by Brian Kaylor
(photo by Bill Webb/Word&Way)
Jerry Cain, who recently retired as president of Judson University in Illinois, led two Bible study sessions during Churchnet’s 2014 Annual Gathering. Focusing on the theme “Share Hope: The World is Waiting,” Cain offered a mix of theological insights, humorous remarks, and engaging stories. Cain noted that in Baptist churches today, people seem to wonder “can anything good come from hope?”
“Hope is kind of the red-headed stepchild of the three great virtues: faith, hope, and love,” he explained. “We know that ‘the greatest of these is love.’ Paul told us that. And number two, that would have to be faith. Martin Luther told us that.”
“And really if you are a guilt-ridden Baptist or a guilt-ridden Catholic, number three would be works,” Cain added lightheartedly.
Cain noted that the word “hope” gets thrown around a lot in society without much depth to its meaning. The former university president joked that deans used to try and build budgets on hopeful estimates of fundraising, which does not work well. He mentioned that politicians like to run on the word with Bill Clinton playing up that he came from Hope, Arkansas, and Barack Obama using the word as a key campaign slogan. He noted that he and other Cubs fans always hold out hope for next year. He also joked about church marketing gimmicks that offer hope without any substance.
“Hope doesn’t get very high priority,” he declared. “Hope just kind of hangs around on the edge of things and never does get central billing like love and faith.”
In contrast, Cain noted how hope plays a vital role in various biblical passages.
“Maybe it’s not stepchild, maybe hope is stepping-stone to love,” he argued.
Cain insisted that sharing hope means the church must live out its calling to transform society. He noted that the early Christians were known as the ones who took in unwanted, abandoned children. He added it was Christians during the birth of the modern missionary movement and the Second Great Awakening two hundred years ago who challenged colonialism and slavery.
“The church is not only an evangelistic church that the gates of Hell shall not prevail against, but it also is a socially-transformative church,” Cain argued.