Review of New Creation Eschatology and the Land: A Survey of Contemporary Perspectives, by Steven L. James, Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2017, xvii + 164 pages, hdbk.
This book provides an informative introduction and critique of the recent trend among scholars to stress earth-centeredness of the eschatological passages of Scripture rather than heaven-focused scenarios. The trend is most noticeable among amillennialists, especially since the publication in 1979 of Anthony Hoekema’s The Bible and the Future. That book called upon believers (especially Hoekema’s fellow amillennialists) not to spiritualize the OT passages that speak of a coming era of peace and righteousness on the earth. This planet, in its restored state, is the venue for the enactment of God’s eschatological promises.
The author, who serves as a Professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, TX, examines the works of several prominent teachers of the “New Creation” eschatology; namely, N. T. Wright, J. Richard Middleton, Russell Moore, Douglas Moo, and Howard Snyder. Not all of these writers were directly influenced by Hoekema’s work. He notes that although they correctly stress the earth’s central role in our future, he argues (again correctly) that they ignore the specificity of the land promises to Israel and thus contain a major contradiction. The contradiction is this: how can the OT promises of restoration and renewal be taken literally and every mention of Israel or Jerusalem be treated as metaphorical? It is a very good question.
In the first chapter James gives a survey of these men’s approaches. He notes that the arguments of these men are grounded in OT passages such as Isaiah 2, 11, 52; 60, 65-66; Micah 4; etc. These passages stress both the reign of justice and peace on the earth. James says that all his chosen scholars emphasize “the coming of God’s kingdom, bodily resurrection, and the reconciliation of all things.” (26).
The second chapter demonstrates that New Creation authors all believe that there is continuity between this present earth and the next. They all emphasize God’s “mode of materiality.” As he says,
The idea of transformation of the present materiality is important to new creationists. Because matter is not understood as inherently sinful, it does not have to be utterly disposed of… New creationists affirm that, instead of being annihilated, the present creation will be renewed or transformed. (31).
Several pages are dedicated to showing how New creationists tackle such dissolution passages such as 2 Peter 3:8-9 (32-36). The arguments which James records were not very convincing.
Chapter three discusses “Land Theology” as it has been presented by the likes of W. D. Davies, Walter Brueggemann, Christopher Wright, Gary Burge, and others. These influential works all contain supercessionist theology, and have been relied upon by many in the New Creation movement. The basic outlook is that the land of Israel is treated as a metaphor (77-94).
Having documented the views of New creationists, in the fourth chapter the author begins to highlight the inherent contradiction of asserting earth continuity on the basis of OT texts, while at the same time treating territorial promises to Israel as metaphors, when those promises occur in the very same passages! James states the sane conclusion:
The language in the prophets in no way suggests that the particular territory of Israel or Jerusalem somehow envelops the territory of the rest of the world. More importantly, the idea that a particular territory of the earth somehow transforms into the entire earth makes no sense in a new creation conception that envisions the restoration of the present earth. (117).
Chapter five is where the author shows that there is no need to create metaphors of the land of Israel, and that, in fact, the notion of territorial particularity and nationhood is a clear biblical teaching of both Testaments. Here he notes the work of dispensational authors Craig Blaising and Michael Vlach (131-132), who are more consistent in their attention to scriptural details. He also mentions amillennial writer Vern Poythress, who appears to accept the reality of nationhood in the new heavens and new earth (132-134).
In his conclusion the author points to a few areas of fruitful exploration, such as the study of “place,” and ends with a plea for further work in this area.
In my opinion New Creation Eschatology and the Land is a very worthwhile monograph, filled with good exposition, logical thinking, and solid argumentation. He is fair-minded and irenic throughout. I hope many students of theology will take the time to give the book a close reading.