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Moltmann-March! Reading Jürgen Moltmann: Where to Begin

Cheers, Professor Moltmann!

In my email newsletter I dubbed this March a “Moltmannian-March” in celebration of the theology of Jürgen Moltmann. To kick off the celebration here’s a list of books to check out by or on Moltmann, for either an introduction to his thought, or to study a particular subject. Enjoy!

Best Introductory Books

Jesus Christ for Today’s World — this is my go-to recommendation for anyone wanting a clear and concise introduction to Moltmann. Many of the major themes of Moltmann’s theology can be found here, and they are presented in a very approachable manner.

The Living God and the Fulness of Life — released last year, this is another great introduction to Moltmann, especially to his mature work. It’s a continuation of his early book The Spirit of Lifebut contains a great discussion of God’s omnipotence in a manner essential to Moltmann’s thought. I’ve written up a bit on this book here.

In the End—the Beginning — this is a good introduction to Moltmann’s eschatology for those daunted by the difficult Theology of Hope or the thorough The Coming of GodA great resource, and clearly written.

A Broad Place — this is Moltmann’s auto-biography, and an essential book for understanding not only the theology by the theologian himself, his development and life.

The Crucified God — why not begin with this famous book which established Moltmann as a foremost theologian of our time? This was the first book I read by Moltmann, it’s accessible enough for anyone to tackle. Go for it!

Books by Subject

The Trinity: For Moltmann’s work on the Trinity, check out The Trinity and the KingdomThis is also a fascinating work on the suffering of God. It’s my personal favorite book Moltmann has written, it’s a beautiful study.

Eschatology (last things): I’ve mentioned these already, but for Moltmann’s eschatology check out Theology of Hope and The Coming of GodThe latter contains Moltmann’s fullest treatment of eschatology, while the former is his famous thesis that all theology should be eschatologically oriented.

Pneumatology (Holy Spirit): Moltmann’s major work on the Holy Spirit is in The Spirit of Life: A Universal AffirmationAlso check out The Source of Life for a shorter book on similar themes. The Living God and the Fulness of Life, as I’ve already mentioned, is also an important book for Moltmann’s thoughts on the Spirit of God. These books were particularly fascinating to me, as I’m someone who grew up in a charismatic/methodist church.

Christology (Jesus Christ): Moltmann’s dedicated book of Christology is The Way of Jesus ChristIt’s a very fascinating book, which offers a unique perspective on the doctrine of Jesus Christ.

Creation: God in Creation is Moltmann’s doctrine of creation, in which he presents his panentheistic vision of the world God made. A fascinating book. I’ve written some about this idea here.

Ecclesiology (the church): Though I haven’t gotten around to reading it yet, The Church in the Power of the Spirit contains Moltmann’s ecclesiology, his doctrine of the church.

Notable Mentions

Here are a few more notable books that I’ve read and enjoyed by Moltmann, but which don’t necessarily fit into either of the above categories.

God for Secular SocietyI shared a great quote from this book here.

The Passion for Life: A Messianic Lifestyle

Jürgen Moltmann: Collected ReadingsA “greatest hits” sort of book.

Experiences in Theology: Ways and Forms of Christian TheologyThis is one I’ve had on my shelf for way too long without reading it. But it’s another great one to check out.

Secondary Literature

These are books by others writing about Moltmann. I haven’t spent much time reading secondary literature on Moltmann, but there are a few notable books worth checking out to explore Moltmann’s thought. Though I’d always recommend reading Moltmann and forming your own opinion of him firsthand before ever reading opinions from someone else.

The Annihilation of Hell by Nicholas Ansell. This is an excellent study on Moltmann’s (hopeful) universalism. I’ve written several article on this book. Here’s my review and another post exploring Moltmann’s “Certain” hope. I highly recommend this book, so much so that I named it among my 12 favorite books for 2016. Perfect for anyone interested in Universalism and Moltmann.

Richard Bauckham is often considered to be one of the leading scholars of Moltmann, and his two books are well worth checking out: The Theology of Jürgen Moltmann and God Will Be All in AllThe latter deals specifically with Eschatology, and includes several chapters by Moltmann alongside Miroslav Volf and Trevor Hart.

And would you allow me a little shameless self-promotion in closing? I’ve written a book on Moltmann that I think is worth checking out. It’s called Where Was God?  In this book you’ll read a fictional conversation between four friends discussing in the theodicy question. The purpose was to contrast Moltmann’s answer to God and suffering with three other answers common to theology and philosophy. Best of all this book is yours free when you sign up for my Readers’ Group. But you can also get a physical copy through Amazon. Okay, self promotion over. Now go and read some Moltmann!

Happy March, and happy reading!

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The 12 Best Books I Read in 2016

It’s been a great year for reading. My goal this year was to read eighty books, and, to my surprise, I reached that goal in June. I’ve since far surpassed my goal and have read a total of 124 books!

I wanted to list here the books that had the biggest impact on me in 2016 (listed in no particular order). Enjoy!

All is Grace by Brennan Manning [LINK]

This book was deeply moving, and when I finished it I couldn’t hold back the tears in my eyes. Brennan Manning’s story of grace is powerful and immensely inspiring. I hope to revisit this book again soon. My favorite quote:

“My message, unchanged for more than fifty years, is this: God loves you unconditionally, as you are and not as you should be, because nobody is as they should be. It is the message of grace…A grace that pays the eager beaver who works all day long the same wages as the grinning drunk who shows up at ten till five…A grace that hikes up the robe and runs breakneck toward the prodigal reeking of sin and wraps him up and decides to throw a party no ifs, ands, or buts…This grace is indiscriminate compassion. It works without asking anything of us…Grace is sufficient even though we huff and puff with all our might to try to find something or someone it cannot cover. Grace is enough…Jesus is enough.”

Finnegans Wake (Abridged) by James Joyce [LINK]

James Joyce writes with color and flair, with courage and creativity. He is my favorite fiction writer, with Samuel Beckett being a close second. Finnegans Wake is Joyce’s final book, and it is his most difficult yet most brilliant. Joyce, having exhausted the english language with Ulysses, forged a new language for this book, displaying his mastery of many languages including German, French, Italian, and Latin. Beckett once said this book isn’t written at all. It transcends the novel entirely.

 It’s a work of art. I listened to the excellent audio recording by Jim Norton a few times while I read this version. I plan to read the full text in 2017. Here’s a quote from the Anna Livia Plurabelle section:

“Well, you know or don’t you kennet or haven’t I told you every telling has a taling and that’s the he and the she of it. Look, look, the dusk is growing! My branches lofty are taking root. And my cold cher’s gone ashley. Fieluhr? Filou! What age is at? It saon is late. ‘Tis endless now senne eye or erewone last saw Waterhouse’s clogh. They took it asunder, I hurd thum sigh. When will they reassemble it? O, my back, my back, my bach! I’d want to go to Aches-les-Pains. Pingpong! There’s the Belle for Sexaloitez! And Concepta de Send-us-pray! Pang! Wring out the clothes! Wring in the dew! Godavari, vert the showers! And grant thaya grace! Aman.”

(Listen to Joyce read this section here.)

The Annihilation of Hell by Nicholas Ansell [LINK]

I received this book for free in exchange for my review (which you can read here). However, I enjoyed this book so immensely that it is easily one of my favorites this year. It helped me understand the theology of Jürgen Moltmann and appreciate his genius better. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in Moltmann or in universalism generally. Here’s a great quote:

“A universalism of hope, I was thereby suggesting, is neither a dogma nor a ‘nice idea’. Those who, in looking forward to God’s final victory over evil, find themselves looking forward in hope and confidence to a ‘universal’ salvation are convinced of something that others cannot be convinced of unless—or until—they come to share in that hope. In my view, a conviction of this kind, which is pre-theological and pre- doctrinal in character, is legitimate—at least in principle—even if those who hold to it cannot justify it theologically. Moltmann himself captures this pre-theoretical confidence well when he describes his own position as ‘a universalism of hope which is not a doctrine . . . but is a presupposition.’ This is a hope I share and a ‘universalism’ I accept.”

God’s Being in Reconciliation by Adam Johnson [LINK]

This is an excellent study on Karl Barth’s doctrine of atonement. This book has been worth its weight in gold for me while writing my own book on Barth, which is still forthcoming. Johnson argues that Barth’s doctrine of God necessitates a new way for understanding the atonement—not as a one-theory doctrine, but as a feast with multiple interpretations. It is one of the best books I’ve read on Barth. Here’s a great quote:

“A marked lack of energy and excitement overshadows the whole, where a sense of freshness and vigor ought to teem forth resulting from the awareness of these new frameworks for interpreting the work of Christ, the necessity with which we must engage them, and the promise of the definite insights we stand to gain. Adapting an earlier statement of Barth’s, we must ‘magnify the plenitude of the divine being [in reconciliation] by not lingering unduly over any one [standpoint of the atonement] or letting it become the final word or the guiding principle, but by proceeding from one to another, from the second to the third. As we do so, we realize that even if we make a provisional halt at the third, this does not mean that we have spoken the last word’ (CD II/1, 407).”

Stirrings Still by Samuel Beckett [LINK]

This is Beckett’s final work of prose, and it is one of my favorites. It’s a very short book, and I have read it several times through. It is a perfect piece of meditative, minimalist prose, yet it is at once pregnant with meaning and emotion. I first savored this book while enjoying a birthday dram of Laphroaig for my 24th. It was a melancholy and enchanting moment. Here’s a taste:

“Such and much more such the hubbub in his mind so-called till nothing left from deep within but only ever fainter oh to end. No matter how no matter where. Time and grief and self so-called. Oh all to end.”

Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnamable by Samuel Beckett [LINK]

I read this trilogy in January this year, and I read part of it again last month. This is often considered Beckett’s best work, and it’s certainly his most important contribution to the novel. To this I would agree. It’s a fantastic work of fiction for tired of fiction. There’s a lot I could say about the brilliance of what Beckett accomplishes in these three books, but I hope you take my recommendation and read them for yourself. These books are an experience, like Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, more so than they are a book you read and forget. Here’s a sample:

“you must go on, perhaps it’s done already, perhaps they have said me already, perhaps they have carried me to the threshold of my story, before the door that opens on my story, that would surprise me, if it opens, it will be I, it will be the silence, where I am, I don’t know, I’ll never know, in the silence you don’t know, you must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on.” (The Unnamable)

How to Read Karl Barth by George Hunsinger [LINK]

This book, along with T.F. Torrance’s Karl Barth An Introduction to His Early Theology, were both excellent companions to reading Barth’s CD II/1. But Hunsinger’s book stands out as a brilliant and extremely helpful exploration of the way Barth thinks more than just what he says. If you only read one book on the theology of Karl Barth, read this one.

Church Dogmatics volume II/1 by Karl Barth [LINK]

T.F. Torrance called this volume Barth’s most significant, and after reading it this year I have to agree. Here you’ll find the core ideas behind Barth’s theology: his rejection of natural theology, his dedication to the Word of God, and his insistence upon the fact that God alone reveals Himself. I tweeted and posted hundreds of quotes from this book while I read it, the best of which you can read here.

Water to Wine by Brian Zahnd [LINK]

Reading Brian Zahnd’s story, which was both a theological and spiritual journey, was most of all a comforting experience. His story parallels much of my own journey, and I often related to his rediscovery of the good news and his quest for the heart of the Christian faith. This book is memorable because of how well it was written and how encouraging it is to know I am not alone on the journey. Here’s a quote:

“I had lost my appetite for the mass-produced soda-like Christianity of North America. I wanted vintage wine from old vines. I don’t know exactly how I knew this, but I knew it.”

Re-reading Dubliners and Ulysses by James Joyce [LINK]

I read Joyce’s Dubliners with a book club this year. We met every month to slow digest and discuss his masterful short stories. I also re-read Ulysses during my trip to Ireland for Bloomsday. Both re-reads made me appreciate Joyce more than before. Last year I named Ulysses my favorite fiction book, and this year it again made a significant impact on me. Here’s the first few lines from Ulysses:

“Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. A yellow dressinggown, ungirdled, was sustained gently behind him on the mild morning air. He held the bowl aloft and intoned:

Introibo ad altare Dei.

Halted, he peered down the dark winding stairs and called out coarsely:

—Come up, Kinch! Come up, you fearful jesuit!”

(Fun fact: this last line is the title of my morning alarm!)

Preaching Christ Today by Thomas F. Torrance [LINK]

This book was the inspiration behind my own attempt to preach Christ, Welcome Home: The Good News of JesusThomas Torrance continually inspires me to be more fixated on the incarnation and death of Jesus Christ as the good news for all people, as the announcement worthy of joy and celebration. Here’s a quote:

“If I did not believe in the cross, I could not believe in God. The cross means that, while there is no explanation of evil, God Himself has come into the midst of it in order to take it upon Himself, to triumph over it and deliver us from it.”

The Living God and the Fulness of Life by Jürgen Moltmann [LINK]

And finally, how could I end this reflection without mentioning Moltmann’s new book on the Holy Spirit and the fullness life lived in the Source of all Life. This book inspired me to embrace my humanity and enjoy the simple things, the mundane and the “boring” things, because in these the Spirit of Life is with us and there for us. Here’s a memorable quote:

“Joy is the meaning of human life. Human beings were created in order to have joy in God. They are born in order to have joy in life. This means that the frequent questions—What am I here for? Am I of any use? Can I make myself of any use?—lose their point. There is no purpose and no utilitarian goal for which human life is required. There are no ethical goals or ideal aims with which human life has to justify itself. Life itself is good. Existence is beautiful and to be here is glorious. We live in order to live. …The ‘meaning’ of life cannot be found outside life but in life itself. Life must not be missed as if it were a means to an end.”


Happy New Year, and may you read many great books in 2017!

What were the books you read this year which had the greatest impact on you? Let me know in a comment.

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Great Books to Read for Advent

nativity-icon-incarnation-of-the-lord-jesus-christAdvent began this past Sunday, November the 27th, which marks the beginning of the Church’s celebration of God’s taking up human flesh in Jesus Christ and becoming a man for us and for our salvation. In the spirit of this, here I wanted to share some of my favorite Advent related books you might enjoy reading (organized by author). Merry Christmas!

St. Athanasius

On the Incarnation 

[Over the last two years I’ve read this short book during Christmas time and I have enjoyed it tremendously! I will be reading it again this year.]

Thomas F. Torrance

The Mediation of Christ

Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ

Space, Time, and Incarnation

Karl Barth

The Humanity of God

Church Dogmatics volume I/2 and IV/2

Robert Farrar Capon

Between Noon and Three

The Mystery of Christ and Why We Don’t Get it

Wolfhart Pannenberg

Jesus—God and Man

C. Baxter Kruger

Across All Words: Jesus Inside Our Darkness

God is For Us

Jürgen Moltmann

The Way of Jesus Christ

Theology of Hope

The Coming of God: Christian Eschatology

C. S. Lewis


The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Happy reading!

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The Book to End Penal Substitutionary Atonement

414ws4nznql-_sy344_bo1204203200_Penal substitutionary atonement is a theory which attempts to explain the meaning and purpose of Christ’s death, how Jesus’ death saves and what it means for the world. It’s a theory which I have argued against openly and often, I’ve written extensively against it in my book We Belong: Trinitarian Good NewsPenal substitution is also the subject of the next two books I plan to publish in the near future, one which places Karl Barth in dialogue with the so-called “atonement debate,” and another to deal directly with penal substitution and argue against it. So it goes without saying: I am passionate about seeing an end of the penal substitutionary atonement theory in the evangelical church today.

I recently finished reading a fantastic book, one of the best I’ve read this year (and I’ve read over 100 books so far!), which I believe may do exactly that: this book, I hope, will be the final nail in the coffin of penal substitutionary atonement. The book I’m referring to is Darrin W. Snyder Belousek’s Atonement, Justice, and PeaceThis book is the most complete argument I have ever read against penal substitution, and it’s written in a clear, accessible manner so that anyone can pick it up and read it without much difficulty. Don’t be daunted by the fact that this is a 700 page book, this is a clearly written, accessible book that just about anyone with a basic understanding of the bible can read.

Today I simply want to recommend this book to you, discuss the main argument in it, and also briefly introduce penal substitution for anyone unfamiliar with it. I’ve never felt so encourage by a book on the atonement, and for that reason I give this book a whole hearted endorsement and I hope you take the time to read it.

What is Penal Substitution?

Penal substitution rest on three basic ideas. First and foremost, the notion of retributive justice, that God requires the death of a perfect sacrifice to forgive our sins. In short, that on the cross Jesus Christ died to pay back God’s justice. Second, that the wrath of God must be appeased, that God is full of wrath towards us and must have that wrath satisfied, or “propitiated” in Christ’s death. And finally, the third notion is that God turned His back on Jesus Christ in His death, that Jesus was forsaken and abandoned because God cannot look upon our sin.

Penal substitution is the most common atonement model within the evangelical church today. It’s often preached with the analogy of a courtroom. God is a holy judge, and we are the guilty sinners. God’s justice demands payment, demands our death, and therefore God’s wrath is against us until payment is made. We deserve punishment, but we are unable to pay back God’s justice or appease His wrath. But Jesus Christ came out of love for us and died in our place; God punished Jesus instead of us, thus paying back the Father’s justice, satisfying His wrath, and saving us from hell.  God turned His back on Jesus Christ, and in forsaking Him, God now accepts us as His children. God’s wrath is appeased, God’s (retributive) justice is satisfied, and God can now accept us as His own. This is penal substitution: Jesus Christ is punished (penal) in our place (substitution).

Belousek’s Argument

There are many problems I have with this theory, many of which are far too time consuming to address here. Like I said, I plan to eventually put together a short book which contains a concise argument against penal substitution. But here I want to discuss the main argument in Belousek’s book against penal substitution.

Belousek brilliantly sees the foundational presupposition behind penal substitution to be the idea that God’s justice is retributive, that is, that God’s justice demands equal payment for an offense. In short, penal substitution rests upon the lex talionis, the “eye for an eye” of the levitical law. God’s justice demands our death as payment for sin, and God is bound by this kind of justice and thus cannot forgive our sins without payment. Thus Jesus suffers God’s punishment in our place, so that God’s wrath can be appease and we can be forgiven. But the question we have to ask is this: do the scriptures understand God’s justice in this way? Is the justice of God, revealed to us in Jesus Christ, a retributive kind of justice or a redemptive kind of justice?

Simply, the underlying presupposition of penal substitution, the foundation upon which the entire theory rests, is that God’s justice is retributive, that God’s justice demands payment for an offense, tit for tat.

Belousek argues, rightly, that God’s justice is not retributive. Jesus Himself argues against any “eye for an eye” sort of justice in the sermon on the mount. (Matthew 5:38-42) But penal substitutionary atonement basis its entire paradigm on this idea. Belousek thus carefully and thoughtfully takes us through the bible and shows us that this idea comes not from the scriptures but from Greek philosophy. Aristotle and Socrates, who in turn influenced Augustine and thus infiltrated the west with this idea, are the originators of this kind of justice. The scriptures actually have no concept of retributive justice (not even the lex talionis, Belousek argues, is God’s will). The only kind of justice we see in the scriptures is the justice of mercy, the justice which heals, the justice of redemption. The scriptures present a kind of justice that looks more like “making right what’s wrong” (redemptive justice) instead balancing the legal scales (retributive justice). Belousek brilliantly takes you through ever problematic scripture, from Isaiah 53, Romans 3, the levitical law, and the prophets, in order to show this point.

The beauty of this argument is in its successful identification and removal of the foundation of penal substitution; what remains for the rest of the book is the joyful and systematic demolition of this theory. There is nothing left standing by the end of this book. There is no scripture which has not been examined, there is no presupposition left hiding, penal substitution is effectively put to death. There is an elegance and a brilliance to Belousek’s argument, and I have not doubt that this book will be the end of penal substitutionary atonement for anyone who reads it—and hopefully for the evangelical church as a whole.

If you have ever doubted penal substitution, but then thought, what about Isaiah 53? What about Romans 3? Then please, read this book. Maybe you are someone who wholeheartedly believes penal substitution is the gospel, then please, read this book.

I cannot stress how highly I recommend Belousek’s book. Perhaps one day the church will look back to it and say, “This was the book that once and for all exposed and demolished the heretical penal substitutionary atonement theory!” You can purchase Atonement, Justice, and Peace here.

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