*** DEBUG END ***

Reasons for the hope within him

11 December 2015

These are what Terry Eagleton lets us guess, says Mark Vernon


Hope Without Optimism
Terry Eagleton
Yale £18.99
Church Times Bookshop £16.99


ON EVERY page of this study of hope, which arose from a series of four lectures, there are a dozen reflections that would each merit contemplation. It makes for a dazzling read, although one that is regularly punctuated by Terry Eagleton’s trademark down-to-earth witticisms.

Take this line, almost at random, from the first chapter, which demolishes the optimism and faith in inevitable human progress often associated with contemporary atheistic humanism: "Progress would seem as irresistible as arthritis. We are as helpless before its unrolling as a badger before a bulldozer."

Much of the book explores the nature of hope, and, for Eagleton, that is closely associated with a tragic view of human life, one in which destruction runs alongside advance, and horrors run alongside joys. In this frame, hope is what remains when everything else of humanity has been hacked away.

It is for this reason that hope is a virtue, and lies at the heart of Christianity. "What need is there for hope when one can be author of oneself?" he asks. Rather, hope is like faith, in that it calls for self-abandonment, a commitment to that which is beyond one’s control. "The Abraham who takes a knife to his son’s throat has hope."

In other words, you cannot hope for what you are sure will happen. But, conversely, you can rest sure in your hope. Such fundamental hope is a commitment to a view of the good which transcends any ability to grasp that good. And, again, this is not to turn a blind eye to despair or terror.

There is no resurrection that is not embedded in crucifixion. Eagleton says: "Though death is an outrage, it is only by bowing to its necessity, in an act of self-dispossession which is at the same time the inner structure of love, that its sting can be drawn."

He continues "Hope in this sense is not a question of wishful thinking but of joyful expectation."

In what does Eagleton himself hope — the divine grace of Christian faith that builds on human nature and transfigures it, or the open contingencies of history, which can always change for the better as well as the worse?

He leaves readers guessing, perhaps because, like Marx, he has a constitutional dislike of speculative metaphysics. And maybe it is a helpful stance. It enables him to articulate the Christian vision more precisely than many Christian writers.


Mark Vernon’s latest book is The Idler Guide to Ancient Philosophy (Idler Books).

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Church Times Bookshop

Save money on books reviewed or featured in the Church Times. To get your reader discount:

> Click on the “Church Times Bookshop” link at the end of the review.

> Call 0845 017 6965 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5pm).

The reader discount is valid for two months after the review publication date. E&OE

Forthcoming Events


Church Times/RSCM: 

Intercultural Church for a Multicultural World

28 May 2024

A Church Times/Church House Publishing webinar

Tickets are FREE


Church Times/Modern Church:

A Political Faith?

Monday 3 June 2024

This panel will explore where Christians have come to in terms of political power and ask, where should we go next?

Online tickets available


Church Times/Modern Church:

Participating in Democracy

Monday 10 June 2024

This panel will explore the power of voting, and power beyond voting.

Online tickets available


Green Church Awards

Closing date: 30 June 2024

Read more details about the awards


Church Times/Canterbury Press:

Festival of Preaching

15-17 September 2024

The festival moves to Cambridge along with a sparkling selection of expert speakers

Early bird tickets available



The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)