good books

A Good Book

 

Continuing the ‘prophetic’ themes of recent Good Books, this week’s Good Book is Hope against Hope. Christian Eschatology at the Turn of the Millennium, written by Richard Bauckham and Trevor Hart, Professors of (respectively) New Testament and Divinity at the University of St. Andrews.

The book was published in 1999, in anticipation of the turn of the millennium, and the authors begin with a stocktaking: what is the state of the world at the beginning of the 21st century? Many writers at the end of the 19th century expressed hope for the future: advances in the sciences and the spread of education would surely bring about significant advances in human civilisation. By the end of the 20th century, the most brutal in recorded history, such hopes have been widely abandoned. Even science and technology, which many saw as the key to human progress, have turned out to be a Pandora’s box, giving us nuclear weapons and inflicting terrible damage on the environment. But given the collapse of the ‘metanarrative’ of human progress (a ‘metanarrative’ is an all-encompassing account of history), what can replace it? Is a happy ending to human history, or indeed any sort of meaningful ending at all still possible?

This is the background for a discussion of the Christian ‘metanarrative’ (ch. 2), which begins with creation, ends in the new creation, and in which Jesus’ death and resurrection is the key turning-point which makes the ending possible. The Christian  account should not be seen as simply another version of the myth of human progress. (That myth was in fact a deformation of the Christian account which tried to achieve a paradise on earth while leaving God out of the picture). This is so for two reasons: firstly, in the Christian account all of human history is resurrected at the last judgment, all falls within the scope of God’s redeeming love: there is no sense that previous generations are so much rubble on which later generations build their paradise. All of human history matters in the Christian vision, not simply that of the later generations. Secondly, the new creation is possible only through God’s intervention: it is not to be seen as a natural extension of the possibilities of the present world, a conclusion to which trends already observable in the present will inevitably lead.

But (ch. 3) what is involved in resurrection hope, in hoping for a new creation which only God can bring about? What is involved in the ‘wager on transcendence’?  Is such hope simply an opiate, an illusion designed to dull our sense of outrage at the contemporary world? No, the authors argue, properly understood, such a hope can galvanise us into action. In fact, such a hope is needed to motivate action in the present: ‘Only insofar as we are able to envisage how things might be different from the way they are in this world, how they might change in the future, how they are intended by God ultimately to be, do we have any final grounds for refusing to accept the way the world presently is’ (p. 56)

There follows a chapter on the nature of eschatological language, particularly that in the Bible. Some biblical texts insist on the radical newness of God’s new creation (Is. 65; Rev. 21). But how did the biblical writers give a sense of what the new heavens and earth will be like? They had to use language and concepts broadly familiar to their readers (or they would not have conveyed any meaning at all), but used this language to depict a world in many ways radically unlike the present world of their readers. Care is needed to interpret these visionary texts appropriately. The authors explore these issues by means of a helpful discussion of contemporary imaginative literature.

The longest chapter in the book (ch. 5) considers ten biblical images which have played important roles in Christian thinking about the ‘last days’: the Antichrist; the Parousia (Second Coming); Resurrection; New Creation; the Millennium; the Last Judgment; the Garden of God and the City of God; Sabbath Rest and Marriage Feast; the Kingdom of God; the Vision of God. The authors examine each image in turn, asking how it has been understood in Christian thought. The different images each contribute to our understanding of what God is going to do at the end of human history.

A final chapter draws conclusions and examines how reflecting on the end of history motivates us to be active in the present. We cannot bring about a new heavens and a new earth by our own efforts, but that does not mean that we simply do nothing and wait for God to act as he has promised. By the lives we live now we are to witness to the character of the new world which God will bring about.

This is a rich book, the product of much research, much reading, and much reflection. It is an interdisciplinary work, bringing together biblical studies, systematics, church history, and analysis of the contemporary scene. Many references to literature and art enrich the presentation. It is well written, with key points memorably expressed. Some sentences, however, have to read twice or more before they yield up their meaning! It is certainly not a book to skim through. Parts of it, indeed, deserve to be thought and prayed over carefully, perhaps particularly the survey of biblical images in ch. 5. My first reaction on completing the book was sorrow that I had to give it back to the library, as I would like to have gone over parts of it more slowly a second time. But that will have to wait for another day: for moment, over to you, dear BTW readers!

 

(Reviewed by Dr Philip Satterthwaite)

Our speaker on Wednesday 25th June was Mr. Lawrence Khoo. Following the motto ‘Be simple in the presence of God’, he eschewed elaborate power-point presentations and instead set out a little display of photos to illustrate his talk. The picture of his dog Isaac, from whom he learnt the lesson about rejoicing under all circumstances, was particularly fetching. Also included in the display was a small model of his church, Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church, which will soon be celebrating its 160th anniversary. Lawrence spoke about his work as chaplain of the Boys’ Brigade at Prinsep Street, and also about his call to full-time ministry. It has taken him some time to respond to this call, and there have been some anxious moments for him and his wife in the past 5 years, but he is now looking forward to full-time theological studies, which he will be pursuing at Trinity Theological College. We with him God’s blessing as he begins his studies in July, and hope for continued fellowship with him.

Chapel speaker for next week (July 9) will be Rev Dr Douglas Milne, who will continue to speak on the second Beatitudes.

 

News Bits

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  1. Finances. Donations flowing in from the Easter appeal are far short of what is required for operations. This Easter, 22 persons gave $10000 compared with $63000 last year. We pray that more persons will individually give smaller sums to help "sponsor a student for a course". In this way the college hopes to return service to the Christian public and also meet its financial requirements. 

  2. Property Search. Please pray for God’s wisdom as we continue our search for a suitable property. As we have a Library, the space housing the library will need a floor loading of 5kN/sq m. This in some sense reduces the options available for us. We would prefer to buy rather then to rent as the former would be a better use of money. We will need to leave our current premise by Oct 2004 due to the expansion needs of Zion BP Church. If you know of a suitable property, please contact Serene at 63538071.

  3. Rev Ng Seng Chuan will be preaching at Faith Mission Home on July 6, 2003, 8:30am. His message will be “The Shepherd Psalm” based on Psalm 23.

  4. If you need Biblical Hermeneutics and Interpretation  (HE101) and can manage it as a “video class” sometime during Semester II, kindly inform our Admin Office. We may run this course, which is required for our DipCS, MCS and MDiv.

  5. Students who have registered for OT 102 should note that there will be minor changes to the structure of this course. The dates and topics previously given for the classes are unchanged, but the order of the topics has been revised. Further details from Dr. Satterthwaite.

  6. We draw your attention to the Public Seminar to be held at Mt. Carmel BP Church on 4th and 5th July: ‘Creatures of the Created - Human Cloning and Stem Cell Research’. The Panel speakers are: Dr. Atomic Leow, Dr Soong Tuck Wah, Rev Dr Douglas Milne and Rev Dr Quek Swee Hwa. Details from Admin.

Blessed Birthday to ...

Mr Paul Tan Chee Sim  1/7

Mr Edman Walter  2/7

Mr Eric Tan  2/7

Mrs Yeo Ee Ee  4/7

Mrs Irene Tan  5/7

Rev Eman Kumar  5/7

Ms P.K. Lee  6/7


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This page is updated on 4 Jul 2003 by Leong Kok Weng.
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