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A helpful book on essentials of Christian eschatology

Hope for the World: The Christian Vision
Author: Roland Chia Leicester: IVP, 2006 167 pp.

IN EIGHT short chapters, this book introduces readers to the major themes of eschatology, the doctrine of the last things. It is the latest in the series called The Global Christian Library put out by IVP.

A special feature of the series is that topics are discussed from a global perspective. Roland Chia begins by examining the idea of hope found in the various religious and secular movements of Asia. This is followed by two chapters tracing the theme of hope in the Old and New Testaments.

Israel’s hope is shaped primarily by its anticipation of the day of the Lord which will bring both salvation and judgment.

In the New Testament hope is seen in the coming of the Kingdom of God which is embodied in the person of Jesus Christ.

The rest of the book covers the various aspects of eschatology: death, the coming of the Lord, heaven and hell, the new creation, and a final chapter exploring the relationship of hope to worship, evil and discipleship.

Among conservative Christians, eschatology is often perceived as full of controversies and confusion. There are various schools of thought, millennial theories, and interpretative schemes. It is to the credit of Chia that different views are clearly discussed without losing sight of the essentials. On some matters that Christians disagree (e.g., the millennium), he refuses to take sides. But on many other matters he generally comes down on the side of a more traditional view rather than the newer views.

For instance, on the question of physical death he takes the view that it is a consequence of sin rather than a feature inherent in human nature (p. 70). Similarly, he defends the doctrine of the intermediate state (disembodied existence) and of body-soul distinction, rather than the monistic view of human nature and the idea of immediate resurrection after death (pp. 74-76).

On the doctrine of hell, Chia rejects the doctrine of annihilation in favour of the doctrine of eternal punishment. But he also rejects the idea of hell as the sinner’s ultimate rebellion against God as incompatible with divine sovereignty (p. 119). This move weakens his case as it fails to answer adequately the annihilationist’s objection to a God torturing sinners endlessly against their will.

In my view, a concept of punishment seen in the writings of C. S. Lewis (e.g., The Great Divorce and The Last Battle) and Soren Kierkegaard (Sickness unto Death) would be able to give human freedom and divine sovereignty their strongest possible meaning without compromising either.

The final chapter could be called a spirituality of hope. Christian hope is not linked to an abstract concept of transcendence but is concerned with its “personal character” (p. 140). It culminates in the eternal worship of the triune God.

In worship the church on earth receives glimpses of eternity and thus renews its hope. True hope enables the Christian to deal with sufferings rather than seek escape. This is because Christian hope is grounded in history and in the cross which “enables us to see that every disappointment and suffering we now face can be integrated into the story God fashions” (p. 154). Once again eschatology dovetails with Christology.

Hope for the World will be especially helpful to anyone wishing to get to the essentials of Christian eschatology. It cuts a clear path through the maze and speculation that characterise most of the popular books on this subject.

The Rev Dr Simon Chan is Earnest Lau Professor of Systematic Theology at Trinity Theological College.


Reflections on Ecclesiastes

Wisdom to Live By: Reflections on Ecclesiastes
Author: Roland Chia

WISDOM to Live By first appeared as reflections on Ecclesiastes in Methodist Message, the official monthly newsletter of The Methodist Church in Singapore widely distributed among Methodist churches.

In response to those who benefited from the series, it was decided that these reflections should be made available as a study booklet.

Roland Chia brings the wealth of his spiritual journey and competent scholarship to illumine our hearts and minds as we read the profound words of the Preacher addressing the vicissitudes of life.

He addresses the reader in a personal way, and yet provides in-depth perspective for those who enjoy a holistic approach to Bible study. This booklet is therefore suitable for personal devotion or group study and discussion.

I commend to you Wisdom to Live By for the enrichment of your faith. – By REV DR NGOEI FOONG NGHIAN.