All posts in “Jurgen Moltmann”

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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God’s Being in Suffering (Barth and Jüngel)

Masaccio's Holy Trinity

Masaccio’s Holy Trinity

When Jesus Christ suffered and died on the cross, where was the Father and the Spirit? In what way was the being of God as Father and Spirit involved in the suffering and death of the Son? Was Jesus alone in His suffering, was He in isolation from the Father and the Spirit, somehow separated from His own Trinitarian being, or is there some way in which the Father and the Spirit shared in the sufferings of Jesus Christ? Does God suffer?

Patripassianism is the heretical belief that the Father died on the cross, that the Trinity is not three distinct persons (Father, Son, and Spirit) but one person who appears to us in three different ways (called modalism). This is not what we are talking about, modalism is a false understanding of the Trinity. But is there perhaps a more properly Trinitarian way of understanding the cross? A Trinitarian understanding of the crucifixion which does not fall into modalism, which does not exclude the Father or Spirit in the suffering of Jesus Christ, yet keeps their sufferings distinct?

Karl Barth offers a brilliant yet subtle modification to patripassianism, and Eberhard Jüngel notes this in his book on Barth’s doctrine of the trinity, God’s Being Is in Becoming. [LINK] Barth rightly rejects modalism, but at the same time he does not fall into the error of wholly removing the Father or the Spirit from the event of Christ’s suffering and death. Instead, the Father and the Spirit are involved in Christ’s death, they are affected by His suffering and by His death even if they are distinctly set apart from it.

The painting aptly entitled “Holy Trinity” by Masaccio portrays this beautifully (see above), showing the Son suffering on a cross held up by the Father with the Spirit as a dove between them. So exactly how does Barth modify patripassianism without falling into modalism? Jüngel writes:

“And so God as God has declared himself identical with the crucified Jesus. Therefore one must not exclude from this suffering the Father who gave his Son over to suffer death. ‘It is not at all the case that God has no part in the suffering of Jesus Christ even in His mode of being as the Father.’ [Barth, CD IV/2, 357] … Thus the Father, too, participates with the Son in the passion, and the divine unity of God’s modes of being prove itself in the suffering of Jesus Christ. God’s being is a being in the act of suffering. … In giving himself away God does not give himself up. But he gives himself away because he will not give up humanity.” 1

And furthermore, Jüngel writes:

“No concept of God arrived at independent of the reality of Jesus Christ may decide what is possible and impossible for God.” 2

We cannot say that on the cross God remained unaffected by the sufferings of Jesus Christ, we cannot say it is impossible for God to suffer when by identifying Himself with Jesus Christ God has shown this to be possible. No independent thought about what God can or cannot be or do apart from the revelation of God in Jesus Christ can tell us what God is like, whether or not God suffers or is above suffering.

The Father did not die on the cross, but this does not mean we can say that the Father remains unaffected by the death of the Son. We have to say, since God has identified Himself with Jesus Christ, that God’s being is being in the act of suffering. In short, that God suffers.

Jüngel followed Barth’s insight here and developed it significantly in what’s often considered his masterpiece: God as the Mystery of the World. [LINK] With Jürgen Moltmann, Jüngel argues that God suffers in the death of Jesus Christ, that “God’s being is a being in the act of suffering.” Thus, both reject the common notion of God’s inability to suffer (impassibility). This commonly held notion that God is above suffering, that God is not a God who is affected by our death and corruption, is shattered in the light of Jesus Christ. Those who take Christ’s death seriously as God’s suffering in our humanity inevitably make this conclusion: God, in fact, can and does suffer with us in Jesus Christ.

I’ve often said here how much I enjoy the theology of Jürgen Moltmann, and this is why: Moltmann’s insistence upon God’s suffering is brilliant. But here we see this insight in Barth’s thought already before Moltmann or Jüngel made it explicit in their work. Learning this was new for me, I had not seen this from Barth’s theology until I read Jüngel’s work on it. So I’m planning to read through CD IV/2 with this in mind, as well as to read Jüngel’s God as the Mystery of the World to explore more this insight—one which I often believed to be exclusively Moltmannian, but now has appeared to be more diverse.

Does God suffer? According to Moltmann, Jüngel, and even Barth: Yes!

For more on this see similar articles I’ve written: The Weakness of God and T. F. Torrance on the Passible Impassibility of God. Also see my book on Moltmann, which is free for those in my Readers Group: Where Was God? 

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  1. God’s Being Is in Becoming, page 102
  2. Ibid. 99

Live Slowly! says Jürgen Moltmann

God-for-a-Secular-SocietyI’m categorizing this one under “words to live by”! Jürgen Moltmann is not only an incredibly profound thinker and one of my favorite theologians: he is often an insightful and inspiring individual to learn life from. Here, Moltmann’s simple advice to modern men and women is this: Slow down!

It’s a rather long quote so I’ll let you read it yourself; though I must say I find this advice personally challenging, as I’m sure we can all learn to live slowly. In the age of instant social media interactions and fast paced everything it’s important we learn to live slowly! Moltmann is helpful here in showing us how we can be free to live slow lives and to stop trying to “play God” with our fast-paced living.

I hope you enjoy this quote as much as I do! This comes from Moltmann’s book God for Secular Society. (LINK) I enjoyed the book tremendously, and while it’s not necessarily a theological book there were many great passages in which Moltmann applies his theology to modern society. If you enjoy this quote, I’d recommend it!

“Modern men and women are ‘always on the go’, so wherever they are, they are always pressed for time. … Never before did human beings have as much free time as they have today, and never did they have so little time. Time has become ‘precious’ too, because ‘time is money’. The world offers us endless possibilities, but our life-span is brief. Consequently many people fall into a panic in case they should miss out on something, and they try to step up their pace of living. The utopia of overcoming space and time by way of high-speed trains, faxes and E-mail, Internet and videos, is a modern utopia. Everywhere we want to ‘keep up’ with things—the phrase is significant in itself. We want to be omnipresent in space and simultaneous in time. That is our new God-complex.

“The modern revved-up human is fed by McDonald’s, poor devil. He has plenty of experiences, but actually experiences none of them because he wants to have seen everything and to hold on to it on slides or videos; but he doesn’t take it in or assimilate any of it. He has contacts in plenty but no relationships, because he ‘can’t stay’, but is always in a hurry. He gulps down his fast food, standing up if possible, because he is incapable of enjoying anything any more; for to enjoy something takes time, and time is what one doesn’t have. Modern men and women have no time, because they are always out to ‘save’ time. Because we can’t prolong our lives to any appreciable degree, we have to hurry in order to ‘get as much as possible out of life’. Modern men and women ‘take their own lives’ in the double sense of the phrase: by snatching at life, they kill it. The brevity of time is not diminished one single second by accelerated life. On the contrary, it is by being afraid of not getting one’s share and missing out on something that one falls short, and misses out on everything. 

“We tourists have been everywhere but have got nowhere. There is always only enough time for a flying visit. The more we travel, and the more rapidly we chase after time, the more meagre the spoils. Everywhere we are just in transit. The person who lives more and more rapidly so as to miss nothing lives more and more superficially, and misses the depths of experience life offers. In that person’s world, everything is possible, but very little is real.

It is probably our suppressed fear of death which makes us so greedy for life. Our individualized awareness tells us: ‘Death is the finish. You can’t hold on to anything, and you can’t take it with you.’ The unconscious fear of death shows itself in the stepped-up haste for living. In traditional societies, individuals felt themselves to be members of a larger whole: the family, life simply as such, or the cosmos. When the individual dies, the wider context in which he or she participated lives on. But modern individualized consciousness knows only itself, relates everything to itself, and therefore believes that death is the end of everything.

“Perhaps we can no longer go back to the old sense of belonging to a greater whole which endures when we disappear. But we can surrender our finite and limited life to the eternal divine life and receive our life from that. This is what happens when we experience communion with God in faith. To experience the presence of the eternal God brings our temporal life as if into an ocean which surrounds us and buoys us up when we swim in it. In this way the divine presence surrounds us from every side, as Psalm 139 says, like a wide space for living which even finite death cannot restrict. In this divine presence we can affirm our limited life and accept its limits. We will then become serene and relaxed, and will begin to live slowly and with delight.

It is only the person who lives slowly who gets more out of life. It is only the person who eats and drinks slowly who eats and drinks with enjoyment. Slow food—slow life! Sten Nadolny’s book The Discovery of Slowness (ET 1981) rightly became a bestseller, and a comfort for harrassed modern minds and hearts. Only the very rich can squander time. Those who are assured of eternal life have time in plenty. Then we linger in the moment, and lay ourselves open to the intensive experience of life. …

“It is only the suppressed fear of death that makes us so hurried. The experienced nearness of death, by contrast, teaches us to live every moment with full intensity as an eternal moment. Our senses are sharpened in an undreamed-of way. We see colours, hear sounds, taste and feel as never before. The experience of death which we permit ourselves makes us wise for life and wise in our dealings with time. The hope of resurrection to which we hold fast opens up a wide horizon beyond death, so that we can leave ourselves time to live.1

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  1. Moltmann, J. (1999). God for a Secular Society: The Public Relevance of Theology (pp. 88–91). Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.

Jürgen Moltmann’s “Universalism of the Cross” (A Book Review of “The Annihilation of Hell” by Nicholas Ansell)

PrintBook: The Annihilation of Hell: Universal Salvation and the Redemption of Time in the Eschatology of Jürgen Moltmann by Nicholas Ansell (2013). (Amazon link)

Publisher: Cascade Books, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers.

Jürgen Moltmann is one of my favorite theologians, and so I was delighted to have the opportunity to read and review Nicholas Ansell’s book The Annihilation of Hell from the kind people at Wipf and Stock publishers. Thank you!

This book is a sympathetic engagement with Moltmann’s eschatology, specifically focusing on universal salvation and the nature of time in Moltmann’s theology. Generally speaking, I greatly enjoyed reading this book and appreciate the tremendous effort Ansell has put forward in it. I recommend it to anyone interested in the theology of Jürgen Moltmann, especially in how it pertains to universalism.

Ansell’s critique

Ansell presents an overview of his work in a summary at the end of the book. He writes,

This study is an engagement with the theme of universal salvation as viewed within the overall structure of Moltmann’s theology, eschatology, and theocosmogony. Consonant with Moltmann’s understanding, the main title, The Annihilation of Hell, refers to the overcoming of Hell as our eschatological hopes are realised, whilst at the same time alluding to Hell’s own annihilative power in history—a power with which hope must contend. For Moltmann, Hell is the nemesis of hope. Yet hope clings to the certainty that God in Christ has embraced all things, even death and Hell, so that creation may participate in the divine Life of the Age to Come. (P. 424)

Prior to this remark, Ansell gives an overview of his general critique of Moltmann’s position.

Although I accept Moltmann’s ‘universalism of hope’ and greatly appreciate his ‘universalism of the cross’, his ‘theocosmogony of the cross’ is a very different story. (P. 372)

Ansell argues quite well in this book that Moltmann’s universalism of hope and of the cross is a commendable one, but he is critical of his theocosmology. Particularly, he is critical of how Moltmann seems to blur the line between creation and fall in his usage of zimzum, and in turn of his negative assessment of creation (and thus of time). Ansell proposes a way forward which I find insightful and constructive. He spends a great deal of time in the book dealing with the nature of time. It may very well be time well spent (see what I did there?), but I was less interested in this section than in his overall affirmation of Moltmann’s universalism.

In this review, as the title suggests, I want to focus on what Ansell says positively about Moltmann’s universalism. Because, frankly, most of what Ansell had to say negatively about Moltmann’s theocosmology  I had not picked up on in my reading of his work. Most of his insights were great in this regard: that I felt as if I was learning a new way of reading Moltmann. This is the most notable factor of his carefully nuanced critique. (And from this I am challenged that I need to read Moltmann again, and perhaps more carefully!) But obviously this also means I would have difficulty engaging with Ansell’s criticism of these ideas. Though I do commend his work and think he is certainly right about much of his critique.

(And it is generally a constructive critique, as Ansell offers many helpful alternatives which he feels strengthen Moltmann’s universalism. I’m just not as well versed in the philosophy of time as Ansell is.)

Ansell’s affirmation

A better understanding of Moltmann’s universalism of the cross is the primary gain I take from this book. The key feature that I found commendable was how Ansell placed Moltmann’s universalism into conversation with modern theologies, asking: Does Jürgen Moltmann’s eschatology present a kind of universalism which might be approachable for today’s evangelical theology? Ansell offers a supportive yes.

For Moltmann, universal salvation is not a dogmatic assertion, but it is a certain hope. (I’ve written more on this here.) It is a certain hope not because of theological deduction, but because of what God has done in Jesus Christ, specifically because of what has taken place in His death and descent into hell. For Moltmann, then, universalism is best argued from the standpoint of the crucified Christ. Moltmann writes in his famous work, The Crucified Godthat “the theology of the cross is the true Christian universalism.”

For Moltmann, the basis of universal salvation is the cross of Jesus Christ, who was buried and descended into hell. In this way God may truly become “all in all”, because even in hell there is hope because there is the presence of Christ.

For this reason, Ansell calls Moltmann’s universalism “pre-theological”. He writes what follows, summarizing the difference between a dogmatic universalism and a merely hopeful one (apart from the substance of the cross):

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. (P. 211)

That in the end all will be redeemed is not the theological doctrine Moltmann claims, but rather it is his theological presupposition. As I’ve written elsewhere, for Moltmann the fact that Christ has descend into hell means hope  for the redemption of all creation. The famous warning over Dante’s Inferno, “Abandon all hope…”, is deemed null and void in the light of Christ’s cross and descent into hell. Because if even in hell there is hope, we can presuppose that in the end all will be saved. This is not because we think God should or must do this, but because of what God has done in Jesus Christ and His cross we can presuppose this as the ultimate goal of redemption.

Moltmann’s universalism, therefore, is deeply connected with the whole of his theological project, which is centered upon the sufferings of Jesus Christ on the cross. Hope for the universal salvation of the cosmos is affirmed, according to Moltmann, on the cross.

Beyond this focus, Ansell also shows how Moltmann navigates the two major arguments often spoken against universalism. First, that it negates the freedom of mankind, and second, that it negates the freedom of God. Dogmatic universalism perhaps does this, but Moltmann’s universalism of the cross is not stuck in this same position. Dogmatic universalism is often plagued with a sort of determinism, in which ultimately all will be saved because God “must” save and we “must” be saved. The problems of this position are address well and their relation to Moltmann’s position are very insightful. It is one of my favorite aspects of this book, that Ansell strives most of all to engage Moltmann with the contemporary theology of both the Arminian and Calvinist positions. Moltmann’s universalism of the cross untangles itself from this dual problem of freedom in an admirable way. Thus, Ansell seems to conclude that Moltmann’s universalism, with some alterations, is one which the Christian community at large might engage and possibly accept as viable.


Ansell’s book is an excellent and nuanced study on Moltmann’s eschatology and his universalism of the cross. I look forward to further work from Ansell, as he wrote in a clear yet erudite manner. This book is approachable for most informed readers, though I do recommend, if you’re interested in reading it, that you have at least a basic understanding of Moltmann’s theology beforehand. (It’s especially helpful if you’ve read God in Creation, The Coming of Godand Theology of Hope.)

This book helped me see many aspects of Moltmann’s theology I may have missed otherwise, and I plan to revisit some of the key books he mentions to study further Moltmann’s thought. This book has also helped me come to greater terms with Moltmann’s universalism and the commendable features of it. I appreciate far more Moltmann’s theology and especially his kind of universalism, which I personally find quite viable for the church today.

You can buy the book here from Amazon or directly from the publisher.

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Universalism: A “Certain” Hope (Jürgen Moltmann)

PrintI’m currently reading Nicholas Ansell’s book on the universalism of Jürgen Moltmann, entitled The Annihilation of Hell: Universal Salvation and the Redemption of Time in the Eschatology of Jürgen Moltmann. (LINK) So far I am enjoying it tremendously, and I have no doubt that I will eventually have more to say about it later, along with a full review of the book once I’ve finished.

But from the first chapter there was an interesting idea Ansell brings up that I wanted to share here. I have said before that I am not a universalist, though I could rightly be called a “hopeful” one. With Balthasar I believe it is not only permissible but essential that we hope for all humanity, that in the end all will be redeemed. We cannot dogmatically assert this, but we can and should hope for it. 

This tension between dogmatic and hopeful universalism, one of which is heretical and the other of which is acceptable and encouraged, is something which Ansell clarifies through highlighting what he calls Moltmann’s “certain hope”. He writes:

This ‘certain hope’, as I have referred to it, and the “confession of hope” with which he [Moltmann] brings his discussion to a close, need to be carefully distinguished from the ‘hopeful’ universalism that finds approval in The Mystery of Salvation. In the latter, the universal salvation we ‘hope’ for is something that we desire, without knowing for sure what God will finally be able to achieve in the face of human freedom. Because there is no way that we can be certain, in this understanding, the best we can do is ‘hope’ for the best. ‘Dogmatic’ universalism is thus inappropriate. Moltmann’s ‘theology of hope’ is very different. While he would certainly agree that God’s eschatological Judgment is still to come, and is thus not something we can describe, at the same time, he insists that because the revelation of God’s purposes in the Christ event has already taken place, a hope that is rooted in the cross is not simply an expression of what we would like to happen. Given God’s decisive action in Christ, we can be confident of the outcome: “What Christ accomplished in his dying and rising is proclaimed to all human beings through his gospel and will be revealed to everyone and everything at his appearance.” The “confession of hope,” as articulated by Christoph Blumhardt, can and should be preached with conviction. This has nothing to do with merely ‘hoping for the best’. For hope, in Moltmann theology, provides the way to certainty. And the cross provides the way to hope. In “submerg[ing] ourselves in the depths of Christ’s death on the cross,” Moltmann writes, “… we find the certainty of reconciliation without limits.” 1

Here we see a distinction between hope as merely “hoping for the best,” and hope as certainty grounded upon God’s actions and will in Jesus Christ on the cross. While this does not affirm dogmatic universalism, it does refine what we mean by “hopeful” universalism. It is not the hope of what we want, over and against what God wants; it is a hope based on the certainty that this is what God wants for the human race, as revealed in Christ and His cross. God wills redemption, not destruction, salvation, not damnation, restoration, not abandonment.

This certain hope is not the hope of wishful thinking, but hope in the certainty of God Himself, of God’s consistency with Himself, and certainty in His work in Jesus Christ. We hope with certainty because, as Peter writes, God wills that none shall perish. (2 Peter 3:9) And furthermore, God has acted with this purpose in mind. Our hope is certain because it is a hope not against God’s will and work in Jesus Christ, but with it! Thus it is a certain hope.

I am looking forward to reading more from Ansell and this book. I highly recommend this book if Moltmann’s eschatology interests you, especially as it pertains to universal salvation. You can buy the book here.

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  1. Nicholas Ansell, The Annihilation of Hell,  2013 Cascade Books, pp. 39-40. (Bold text mine for emphasis)

The Quote that Made Me Read Jürgen Moltmann

imageI was writing something about Jürgen Moltmann the other day, and for some reason it had me think back to the first quote I read from him that really won me over. The quote convinced me to finally pick up that daunting book on my shelf called The Crucified God. The quote remains one of my favorite quotes from Moltmann, even today. Jürgen Moltmann is one of my top three favorite theologians (next to Barth and Torrance), and I was happy to see how much of his work I’ve read since this quote. I’ve read now fourteen books from Moltmann, and plan to read at least fourteen more (and re-read even more). But going back to where it all started, here’s the quote that made me love Jürgen Moltmann.

The SS hanged two Jewish men and a youth in front of the whole camp. The men died quickly, but the death throes of the youth lasted for half an hour. ‘Where is God? Where is he?’ someone asked behind me. As the youth still hung in torment for a long time, I heard the man call again, ‘Where is God now?’ And I heard a voice in myself answer: ‘Where is he? He is here. He is hanging there on the gallows…’
Any other answer would be blasphemy. There cannot be any other Christian answer to the question of this torment. To speak here of a God who could not suffer would make God a demon. To speak here of an absolute God would make God an annihilating nothingness. To speak here of an indifferent God would condemn men to indifference. 1

Technically the first half of the quote is from E. Wiesel’s book Night (a fantastic book in its own right), but this quote gets to the core of Moltmann’s theology. It struck me so profoundly, as it still does today, that I knew I had to read Jürgen Moltmann. What’s your favorite quote?

I’ve since written a book engaging Moltmann with the question of God and human suffering, and you can download it for free right now when you join my Readers Group!



  1. Jurgen Moltmann, The Crucified God, p 273-274

Is God More Like Batman or Superman?

imageIt could just be a matter of opinion. But whenever I think about who’s the more compelling character, Batman or Superman, it’s Batman hands down.

This weekend Ketlin and I went to see the new Batman Vs. Superman movie, and I was thinking a lot about this watching it. Without commenting on the movie itself, which I did enjoy, it was clear to me in comparing these two stories who was the more relatable, compelling superhero. Batman was who I found myself rooting for, even if in this movie he was slightly misguided by some bad assumptions.

Here’s why I find Batman more compelling. 1) He’s a human character with real emotions; a man who can suffer and die. 2) He changes, both in character and in opinion. He’s flawed, and he’s in process.

In contrast, Superman is less compelling. 1) He acts like an inhuman character barely with any emotion. While he has suffered the loss of others, he has hardly suffered himself. And he can’t die. So what does he really risk in the end? 2) He’s often portrayed as a moral absolute, who’s rarely wrong. He rarely changes his mind because he is this moral absolute.

In the final analysis Batman will always be, at least for me, the more relatable character, the character who risks the most, suffers the most, and who grows the most. Superman falls flat in comparison.

Now here’s an interesting question: which character is more like the God of Jesus Christ? 

In traditional theology the answer is simple. God cannot suffer or die; God cannot change. In technical terms, God is impassible and immutable. Therefore, God is more like Superman.

But does this mean we have a God we cannot relate to? In a sense: an inhuman God, an abstract divinity?

Jürgen Moltmann once said, in response to the horrors of the holocaust, “To speak here of a God who could not suffer would make God a demon.” 1 And Dietrich Bonhoeffer has also said, “Only the suffering God can help.” 2

If God cannot suffer in the face of our suffering, if God is incapable of suffering, God is a demon. An impassable God is a cold God who remains unaffected by our human calamity. But thankfully this is not the God of Jesus Christ.

We often imagine that God is like Superman. That God is some absolute power from another planet, unable to suffer, unable to die. A God created in our image may be like this, but this is not the God revealed in Jesus Christ. The God revealed in Jesus is a God subject to suffering, a God who humbles Himself to become vulnerable and weak, and even a God who dies.

The God of abstract philosophy, the impassable and immutable God, is an inhuman God. We cannot relate to this God. Perhaps this is why so many give up on God in the face of tragedy and hardship? Isn’t that the common question? Where is God in suffering? If God exist, why hasn’t he done anything about suffering?

But in Jesus Christ God stands in solidarity with mankind and our suffering. God suffers with us. As Jürgen Moltmann says, “God weeps with us so that we may one day laugh with Him.”

God is not Batman, but in the face of suffering and death God is closer to him than Superman. Because in Jesus Christ God truly and actually risked Himself, He truly and actually suffered and died. And therefore, we have a brother in suffering, a friend in death. We are never alone in our darkness.

(For more on God and human suffering, see my book, Where Was God?, currently FREE when you sign up to my Readers Group.)

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  1. The Crucified God, P. 274
  2. Letters and Papers from Prison

“I Know Someone Who Was in Hell: Christ” (Moltmann)

stavronikita-mount-athos_16cHappy Holy Saturday!

Holy Saturday, especially in protestant churches, is a deeply under appreciated part of the Easter story. In recent years, though, as I’ve meditated more on what it means, I’ve become convinced that Holy Saturday is just as essential to the gospel as Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Let me explain why.

Holy Saturday is the day in which Christ was buried in the grave, and descended to hell (as the Apostles Creed proclaims. “He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to hell. The third day he rose again from the dead.”) The significance of this day is brought out, at least for me personally, most of all in the works of Jürgen Moltmann. For Moltmann, Christ’s descent to hell is a further movement of His solidarity with mankind. As on the cross Jesus suffered our forsakenness and our death, so too in the grave Jesus suffered our hell. He went so far as our God acting for us that He not only overcame our sin and death, but our hell too. Jesus has bankrupted hell, robbing it of any power it once had over mankind. He has defeated the grave.  Truly, we can say with Paul: “Death where is your sting? Grave where is your victory?”

Here Moltmann writes in Jesus Christ for Today’s World on this descent to hell:

“Is there a hell?

Yes, I believe there is a hell. In the horrors of Auschwitz and in the terrors of Vietnam, people experienced a hell of suffering and a hell of guilt. That is why we talk about the hell of Auschwitz and the hell of Vietnam, meaning a senseless suffering with no way out, an unforgivable guilt and a fathomless abandonment by God and human beings. Is there a hell after death too? I believe there is, for the hell before death is worse than death itself. For many people death was a release from the suffering and fear of that hell.

Do we know anyone who is in hell? Would we tell a mother weeping at her son’s grave that her son is in hell because he never found faith while he was alive? We should respond to the first question with an embarrassed silence. And we would not answer ‘yes’ to the second one either. But I know someone who was in hell: it is Jesus Christ, who the creed says ‘descended into hell’.

When we were thinking about the tortured Christ, we asked: what does this article in the creed mean? When did Christ go through hell? And we saw that in the past two answers have been given. The earlier interpretation said that after his death Christ descended to the realm of the dead, to preach to them the gospel of their redemption and to deliver them. Luther looked at it differently, maintaining that Christ endured the torments of hell between Gethsemane and Golgotha, in his profound forsakenness by God. But whatever we may think about Christ’s descent into hell, Luther was right when he said: ‘Regard not hell and the eternity of torment in thyself, nor these things in themselves, nor yet in those who are damned. Look upon the face of Christ, who for thy sake descended into hell and was forsaken by God as one who is damned eternally, as he said on the cross: “My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” See, in him thy hell is vanquished …’ Because Christ was in hell and endured its torments, there is hope in hell for redemption. Because Christ was raised to life from hell, hell’s gates are open and its walls have been broken down. Though I make my bed in hell, you are there.’ And then hell is not hell any longer. ‘O hell where is thy victory? But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ? (1 Cor. 15:55, 57).” 1

Hell Overcome

Hell is overcome by Christ. Whatever else we have to say about hell, it’s duration or existence or who goes there—we can say for certain this: hell is overcome. And we only know with certainty of one who has been there: Jesus Christ. This means that even in hell, there is hope. Because even in hell there is Jesus Christ the reconciler of the world, the redeemer of mankind, the friend of sinners.

This does not, of course, automatically equate to universalism. As Karl Barth has said about the subject, “I don’t teach universal reconciliation but I don’t not-teach it.” Because in the end the question of universalism is not something we can answer. Instead, it will only be answered by God. As Jürgen Moltmann has also said, “Does the new creation of all things mean ‘universal reconciliation’ and ‘the restoration of all things’? This is a difficult question, because only God will answer it. If we think humanistically and universally—God could perhaps be a particularist. But if we think pietistically and particularistically—God might be a universalist. If I examine myself seriously, I find that I have to say: I myself am not a universalist, but God may be one.” 2

If we take seriously the scope of Christ’s redemption, and the solidarity He has taken up with mankind, it’s impossible, in my mind, not to have at least some hope for the redemption of all creation. We cannot claim factually that all will be saved. But we can, and must, have hope for it. And we have hope for it because in Christ we see only this hope, the hope that all will be saved.

(For more see further my book We Belong: Trinitarian Good News appendix B, along with Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved? by Hans Urs von Balthasar.)

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  1. Moltmann, J. (1994). Jesus Christ for Today’s World. (M. Kohl, Trans.) (pp. 143–145). Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.
  2. Moltmann, J. (1994). Jesus Christ for Today’s World. (M. Kohl, Trans.) (pp. 142–143). Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.

The Weakness of God

christ-of-st-john-of-the-crossIn my book, Where Was God? (which you can get right now for free), I explore the idea of God’s impassability (His inability to suffer) in the face of human suffering. If God has suffered and died on the cross, why do we say that God cannot suffer? The answer, which I discovered in the theology of Jürgen Moltmann, was simple. God can suffer, and in fact He does suffer. God is not impassable in the sense that He is unaffected or unmoved by the suffering of mankind. But quite radically, we must say that since the crucified Christ is the “image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15), and that this is what God is like, then God can and does suffer with mankind. And furthermore, as Moltmann concluded, we must place suffer and death itself in the very Triune life of God. God intimately knows suffering and death in Himself, He experiences our suffering when we suffer and He joins us in our death through Jesus’ death.

Learning this revolutionized my understanding of God and the way I think about the gospel. Since Jesus has truly suffered as a man, God deeply understands mankind. We do not find an abstract God void of emotion in the gospel, we find a personal, relatable, intimate God who suffers with mankind. What a beautiful picture this is!

But as I read Jürgen Moltmann’s latest book, The Living God and the Fullness of Life (which I recommend!), I was once again challenged in my understanding of God. Traditionally God is called the “Almighty”, and the scriptures affirm this. But what does that actually mean?

Is God Almighty?

For most, this is an abstract term about God’s ultimate dominance. As Moltmann writes, “If we see the Deity as the all-determining summit of universal monarchy, then it must be ‘all-determining reality.'” 1 The logical conclusion we make about an abstractly “Almighty” God is that such a God must determine all history, and in fact all existence.

But is this what is means to be Almighty? Is God the determining cause of everything that happens in creation?

On one hand this is an appealing claim to us, because we tend to relate such absolute power with freedom. We believe we are free when we can accomplish something or determine the outcome of an event. So the ultimate, highest understanding of this must be a completely free God who determines all things. But is that really freedom in itself? Is an Almighty God that must be all-determining really free?

According to Moltmann, no. He writes, “Is the Almighty free? No, for God has to be ‘the all-determining reality.’ For God there is no alternative to rule over the world. In this way God is tied down to this almighty role. Is the Almighty a subject? Yes, but a fixed subject. Is the Almighty a God in relationship? Yes, but only in a single relationship of determining everything. Has the Almighty power over Godself? No, God can do nothing other than rule over everything. So, in fact, the Almighty is powerless and a prisoner of the universe.” 2

The Almighty is a prisoner, because the Almighty is responsible for everything. Which means the Almighty is accused of the theodicy question. Which makes sense. If God is all determining, why doesn’t God end suffering and death? But in this line of thinking an “almighty” God, as the all-determining God, is nothing short of a monster-God, because such a God causes and wills all suffering, corruption, injustice, and death in the world. But is this what God is like? And is such a God really free? No. Because an all-determining God cannot “withdraw into Godself”, as Moltmann puts it. Such a God cannot choose not to be “Almighty”.

So how then should we re-understand the “almighty-ness” of God?

To be Almighty Means the Freedom to be Weak

A God who is Almighty, in the Christian sense, cannot be an “all-determining” God. Because such a God is not free to withdraw, and to have power over Godself. Such a God is a slave to the reality being determined, and therefore unfree to choose not to determine that reality.

So what then? Am I saying that God is not almighty?

Certainly not. The “Almighty” label for God is found all throughout the scriptures, especially in the Old Testament. So instead of dropping that title, what I’m proposing is we rethink what God as the Almighty actually means.

An Almighty God is not an “all-determining” God. Rather, God is free in Godself. God is free to withdraw from history, to determine Godself. In other worlds, God is not required in Gods almighty-ness to determine all things. This is an act of self-limitation. God certainly could determine all things, but since God is free God does not have to. As Moltmann continues to say, “The limitation of God’s unending power is an act of God’s power over Godself. Only God can limit God.” 3 The Almighty God is free to limit Godself. This is what it means to be Almighty, in the Christian sense: the limitless God is free to be self-limited.

And God has chosen to do exactly that.

God has chosen not to be counted among the “mighty”, but among the weak. God has chosen solidarity with the broken, the outcasts, the lost, and the forgotten. God has chosen to be weak with the weak, poor with the poor, and to suffer with those who suffer. This is apparent especially in the life of Jesus, who commonly ate with sinners, and fellowshipped with the so-called outsiders of society. It often was a mark against Him according to the religious rulers of the day, and still is today in stark contrast against the way we tend to understand God. But if this is who Jesus is, we must say this is what God is like, because it is what God has revealed about Himself.

The God of Jesus Christ is the God of outcasts, the God of the weak, of the helpless, and of the needy. 

God is free and in freedom God has decided to limit Godself. This is how God is “Almighty”. It is not because God is all-determinating, but because God in freedom has chosen weakness, helplessness, suffering, and even death for Himself that God is Almighty.

As Moltmann writes, “God is not on the side of the mighty as ‘the Almighty’—God is on the side of the weak, as the liberator who is in solidarity with them. The living God chooses the weak in the world and rejects the mighty.”  4

This is the almighty-weakness of God! Not that God is lacking, but that God in His majesty and love has chosen to be our God, to be the God of those who suffer, who die, who weep, and who are weak. He radically chooses solidarity with mankind, and rejects even His own might for our sakes.

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  1. The Living God and the Fullness of Life by Jürgen Motlmann, P. 43
  2. ibid, P. 44
  3. ibid P.45
  4. ibid p. 47

Yes! To Life (Jürgen Moltmann)

Хорватия,_Закат_в_Брела,_2007-06“One evening I read the following passage in Augustine’s Confessions:

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 those 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 a perfume and a food and an embrace – a light and sound an perfume and food and 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. (Confessions, 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 I gladly exist. The more immediately and wholly I exist, the more I sense the living God, the inexhaustible source of life and eternal livingness.

(From Jürgen Moltmann, A Broad Place: An Autobiography, P. 350)