A foot in two worlds – Review part 5

Posted: June 3, 2014 by J in General

Chapter 5 is titled Relieving the Tension.

It’s not easy, living with one foot in this world, and one in the next. Chappo gives us two chapters on living with this tension. A long chapter on what not to do, and then a tiny chapter on what to do. Hmm.

First Chappo warns of the temptation of trying to reduce the tension of living with a foot in this world and one in the next. He spotlights a few common ways Christians go wrong in this area: the ‘entire sanctification’ movement exemplified by Keswick; the charismatic movement; overstated healing ministries; the ‘prosperity gospel’. From the point of view of a Sydney evangelical, these are the usual suspects.

In each case, Chappo’s critique is the same: these movements were telling him ‘I could have the blessings of the new creation now.’ Chappo is bringing back his eschatological model, conspicuously absent in the previous chapter, to help analyse these teachings. He explains, these approaches go wrong because of their realised eschatology:

Eschatology is the study of the last things, such as the return of the Lord Jesus, the final judgement, and the new creation. ‘Realised eschatology’ attempts to realise or obtain now what actually belongs to the new creation.

Well, it’s helpful to have him lay his cards on the table like this. New creation, last judgement, the last things: for Chappo these are all still entirely future. Eschatology is about things that will come later. And since they are future, it is a mistake to think we can experience them now. There is no eschatological dimension to our present life.

Hmm. You might have thought that with a foot in each world, we might experience something of both worlds. But no, that’s an error. You will remember we noticed last chapter that that second foot didn’t get too firmly planted in the world to come. Now we get to see how that plays out in Chappo’s view of Christian living.

For most Christian thinkers in the past century, the debate has been about how realised  our eschatology ought to be. In between ‘fully realised’ and ‘not at all realised’, there’s a continuum of positions, with a lot of room for differences of opinion. How much of the new creation should we Christians expect to enjoy in this life? A typical criticism of others’ views has been to say they have an ‘over-realised’ eschatology, or an under-realised one. They are too far up one end of the continuum, or down the other.

Chappo does not engage with the niceties of this debate. It seems that for Chappo any suggestion of the new creation being experienced at all, here and now, is an error. He’s not on the continuum at all.

By now it is clear that Chappo holds an extreme position on eschatological issues, out of step with the mainstream view in the Sydney diocese. Around here we like to talk about the ‘overlap of the ages’.

If you’re wondering how such an extreme view can be sustained in the face of the NT writings, shot through as they are with realised eschatology – Chappo gives us an example. Romans 6 is a classic text where, we might have thought, the realities of the age to come are applied to Christian believers now. Christ has died and risen, sin’s power over him is broken once and for all. And those who are baptised into him share in this new reality: in Christ we have ‘died to sin and come alive to God’. Something major has happened to us in the realm of ownership and power and loyalty: we are no longer the slaves of the evil one or of sin.

That’s what Paul says in Romans 6, right?

No, says Chappo, actually Paul is only talking about the guilt of sin. Forgiveness. Romans 6 is simply about justification.

I’ve read a lot of commentaries on Romans 6 in my time. Never read one that has advocated this narrow reading.

I’m not sure why Chappo takes such an extreme approach to these things. But it certainly makes it a simple business to critique the other guys. They all go wrong by realising eschatology, when it should be kept future.

The trouble for me is, it occurs to me that this critique could be used against my ministry too. I’m on about creating an authentic gospel community: one centred around Christ, where people from every tribe and tongue are gathered together in worship and praise. Where old barriers are down, and we have unity because we are brothers and sisters in Christ.

New community. Now there’s an eschatological idea. You could certainly accuse us of imagining that the world to come was being realised – partially – here and now. I can see we’re going to be in the firing line…

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