‘Nothing is inevitable. Nothing has to be put up with’

McCormick Theological Seminary begins the academic year with its 192nd Convocation

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Dr. Jennifer McBride (Photo courtesy of McCormick Theological Seminary)

LOUISVILLE — Speaking to McCormick Theological Seminary students as they launched the 2021-22 academic year on Monday, Dr. Jennifer McBride preached the theology of hope made famous by the German theologian Jūrgen Moltmann and exemplified by the biblical accounts of Jesus’ post-resurrection encounters with Mary Magdalene at the tomb and later with two followers on the road to Emmaus. That second encounter gave McBride the title for Monday’s address: “We Had Hoped: Theological Education After Devastation.”

Watch the nearly hour-long Convocation here.

McBride is the seminary’s associate dean and associate professor of Theology and Ethics. She was professor and close friend of Kelly Gissendaner, who was the only woman on Georgia’s death row until her execution in 2015. McBride’s current writing project is a book of correspondence between Gissendaner and Moltmann.

Eighteen months into the continuing pandemic, students and faculty alike enter a new academic year “with new realities and crises,” including the mental health crisis occurring among the nation’s young people and increased economic vulnerability “among so many in our society,” McBride said. The fallout has included “the national impulse to react to these grave complexities as we commonly do,” such as “condemning the individual” through eviction notices and debt collection, jail cells and state violence. How, McBride wondered, can we do theological education after so much devastation?

Her friend Gissendaner was “especially taken” by Moltmann’s theology of hope, according to McBride, but in her own ears McBride keeps hearing the echoes of her own lament in the words of the Emmaus-bound disciples: “We had hoped.”

Professor Jūrgen Moltmann (Photo courtesy of the World Council of Churches)

“As we stand here facing the start of the academic year, I imagine each of us can add our own collective cries to the disciples’ words,” McBride said, offering listeners five tenets to Moltmann’s theology of hope:

  • It’s the essential core of Christian life and witness, announced by God through the prophet Isaiah in such passages as “I am about to do a new thing” and “I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” “God is the God of hope,” McBride said, “the God who calls into existence the things that do not exist and who makes all things new.”
  • A theology of hope is rooted in Christ’s resurrection, which for Paul was the beginning of the new creation of all things. “The state of the world is not fallen, but transforming,” McBride said. “Belief in the resurrection is belief in the possibility of fundamental change — not just for us personally, but for society.” But while God promises the new creation of all things, human beings behave as if everything remains as is, according to Moltmann.
  • Central to hope is active protest against death’s destructive powers. “Hope turns Christians into God’s rebels,” McBride said. “Whenever faith develops into hope, the result is not rest, but unrest; not patience, but impatience.” Moltmann says we are called to that hope, “and the call often sounds like a command,” McBride said, “a command to resist death and the powers of death and a command to love life and cherish it — every life, the life we share, the whole of life.”
  • Bringing about hope requires what McBride called “the constructive, creative work of justice and peace,” such as Common Justice, a New York City organization founded and led by a Chicago native, Danielle Sered. Common Justice has four guiding principles: responses to violent crime ought to be survivor-centered, accountability-based, safety-driven and racially equitable. “The homepage greets the user with hope’s most basic proclamation: ‘Something else is possible,’” McBride said, which echoes the heart of Moltmann’s theology of hope: “Nothing is inevitable. Nothing has to be put up with.”
  • Hope demands life together in community. “We partner with other communities of hope, with movements and organizations of every stripe who are bringing hope to the world,” McBride said. “We gather to worship the God of hope and to proclaim the gospel of hope — namely that a new world has begun, and to invite one another to play your part in the creation of all new things.”

“As we move into a new academic year, may we continuously remind one another that a new world is coming and join forces with others who already know that nothing is inevitable and anything is possible, here and now, at the dawn of a new day,” McBride said. “Let us begin.”

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