So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13)
If you glanced through the Christian bestseller list for the past couple of years, I’d wager that you would find a mountain of books that discuss the love and faith mentioned in this verse. Less common would be books that focus on the concept of Christian hope. Hope has been largely, though not completely, neglected in much Christian writing.
Recently, I read two books that addressed the idea of hope. The books were Evangelism as Exiles by Elliot Clark and Mere Hope by Jason Duesing, both of which I would heartily recommend. While I wasn’t intentionally seeking out a double shot of hope, it was just the drink I needed. Reading these two books together awakened in me a realization that hope is an area to which I give far too little attention.
The Need for Hope
Hope empowers us to overcome difficult circumstances, and it serves as a beacon that keeps us on the correct course. Both Duesing and Clark recognize the power of hope, so they utilize biblical hope to address two common pitfalls of the Christian life.
First, Duesing wants to combat the tendency towards cynicism. On the magnetic pull of a cynical attitude, he writes, “Sarcasm comes too easy, complaining is default small-talk, and despair can mark us more than joy.” Cynicism seems to be a defining characteristic of our society, and this attitude can be particularly strong within the church, as it seems that every week a new allegation of abuse is being leveled against a Christian minister. How many have recently left the church because the small, flickering flame of hope has been extinguished by cynicism?
Elliot Clark, on the other hand, focuses on a separate problem that is prevalent in the Western church: fear of man. More specifically, many Christians have allowed the fear of man to silence our evangelistic efforts. Rather than boldly and freely testifying to the gospel of Jesus Christ, we have allowed the prospect of rejection or outright hostility to muffle our message. Both see that we need to reclaim a vision of hope to overcome these temptations.
Duesing and Clark both mine the riches of Scripture to demonstrate that hope is a vital component of the Christian walk. Clark focuses on Peter’s first epistle to show how the apostle encouraged persecuted Christians to embrace suffering by seeing themselves as exiles awaiting the return of Christ.
Duesing draws more broadly from Scripture, highlighting that hope is a multi-sided concept, where believers have hope, not only in the future coming of Jesus, but also in the fact that Christ died for us and is living within us by his Spirit.
In addition, both authors look to another source to give readers examples of hope: the power of story. As you read Mere Hope, it is obvious that Duesing is a fan of literature, particularly Lewis and Tolkien. Readers will regularly catch glimpses of hope from Narnia to Mordor, pictures from fantasy lands that inspire our imaginations and remind us of hope’s effect, even during the direst of situations.
While Duesing gleans from literary examples, Clark pulls from his experience as a church planter in Central Asia. Chapter after chapter recounts stories of faithful brothers and sisters accepting scorn and suffering for the sake of Christ’s name. Reading these stories brought conviction and encouragement as I considered how little I suffer for the gospel.
What we see—both from the realm of literature and the experience of church planting in a difficult region of the world—is that hope can serve as a powerful motivator.
The Outflow of Hope
What is the goal of the hope addressed by Clark and Duesing? For Clark, the outflow of hope is living faithfully as an exile and boldly evangelizing the world. Turning our gaze to our heavenly citizenship and our eternity with Christ will free us from the bondage of holding tightly to the things of this world.
Duesing summarizes his call to hope, “Until Jesus returns, Christians should look down at their foundational gospel hope, look in at their fountain of living hope, look out at the need for a flourishing global hope, and look up and focus on future hope” (150). What does this sort of hope flow into? Hope, according to Duesing, leads to worship and evangelism. As we hear the story of redemptive hope, believers respond by singing praises to our Lord and sharing our hope with the nations, all while looking to the return of the risen King.
Hope is a necessary aspect of the Christian life, and it’s not a hope in material comfort or prosperity. We are not guaranteed the Hallmark-movie ending where the relationships are perfectly reconciled, the job promotion comes through, and the health scare is avoided. But we are guaranteed a heavenly inheritance: eternal, unfiltered, unbroken communion with the triune God in the new heavens and new earth.
Hope is not meant to be an abstract concept. Rather, Christian hope is the fuel that propels us to the nations for the glory of Christ. It’s how we are liberated from the tyranny of self-centeredness to embrace the cross-bearing, foot-washing Christian life.
If you feel that your hope has lost its shimmer and you’re looking to read more on the topic, I would recommend picking up one or both of these books. These are faithful guides to the hope that lies within the storyline of Scripture, and they were good for my soul.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Rom. 15:13).
(Note: You can read my full review of Evangelism as Exiles here.)