Hope for the World: A Christian Vision of the Last Things
By Roland Chia
Downers Grove, IL
Reviewed by Dr. Michael Vlach
17.2 (Fall 2006) : 234-236
Roland Chia’s book, Hope for the World, is one in a series entitled Christian Doctrine in Global Perspective, in which non-Western writers discuss Christian doctrine with an international audience in mind. Chia is dean of the school of postgraduate studies and director of the Centre for the Development of Christian Ministry at Trinity Theological College, Singapore.
Hope for the Worldis about the nature of Christian hope (11) and was written primarily for pastors and lay leaders. It is an introduction or guide to eschatology that examines the major doctrines and issues related to last things. Chapter 1, “Hope in Asia,” focuses on the spiritual and cultural situation in Asia. Chapters 2–7 discuss various topics related to eschatology such as the kingdom of God, the day of the Lord, the coming of Christ, and the eternal state. Chapter 8, “Living in Hope,” discusses how a biblical eschatology should apply to people today.
Chia writes from an evangelical amillennial perspective and thus affirms the major tenets of orthodox eschatology such as the personal visible return of Christ, the restoration of the creation, and non-ending punishment for the wicked. On issues like the kingdom of God, the timing of the millennium, and the relationship between Israel and the church, most non-amillennialists are certain to find points of disagreement.
The book has helpful aspects. First, Chia’s methodology is to be commended and even modeled. He not only expounds the basics of Christian orthodoxy, he also contrasts the truth of the Christian view with erroneous beliefs, in this case the views of the Asian religions including Buddhism and Hinduism. For instance, he shows how the Eastern concept of suffering (dukkha) as an illusion is refuted by the Christian view that suffering is real and will someday be completely defeated as a result of the cross of Christ.
Second, Chia offers a helpful and needed discussion about the hope of the Christian. Too often the Christian hope is presented as an ethereal, immaterial heaven that resembles the non-material afterlife of the ancient Greek philosophers. This approach, though, does not do justice to the holistic restoration discussed in Scripture. According to Chia, though a disembodied state of existence exists for all who physically die before the return of Christ, each person will receive a resurrected body suitable for the eternal dwelling place. For the Christian this dwelling place is a restored creation. Chia also rightly shows that a personal God is the object of and basis for this hope. Such contrasts sharply with the impersonal Brahman of Hinduism and the nirvana (extinction) concept of Buddhism.
Third, and perhaps most helpful, is Chia’s presentation of a Christian theodicy. Avoiding much of the philosophical jargon usually associated with discussions about the problem of evil, Chia correctly asserts that the answer to the problem of evil in the world cannot be solved philosophically. Instead, it must be answered theologically and eschatologically. The issue can be resolved only in light of what God has done in Christ and what God will bring about in the fullness of time (143). Thus, attempts to answer the problem of evil from a non-Christological standpoint are doomed to frustration.
The book has disappointing aspects, however. In agreeing with the big picture analysis that Chia offers in regard to the Christian’s hope, this reviewer disagrees with several of his amillennial interpretations, particularly his views concerning the millennium and his supersessionist approach to Israel and the church.
For instance, Chia states that “premillennialism actually contradicts the NT, which makes no mention of a ‘third age’ in which Christ will reign upon the earth” (122). In contrast, premillennialists are correct in affirming that both the Old and New Testaments teach a “third age” that is different from the present age and the future eternal state. Zechariah 14 speaks of a time when “the LORD will be king over all the earth” (v. 9) but sin and punishment will still exist (vv. 16-20). Thus, Zechariah appears to describe a “third age” that is different from the present age and different from the future sinless eternal state. Also, Revelation 19–21 sets out a chronology that explicitly teaches a “third age.” After the present age, Christ returns to reign for a thousand years and then the eternal state with the new heavens and earth begin. Thus, one can be confident that both the Old and New Testaments affirm a third age in which Christ reigns upon the earth.
Chia also assumes a supersessionist view of Israel and the church that is not convincing. For him, the church is the new Israel and all nationalistic promises to God are fulfilled in the church. His conclusion, however, falters in light of the fact that no NT passage identifies the church as Israel, nor is there any text that says that the church alone has become the possessor of Israel’s promises and covenants.
Chia’s conclusions on these matters stem from the amillennial position that the NT interprets the OT (124). However, though this reviewer acknowledges that the NT is a more complete revelation that at times interprets (but not reinterprets) the OT, he cannot simply dismiss the many detailed promises concerning Israel’s restoration found in the OT. Not only does the NT not revoke those promises, it reaffirms the OT expectations for the nation Israel (see Matt 19:28; 23:37-39; Luke 21:24; Acts 1:6-7; and Rom 11:25-29).
Also disappointing was Chia’s singling out of dispensationalism for criticism. One does not expect an amillennial scholar to speak favorably of dispensationalism, especially in a book on eschatology. But unlike other works of recent years that have expressed a more irenic spirit toward dispensationalism and dispensationalists, Chia takes a less gracious approach. After claiming that dispensationalism “tries to fit the biblical data into the procrustean bed it has created” (129), he uses a quote from Bruce Milne to assert that one may have to wonder about the “effect” dispensationalism may have on “personal religion and personal attitudes” (129). Thus, Chia seems to claim that dispensationalism may lead to defects in one’s personal walk with God—a claim that this reviewer finds unnecessary and hard to defend.
In sum, this reviewer has mixed opinions about this book. It certainly has good information. However, the amillennial approach to eschatology and negative portrayal of dispensationalism disqualify it from being a must-have reference for students of Christian doctrine or eschatology.