Called in One Hope

A Biblical Vision of Hope for Twenty-First Century Europe

Hope has occupied a prominent place in the thoughts and works of some of the greatest theological minds down through the centuries to the present day. The history of the church, as well as the testimony of the Scriptures, demonstrates that hope is not a static or monochrome concept but a dynamic recurring motif that appears throughout the biblical story, driving the drama on to its redemptive conclusion in Christ. As such, hope continually assumes fresh embodiments from age to age. This essay asks the question, ‘what is the meaning of Christian hope in twenty-first century Europe and how can such hope be embodied in the life of contemporary churches in that context?’ By presenting an outline of the main features of a vision of Christian hope, it is my desire that what follows might contribute to a rediscovery of the centrality of hope for Christian communities in Europe at the beginning of the third millennium.

Christian hope is eschatological hope. The vision of hope that emerges from the New Testament is one of a redeemed community, united in Christ, participating in the redemptive outworking of God’s story which finds its culmination in the glory of the new Jerusalem, as described by John. It is in apocalyptic texts, pre-eminently the Book of Revelation, that this biblical hope finds its definitive manifestation. The final part of John’s Apocalypse presents a vision of the heavenly city, the magnificence of which will be such that God’s people shall have no need of “lamps or sunlight, for the Lord God will be radiant in their midst; and they shall reign for ever and ever” (Revelation 22:5). The redeemed humanity will consist of people from “every tribe, nation and language”; there will be no denominational, tribal, ethnic or national distinctions for all have been made one in Christ and His name shall be on their foreheads (Revelation 22:4). The Church looks with a common hope to a time when God will “gather together in one all things in Christ” (Ephesians 1:10).

How can this eschatological vision of hope be applied to contemporary Europe? In the aftermath of the Second World War, Europe lay utterly devastated. If the killing fields of the First World War had undermined the notion that Europe represented the pinnacle of enlightenment and civilization, then the barbarous slaughter of six million Jews in the  Nazi death camps during the Second World War seemed to shatter such claims once and for all. Despite the post-war efforts to rebuild Europe and the expansion of the European Union and the economic prosperity it has facilitated among many nations,  Europe today still cries out for hope. The hope of eternal life in Christ speaks prophetically to our culture, which exhibits an underlying fear of death, the threat of which no amount of technological sophistication, scientific advancement or even medical
innovation can confront. The Church does not despair or seek to package death as a media event and deny its reality. Rather, standing in the love and power of Christ’s Resurrection, the Church affirms that death has been utterly defeated; in Christ we are free from its power and can live with the hope “that our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

Christian hope overcomes social alienation in a way that Karl Marx, despite his tremendous insight into the dynamics of human interactions, could never have envisaged. Despite the best efforts of political theorists and legislators to create a perfect society, every human endeavour has been frustrated by the ineradicable corruption of the human heart. The Church anticipates the restoration of all things and the final removal of sin’s power and presence from the earth. Only then shall the perfectly harmonious society of which the secular legislators have dreamed be realised. All alienation shall be overcome in the new heaven and the new earth for God’s home will be with his people (Revelation 21:3). Although the Christian hope is good news for individuals who have an eternal and unique purpose in God’s plan for the universe, the Christian hope both encompasses and transcends individual identity. The vision of Christian hope is one of a community of God’s redeemed humanity participating together in the outworking of God’s redemption of the cosmos. The picture of this redeemed humanity is not a monochrome print but a
God-glorifying kaleidoscope of people representing every tribe, tongue and nation. Denominational schisms and sectarian strife shall evaporate like the morning dew in the light of the new day of this glorious new order in which all who follow Jesus will come to see that they have indeed been made “one in Christ”.

Hope dares to imagine a world in which our innermost longings are satisfied and our deepest needs are met. The notion that humans are essentially forward-looking beings with an inherent capacity to envision a better world through hope is in its intrinsic nature
one of the most fascinating and, in its social and political implications, one of the most radical ideas ever to confront humankind. When this insight is seen in light of the biblical hope and the glory of God’s redeemed humanity participating as fully integrated denizens of the new Jerusalem, the transformative potential of this idea is elevated to a level of literally cosmic significance.

The crying need in the church today is for people who will boldly embody the eschatological hope of the biblical story and thus manifest the light of Christ in Europe today. It is my earnest prayer that the European churches today would be so inspired by the biblical vision of hope that they would begin to embody the good news of Christ and to be a light to the people and nations of Europe and to the wider world.

The Crucified Creation
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As a loyal and long-suffering supporter of Middlesbrough FC, he has had to learn the theological virtue of keeping hope alive, even in the most hopeless circumstances!

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