All posts in “Jurgen Moltmann”

“The Transformative Church” by Patrick Oden – a Review

Book: The Transformative Church: New Ecclesial Models and the Theology of Jürgen Moltmann (Emerging Scholars) [AMAZON LINK]

Publisher: Fortress Press [LINK]

Overview: Oden’s book is broken up into two parts. The first addresses Moltmann’s theology as it relates to the Church, and the second engages that theology with contemporary Church movements, such as the Emerging Church. As a study of Moltmann’s thought, this book soars as a careful look at Moltmann’s key interests and by providing a much needed focus on Moltmann’s ecclesiology.


I read this book primarily for its first part, which studies Moltmann, and my review will therefore focus on Oden’s work on Moltmann’s theology. While it should be noted that the second part was indeed fascinating, I am less capable of commenting on its success than I am on the first part.

Oden states the overall goal of the book as follows:

“By putting together the practical expressions of transformative churches and the systematic insights of Jürgen Moltmann, it is my goal to begin to construct a more adequate transformative ecclesiology. More than this, however, I also seek to imbue the transformative church conversations with theological intent, seeing their practices as being much more than church growth techniques, or attributes of a narrowly defined practical theology. By bringing these writers and thinkers into conversation with Moltmann, my goal is to substantiate their practices as being themselves topics of theology. Just as hope became a topic in theology, I assert so also should other practices of the church, because they are first expressions by God to the world. All theology, in such an approach, is practical. We are to be hospitable, for instance, because God is hospitable. We are to welcome strangers, for instance, because God is the welcoming God. Our practices illuminate our expressed theology, incarnating continually Christ’s identity into this world.” 1

There are many publications available that focus on Moltmann’s first two books, Theology of Hope and The Crucified Godbut there has sadly been less of an interest in Moltmann’s profound contribution to ecclesiology (the doctrine of the Church), which was the focus of his third book, The Church in the Power of the Holy SpiritOden’s study provides a much needed contribution to correct this problem, and shows exceptionally well the importance of Moltmann’s understanding of the Church as an essential aspect of his overall theology. Just as hope and the suffering of God are essential to nearly every work Moltmann wrote, so his understanding of the Church is integral to his whole theology. Oden reveals this in his careful and thoughtful study of Moltmann’s major works.

Oden writes his study with an attention to detail as well as an approachable style, which makes this book a helpful guide to Moltmann’s theology, as well as a fascinating look into a dialogue possible between his work and the different models within the Emerging Church (Oden lists four variations).

In a section directly dealing with Moltmann’s The Church in the Power of the Holy SpiritOden provides a helpful reflection on the political action of the Christian community, particularly as it relates to the call for the Church to care for the oppressed and the weak:

“In light of the cross, political action is always ‘from below,’ which is the only form of action that itself resists becoming oppressive because it stands with the outcasts and rejected. As a messianic people, those in the church do not identify with the powerful or seek symbols of strength and wealth to legitimize their claims for the kingdom, but instead share solidarity with the people who have no power.” 2

“This means that the fellowship with Christ does not simply encourage including the poor in our services or reaching out to them or giving them what we think they require, acting in paternal ways. Rather, this fellowship insists on involving ourselves in true solidarity, seeing them not as objects to fix but as people included in our fellowship, the fellowship of Christ. … Indeed, it might even be said that it is not our choice to include them in our fellowship with Christ but to seek their fellowship so as to be included with Christ who is already with them.” 3

This example shows how well Oden is able to highlight important insights from Moltmann’s theology for the Church today. This was the case for nearly every section he wrote on Moltmann’s thought, in which he carefully and clearly articulates the important points from each of his major books. I enjoyed this book very much, and found these sections to be very insightful for a better understanding of Moltmann.

Conclusion: Oden’s book is well worth reading, not only for the first part which masterfully deals with Moltmann’s theology, but for the whole premise of the book which strives to provide a transformative model for the Church. I’d recommend it both for those interested in how Moltmann’s theology might work in a dialogue of this sort, but also for those searching for a good overview of some of his essential convictions from the perspective of his ecclesiology.

Click here to purchase a copy (Amazon)

My thanks to Fortress Press for a digital copy of this book for review. I was under no obligation to offer a positive review and have presented my honest reflection on this work.

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Notes:

  1. Kindle loc., 206
  2. Kindle loc., 1581.
  3. Kindle loc., 1597-9.

“Theology as Hope” by Ryan A. Neal (a Review)

Book: Theology as Hope: On the Ground and Implications of Jürgen Moltmann’s Doctrine of Hope (Princeton Monograph Series) [AMAZON LINK]

Publisher: Pickwick Publications [LINK]

Overview: Theology as Hope is a carefully written, thoughtful book, which studies Moltmann’s major “Contributions to Systematic Theology” within the light of his theology of hope. For Neal, this is Moltmann’s chief method, “theology as hope.” While he is ultimately critical of the success of Moltmann’s project, he nevertheless provides a fair and helpful reading of his work.


I was impressed by this book. It is a clear overview of Moltmann’s theology from the conviction that his central method is “theology as hope.” while I wouldn’t call it an introductory study, it still gives a nice overview for those who might have a decent grasp already of Moltmann’s thought, but who perhaps have a few questions about precisely what Moltmann means. (Though Bauckham’s work will always be the standard for secondary literature on Moltmann.) Notable is his clarity in dealing with Moltmann’s controversial “social doctrine” of the Trinity. He provides a helpful response to critics of this notion that I thought was very well put together.

Another strength of this book was Neal’s ability to recognized nuances in development in Moltmann’s theology, so that he often made note of the precise areas where Moltmann progressed in his theology, or acted in a self-correcting manner, or when he flatly changed his mind. It is very helpful to read Moltmann within this context, because some of his earlier work is admittedly “one-sided” and it becomes useful to see where and how he corrects some of these tendencies. This is perhaps the greatest value I found in reading the book, as Neal pays careful attention to these details.

One such example is to examine how Moltmann expands from The Crucified God into The Spirit of Life with a more precise understanding of God’s involvement in the cross. Neal writes:

“While the central question of CG [The Coming of God]: ‘what does the cross mean for God?’ was only answered in a discussion of Father and Son… In SpL [The Spirit of Life], however, Moltmann seeks a specific answer in pneumatological terms… In SpL he is exercised by the ‘seldom asked’ question: how does the Spirit relate to the cross?” (185)

Neal notes that Moltmann draws upon his “social understanding of God’s triunity, stressing the three subjects rather than their unity.” (187) Therefore, the Trinitarian dimensions of the cross are more clearly articulated. Whereas previously Moltmann had a limited understanding of the Spirit’s involvement in the crucifixion, now Moltmann expands into a fully Trinitarian interpretation. Neal summarizes this as follows:

“1. The Father… is the ‘rejecting Father.’ First, the Father does not hear the prayer of the Son in Gethsemane, and then on the cross is continually silent as he abandons the Son to death. So, the Father suffers as the one abandoning his Son.

2. The Son… is the abandoned Son. The first part of his plea to the Father (Abba): ‘remove this cup from me’ goes unanswered, while the second half ‘yet, not what I want, but what you want’ is answered according to the Father’s will. So, the Son suffers actively as the one who both ‘through the eternal Spirit offers himself without blemish to God’ and passively as the one abandoned by his Father.

3. The Spirit… is the Spirit of Christ. The Spirit suffers, but does not die and is ‘Jesus’ strength in suffering.’ Thus, the Spirit is the ‘real determining subject of this special relationship of Jesus’ to God, and of God’s to Jesus.’ Accordingly, the Spirit ‘frames the Son’s response: ‘not my will, but thine be done.’ The Spirit also ‘reveals to Jesus the ‘will’ of God.'” (187-8)

The first and second proposals are included in Moltmann’s The Crucified Godbut this third aspect is where Neal sees as a development (and improvement) upon his theology of the cross. I’ll have to go back and re-read the sections he refers to in order to understand all the points here, but it was interesting to see this development spelled out so carefully. There are various other comments Neal makes that are helpful in this same regard, as he expertly traces Moltmann’s development on numerous issues. Perhaps this is just something I have not yet studied for myself as fully, but it struck me as a valuable aspect of the book.

Neal’s conclusion in the book was also interesting to read, though he takes a critical tone on the success of Moltmann’s theology of hope which I’m not quite sure I can follow. In a poor restatement of Neal’s conclusion, it seemed like his conclusion was that Moltmann’s theology of hope fails to be a theology of hope and is more accurately a theology of certainty (especially in Moltmann’s explicit universalism). Thus, he criticizes Moltmann’s Theology of Hope and his Coming of God perhaps the most strongly.

Conclusion: Generally speaking, I enjoyed this book for how carefully and thoroughly Neal wrote, as well as the attention he gave to the development of Moltmann’s thought. I’m not wholly convinced by his conclusion, but I found my understanding was challenged by it. I think this fact is a great sign of a successful book on Moltmann, since he was himself so dedicated to theology as a dialogue, or as he called it “an adventure of ideas” in which his “whole concern has been, and still is, to stimulate other people to discover theology for themselves” (Experiences in Theology, preface).

Click here to purchase Theology as Hope by Ryan A. Neal

My thanks to Pickwick Publications and Wipf & Stock Publishers for a digital copy of this book for review. I was under no obligation to offer a positive review, and have presented my honest reflection on this work.

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Jürgen Moltmann on the Rapture and “Left Behind”

 

Jürgen Moltmann discusses the problem of religious escapism, with a particular appeal against the rapture theory, in his book, Ethics of Hope:

Here a religious escapism is coming to the fore especially in the present spread of a vague Gnostic religiosity of redemption. The person who surrenders himself to this religiosity feels at home in ‘the world beyond’ and on earth sees himself merely as a guest. So it is only by the way he is concerned about the fate of life on this earth. His soul is going to heaven, that is the main thing. In the body and on this earth, it was no more than a guest, so the fate of this hostelry really has nothing to do with him. Religious practices lauding an indifference to life are offered under many high-sounding names. […] American pop-apocalyptic offers an especially dramatic escapism. Before the great afflictions at the end of the world, true believers will be ‘raptured’—snatched away to heaven, so that they can then build the new world with Christ at his Second Coming. All unbelievers unfortunately belong to the ‘Left Behind’, the people who are not ‘caught up’ and who will perish in the downfall of the world (‘Left Behind’ is the title of an American book series read by millions). Whether people throw themselves into the pleasures of the present or flee into the next world because they either cannot or will not withstand the threats, they destroy the love for life and put themselves at the service of terror and the annihilation of the world. Today life itself is in acute danger because in one way or the other it is no longer loved but is delivered over to the forces of destruction. 1

When our Earthly/bodily life is not loved, affirmed, and accepted, we either resign ourselves to a religious escapism or numb our senses with hedonistic pleasures. Moltmann’s ethic of hope insists that a truly Christian ethic, based on the bodily resurrection of Christ, says Yes to this life; it must include a love for our life on this Earth as human beings (not as disembodied souls).

A few years ago I wrote a book called 10 Reasons Why the Rapture Must Be Left Behind (free as an eBook). One of the ten reasons I argued against the rapture was that it promotes a kind of gnostic escapism. The rapture plays into the idea that we do not have to take care for this world (the ecological crisis is a result, in part, of this neglect), that we are not responsible for the Earth, and that we do not belong to it—because one day we will escape the Earth for a spiritual world somewhere else, while this world is annihilated.

But this is not the Christian hope. The Christian hope is hope for a new heaven and a new Earth. With Paul we must recognize that the whole creation is groaning for redemption (Rom. 8:22). We belong to this Earth. Redemption does not mean an escape from this world, but we hope that together with creation we will be made new. One of my favorite quotes from Moltmann emphasizes this point:

I don’t want to go to heaven. Heaven is there for the angels, and I am a child of the earth. But I expect passionately the world to come: The new heaven and the new earth where justice dwells, where God will wipe away every tear and make all things new. And this expectation makes life in this world for me, here and now, most lovable. 2

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Notes:

  1. Ethics of Hope, 52-3
  2. Quoted by the Moltmanniac

Jürgen Moltmann and Evangelical Theology: a Review

Book: Jürgen Moltmann and Evangelical Theology: A Critical Engagement edited by Sung Wook Chung (Amazon link)

Publisher: Pickwick Publications (an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers) (Publishers link)

Overview: This volume represents a fair and surprisingly appreciative engagement with Moltmann from the evangelical perspective. The weight of the book is on first understanding Moltmann before offering any criticism. As in any collection of essays such as this one, there are always essays that stand out among the rest. This volume is no different.


After I read the first essay in this book, written by Sung Wook Chung of scripture, I expected the rest of it to be largely negative. But I was pleasantly surprised. No essay is completely free from criticism, but the bulk of the essays fairly considered and appreciated the benefits of Moltmann’s theology.

It was a breath of fresh air. Most of evangelicals I’ve come across outright reject Moltmann as a heretic. They attempt to fit him into any number of labels (universalist, Marxist, open theist, etc.—however accurate or inaccurate) in order to downplay the significance of his thought. But this book does an excellent job truly celebrating the benefits evangelical theology might gain by engaging in a dialogue with his many contributions. If this book becomes a standard for the relationships evangelicals have with Moltmann, than there is tremendous hope for a profound future dialogue and mutual appreciation.

It did not surprise me at all to discover the first essay was on scripture, since evangelicals are known for their high regard of the Bible. Some of the most critical remarks were therefore against Moltmann’s theological method. Chung concludes this first essay with a remark that sets the tone well for the rest of the book: “…evangelicals cannot help maintaining an ambivalent attitude, both love and serious suspicion, toward Moltmann.” 1

The second essay was a sharp contrast against the first. Kurt Anders Richardson’s essay on “Moltmann’s Communitarian Trinity” was my favorite from the book. He treats Moltmann’s doctrine of the Trinity with the care it rightfully deserves. Many of the myths that surround Moltmann’s theology were dispelled.

One myth is Moltmann’s supposed Marxism. Richardson writes: “The Theology of Hope was actually a non-Marxist, Christian answer to Marxists.” 2 Richardson argues it is because many fail to understand the political background Moltmann writes within that they mistake him as a Marxist. He certainly appreciates elements of Marx, especially through his appreciation of Ernst Bloch; he is not, however, properly understood as writing a Marxist theology, but a Christian alternative to Marx.

Richardson also dispels the wrongful conclusion of patripassianism in The Crucified God. Patripassianism is an early modalist heresy that believed the Father suffered and died on the cross. Moltmann does argue for the grief of the Father in giving up His Son to death, but he does not confuse the death of the Son with the grief of the Father. The Son dies, and the Father suffers the loss of the Son. The label of patripassianism is wrongly applied, though some of the less attentive critics of Moltmann have jumped to that conclusion.

Against the charge that Moltmann is constructing an “extra-biblical” doctrine of the Trinity, Richardson writes: “This does not mean that Moltmann is thinking extra-biblically. On the contrary, there is much that is more biblical than the classic trinitarianism of speculative theology. It must be realized that all of the non-personal metaphors for Trinity are extra-biblical. What counts are the relational metaphors and signs of eternal relationships.” 3 This is a helpful clarification for critics of Moltmann’s “social” doctrine of the Trinity. He is thinking through with complete seriousness the doctrine of perichoresis, and as such Moltmann should be considered less speculative than those who argue for a metaphysical doctrine of God.

Richardson’s essay is a careful treatment of Moltmann’s thought, and certainly stood out as one of the best in the book. But I also enjoyed the Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen’s essay on Moltmann’s pneumatology.

The only real problem I have with the book is how repetitive it was, which made it rather boring to read even though each essay was so well written. This was because most of the essays repeated near identical biographical remarks or offered a short overview of his major books (or both). This made reading the essays, especially the first part of each, a chore. Even if I wasn’t familiar with Moltmann’s story or the development of his thought, I would find the repetition of this unnecessary. It is more of an editorial issue, however, and not directly the problem of the writers themselves. I wish the editor was more attentive to removing unnecessary repetition.

Conclusion: If this book is any indication of where the dialogue will go between Moltmann’s theology and evangelicals, then it is an excellent step forward. I recommend it for those who might find themselves on either side: whether you are an evangelical interested in Moltmann but unsure about him, or if you are appreciative of Moltmann but doubt there can be any evangelical dialogue, this is a helpful book.

My thanks to Wipf & Stock Publishers for a digital copy of this book for review. I was under no obligation to offer a positive review, and have presented my honest reflection on this work.

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Notes:

  1. 16
  2. 20
  3. 32

“Love our Country or Leave it”? (Moltmann)

 

I’ve been reading Moltmann recently, and just came across a quote bearing profound relevance for American politics today.

Moltmann begins: “The cross is the point at which Christian faith distinquishes itself from other religions and ideologies, from unfaith and superstition. … It should therefore become the beginning point and criterion for a Christian political theology.” 1

Moltmann quotes Adolf Schlatter, who aptly writes: “The vocation and work of Jesus consists in his destroying our idols, and the weapons with which he nullifies our false gods is his cross.” 

The Second Commandment, “You shall not make yourself a graven image…” is particularly relevant when we consider the political idols we create for ourselves. Luther wrote, “Whatever you set your heart on and depend on, that is really your god.” And this applies no less to religious idols than it does to political idols, whether these are called “America,” “Republican,” “Liberal,” or anything else. Political idols are not absent from America.

We often fail to recognizing ourselves as a “factory for idols” (Calvin), but it is an undeniable truth we must recognize. We create idols daily. And, according to Moltmann, the only destruction of all our idols, political or otherwise, is the cross of Christ. When we see the power of God in the weakness and suffering of Christ, we no longer have valid justification for a top down power structure. In other words, we no longer have ultimate justification for faith in a political power, in a country, in an ideology.

The only justified faith in the light of the cross is faith in the crucified God who takes the side of the weak, powerless, suffering, poor, and broken. In a world where success and achievement are the highest good, we, in the name of Christ, must protest against all cultural idols of power, no matter what name they bear.

If, for example, the idol of power goes by the name “America” or “nationalism,” then it becomes a Christian obligation to resist and protest against this power structure which tramples on the weak and idolizes the successful. Think of the recent controversy surrounding the NFL and their protesting athletes, taking a knee during the National Anthem. By giving a voice to the voiceless, to those who are forgotten and ignored in our success culture, these athletes stand on the side of the crucified Christ who suffered as an outcast for the cause of the outcasted.

Those angered by their protest feel their idols, and by extension, themselves, threatened. Moltmann writes with prophetic power and an eerie relevance:

“From a psychological point of view, the unfathomable anxiety of man causes him to create for himself symbols, idols, and values which then become identical with his self. Every attack against his idols therefore wounds his ‘highest values,’ and he reacts to this with deadly aggression. As long as his self depends on such idols and idolized realities, man is not free to accept the different kind of life of another along with his own life. He only accepts men who are like him. He only accepts men who value the same things and abhor the same things as he does because these men confirm him. Strangers put him in question and make him uncertain. Hence the attitude: ‘Love our country or leave it.’ This is the basis for xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and racial hatred. The liberation of man from the anxiety and the coercive force of such idols is therefore the presupposition for humanity and peace on earth.” 2

Liberation from this anxiety is only in the cross of Christ, when we recognize that this is God’s Christ suffering and dying as an outcast, as a political tool, in solidarity with the weak, poor, and helpless. The cross is the ultimate undoing of all our idols of success and power. Even if that idol is named “America,” we are obligated as Christians to protest in the name of the crucified Christ, who is triumphant in suffering and weakness, who is on the side of the poor and the outcasted.

To those of you angered by these protests, I want to ask you: Where is the cross of Christ? Do you see Christ on the side of the rich and the successful refusing to give a voice to the voiceless? Or, if you’re honest, don’t you see Christ in the eyes of those protesting in the name of the violence done to the poor and weak?

Few people groups suffer more violently and more often in our country than the African-American. By silencing their protests, be careful you are not turning a deaf ear to the suffering cry of Christ in solidarity with the weak.

May our idols of power come undone at the cross of Christ. And may we be attentive to listen to Christ’s cry of solidarity with the weak and the voiceless.

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Notes:

  1. The Experiment Hope110
  2.  Ibid., 112-3

“Beware of ‘America First'” – Jürgen Moltmann on Donald Trump’s America

I have just shared about Jürgen Moltmann’s letter to me, which you can read here in its entirety. But I wanted to highlight a moving aspect of that letter, namely, Moltmann’s response to my question about Donald Trump as the new president of the United States.

I wrote my letter in February, during the time when Trump was attempting to ban Muslim’s and block Syrian refugees from entering the country. This was (thankfully!) blocked and deemed unconstitutional after protests and political opposition arose all around the country. But my concerns regarding the current president have not ceased, and Moltmann’s response beautifully summarizes all of the reservations which I have felt regarding our current president. In my opinion, Donald Trump’s America is the antithesis of the best principles America was built on, exemplified clearly in the poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, “The New Colossus”: “Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, / The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. / Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, / I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” But it is not only as an American that I am hesitant about Trump, but also as a Christian; I can’t help but think Trump’s America follows the path of a violent empire, which is not the way of the kingdom of God.

Professor Moltmann’s profound response is deeply moving:

“I can’t say how sad I am with your new president. This is not the America I love. And beware of ‘America first’ — the ‘first will be the last’, said Jesus. Humility is the virtue of the privileged.”

Read the full letter here.

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Jürgen Moltmann’s Letter

I was honored to receive a letter today from one of my theological heroes, the great German theologian of hope herr professor Jürgen Moltmann. I wrote professor Moltmann in February, and had almost given up “hope” that I’d ever hear a response. This was before checking my mailbox today to find this greatly-anticipated letter from Germany, much to my excitement!

I wrote Moltmann primarily to thank him for his books and for the profound impact they have had on my faith and theology. Readers of my articles and books will know that I consider professor Moltmann to be one of my three favorite theologians (with Barth and Torrance). I consider him, without any hesitation, the greatest theologian alive today. His work has had a profound impact on me ever since reading his masterpiece, The Crucified God, almost four years ago. In 2014 I wrote a short (if slightly premature) book that wrestles with Moltmann’s “theodicy”, entitled Where Was God? [LINK]. I am currently preparing to research and write a more fully-fleshed book on Moltmann as a part of my “Theology in Plain English” series. I also plan to write a book on Moltmann and Samuel Beckett, one of my favorite literary authors. So it goes without saying, I am deeply grateful for the theology of Jürgen Moltmann, and I was honored to receive this personal letter!

I asked Moltmann two questions after profusely thanking him for his theological work. First, I asked about the current president of the United States, Donald Trump. Like many other Americans I am profoundly disturbed with the president; I find many of his policies to be the very antithesis of the way of Jesus Christ. It shouldn’t be a surprise to those familiar with Moltmann to learn he also responded with sadness about our president, writing, “I can’t say how sad I am with your new president.” Second, I asked Moltmann if he has any comments about Samuel Beckett, and I mentioned my interest in placing his theology into dialogue with Beckett’s literary project. To this Moltmann said he is mostly unfamiliar with Beckett, but encouraged me to pursue the project.

My thanks again to professor Moltmann for kindly responding to my letter!

Here is his response in its entirety:

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St. Augustine VS Jürgen Moltmann (On Loving God)

Today we continue “Moltmann-March” with a quote contrasting Moltmann’s understanding of loving God as gladly existing, and Augustine’s understanding of loving God as rejecting existence and hiding in the innermost self. This quote comes from Moltmann’s excellent book The Source of Life: The Holy Spirit and the Theology of LifeFor other recommended books by Moltmann, check out last week’s article.

For now, enjoy this fascinating match-up between Jürgen Moltmann and St. Augustine on loving God!


“One evening I read the following passage in Augustine’s Confessions. Augustine says:

“‘But what do I love when I love you? Not the beauty of any body or the rhythm of time in its movement; not the radiance of light, so dear to our eyes; not the sweet melodies in the world of manifold sounds; not the perfume of flowers, ointments and spices; not manna and not honey; not the limbs so delightful to the body’s embrace: it is none of these things that I love when I love my God. And yet when I love my God I do indeed love a light and a sound and perfume and food and embrace—a light and sound and perfume and a food and an embrace in my inward self. There my soul is flooded with a radiance which no space can contain; there a music sounds which time never bears away; there I smell a perfume which no wind disperses; there I taste a food that no surfeit embitters; there is an embrace which no satiety severs. It is this that I love when I love my God.’ (X.6, 8)

And that night I answered him:

“When I love God I love the beauty of bodies, the rhythm of movements, the shining of eyes, the embraces, the feelings, the scents, the sounds of all this protean creation. When I love you, my God, I want to embrace it all, for I love you with all my senses in the creations of your love. In all the things that encounter me, you are waiting for me. 

“For a long time I looked for you within myself and crept into the shell of my soul, shielding myself with an armour of inapproachability. But you were outside—outside myself—and enticed me out of the narrowness of my heart into the broad place of love for life. So I came out of myself and found my soul in my senses, and my own self in others.

“The experience of God deepens the experiences of life. It does not reduce them. For it awakens the unconditional Yes to life. The more I love God, the more gladly I exist. The more immediately and wholly I exist, the more I sense the living God, the inexhaustible source of life and eternal livingness.”

(The Source of Life, p. 87-8 emphasis mine)

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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.”

Conclusions

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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