JUST at a time when hope is at a premium, we encounter Werner Jeanrond midway through a trilogy of books on the theological virtues: faith, hope, and love. However, and crucially, his preferred order of precedence is love, hope, and faith.
In A Theology of Love (2010), he built on Paul’s assertion that faith and hope will die with us when we die, whereas love will not die with our death. Love endures as God’s gift, and the essence of God’s nature: God is Love.
He notes that early Christians never understood God as Faith or Hope. These depend upon God as Love for their meaning and purpose, and his argument is tinged with regret that adherence and conformity to the formalities of religious faith have usurped the priority of love.
Hope has also tended to suffer neglect as the practitioners of systematic theology focus on the formularies of faith.
So, this is a welcome venture rendered all the more welcome by his relational approach to hope: “It is neither a principle nor a general expression of the conviction that in the end all will be well.” Radical hope, as he expounds it, is more than hopes or mere optimism. It is a function of the intimate and dynamic connection between God and human beings: a relationship of love which must inform our fourfold relationship with God, other people, the natural world, and ourselves.
This approach challenges understandings of Christian hope majoring on individual salvation, otherworldliness, or utopian futures. Hope as the instantiation of love entails a praxis promoting the well-being of all God’s creatures, and God’s will for wholeness and reconciliation: “There is no hope if there is no hope for all.”
An opening chapter argues for this as the meaning of hope in the Bible, and traces its development through different periods of Christian history.
Various theologies of hope are compared and contrasted, both in general and through the lens of influential early, medieval, and modern theologians. This journey shows Jeanrond’s relational approach to have been frequently neglected, and in need of rehabilitation.
Chapters follow on the relationship between memory and hope, the function of hope in a theology of death, the symbolic impact of judgement, heaven, hell, and purgatory — and an intriguing retrieval of the concept of the soul.
Given his practical approach to hope, Jeanrond offers an exploration of the politics of hope with particular reference to the project of European integration. As an academic who has held posts in Scotland, England, Sweden, and Norway, he is well equipped for this survey, but it still sits uneasily with the overall development of his thesis. A final chapter focuses on the praxis of hope in relation to the future of our planet.
The book is basically a series of essays as variations on a theme, and the texture is somewhat uneven. But there are many powerful insights, and his treatment of how the theology of hope has evolved over time is masterly. By no means least, in an age of increasing individualism, nationalism, and discrimination, his insistence on hope as the working out of God’s loving relationship with all that has been, is, and is to come is truly refreshing.
Required as we are to be ready to give an account of the hope that is in us (1 Peter 3), Jeanrond provides an inspiring primer for meeting that requirement in challenging times.
The Rt Revd Dr John Saxbee is a former Bishop of Lincoln.
Reasons to Hope
Werner G. Jeanrond
T & T Clark £21.99
Church Times Bookshop £19.80