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Promise of Despair

Andrew Root, Professor of Youth and Family Ministry at Luther Seminary has written a provocative and challenging work about the way of the cross as the way of the church. He begins the work by locating the death of meaning, authority, belonging and identity. Root describes in the the first chapter that meaning has become vacuous due to our placing primary importance upon the sign rather than the thing signified. Drawing on the work of Baudrillard, Roots emphasizes that we live in a hyperreal world and the sign of things outgrows the thing signfied to such an extent that we don't even recognize the signified reality when it happens (15-16). We have given into the media of "Real World" to such an extent that the medium of a product means more than the message.

The second chapter delves into the concept of authority in our world. No longer do people blindly follow authority structures but question every voice of authority. Root calls both fundamental and liberal types to account for not recognizing the death of authority in our culture and in our churches. In turn, both groups seek to create a demanding authority themselves whether through the erasure of doubt (fundamental) or the blending in of the pluarlistic community (33-36).

As Root moves through the first four chapters, he is setting up his readers for the main point of his thesis: "It is when we are up against death, when we find ourselves in despair, that the God of cross is near us" (73). The goal of life is not to avoid death at all costs nor to be immersed in death as to have it swallow us up completely, but to go the depths of despair by facing its monstrous head (73-75). It in the despair of death that the Son of God died upon the Cross and yet it was through this despair that life came, that he was raised from the dead.

The last few chapters are a challenge to the church to not run from death's grasp, but to enter into the despair of death only to see love on the other side. Root goes onto say that injustice in our world comes from the societal level and the individual choice but cannot be brushed aside. Being a voice for the voiceless is not about being right and doing the right thing, but about entering into "death for the sake of life" (131). Drawing upon Luther and Moltmann, Root focuses his effort on an entering into death and the despair of people on the basis of the the Son's death upon the cross, and seeing life out of death as the way forward (130).

This book had a profundity that is clear in both its presentation and its challenge to see the road of death to bring about life. In the first four chapters, I was hoping Root might address more clearly the notion that although we see the death of meaning, authority, identity, and belonging in our culture, these themes or ideas still reside. Although many in our culture despise authority, they have just transferred their notions of authority to hyperreal and media driven platforms. Although we lost our identity in relationship to others and in community, we seek to connect with communities that share our passions. Overall, I thought this book was a good resource for those interested in taking the cross seriously, for understanding that the path of death to bring forth life is not an option for the Christian life. Lastly, I thought Root did an excellent job in providing a grid for understanding hope in relationship to the notion of "Hallmark" optimism that is so prevalent in our culture.


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