Tim Keller: Hope for a Better World Starts with the Resurrection

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Four reasons Christianity offers unparalleled confidence that history is headed somewhere good.

The American belief has long been that each generation will have a better life—economically, technologically, socially, personally—than the previous one. But this idea of linear historical progress did not exist in most other cultures. All ancient cultures—Chinese, Babylonian, Hindu, Greek, and Roman—had different views. Some saw history as cyclical, and others saw history as a slow decline from past golden ages.

The idea that history was moving in the direction of continual progress and improvement in the human condition simply did not exist.

Then, however, came Christianity. As Robert Nisbet writes in his book History of the Idea of Progress, Christian thinkers gave “to the idea of progress a large and devoted following in the West and a sheer power that the idea could not have otherwise [in the absence of Christian beliefs] acquired.” The Greeks thought that the accumulation of human knowledge led to a mild, temporary improvement in the human condition—but only between conflagrations. But Christian philosophers “endowed the idea of progress with new attributes which were bound to give it a spiritual force unknown to their pagan predecessors.”

Christianity, then, offers unparalleled resources for cultural hope. (We are not for the moment talking about individual hope—hope for life after death. We are talking about corporate hope, social hope, hope for the future of society, of the human race—hope for a good direction to history.) Looking at the arc of history through the lens of Christ’s resurrection, we can make four broad statements about the nature of Christian hope: It is uniquely reasonable, full, realistic, and effective.

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