Life in an Age of Cynicism
WHO: Jason Duesing, who serves in academic leadership at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri.
HE SAYS: “When we look up at this future hope, we are reminded in the present that we are in need of grace and that we cannot do anything apart from Christ. … It should cause us to serve others rather than seek to be served. It should drives us to fight temptation, flee sin, proclaim hope, and seek joy.”
THE BIG IDEA: This book’s goal is to remind and establish the certainty that hope still lives and joy can be rediscovered by reminding readers of the core of Christian hope.
This quick read is packed with inspiration and concepts that will leave readers hopeful. In the format of a small gift book, Mere Hope presents six chapters that show readers how to live in a cynical age: “Mere Hope Lives,” “Look Down,” “Look In,” “Look Out,” “Look Up” and “Living Mere Hope.”
The author uses J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and several of C.S. Lewis’ works to show how hope remains, in spite of everything.
“We persevere through trials that will one day end, knowing that then we will see our friend Jesus face to face.”
A CONVERSATION WITH JASON DUESING
The subtitle of your book 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.
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.