A foot in two worlds – Review part 4

Posted: June 1, 2014 by J in Bible, Book review

CHAPTER 4: A FOOT IN TWO WORLDS

This is the chapter where Chappo aims to bring it all together, and explain his basic image of the Christian as a person standing in both worlds at once. “They are children of this world with all its high and lows…And they have become children of the age to come, with all its glories and blessings.” Sounds promising – and complex. What does it involve?

In particular, we want to know what it means to have ‘a foot in the world to come‘. Chappo has already made it clear enough what it means for us to have a foot in this world!

He devotes three (small) pages to this.

First, we are seated in the heavenly realms with Christ. What does this mean? Unfortunately Chappo does not say. How does it relate to the ‘this world/world to come’ structure he is pursuing? Chappo does not say. Perhaps he has in mind that the heavenly realm = the future age. He’s never mentioned ‘the heavenly realm’ until now, so we’re not sure. Presumably the alternative is the earthly realm, which would = the present age. None of this is clarified. But if this is what Chappo means, then some pretty big questions are generated:  how is it that Christ is already in the future age? Sounds like there might be a story behind this? But we don’t get to hear the story. And what does it mean that we are seated in the future? No explanation.

Next, having a foot in both worlds means we have eternal life. What is eternal life? No explanation.

Next, we receive the Holy Spirit, who works in us. This is something different from having eternal life, if the two are linked, Chappo does not say so. In the past we humans ‘always said No to the challenge of the gospel.’ The Spirit enables us to say ‘yes’ instead. He also ‘reassures us that we do indeed have a guaranteed place in the world to come’. How does the Spirit’s presence in our lives reassure us in this way? Chappo does not say.

[This ‘no to the gospel – yes to the gospel’ paradigm strikes me as a strange way to describe things in a world where, it seems to me, most people have never even heard the gospel. It seems to be a description of how things are in church-world, for kids growing up in an evangelical scene, always hearing about Jesus. Maybe this book is aimed at people like that. It probably wouldn’t hurt them to find out that there’s an unchurched world out there, though! Have to admit, as I try to get inside Chappo’s thought world, I get a slightly claustrophobic feeling.]

This is all we get on what it might mean to have a foot in the world to come. It’s fine as far as it goes. The trouble is, Chappo has not quite managed to talk here in terms of the world to come, or to relate this description to the ‘new creation’ eschatology of his previous chapter. So it is not clear that he is painting a picture of having ‘a foot in that world’. The most I can glean from these pages, is that we have a membership in that future world, in Christ, and the Spirit reassures us of this.

That’s it.

If you’re feeling like that second foot is not very firmly planted, I’m with you.

This extremely slender account of what it means to belong to the new creation, is hardly going to be rich enough to give many clues for the business of discipleship (Chappo’s real interest). And indeed, for the remainder of the chapter, as Chappo gets practical, all attempt to employ the ‘two worlds’ categories is abandoned.

He details the struggles in the Christian life as we battle against ‘the world, the flesh and the devil’. We were expecting to hear about the tension of living with a foot in the present world and one in the world to come. What we get is a longish description of the tension between the Spirit and the devil/sin. The Spirit’s presence in and with us starts this battle, empowers us to fight it and we must fight it with strenuous effort.

Perhaps there is an eschatological dimension to this description which I have missed: but if so Chappo doesn’t tell us what it might be.

Chappo’s attempt to describe the Christian life in eschatological terms didn’t really come off. He baulked at the crucial moment: we got two worlds, we got one foot on the ground back here, but never quite got to see how the other is placed in the future. In the absence of the gospel story, of Christology, Chappo was never going to be able to land that foot.

As a result, the description of the struggles of the Christian life reverts to a very traditional approach.  Teaching about a ‘strenuous effort against the lures of the world the flesh and the devil’ – what track could be more well worn than that one? Muscular Christianity, and all that. No fresh vision, no new insights here, after all.

One of the most traditional and disappointing aspects of this description is that it is almost entirely in individualised terms. The question raised back in chapter 2 was ‘what can fix this broken creation?’ The answer here, relates largely to the individual. It seems the way of redemption is one which we tread alone. Things have got narrowed down somewhat!

I haven’t managed to find much positive to say about this chapter, have I. If you’d never heard teaching on sanctification, then Chappo’s by-the-numbers account of it might be some help. That’s the best I can say. But as for Chappo’s eschatological approach, really by the end of this chapter the wheels are well and truly off the vehicle.

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