Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Let's Talk Israel: New Creation Eschatology and the Land by Steven L James

One of my favorite fringe benefits of maintaining an ongoing relationship with my seminary is that I am frequently in the company of people who know more about theology than I do. One of them, Dr. Steven James, has written New Creation Eschatology and the Land: A Survey of Contemporary Perspectives (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2017). I just finished reading it, and I enjoyed it enough to recommend it to you. I found it for sale online at a number of locations. Amazon is selling the Kindle edition for under $10.

The book is an adaptation of Dr. James’s Ph.D. dissertation. For a lot of people, the only way to acquire a taste for reading one of those is to write one, but you shouldn’t let that chase you away from this book. Although it follows the format of a dissertation, it poses a simple research question for which most Christians will understand the relevance and follow the line of thinking. He held my interest from the first page to the last.

People who believe in New Creation Eschatology want us to pay close attention to Revelation 21:1-22:5 and take those words literally and seriously. God hasn’t suggested that we will spend eternity floating among the clouds in Heaven, they remind us; He has promised us eternity under the New Heavens on the New Earth, living as a new creation in a new creation. Living as a new creation, I will be the same, but different. I will be the same because I will still be Bart Barber, and the body I inhabit will be the body I have now, resurrected to eternal life. I will be different because I will have been changed—purified from the residues and consequences of sin. According to New Creation Eschatology we should expect the same thing from the world that we inhabit. The earth beneath our feet will be the same, but different. We will not be whisked away to Kolob or shipped off to rule our own respective planets. We will live forever on earth. The earth that we inhabit, however, will be purified and pristine, cleansed from the effects of sin and made to be very good.

Why do people believe this? As it turns out, they have a pretty strong basis in biblical teaching consisting of passages from both the Old Testament and the New Testament promising the restoration of the cosmos in the last day.

Steven James believes that if all of those who have embraced New Creation Eschatology will apply consistently the same theological method that has led them to take literally the promise of a restored earth, that approach will lead them to take literally the promise of a restored Israel (both demographically and territorially, although the emphasis is upon the territory) as one part of the restored earth. James concludes, however, that a number of those who decry the spiritualization of what the Revelation says about the new heaven and the new earth are the same people who spiritualize what the prophets say about the restoration of Israel.

James interacts with the writings of prominent exponents of New Creation Eschatology and with the major scriptural arguments that they make. Determined to offer more than just a negative case, he proposes an interpretive framework by which the key passages advanced by both sides of the Israel question can live in harmony.

It’s not hard to know more theology than I do. Frankly, I like Historical Theology better than Systematic Theology, Biblical Theology more than Historical Theology, and being a pastor better than the whole business. Nevertheless, the people whom I serve as a pastor ask questions about Israel and Heaven more than all the other places of the world combined. I’m thankful that Steven James has helped me to think more carefully about these two places and about what the Bible says about them.