Retrieving Hope

Over the last three decades a major cultural shift has taken place in the attitudes of Western societies toward the future. Optimism has given way to a sense of ambiguity; messianic and utopian modes of thought have capitulated before the drawing of apocalyptic scenarios. This shift is not just a fleeting mood…modernity’s “culture of optimism,” which emerged from pre-modernity’s “culture of endurance,” is giving way to a post-modern “culture of ambiguity.”

This culture of ambiguity threatens to stifle hope at a personal as well as a social level. All of the scientific and technological innovations which promise to extend life and lighten its burden notwithstanding, we dare not hope for a future substantially better than the present. Since “hope” is both a central theological category and a component of the “cultural capital” indispensable The Future of Hope to human flourishing, it is essential not to squander the language of hope. A major theological and cultural project must be to re-learn the forgotten language of hope or to infuse the jaded language of hope with new vitality.

There is a major obstacle to such retrieval, however….[With] the spread of electronic media…[and its] enormous in- flation of the flow of data that constantly demands fresh attention, the so-called “hot cultural memory”–that is, memory which has the power to shape a culture–is markedly depreciated. It gives way to “cool cultural memories,” which are transitory and fragmented, consumable and disposable like biodegradable plastic.

From the perspective of the Christian faith, these developments are deeply disturbing. Precisely that resource from the past–the biblical traditions–to which Christians must take recourse in order to address the present culture of ambiguity lays less and less claim on our contemporaries, because it is ignored, forgotten, or rejected, or manipulated and marketed by its proponents. In the context of an increasing “cooling of memories,” a trend in which Christians all too often uncritically participate, a major challenge to Christian thought is to find in its own rich heritage resources to rejuvenate a living hope rooted in the “hot memory” of God’s engagement with the world in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. If Christians do not meet this challenge, they will not only fail to explicate adequately their own sources of hope for today but also fail to adequately prepare communities of Christian conviction in their proper mission to the wider culture.

From Miroslav Volf and William H. Katerberg, The Future of Hope: Christian Tradition Amid Modernity and Postmodernity, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004.