Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Hopeless Christianity

F. F. Bruce, commenting on Col. 1:23, says,
    Indeed, to hold fast to hope is throughout the NT an indispensable condition for attaining the goal of full salvation to be revealed at the parousia of Christ. It is difficult to distinguish between hope as an inward attitude and the object of hope: now the one idea, now the other, is uppermost. The one implies the other. Hope in both senses forms an essential element of the gospel...
True on all counts.

And yet in evangelicalism today, hope appears to be the overlooked step-child in Paul's threefold summary of Christian values: faith, hope, and love. Everyone knows that we need to love more, and the Reformed evangelical world is good at emphasizing faith in Christ and his finished work. But hope is too often a sight unseen.

Perhaps it is because of that Reformed emphasis on Christ's work being finished, or perhaps it is because Americans have little need of hope considering how well we're living. In any case, I for one have never been a part of a church that effectively emphasized Christian hope.

Consider the account of the Thessalonians' conversion in 1 Thess. 1:9-10: "...and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come." When was the last time you heard someone's conversion described not only as their turning from idols, but as their expectant waiting for the return of Christ? I hear about the desire to go to heaven, but not the desire for heaven to come to us.

This troubles me for any number of reasons, not the least of which is that Col. 1:4-5 says that the Colossians' hope was the basis for their love and faith. So I wonder: is it even possible to develop love and faith without Christian hope? Somehow I doubt that for the Colossians it just so happened to work out that way--something normative seems to lie beneath all this.

Perhaps the reason why hope is so important is because it frees Christians from being married to earthly goods. The one who is sure that her treasures are in heaven and that her life is hidden with Christ will find that shrugging off earthly treasures makes perfect sense. With such realizations comes the freedom to love with abandon and to have faith in God's ability to work.

The significance of this truth for the church is massive, especially considering the ceaseless conversations about how to become truly missional. Maybe all of our talk of church forms and structures and strategies only complicate the issue. Maybe what we need is Christians with steadfast hope in the return of Christ. Maybe this will embolden our witness.

So how do we go about developing hope? That will require more thinking, and another post somewhere down the line. But diagnosing the problem seems to be a good place to start.

1 comment:

Joe said...

I HOPE you keep on contributing thoughtful posts like this one, Andrew. :)