Monday, August 23, 2010

Jürgen Moltmann and the Theology of Hope

This summer as a part of my research and dialogue with Reformed Theology for the Missional Church I decided to tackle bits and pieces of Jürgen Moltmann.  This German Theologian has been, along with my favorite, Karl Barth, one of the more significant voices that affirms my hypothesis that, at its core, all Missional Theology is actually contemporary and pragmatic Reformed Theology.  Moltmann and Barth are both engaged regularly by those who swim in the waters of both the Emergent Church and the, similar yet less "controversial" (note my tongue and cheek off -setting of this adjective), Missional Church.  While I have explored the work of Karl Barth a lot over the past two years (I am still convinced that Evangelical Theology is his best work), I had not read much of Moltmann.  That being the case, I chose to begin with Theology of Hope (Fortress Press 1967) for professional, academic, and personal reasons alike. I was not disappointed.  In fact, I have come to believe that Moltmann's work, especially in this particular text, is some of the more impressive and illuminating of all that I have read in recent years.  Jürgen Moltmann's chapter on the "Resurrection and Future of Jesus Christ" is also some of the more insightful theological reflections on the proper posture and horizon for Christian eschatology, i.e. Christian promise, hope, and expectation (220). That being said, I thought I would throw a few references from this title that would be worth dialoguing about in both off-the-record conversations at your local coffee shop or within Church formation courses as we equip God's people for their missional vocation in the world. 

To set the tone, by far my favorite selection of the book is the concluding line of two of the more significant and missional paragraphs within Theology of Hope.  Moltmann writes, "The pro-missio of the kingdom is the ground of the missio of love to the world" (224).  That is to say, Christian theology hinges on and begins with eschatology.  This eschatology properly postures the church and its witness within the memory of God's  past, present, and forward moving activity (i.e. pro-missio) to and for the whole world, which culiminates in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah. The complete paragraph says it better than any paraphrase:
"If the promise of the kingdom of God shows us a universal eschatological future horizon spanning all things- 'that God may be all in all'- then it is impossible for the [hu]man of hope to adopt an attitude of religious and cultic resignation from the world.  On the contrary, he is compelled to accept the world in all its meekness, subject as it is to death and the powers of annihilation, and to guide all things towards their new being.  He [or she] becomes homeless with the homeless, for the sake of the home of reconciliation.  He [or she] becomes restless with the restless, for the sake of the peace of God.  He [or she] becomes rightless with the rightless, for the sake of the divine right that is coming.
     "The promise of the kingdom of God in which all things attain to right, to life, to freedom, and to truth, is not exclusive but inclusive.  And so, too, its love, its neighbourliness and its sympathy are inclusive, excluding nothing, but embracing in hope everything wherein God will be all in all.  The pro-missio of the kingdom is the ground of the missio of love to the world" (224).
Here are a few other citations that have affected me on so many levels...

“A Christian faith that is not resurrection faith can therefore be called neither Christian nor faith. It is the knowledge of the risen Lord and confession to him who raised him that form the basis on which the memory of the life, work, sufferings and death of Jesus is kept alive and presented in the gospels. It is the recognition of the risen Christ that gives rise to the Church’s recognition of its own commission in the mission to the nations. It is the remembrance of his resurrection that is the ground of the inclusive hope in the universal future of Christ" (66).

“The horizon within which the resurrection of Christ becomes knowable as ‘resurrection’, is the horizon of promise and mission, beckoning us on to his future and the future of his lordship…They are answered within the horizon of the mission of Christ and the mission of the Jewish and Gentile church" (196).

“The hope that is born of the cross and the resurrection transforms the negative, contradictory, and torturing aspects of the world into terms of ‘not yet’, and does not suffer them to end in ‘nothing'" (197).

"If the kingdom of God begins as it were with a new act of creation, then the Reconciler is ultimately the Creator, and thus the eschatological prospect of reconciliation must mean the reconciliation of the whole creation, and must develop and eschatology of all things. In the cross we can recognize the god-frosakenness of all things, and with the cross we can recognize the real absence of the kingdom of God in which all things attain to righteousness, life and peace" (223, italics mine).
"The pro-missio of the universal future leads of necessity to the universal missio  of the Church to all nations" (225).

I hope to tackle later in the year another of Jürgen Moltmann's titles, The Church in the Power of the Spirit (Harper Collins 1977).

Two Great Interviews of Moltmann on the Emergent Podcast:
2009 Emergent Theological Conversation with Jurgen Moltmann Part 1
2009 Emergent Theological Conversation with Jurgen Moltmann Part 2


  1. You really need to read his Crucified God and Trinity and the Kingdom before you can tell if you want to sign off on Moltmann's project or not, in my opinion.

  2. They are on my list. One at a time; however, I am well aware that each theologian in this genre is to be read with a level of tension and grace; there are sure to be portions that I agree with, or even delight in as with this book, and then there may be others that cause skepticism. Nonetheless, this text I felt was as a whole and excellent work with great insigth.

  3. It is certainly reputed to be his best book for good reason. And I imagine you'll be fairly sympathetic with his project in Trinity and Kingdom (as eschatologically 'unfinished' as his Trinitarian theology is). Crucified God is a difficult text for me to go along with in many ways because, though I do believe God has willed to suffer in relationship with us, I believe he suffers uniquely "as God" which may or may not correspond in an obvious way to human suffering. I'd read Crucified God in conjunction with a book like Does God Suffer? by Thomas Weinandy; good balance between them I think.

  4. Greg,

    Thanks for the post and I appreciate your helpful citations. My question is this. If "Christian theology hinges on and begins with eschatology" don't we run the risk of having an ego-centric system rather than theo-centric? Certainly I grant that eschatology is central to God's redemptive plan and therefore is central to Scripture but I wonder if it is truly the beginning of Christian theology?

    In Christ,

  5. This is a great thought. I think, along the lines of Barth, that actually the beginning and end of all theology is actually Jesus as the ultimate revelation of Godand God's ongoing activity in and for the world. However, I deeply believe that Jesus' work was and is an eschatological event, in the sense that his life, death, and resurrection were not only about the first century world, but also and especially the inauguration of a new age of new creation, i.e. eschaton. That said, Jesus as object and subject of the faith is actually an eschatological declaration that is the beginning of Christian theology. And this beginning, we must not forget, deeply influences the work of the Church in the present. if it does not, any speech and theological conviction is pure idolatry.

  6. Thanks kindly for this succinct summary of Moltmann's first of his firt trilogy; what a prolific writer and his spiritual autobiography, not only in "A Broad Place" is well worth reading. I lean into and draw from Moltmann to develop a triad of praying justice hopefully -- or, hoping justice prayerfully. Though Moltmann obviously has much to say about prayer and justice (as well as hope), I further lean into and draw from Thomas Merton on prayer and Reinhold Niebuhr on justice. I am then seeking to apply this triad to Canadian if not North American urban ministries for illumination. Welcome suggestions,
    Barry K. Morris, a Vancouver, B.C. urban pastor...