All posts in “Moltmann”

Read Jürgen Moltmann’s Foreword to My Book

I was shaking from nerves as I opened his letter. I had written Moltmann three months ago, sending him a copy of my new book, Jürgen Moltmann in Plain English, and asking if he might be willing to write a foreword to it.

I was terrified that he wouldn’t like this book I had written about him. As an author, it is one thing to be afraid that your readers might not like your work, but it is something else entirely to think about the possibility that one of your heroes and the theologian of whom you are writing might disapprove. 

It was such a relief to find that not only did Moltmann enjoy my book, but he was kind enough to write its forward!

In his letter, Moltmann expressed thanks for my book and how much it impressed him(!). (The letter is now framed and sits above my writing desk.) He then encouraged me to continue my writing; particularly, he encouraged me to pursue the project I wrote to him about on Samuel Beckett and himself, since this was of great interest to him.

I am so overjoyed and honored by his response. In all honesty, I am also still a bit in shock, even though I opened his letter over five days ago. Moltmann’s kindness towards my humble little book is such an encouragement to me.

I have updated the published edition of my book to include Moltmann’s foreword. Anywhere my book is sold—Amazon, The Book Depository, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and my own webstore—now include, in both the paperback and digital editions, his foreword. If you have purchased my book previously and would like to receive an updated edition of the text, please contact me.

But for those of you who have already purchased the book, you can read it here. Here it is in the original German and then below in its published English text (translated by Cameron Coombe, with slight revision). 

“Every Christian is a theologian,” said Martin Luther. I would add to this: At any rate, every Christian who wants to understand what he or she believes. Theology is the understanding of faith. “I believe in order to understand,” Anselm of Canterbury had proclaimed. I would add that the converse is also true: “I understand in order to believe.”

I have endeavored to follow up scholarly theological books with shorter, generally accessible works. I have kept myself accountable to the injunction: “That which cannot be said simply is perhaps not worth saying at all.” As such, I followed up Theology of Hope (1967) with the popular-level work, In the End—The Beginning (2004), my Christology, The Way of Jesus Christ (1990), with Jesus Christ for Today’s World (1994), and The Spirit of Life (1992) with The Source of Life (1997).

But it is, of course, another matter when an “amateur” theologian writes for “amateurs.” It is as if one reader alerts another to something striking and the theological conversation begins. This is what Stephen Morrison has succeeded in doing, and I admire him for it. His book, Jürgen Moltmann in Plain English, does not omit any of my theological works, from Theology of Hope to The Coming of God. In addition to this, he has included ethical comments from my work, such as concerning the death penalty. He has succeeded in providing a comprehensive introduction. 

An “amateur” is a lover. Stephen Morrison is a lover of theology and, I, too, am an “amateur of theology.”

Jürgen Moltmann

Tübingen, 1 September 2018

Thank you so very much Jürgen Moltmann! 

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Theology is the Business of All God’s People (Moltmann)

I am currently working on the next book in my “Plain English Series,” Jürgen Moltmann in Plain English. I expect it to be available within a few months. While I was doing some research I came across an illuminating quote I wanted to also share here.

This comes from Moltmann’s methodological book, Experiences in TheologyHere he argues that theology is the business of all God’s people, including both the trained and the untrained, but also of both men and women. It is not a pursuit restricted to specialists in the academy or to the ecclesiastical leadership. In truth, theology is centered around the congregation and is shared in the life of all believers. Moltmann writes:

Theology is the business of all God’s people. It is not just the affair of the theological faculties, and not just the concern of the church’s colleges and seminaries. The faith of the whole body of Christians on earth seeks to know and understand. If it doesn’t, it isn’t Christian faith. This means that the foundation for every theological specialization is the general theology of all believers, which corresponds to the Reformation’s thesis about the universal ‘priesthood of all believers’. All Christians who believe and who think about what they believe are theologians, whether they are young or old, women or men. […]

I should not like to let this universalization of the priesthood and of theology stand in such general terms, and so I would prefer to talk about ‘the shared priesthood’ and therefore about the shared theology of all believers too. On this common ground, not everyone has to do and think the same thing. The fellowship of all believers requires that differentiation of assignments and functions which corresponds to the multicoloured diversity of the Spirit’s gifts, or charismata. Even in the shared theology of all believers there are particular commissions and delegations. Academic theology is one of them. But the community of Christians must be able to identify with its delegations. Otherwise alienations arise which have an oppressive rather than a helpful effect. 1

 

Academic theology is nothing other than the scholarly penetration and illumination by mind and spirit of what Christians in the congregations think when they believe in God and live in the fellowship of Christ. By scholarly I mean that the theology is methodologically verifiable and comprehensible. Good scholarly theology is therefore basically simple, because it is clear. Only cloudy theology is complicated and difficult. Whether it be Athanasius or Augustine, Aquinas or Calvin, Schleiermacher or Barth—the fundamental ideas of every good theological system can be presented on a single page. It is true that Barth needed more than 8,000 pages for his Church Dogmatics, and even then they were still unfinished, so that kindly disposed critics said, ‘surely truth can’t be as long as that’. But as we know, theological praise of the eternally bounteous God is never-ending. So the length of a work does not necessarily detract from the simple truth of what it says. 2

While not everyone will become professors, write theology books, or even study the most challenging theological systems of the Church, every believer is a theologian the moment they begin to think seriously about their faith. This is a helpful insight, especially in the Church today which has often been dumbed-down by reductionistic answers and unchallenging sermons. The need for theological education in the Church (not merely somewhere else in the academy) is great, because average Church members often struggle with difficult theological questions but are seldom given permission to ask them freely in an educational setting. In this regard, the task of academic theology is only as a service to the Church, to help facilitate and encourage the theology of all believers. Highly specialized academic work is necessary, but we should no longer think that this is the only, or even the primary, expression of theology. Theology is the shared task of all believers, not merely the specialists.

(For a list of books written by and on Jürgen Moltmann, see my newly updated list of recommended reading)

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“Embraced: Many Stories, One Destiny” by Mark French Buchanan (a Review)

Book: Embraced: Many Stories, One Destiny: You, Me, and Moltmann by Mark French Buchanan [AMAZON LINK]

Publisher: Wipf and Stock [PUBLISHERS LINK]

Overview: It’s uncommon for a book to be at once profoundly moving and theologically stimulating, but this is precisely what Buchanan has achieved with Embraced. By using personal stories to explore the profoundly pastoral insights of Moltmann’s theology, this book is a home run.


This is a beautiful book with an innovating premise and a big heart. Buchanan weaves together stories from his life with deep theological insights mined from the works of Jürgen Moltmann. It is rare for a theology book to have this much potential for emotional and spiritual impact, just as it is rare for a spiritual book to have this much theological depth—but this is the great accomplishment of Embraced. 

Buchanan’s stories are full of life and hope, but they also touch on the deep questions of suffering and death. This is theology written from the heart of a pastor. Some of the most moving stories came towards the end of the book, which tended to focus more on loss and grief. I won’t spoil them for those of you who plan to read the book. But I will say this: I rarely tear up from a book, but I did when I read these touching accounts.

Buchanan explains the purpose of the stories he tells:

My stories illustrate the central insights from Moltmann’s theology and narrate what is fundamental to his work; that God dwells in every person as an inward guide, and that God encompasses everyone and everything. The stories illustrate how by dwelling in and encompassing all things, God is drawing all things into his own future.

I am now convinced that every time a hopeful story is told, God is the unseen storyteller, “whispering” his empathy, encouragement, and guidance for life. 1

This is a book that takes seriously the practical and pastoral implications of Moltmann’s work. Through these stories, the reader is inspired to recognize the love and life of God in their own journeys.

This is described well by one of my favorite quotes from Moltmann’s work:

I expect the presence of God in everything I meet and everything I do. 2

This expectation produces in us a Yes to life, a Yes that stands against the apathy that is all too common in modern life. In all things we have the expectation that God is with us. The stories that Buchanan shares, and the theological insights he explores through them, are a refreshing reminder of this expectation and this hope.

Conclusion: I could see this book serving a number of purposes. It would be great for group discussions, and it might even work as a preliminary introduction to Moltmann’s theology. Overall, it was simply an enjoyable book to read, and I highly recommend it.

Click here to buy Embraced by Mark French Buchanan (on Amazon)

My thanks to Wipf and 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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“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

Fortress Press Kindle Sale (Barth, Moltmann, Bonhoeffer, and more)

Fortress Press is currently running their eBook sale on Amazon. Every year I have benefited tremendously from this sale and thought this year I should publish a list of some of the best titles up for grabs. Particularly notable books are marked with an asterisk (*). Enjoy!

**This sale is no longer current as of June 1, 2018. I will update for next year’s sale.**


Click here to see the full sale

Jürgen Moltmann

Primary sources:

The Crucified God — $6.99*

Collected Readings — $4.99

The Coming of God — $4.99*

The Trinity and the Kingdom — $4.99*

The Spirit of Life — $4.99*

The Way of Jesus Christ — $4.99

Ethics of Hope — $4.99

Jesus Christ for Today’s World — $4.99*

In the End—the Beginning — $4.99*

The Source of Life — $4.99

Experiences of God — $4.99

Sun of Righteousness Arise — $4.99

On Human Dignity — $4.99

The Future of Creation — $4.99

Passion for Life — $4.99

Science & Wisdom — $4.99

Secondary sources:

God Will be All in All (includes an essay from Moltmann) edited by Richard Bauckham — $4.99*

The Kingdom and the Power by Geiko Muller-Fahrenholz — $4.99

Don’t forget to check out my new book on Moltmann, Jürgen Moltmann in Plain English

 

Karl Barth

Primary sources:

The Call to Discipleship — $4.99

Karl Barth: Theologian of Freedom edited by Clifford Green (selections from Barth’s writing) — $4.99*

Secondary sources:

The Sign of the Gospel by W. Travis McMaken — $4.99*

Saving Karl Barth: Hans Urs von Balthasar’s Preoccupation by Stephen Long — $4.99

Citizenship in Heaven and on Earth: Karl Barth’s Ethics by Alexander Massmann — $6.99

A Theology of the Third Article: Karl Barth and the Spirit of the Word by Aaron T. Smith — $4.99

Resurrected God: Karl Barth’s Trinitarian Theology of Easter by John L. Drury — $4.99

Triune Eternality: God’s Relationship to Time in the Theology of Karl Barth by Daniel M. Griswold — $6.99

The Spirit of God and the Christian Life: Reconstructing Karl Barth’s Pneumatology by JinHyok Kim — $4.99

Playful, Glad, and Free: Karl Barth and a Theology of Popular Culture by Jessica DeCou — $4.99

Also check out my book on Barth, Karl Barth in Plain English

 

Thomas F. Torrance

Secondary sources:

Theology in Transposition: A Constructive Appraisal of T.F. Torrance by Myk Habets — $4.99*

Also check out my book on Torrance, T. F. Torrance in Plain English

 

N.T. Wright

Primary sources:

Paul and the Faithfulness of God — $4.99*

The New Testament and the People of God — $4.99

Jesus and the Victory of God — $4.99

The Resurrection of the Son of God — $4.99

Christian Origins and the Question of God (complete series, four volumes) — $19.96

Paul and His Recent Interpreters — $6.99

Pauline Perspectives: Essays on Paul, 1978-2013 — $4.99

The Contemporary Quest for Jesus — $4.99

 

Friedrich Schleiermacher

Primary sources:

Friedrich Schleiermacher (Making Modern Theology) (selected writings) — $4.99*

Secondary sources:

Deus Providebit: Calvin, Schleiermacher, and Barth on the Providence of God by Sung-Sup Kim — $4.99

Embodied Grace: Christ, History, and the Reign of God in Schleiermacher’s Dogmatics by Kevin M. Vander Schel — $4.99

 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Primary sources:

Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible — $2.99*

The Bonhoeffer Reader ed by Clifford Green and Michael DeJonge — $4.99

Discipleship — $4.99

Creation and Fall — $4.99

Ethics — $4.99*

The Collected Sermons of Dietrich Bonhoeffer — $4.99

Life Together — $4.99

Letters and Papers from Prison — $4.99*

Act and Being — $4.99

 

Rudolf Bultmann

Primary sources:

New Testament & Mythology — $4.99

Rudolf Bultmann (Making of Modern Theology) (selected writings) — $4.99

 

Making of Modern Theology Series

G.W.F. Hegel — $4.99

Gustavo Gutierrez — $4.99

Reinhold Niebuhr — $4.99

Dietrich Bonhoeffer — $4.99

 

Kathryn Tanner

Primary sources:

Economy of Grace — $4.99

Theories of Culture: A New Agenda for Theology — $4.99

Spirit in the Cities: Searching for Soul in the Urban Landscape (editor) — $4.99

Secondary sources:

The Gift of Theology: The Contribution of Kathryn Tanner ed. by Rosemary P. Carbine and P. Koster — $6.99

 

Robert W. Jenson

Primary sources:

Christian Dogmatics vol. 1 — $4.99

Christian Dogmatics vol. 2 — $4.99

Secondary sources:

Dogmatic Aesthetics: A Theology of Beauty in Dialogue with Robert W. Jenson by Stephen John Wright— $4.99

 

Dorothee Soelle

Primary sources:

The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance — $4.99*

Suffering — $4.99

Theology for Skeptics — $4.99

 

Other notable books

Systematic Theology: Volume 1, the Doctrine of God by Katherine Sonderegger — $6.99*

Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way by Walter Wink — $4.99*

The Prophetic Imagination by Walter Brueggemann — $4.99

Disruptive Grace by Walter Bruegemann — $4.99

Texts Under Negotiation: The Bible and Postmodern Imagination by Walter Brueggemann — $4.99

Jesus’ Abba: The God Who Has Not Failed by John B. Cobb — $3.99

Douglas John Hall: Collected Works — $4.99

 

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Trinitarian Theology after Barth: a Review

Book: Trinitarian Theology after Barth (Princeton Theological Monograph) ed. by Myk Habets and Phillip Tolliday, with a foreword by John Webster (AMAZON LINK)

Publisher: Pickwick Publications (an imprint of Wipf & Stock Publishers), included in the Princeton Theological Monograph Series #148 (PUBLISHER LINK)

Overview: Like any collection of essays, there will always be those essays that hit a home run, those that intrigue great interest, and sadly sometimes also those that fall flat. In this collection there were far more home-runs and sparks of intrigue than in most of the collections I’ve read, and for that reason alone this is an excellent and thought-provoking book well worth your time. It will be of special interest for those wanting to study Barth’s Trinitarian theology, and particularly to examine the diverse streams of thought of those who have more or less followed after his work. Continue Reading…