This past summer I had the pleasure of attending Princeton Seminary’s annual Karl Barth Conference. Among the extraordinary lineup of speakers was our friend Dr. Willie Jennings, a member of our Macedonian Ministry “faculty” who has been an immense help to our pastors by conducting workshops and speaking at our first annual Macedonian Ministry conference in August. At the Barth Conference, Dr. Jennings reflected on the theme of hope. Drawing primarily on Barth’s Church Dogmatics, he proposes a theology of hope that calls us into solidarity with those who experience life as despair. In Dogmatics III.1, Barth reminds us that, “For the creator is himself a creature, both sharing in creaturely peril and guaranteeing and already actualizing its hope.”1 Jennings considers how these themes of creator, creation, and hope are bound together in the body of Christ. He is particularly keen on following this trajectory with an eye toward deconstructing racial formation and racial despair. The implications are far reaching for our lives and ministry contexts. Below is an extended quote from his lecture. Note how Jennings roots hope in the shared life of the suffering community:
“Hope is centered, for Barth, in the faith and hope of Jesus. The fabric of hope is the life of Jesus himself who looks to God as father in anticipation that the creation and he himself remain always in the divine hand. So Jesus says ‘yes’ to the creation. Before he speaks of creation’s renewal, he enacts it’s define embrace. His life is God’s ‘yes’ to this life we live…
“Hope is a register of creaturely existence that deepens our communal sense of life. Hope means shared life, and it is also a crucial part of the architecture of a new sense of belonging. Hope, then, must be understood as a shared work of participating in the life of Jesus in the Spirit. This sense of hope must be understood not as private gestures of wish fulfillment, but work that must be engaged in at the sites of despair that join people together…
“The issue is not, ‘do you hope?’ The issue is, ‘from where do you hope?’ Where do you join people in hope? Who do you join in hope? It is the spatial reality that we learn through the incarnate life of the creator. The creator hopes in the creation, and it is the joining in hope with those struggling against despair that helps to refashion self-perception and reframe subjectivity. I do not simply have hope, but I find myself in hope, rooted in the shared confession of the goodness of creation…
“If we understand hope as an individual endeavor, we’re not understanding hope… If we hope within a kind of racial homogeneity, hoping for something better, then we haven’t grasped hope… We have to go among people who are with us caught in racial despair and from the site of their suffering hope with them… It’s not that you hope, it’s from where do you hope.”2
- How would you describe the difference between having hope and finding yourself in hope?
- Does your congregation view hope as more of an individual endeavor or a communal practice? What are some examples?
- Can you think of any “sites of despair” in your congregation or community where people might join together in hope?
- Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics III.1 (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1936–1977), p. 385.
- Willie Jennings, ““What Barth Taught Me about Faith, Hope, and Love.” 2015 Karl Barth Pastors Conference, Thursday, June 25, 2015.