Q&A with Dr. Jason Duesing
Author of Mere Hope: Life in an Age of Cynicism
What inspired you to write Mere Hope: Life in an Age of Cynicism?
We live in an age where the onslaughts of 24-hour news and social media feed us with the latest good and bad news, whether we want it or not. Furthermore, as Christians we are bombarded with book after book telling us how we’re supposed to live, and how we’re supposed respond to the news of the world. Into this weary age, I wanted to write something brief to help people remember the core of the Christian faith—for remembering is the biblical path to avoid sin, wake up from distraction, and return to our first love. Biblical Christianity really does have the answers to the meaning of life and even more—to living a life full of joy and meaning.
In addition to exploring the roots of mere hope found in the Bible, I wanted to use illustrations of hope from some helpful conversation partners, known as the Inklings. J. R. R. Tolkien and his colleague C. S. Lewis regularly included the idea of hope in their works and those remain helpful for illustrating much of what I aim to accomplish in this book.
The subtitle says that we live in an age of cynicism. How would you define this age?
I like to divide an understanding of a cynical age into two groups: active cynicism and passive cynicism.
Active cynicism is essentially a functional atheism. Represented by sarcasm and distrust, it leads you to a place of despair where functionally there is no hope. Thus for the active cynic, he has no choice but miserably to endure attempting to live the best way he can.
Passive cynicism is more common among Christian believers. These passive cynics know better—they believe that Jesus Christ is coming again and that we have every reason to place our hope in His second coming—but end up not so much in a place of despair, but really more of what I call resigned indifference. Often in culture we hear these individuals offering a resigned, “Whatever” to the events of the day. The passive cynic says, “Yes, I know what is true,” but functionally, the way they live is with a “whatever” attitude.
What has led to our age of cynicism?
When I was growing up there was a cartoon on television called The Jetsons, and it’s laughable now when you go back and watch it, but at that time, it was a projection of the future where everything was automated awesomeness. It left you thinking, how great would it be to have all that technology?
Well since that time, we’ve seen much of that technology come to reality. Technology has solved a lot of our problems, but we still have our worries and we are still anxious. When you add that to the way sin continues to reveal itself in culture, we are left in a place of mistrust, doubt, and indifference.
We have all 24-hour connectedness, but that knowledge and connectivity have only left us in a place where many are concluding, “So what?”
In 1984, Neil Postman wrote a book called Amusing Ourselves to Death that essentially predicted our present age of cynicism. We’ve tried to amuse ourselves with entertainment and social connectedness, and, as that has not satisfied, we’re left with a Western culture with a kind of hopelessness, snark, and, sadly, indifference.
What’s the source of our hope, and how does it remedy a cynical spirit?
I intentionally have selected the term ‘“mere” to describe Christian hope as I wanted to hone in on the core of Christian hope, much like C. S. Lewis’s use of the term, as the essential facets that help believers live and endure. Biblical hope of this kind is marked Christians living faithfully and joyfully in the present darkness while patiently and confidently waiting for the return of Jesus Christ in the future.
How can Christians engage their unbelieving neighbors and friends in conversation about the hope Christianity offers in a cynical age?
Cynicism comes so easily to all of us. It often is a default form of small talk for elevators, grocery stores, and the like. Thus, it can also serve as a natural point to change the tone of the conversation toward the mere hope of Christianity. For example, the reason I believe God gives us any sort of inkling of the details regarding the return of Christ is not so that we can calculate the times and dates and seasons. Rather, it is to prepare us to be ready and also to give us hope and to help us give others hope. Christians know how things will end. We know what will come, and we know what’s true and eternal for the next trillion years, not just the next 100 years. So part of our daily living out of the Christian life is to help ourselves and to help others to look not just at our circumstances but over and through our circumstances to the future and what really matters. There we shift our conversations to focus on Christ Jesus and His return one day, and the hope that comes with that for living in the present.
How do you hope readers grow as a result of reading this book?
Readers of Mere Hope will see that I discuss mere hope from the perspective of four directions to look. Taking cues from what Jesus says in Matthew 6:22, that the eye is the lamp of the body, I concluded that it matters where we look and what we see. If where we set our eyes affects our bodies and hearts, I propose that a healthy way to live in an age of cynicism is regularly to look at hope.
One of the ways I present this practically in the book is by emphasizing how the Bible talks about the value of remembering. Not just looking back to the Old Testament and seeing how God worked and reminding ourselves who He is, but every day reminding ourselves what we know to be true. Who is God? What is true about ourselves? Regardless of how we feel, regardless of what the world is telling us, regardless of anything else, the way we know our place and standing in rightness before God, sanctified by the blood of Jesus Christ, is because we are remembering and knowing what is true.
Furthermore, this remembering and call to return to mere hope is not something to be lived out in isolation. We have the local church and a body of brothers and sisters around us to help us to remember. When we gather corporately through hearing God’s Word, singing and praying, observing baptism and the Lord’s Supper, we are remembering and proclaiming what we know to be true. We are calling one another to return to the “hope set before us” (Heb 6:18).