In a context of confusion and flashy journalism, rigour becomes a precious value.
Michael Ots (author of What kind of Hope?): “In Western Europe we have moved from a culture that used to be ambivalent and apathetic towards the gospel to a situation now where people are openly hostile to it.”
“Hope.” Everyone uses the word, especially in confusing moments like the ones Europe is going through these weeks. But what does “hope” actually mean?
Michael Ots (England, 1981) talks to many young Europeans every year, mainly during the mission weeks Christians students organise. Drawing on his experience as a speaker in secularised contexts, he wrote his second book “What kind of hope?”
Ots studied theology and now lives in Bournemouth. He trains young Christians in evangelism through MOET. His first book “What kind of God?” was also written to give answers to a very sceptic generation.
Ots spoke to Evangelical Focus in the following interview.
Question. After the terrorist attacks in Paris, there is a mood of fear among many Europeans, but the word “hope” is still being used. What do you think most people mean when they talk about “hope”?
Answer. Hope is foundational to life. It is very hard to live when we feel there is no hope left. Even in the darkest of times we try to hold on to the hope that things could get better.
The problem is that hope (in the way we use the term) is never certain. ‘I hope that it will happen’ means ‘I don’t know if it will but I want to it to!’
Q. What is the definition of “hope” you give in your book?
A. The biblical definition of hope is quite different to the way we often use the word. Hope in this sense is no wishful thinking but rather a certain expectation of good things to come.
In this sense it is not so much about hoping that it won’t rain (a vain hope for any resident of the UK!) but the kind of hope a child has in Christmas – they know it is definitely going to happen and they look forward to it with eager expectation. Christian hope is sure and certain, not just wishful thinking.
Q. You spend much time talking about the resurrection of Christ as the foundation of the hope for humanity. Why is the resurrection of Jesus so important to sustain the Christian faith?
A. The problem with hope is that it has to do with the future and we haven’t been there yet! How then can hope be certain of what is to come?
In the Bible our future hope is always related to a past event – the resurrection. So to the degree to which we can be certain of that we can also have certainty over the future. Peter says that our hope is based on the resurrection of Jesus (1 Peter 1:3).
The early Christians were quite happy to make the resurrection the foundation of everything (1 Corinthians 15). If it didn’t happen then the whole of Christianity falls down like a pack of cards.
The resurrection is so important because in Jesus we have the prototype of what will happen to those who trust him. The resurrection shows that our hope is not just a spiritual thing but real and physical. Just as Jesus was resurrected with a real physical body – so will those who are linked up to him by faith.
The New Creation must also therefore be physical if we will live there with real bodies – it’s hard to live on a cloud – you’d fall through! So the more we understand of Jesus’ resurrection, the more we catch a glimpse of our own future.
Q. Both in conferences you give in universities across Europe and in your book you talk to generally very sceptic young people who have little knowledge of what the Bible says. Where do you start to persuade them of the importance of reading the Bible for themselves (for the first time) and with no prejudices?
A. It really depends who I am talking too! But the most important principle is that we start where people are actually at (not where want them to be at). All the apostolic sermons in the book of Acts start with a common point of interest and use it as a bridge to the gospel.
Broadly speaking, there are two main approaches we would use to make this connection. The first is to use people’s big objections to Christianity as an opportunity to share the gospel. Questions about suffering, hell, sexuality, religious violence and so on provide an opportunity to respond. This is what I try to do in my first book ‘What kind of God?’.
The second approach is to use people’s existential desires as a way in to the gospel. Everyone has common desires – love, freedom, meaning, identity, success, forgiveness and hope.
The problem is that their functionally atheistic worldview (or in fact any worldview other than the Christian one) cannot really explain why these things are so important. So first we need to show the bankruptcy of other world views to account for the things that we most care about in life. Then we can show how the Christian worldview provides a better and more satisfactory explanation.
Q. Finally, what do you believe are the main roadblocks for a young non-Christian in Europe to put their trust and hope in Jesus Christ? And how should the churches respond to these obstacles?
A. In Western Europe we have moved from a culture that used to be ambivalent and apathetic towards the gospel to a situation now where people are openly hostile to it.
No longer is Christianity seen as a benign irrelevance – it is seen as something that is bad for society. This presents challenges – but also opportunities. Can we be ready to engage with people’s objections and give a reasonable answer? Objections can become opportunities if, as Peter commands all Christians, we are ready to give an answer (1 Peter 3:15). However, before this we also need to commend the gospel through our lives. In the same verse Peter assumes that Christian hope will be noticeable and that it will generate questions.
As churches we need to be encouraging each other to live radically attractive lives dominated by our hope in Christ. We then need to practically prepare people to be ready to answer the key objections that our friends will have.