New Creation Eschatology and the Land

A Survey of Contemporary Perspectives

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Steven L. James
  • Eugene, OR: 
    Wipf & Stock Publishers
    , September
     2017.
     182 pages.
     $23.00.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9781532619137.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

In New Creation Eschatology and the Land, Steven L. James critiques scholars such as N.T. Wright, J. Richard Middleton, Russell Moore, Douglas Moo, and Howard Snyder, who affirm a continuity of identity between the current creation and the next, but do not maintain a special place for the nation of Israel within the eschatological framework. James points out a general inconsistency in the tendency of these scholars to insist on a continuity of identity between this world and the next, including identity of persons and some social realities, as well as utilizing texts from the Hebrew Scriptures to back up these claims, while at the same time rejecting the explicit promises to Israel contained in these texts. James believes that affirming the territorial restoration of Israel represents a consistent utilization of new creation texts is harmonious with New Testament texts commonly used to deny territorial restoration, and leads to a consistent New Creation eschatology that emphasizes the materiality of the final state.

James begins by highlighting and praising the recent movement in some scholars’ work that revitalizes the ancient hope of a new material creation continuous with our own. He points out, however, that many of those who maintain this view also pass over or explain away the particular role of Israel that is promised in several texts used by the scholars, such as Isaiah 24-27, 65, and 66. Then, James considers the concept of continuity as it is applied in New Creation eschatology, focusing on discussions surrounding 2 Peter 3 and Romans 8. Involved in this discussion is the preference for reading 2 Peter 3 as not predicting the destruction of the current creation, but the emergence of the new creation from the old. James also highlights the cosmic salvation expressed in Romans 8. Next, James considers the theme of “the Land” in contemporary scholarly discussions, pointing out the importance of the land in the Hebrew Scriptures and how this importance has been largely treated as metaphorical in Christian scholarship.

Following this, James moves on to his main argument, which is first to point out a logical inconsistency in the arguments of New Creationist scholars which treat the particularity of Israel in the Hebrew Scriptures as only a symbol for the universal cosmic eschatological restoration. James’s main point here is that the texts which are used to back up this claim already contain within them references to both universal and particular, undermining the common interpretation that the specific texts referring to the land of Israel are merely to be interpreted as a metaphor for the universal. He then goes on to propose a consistent reading of both Hebrew and Christian texts that preserves the particularity of the land of Israel as having a specific restoration in the coming age.

Within the constraints of the discussion and the group of scholars that James is addressing, the argument here appears quite strong. Continuity and particularity have been and must continue to be essential elements of Christian eschatology. The essential hope of Christianity is precisely that God will restore precisely us to life in Jesus, not people other than us. The acknowledgement within recent scholarship of the way in which humanity is essentially material (without denying its essentially spiritual character) and in an inextricable relationship with the cosmos, both through the general functioning of that cosmos and in the specifics of the cosmos, is undoubtedly more faithful to the hope of the early Church than the over-emphasis on the identity of humanity as a spiritual creation with only a physical element that has dominated much of Western eschatology since the time of Aquinas. Thus, continued discussion and refinement of the logic of New Creation Eschatology is heartily welcomed.

Two elements of this discussion, which may be reflective of the overall conversation that James is participating in, are of interest. The first is the hermeneutical priority given to some biblical texts regarding the future state of creation. As mentioned above, 2 Peter 3 and Romans 8 are front and center. While the New Heaven and New Earth of the Apocalypse of St. John are mentioned numerous times, Revelation 20:11, in which “the earth and the heaven fled from his presence, and no place was found for them” (NRSV) is nowhere confronted. Further, the resurrection of Christ is considered as important to the discussion of the new coming world, but it is not the controlling hermeneutical lens for this discussion. Instead, it is treated as one piece of evidence placed alongside the texts.

The second point of interest concerns the resurrection of Christ. Numerous authors that James quotes draw attention to the continuity and discontinuity of Christ’s body and person pre and post resurrection. But little is said about the fact that the continuity and discontinuity are both points of mystery. The continuity of Christ’s body is rightfully regarded as a strong argument for continuity. Yet while it is true that in some circumstances Christ is recognizable, he is not so in others. It is true that the wounds of Christ are central to one of the resurrection appearance stories, but by no means are they important in all of them. We do not know how Christ’s body remains the same, nor do we know how the differences come about and subsist. The resurrection is, by definition, an essentially divine and therefore mysterious act. That this body, truly new and truly Christ’s, must be the paradigm for the new creation, is paramount, but the mystery surrounding it cannot be downplayed. We simply do not know the mode of continuity that takes Christ’s normal human body through the destruction of death into the new and impregnable life of the Risen Christ. Therefore, using it as an argument for any specific kind of continuity for the creation is, at best, difficult.

These observations made, James’s book is unquestionably a worthwhile contribution to the ongoing discussion of New Creation, and he does an excellent job at restraining his arguments to a finite discussion which he clearly knows well and lays out for the reader. He deftly lays out his argument and makes his point clearly and succinctly, and his contribution to the eschatological discussion should be incorporated into constructions that take seriously the New Creation as the eventual home of blessed humanity, whether or not they maintain, as James’s interlocutors do, a revitalization of the cosmos instead of a destruction and recreation.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Joshua Wise is Adjunct Professor of Theology at Saint Joseph's University.

Date of Review: 
February 26, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Steven L. James is assistant vice president for Academic Administration at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. He also serves as assistant professor of systematic theology at L.R. Scarborough College at Southwestern.

Comments

Steven James

I am especially grateful to Joshua Wise for the time and effort that he has invested in reading my book.  His review is very gracious and evidences a fair reading of the argument of the work.  I appreciate his mild correctives as well.  He rightly points out that Revelation 20:11 should be addressed in the broad discussion of new creationism.  The fact that I do not directly confront that particular text in my work does not impugn in any way those with whom I am in dialogue as I know that at least some of them directly address that text in their writings.  Still, his point that it needs to be addressed stands.  I also agree with his statement that although Christ’s resurrection body “must be the paradigm for the new creation, . . . the mystery surrounding it cannot be downplayed.”  The key point that informs the paradigm in new creationism, as Joshua recognizes, is that the resurrected Christ corresponds in identity to the Christ who existed before His death.  Once again, I thank Joshua for his insightful review and I also thank Reading Religion for allowing the book to be reviewed.

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