the NT has little to contribute!

Ok, maybe Chappo’s setting up the present age/future age thing, Jewish style, and then he’s going to tell the story about how Jesus brought the future kingdom of God into the present, ahead of time. You know, the gospel story.

Except he doesn’t tell that story.

Didn’t Jesus inaugurate the age to come at his resurrection? Hasn’t the new creation begun in his risen body? Isn’t this world currently being flooded with God’s Spirit, until it becomes ‘the kingdom of God and of his Christ’ (Revelation 11)? Aren’t there visible signs of the new world’s arrival throughout Jesus’ ministry, and in that of his disciples in Acts?

Chappo seems not to think so. If he does think so, he doesn’t think it important enough to mention. Whatever he’s doing with the ‘two worlds’ thing, the incarnation and the cross don’t seem to challenge or tweek the model much! At the end of the chapter Chappo pictures Paul longing for the new creation which is to come. It remains future.

There’s a big chunk of story missing in Chappo’s book. Maybe he’s trying to keep things brief. But the heart of the thing, the Christological  heart, is missing. The bit where Messiah brings the kingdom. When that’s missing, the story’s too brief! As a result, the eschatological framework remains Jewish, and never becomes distinctively Christian. A simple two-ages model is hardly a satisfactory option for someone who believes in Jesus, the one in whom ‘the ends of the ages have come upon us’  (1 Cor. 10).

Ok, I know Chappo is not exactly a theologian, it seems a bit unfair to judge him on those terms. But the fact is, he’s set himself up to teach the church these theological ideas. What else can we do? Must we not assess the teaching of the teachers?

There’s been a lot of work done on eschatology in the past century, even in Sydney guys like Bill Dumbrell, Peter Bolt and Barry Webb have written insightful stuff – and Chappo does not seem to have profited much from it. In particular he sets out Israel’s eschatological expectations, but fails to identify the cross and resurrection of Jesus as the fulfilment of those expectations. This is no small failing.

We suspect this will have serious consequences for the vision of discipleship which follows.

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