Chappo’s ‘A foot in two worlds’ – Review: conclusion

Posted: June 4, 2014 by J in General

(I just noticed that I neglected to publish this conclusion to my review. Apols! Here it is)

Let’s see if we can get our heads around where Chappo was coming from in this book.

Overall, you might have noticed I was disappointed with it. It’s not one of Chappo’s best. I’ve read and enjoyed A Fresh Start, and Setting Hearts on Fire. But this one, it’s a pity it got published. I’d leave it alone.

Chappo’s written a book that relies more heavily than usual on theology. But it’s exactly at this point – the theology – that he is so weak. What comes to light is that he’s working with some pretty sub-standard eschatology. Chappo seems not to grasp that the Christian life is essentially eschatological, that the realities of the last day and the kingdom of God pervade our lives here and now. In spite of his title, he really doesn’t get that we really live in both worlds at once: the old and the new. “If anyone is in Christ: new creation!

In my view, Chappo’s eschatological framework doesn’t hang together, and as a result doesn’t do the job we were hoping it would do in informing Christian living. So we’re going to stick with his theology for a bit.

Why is Chappo so far off the mark in his eschatology?

We can only speculate. But I think the problem is something like this. He takes terms like ‘kingdom of God’, ‘new creation’ and ‘world to come’ in a very concrete, spatial sense. There is literally a new place being prepared, which will replace the present world. I think he is working with a ‘replacement’ eschatology, where the current creation will be lost. No continuity between creation and redemption.

If you’re seeing it like that, then of course the new creation is pretty much ‘all or nothing’. It can’t arrive a bit, and then hang around in the present: it’s a physical place. So then there are only two times: the time before the new creation’s arrival and the time when it has fully arrived. Unrealised or fully realised eschatology would seem to be the only possibilities for Chappo.

He doesn’t see that this age and the age to come refer to different times in the history of the creation. The phrase ‘kingdom of God’ can equally be translated ‘the reign of God’, referring to conditions in which God’s rule is finally enjoyed on earth – rather than to a different creation altogether. Like in the Lord’s prayer: ‘may your will be done on earth, the way it is in heaven.’ But Chappo is clearly not hearing any of this dynamism in the phrase ‘kingdom of God’.

The phrase ‘new creation’ in the NT refers more to the reality of people being transformed than to a finished new cosmos. But Chappo insists on giving it the latter sense.

By taking these phrases in a very spatial, territorial sense, rather than a dynamic one, and by not noticing that the temporal emphasis of the ‘this age/next age’ language allows for continuity of location, Chappo effectively shut the door on the possibility of partly realised eschatology.

But this experience of partial arrival – living with a small taste of the glories of the age to come, while we still struggle with the misery of this present age, and wait for the full deal – isn’t this the NT vision of what it means to have ‘a foot in both worlds’? There’s been a pretty wide consensus among bible scholars over the past century that partially realised eschatology is fundamental to the NT’s theological vision. Chappo seems not to have come to terms with this.

And so the book’s lack of creative insight into the pastoral challenge of Christian living, really springs from its fundamental theological failure.

It’s a pity Matthias saw fit to publish this book: it certainly does nothing to enhance Chappo’s reputation. And the Christian reading public deserves better. For a far more insightful, creative and pastorally helpful take on these issues, try Richard Gaffin’s little book, By faith, not sight.

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