Paul O’Callaghan has been reflecting on, writing about and teaching eschatology for over 20 years, and it shows in Christ Our Hope. This eschatology textbook is praiseworthy in virtually every way, ideal for both advanced undergraduate and graduate classes. The book is highly readable, well-organized, extremely clear, thorough, well-grounded, and theologically rich. I look forward to using it in the classroom at the next opportunity.
O’Callaghan has organized his eschatology around the theological virtue of hope, a not uncommon approach since the mid-twentieth century, but unlike some works there is no sense that he is straining to make everything fit under the umbrella of hope. One reason for the ease and natrualness of the material is O’Callaghan’s clarity and careful distinction-making, a skill he has learned from one of his most influential mentors, Thomas Aquinas.
Another strength of the book is its breadth. While O’Callaghan draws especially upon certain theologians (Aquinas, von Balthasar, Pannenberg), he is neither slavish nor narrow in doing so. His ultimate ground is Scripture itself, which receives extensive treatment throughout. He examines the Fathers at length, is highly attentive to the context and questions of the last century, and is attuned to ecumenical issues as well. He moves about the field seemingly effortlessly, clearly familiar with all the players and their significant theological and philosophical positions. His ability to capture the essence of a theologian’s thought in a couple paragraphs and hone in on key issues in a debate makes the book stimulating, fast-paced and pleasant all at once.
Christ Our Hope balances a number of important theological factors and emphases. It is thoroughly Christological, pneumatological and anthropological all at once, escaping any easy categorizations, such as “from above” vs. “from below.” O’Callaghan’s integrative vision is refreshing, but that does not mean that his approach is not without certain emphases. For example, his eschatology is clearly rooted in Christology, which gives shape and meaning to everything else. He is also concerned with the existential (what he sometimes calls anthropological) import of eschatology, how it matters for human life and fulfillment as well as the common objections which are typically existential/anthropological in nature.
The book begins with a discussion of the nature of hope itself (chapter 1) and then turns to the object of hope (chapters 2-7: parousia, resurrection, new heavens, judgment, heaven and hell). In the third part, O’Callaghan returns to the parousia, the “stimulus of hope,” this time to examine the details – when, how, circumstances, signs, etc. –, addressing questions of the rapture, the antichrist and millennialism, among others (chapter 8). Part four discusses the transitional things (death, purgatory and the so-called intermediate state) under the rubric “honing and purifying Christian hope.” A final chapter argues for the centrality of eschatology in theology, which should be abundantly clear to any attentive reader by that point in the book.
Lest I be accused of bias in my praise, at least one critique is in order. O’Callaghan’s style is easy to read, but it is admittedly neither passionate nor personally engaging. At times it reads a bit like a manual of theology. Those looking for something to grab not-so-interested undergrads may not find this book to be the best choice.
Christ Our Hope provides very extensive notes, two helpful indices and a short bibliography. Overall it is an excellent textbook in form, style and content, which should find wide use in colleges, seminaries, and a variety of formation programs.