New Creation

A Primer on Living in the Time Between the Times

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Rodney Clapp
  • Eugene, OR: 
    Cascade Books
    , August
     2018.
     146 pages.
     $18.00.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9781532639647.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

The premise of New Creation: A Primer on Living in the Time Between the Times—the latest work by Rodney Clapp—is that humans are storied creatures and are drawn toward stories that offer us an ending worth the investment of our lives, hopes, and energies (4). Thus, Clapp offers a brief primer on Christian life that focuses on eschatology, on the sense of the end that animates and empowers life now in this time between the times.  

Clapp’s telling of the story is heavily influenced by John Howard Yoder and Karl Barth, and as a self-identified “primer,” it is perhaps most suitable for novices in Christian thought—adult congregational study or perhaps introductory undergraduate courses, depending upon your goals. 

Clapp begins with an overview of the Christian story, a story, he asserts, that is held together by the hope of an ending (8). Creation, fall, the election and mission of Israel, and Jesus and the Kingdom all reverberate with the hope and expectation of an end, an end that does not pass over the present in favor of a future but rather inaugurates a holistic politics now. 

This introductory chapter paves the way for examining the idea of heaven in the second chapter. Specifically, Clapp takes up the question of what happens to those who die before the final consummation of all things in the eschaton. He concludes that the hope of heaven—by itself—is too small, that what Christians rightly hope for is heaven followed by new creation (30) populated by resurrected bodies. 

In the third chapter Clapp focuses on priesthood, though he does so in an unexpected manner. He defines priesthood as the mission of the Christian community as a whole, and not simply that of individuals set aside for sacramental and other leadership duties. Here he focuses on the Christian community’s royal call in 1 Peter to represent Christ as a nation to the nations, specifically as peacemakers in pursuit of the common good, mutual respect, and justice. Given that Clapp draws on the work of Sam Wells, it might have been helpful to have engaged Wells on this point, since in Wells’s perspective, Christians do not have a share in Christ’s royal office.

In chapter 4, Clapp develops the idea of peacemaking that, in the previous chapter, he emphasizes are central to Christian politics/mission. What is striking in his treatment is how he unpacks peacemaking (following Barth) as a matter of revolt against the powers and principalities insofar as they embody the disorder and destruction of sin—to be fair, Clapp is clear that the powers and principalities also provide goods. In this way, Christians embody Christ’s eschatological victory over sin and death in the contemporary. Clapp concretizes his discussion by considering the state, the corporation, and the Internet. 

Prayer is the focus of the fifth chapter. Clapp begins with John Climacus’s enigmatic claim, that “[p]rayer maintains the equilibrium of the world,” to assert that prayer is a powerful practice that rehearses and cooperates with God’s creative and redeeming work in the world, an assertion he backs up by explicating the Lord’s Prayer (61). I must confess that when I read claims for prayer such as this I always find myself conflicted, immediately asking, “what about when prayer does not do this?” After all, history is replete with Christians praying the Lord’s Prayer and engaging in all kinds of atrocities. American Christians prayed as they engaged in the slavery of Africans and genocide against Native Americans. German Christians prayed earnestly and sincerely in the 1930s and 40s. American Christians pray today as they embrace policies and practices at odds with the vision that Clapp outlines in this book. Thus, these kinds of claims are incomplete at best; prayer and worship are powerful practices, and they can be signs and instantiations of the new creation, but not necessarily. Perhaps what is needed is an account of church as principality or power (to echo the author’s previous chapter) as well as a thicker catechesis for this time between the times. For example, as any Christian Peacemaker can tell you formation as peacemakers may entail prayer and liturgy, but it requires a lot more as well. Put differently, for prayer to be and do what Clapp suggests, prayer must be part of a wider ecology of practices. Even in a brief primer such as this, something should be said about those other practices, lest the claims made for prayer sound like so much wishful thinking. 

In the sixth chapter—on creation—Clapp turns to the eschatological hope for the transformation of all creation. Tracing the scriptural hope for the redemption and restoration of all of creation, Clapp advocates for a deep and abiding respect for creation now. Specifically, he calls out Christians to accept human responsibility for climate change, and to embrace political and economic adjustments that will conserve an inhabitable environment.

With it’s emphasis on sex, chapter 7 functions as a bit of a tangent—albeit an interesting and provocative one—to Clapp’s main argument. It is tangential in that it strays from the focus on how to live in this time between the times to address the question of sexual practice in the eschaton. He argues that there will be sex in the future new creation, though not bound by marriage. Such a claim will no doubt provoke much discussion regarding how it treats marriage as a constraining contingency of the fall rather than an expression of God’s intention for human creatures, as well as how it potentially opens the door for some (super apostles) to follow Clapp’s own eschatological logic and argue for living that new creation sexual freedom now. Conversely, whatever logic Clapp may use to deny such a realized eschatology might be turned against the claims he advanced previously for a realized peaceableness and nonviolence.

The penultimate chapter examines judgment, offering a wonderful construal of Christian judgment as good news, as a fundamentally positive and hopeful reality.  Whereas most of the chapter tends to focus on the future, final judgment—with Clapp advocating a kind of hopeful agnosticism regarding the redemption of all—the chapter does close with some hints of what this might mean for living now. Namely, being set free from an obsession with judging in favor of the positive work of peace, restoration, and abundant life.

Clapp concludes with a consideration of what he calls the eschatological attitude, which enables us to bear tragedy, embrace irony, maintain calmness and equilibrium, and live with joyfulness (109). 

For those seeking a winsome introduction to the Christian story and life in a radical evangelical vein, New Creation fits the bill. It provides a helpful corrective to envisioning the end only as a future, instead letting that future challenge the present in interesting and provocative ways.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Daniel M. Bell, Jr. is Adjunct Professor of Theology and Ethics at Lenoir-Rhyne University and Utah Valley University.

Date of Review: 
March 27, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Rodney Clapp is an editor with Cascade Books. He is the author of several prize-winning books, most recently Johnny Cash and the Great American Contradiction: Christianity and the Battle for the Soul of a Nation.

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