IT IS hard to think of a commodity more urgently needed in today’s world than hope. The 20th-century narrative of human progress has been found wanting; we emerge from a pandemic against a backdrop of climate crisis and a rebirth of authoritarian politics. The loss of hope is tangible.
It is hard to think of a writer better positioned to reflect on hope than Tim Keller. The minister of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan is thoughtful and culturally engaged, and now experiencing crisis at personal level, too: in the form of pancreatic cancer.
Keller roots hope in the resurrection of Jesus, and acknowledges his debt to the writings of Tom Wright — particularly his exhaustive The Resurrection of the Son of God (2003). Readers familiar with Wright will recognise themes here, such as the importance of the resurrection as a historical and physical event, and how Easter modifies historic Jewish understandings of the end times.
Keller offers a critique of the preaching that says people are saved only through the cross. The cross, he says, might bring forgiveness of sins, but it is cross and resurrection together that bring in a new creation. The risen body of Jesus is the first fruits of the new life that God is bringing to the cosmos.
Most of the book is spent in scripture, unpacking this theme. This gives a foundation for hope, but all too often it is left strangely unapplied. The #MeToo movement and the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis Police appear, but these references are quickly passed over. More typically, examples are old (H. G. Wells, the L’Abri community in the 1950s), or from C. S. Lewis. The author’s own cancer barely gets a mention, even in the chapter “Hope in the Face of Suffering”.
Repeatedly I found myself saying in frustration, “Yes, and . . .?” I wanted much more contemporary application. What might Keller say to Greta Thunberg about hope? Or to a young person drawn to far-Right politics? What is happening at a deep level in an author who writes about hope while living with cancer?
Also absent is any recognition of the ways in which hope is killed by failures within the community of faith itself. At the time of writing this review, the main religious news story is about a leading apologist who travelled the world fervently defending the resurrection, but was a serial abuser. It is hard to think of a more effective trigger for despair than a gospel of resurrection hope which turns out to be snake oil.
The Revd Mike Starkey is Head of Church Growth for Manchester diocese and author of the new Stepping Stones for Growth course.
Hope in Times of Fear: The resurrection and the meaning of Easter
Hodder & Stoughton £16.99
Church Times Bookshop £15.30