Duesing, Jason G. Mere Hope: Life in an Age of Cynicism. Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2018. 172 pp.
“Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” With these words the Preacher of Ecclesiastes opens up his address on life under the sun. The book of Ecclesiastes is about finding joy in this broken, sin-filled world, and the Preacher, full of godly wisdom, understands the frustrations we face and the cynicism we revert to when we put our hope and trust in the fallen things of the world that constantly disappoint. All is vanity when this world becomes ultimate. Yet, the Preacher instructs us to the path of joy. Joy, purpose, contentment, and hope abound, to the demise of cynicism, when we heed the “words of delight” given by our “one shepherd” and “fear God and keep his commandments” in the Lord Jesus Christ (Eccl. 12:10-13). Jason Duesing’s Mere Hope reminds one of the “words of delight” found in the resurrected Christ to help Christians live with hope in an age of cynicism.
Accoding to Duesing, cynicism takes both an active and a passive form. Active cynicism is characterized by a skeptic distrust of people and things working for good that operates as a “functional, if not actual, atheism, where the ultimate end is despair and hopelessness” (9). Passive cynicism is “more of an idle indifference to the world and the people in it,” the idea that one is to live for whatever seems most pleasing now as if the biblical idea of eternity future is irrelevant (9). Neither active nor passive cynicism comports with the biblical idea of present and future hope in light of Jesus Christ, who is redeeming this cosmos and making all things new (Rev. 21:5). Therefore, Duesing aims to “remind and establish that hope still lives” so that Christians in an age of cynicism know how to live with mere (essential) hope that waits expectantly in the “Lord as our Savior” (12, 15). To live with mere hope, Christians must look downward at our gospel foundation, inward at Christ in us, outward with a flourishing hope to be shared among the nations, and upward to our sovereign God (17-18).
First of all, this book is needed. For Christians not yet glorified and nevertheless living as gospel witnesses in a cynical world, we are prone to fall into cynicism. Our sinful hearts are prone to live for the moment based on what we can see by making God’s good gifts—family, work, relationships, money, etc.—into gods. Yet these good gifts make bad gods because they never satisfy, and our realization of our passive cynicism (and active idolatry!) often results in some form of biblical counseling leading to repentance. Or, for example, we look at the moral failures of leaders and corruption in religious bodies and we become active cynics who throw the baby out with the bathwater in distrusting the church altogether. Like those early Christians to whom Peter wrote regarding our “living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,” we too need constant reminders of our mere hope in Christ to keep us walking in line with the gospel (1 Pet. 1:3).
The question has been asked whether one can be too heavenly minded to be any earthly good. The answer is no. Our problem is that we often aren’t heavenly minded enough because of our propensity to forget the gospel and to fall into imitating our surrounding culture. Therefore, Duesing’s charge to “do the chief work of remembering” our hope through Scripture memory, listening to sermons, reading books, singing songs, and by preaching the gospel to ourselves every single day in all circumstances is vital (151). Paul’s primary emphasis in the New Testament is an eschatology focused on our risen and reigning Christ because of the hope of the gloriously good eternal life in the presence of God apart from sin in a new creation found therein, giving purpose to our missiological efforts today. Like Paul, we must fight to remember our eschatological hope.
Relatedly, Duesing is also helpful by emphasizing the role of the local church in maintaining mere hope (154-158). Mere hope is not meant to be maintained individually; rather, it is a community project. Christians are called to build up the body of Christ to mature manhood and to bear one another’s burdens (Eph. 4:1-16, Gal. 6:1-5). This means that when we forget the gospel hope we have and when we are caught living in cynicism, often blinded to our own sin, the local church functions to shine biblical light on our wanderings and to guide us back to the truth as it is in Jesus. Hope thrives in gospel community.
Short and sweet, Mere Hope guides the Christian’s gaze from our cynical culture to the glories reserved for us in our crucified, resurrected, ascended, and reigning King Jesus who is at work in the world making all things new. May Mere Hope help Christians together look downward, inward, outward, and upward to find the joy, contentment, and hope of our ever-eternal, never-disappointing Christ.
Note: A review copy of the book was provided to the Prince on Preaching blog in exchange for an honest review.