All posts in “Moltmann”

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

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

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

Professor Moltmann’s profound response is deeply moving:

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

Read the full letter here.

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Jürgen Moltmann’s Letter

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

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

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

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

Here is his response in its entirety:

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St. Augustine VS Jürgen Moltmann (On Loving God)

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

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

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

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

And that night I answered him:

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

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

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

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

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Moltmann-March! Reading Jürgen Moltmann: Where to Begin

Cheers, Professor Moltmann!

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

Best Introductory Books

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

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

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

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

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

Books by Subject

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notable Mentions

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

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

The Passion for Life: A Messianic Lifestyle

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

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

Secondary Literature

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

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

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

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

Happy March, and happy reading!

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Theology of the Pain of God by Kazoh Kitamori (Book Review)

9781597522564Book: Theology of the Pain of God: The First Original Theology from Japan by Kazoh Kitamori. (Amazon link)

Publisher: Wipf and Stock Publishers

This was a fascinating book! Kazoh Kitamori writes of the pain of God based on Jeremiah 31:20, in which, from the Japanese Literal version, God declares, “My heart is pained.” Predating by many years Jürgen Moltmann’s Crucified God (LINK), Kitamori writes of the pain of God “outside the gate” (Heb. 13:12). This pain is primarily one not of substance, but of relation, for Kitamori. It is because God is love that God is pained, because God loves the object of His wrath: human beings—this is the pain of God. God embraces those who cannot be embraced, God “enfolds our broken reality”. This is a beautiful work, well worth careful attention, especially for fans of Moltmann’s theology.

Given the time it was written (1946 in Japan, translated 1965 into English), it is a truly remarkable project. Although I do think it lacks some of the more revolutionary elements of Moltmann’s theology—and for that reason I regrettably admit that it’s been superseded by Moltmann’s work—it remains a fascinating book well worth reading. It is, however, very difficult to compare the two. The Crucified God was first published in 1972, twenty-six years after Kitamori’s Theology of the Pain of God. For this fact alone it is remarkable. But in this review, given my enjoyment of Moltmann’s theology, as one of my three favorite theologians (alongside Torrance and Barth), I will focus on similarities I enjoyed alongside differences I had reservations about. Enjoy!

Notable Quotes

Some notable quotes I liked from this book. (Brackets “[ ]” contain my comments.)

“The heart of the gospel was revealed to me as the ‘pain of God.'” (19)

“God in pain is the God who resolves our human pain by his own. Jesus Christ is the Lord who heals our human wounds by his own (1 Peter 2:24).” (20)

“Salvation is the message that our God enfolds our broken reality. A God who embraces us completely—this is God our Savior. Is there a more astonishing miracle in the world than that God embraces our broken reality? …Accordingly the pain of God which resolves our pain is ‘love’ rooted in his pain.” (20-1 [One of my favorites from the book!]

“Luther calls the death of Christ ‘death against death’; I call the pain of God ‘pain against pain’.” (21)

“The ‘pain’ of God reflects his will to love the object of his wrath. … Luther sees ‘God fighting with God’ at Golgotha. God who must sentence sinners to death fought with God who wishes to love them. The fact that this fighting God is not two different gods but the same God cause his pain.” (21)

“Every form of docetism results in a denial of the pain of God. … Only the pain of God can deny fundamentally every sort of docetism. It is now clear that the concept of the pain of God upholds the significance originally attached to the historical Jesus.” (35) [Docetism is the heretical denial of Jesus’ earthly, human body.]

“The message ‘the Son of God has died’ is indeed most astonishing. ‘It is impossible for us to understand the logic of Paul completely unless the death of Christ means the death of God himself.’ God has died! If this does not startle us, what will? The church must keep this astonishment alive. The church ceases to exist when she loses this astonishment.” (44)

“The most urgent business before the church and theology today is the recovery of wonder, the pronouncement of the gospel afresh in order to make this wonder vivid again.” (44) [This perhaps may be my favorite quote from the book!]

“We conclude from this that God’s pain was fitting for him. ‘To be fitting’ means to be necessary to his essence. The pain of God is part of his essence! This is really the wonder. God’s essence corresponds to his eternity. The bible reveals that the pain of God belongs to his eternal being.” (45)

“The cross is in no sense an external act of God, but an act within himself.” (45)

“The essence of God can be comprehended only from the ‘word of the cross.'” (47)

“If we center our pain in the pain of God, until it is purified by his, our pain is saved from sinfulness for the first time.” (54) [Here’s where I start disagreeing with Kitamori.]

“Isaiah 63:9 says that God suffers with suffering mankind, but this is quite different from the gospel of the cross—God’s pain in loving sinful men. Jeremiah 31:20, however, literally agrees with the truth of the cross. No more appropriate words can be found to reveal the truth of the cross.” (59) [This is perhaps the clearest statement of difference between Kitamori and Moltmann. For Moltmann God’s suffering in Jesus Christ is His solidarity with a suffering humanity. For Kitamori, God is in pain as the God who loves the objects of His wrath.]

“We cannot know what the pain of God is; we can know it only through our own pain. Our pain must witness to the pain of God by becoming the symbol of the pain of God.” (60) [Kitamori calls this the analogy of pain (analogia doloris).]


Following these quotes Kitamori develops upon this symbol of pain (the analogy of pain) into a mysticism of pain. It’s at these two points and what follows that I have the most difficulty with Kitamori’s premise. I enjoyed greatly the first half of the book, as you can tell with the quotes I present here. This is a brilliant book but I have my concerns with the latter half of it.

Kitamori says that the pain of human beings is an analogy of the pain of God: we know God’s pain through our own pain. This stinks of natural theology, sadly. Moltmann is far more helpful in pointing us, above all else, to the suffering of Jesus Christ on the cross as God’s suffering. This and this alone is the right place to begin with a theology of God’s suffering. But sadly, while Kitamori reaches this same conclusion of God’s pain, he does so wrongly by emphasizing our pain as the place of knowing God’s pain. Moltmann is right in saying that it is God’s suffering in Jesus Christ, not our pain, that is the basis for understanding God in our suffering. Though this analogy of pain is perhaps one of the more interesting aspects of this book, it is also the most problematic.

In turn Kitamori spirals even further into problematic theology when he deals with the mysticism of pain. Kitamori begins to glorify pain, which is something we must reject. He seems to say that when we are in pain, when we suffer, we are closest to God, that pain is our entrance into life with God.

One of the principle problems this is rooted in is that Kitamori seems to place the pain of God above the love of God. God loves because God is pained, not the reverse. Accordingly, for Kitamori, there is no God higher than the God of pain, and thus pain is never truly overcome. We do not overcome pain, we join God in His pain. This, again, is something we cannot follow.

When Kitamori talks about the mysticism of pain, he writes in such a way that glorifies pain as the highest good. This culminates in a rather chilling statement towards the end of the book. Kitamori writes, “To hate oneself through the medium of the wrath of God is to live in the pain of God. This is unreachable grace. For the wrath of God is used as the medium of the pain of God for our salvation, although it basically means our destruction.” (83) We are encouraged, in the mysticism of pain, to hate ourselves in giving ourselves over to God’s wrath—which seems for Kitamori to be an absolute wrath of arbitrary hatred—to justify our pain in God’s pain.

From this Kitamori moves from the mysticism of pain to the ethics of pain, and finally into the transcendence of God’s pain in the hidden God. This latter half of the book I have great difficulty following, as I have made clear. Though I will note that his eschatology in chapter twelve was fascinating to read. But ultimately, my conclusion is that Moltmann is far more helpful in understanding God’s suffering with us.

However, this does not mean that Kitamori’s work is to be wholly rejected. I tremendously enjoyed this book, and find it helpful and insightful, especially given it’s publication date. Given the history it is written into (just after World War II) it is remarkable. As the quotes above show, there is much to appreciate here, and for that reason I can recommend this book to anyone interested in a theology which takes seriously God’s suffering in Jesus Christ. However, I do so with clear reservation.

Overall I would give this book four out of five stars. I can’t bring myself to give it any less, because I truly enjoyed it as a remarkable piece of theology, yet I cannot rightly give it any more. Generally speaking, here you’ll find a fascinating book well worth the effort!

I’d like to thank Wipf and Stock publishers for the review copy of this book. I was given this copy without any obligation for writing a positive review, and have fairly and honestly read and reviewed it here.

Buy Theology of the Pain of God.

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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.

Karl Barth on Grace and our Response (with Help from Ansell)

PrintA few days ago I wrote my review of Nicholas Ansell’s fantastic book on the universalism of Jürgen Moltmann, aptly entitled The Annihilation of Hell (LINK). I also wrote some reflections on how, as I learned from Ansell, Moltmann argued for a “certain” hope, over against a “wishing for the best” or even a dogmatic kind of universalism. I found this book compelling, and it goes to show just how compelling it was for me when even after finishing it I am left thinking again and again about what I learned.

I was looking through my notes on the book, and one quote stood out to me that I wanted to share here. In this, Ansell is answering how Moltmann’s kind of universalism might answer the problem of human freedom. It’s often said that universalism negates the human response, falling prey to a kind of determinism that turns free humanity into a robotic partner to God’s grace. But here Ansell points to Moltmann’s alignment with Barth’s theology of grace and response, specifically of human freedom in the response to grace, as a way forward past this difficulty. In simple terms, Barth argued that we are free because God makes us free; we are free in God’s freedom. And here Ansell expounds this quite beautifully as it relates to Moltmann’s kind of universalism. Enjoy!

(Italics are from the original, bold is mine for emphasis. Brackets “[ ]” are added for clarity.)

A great strength of Barth’s theology, I suggest, is his realisation that God’s grace lies beyond all human power and control. It is a gift that empowers. Our very existence is graced. Theology must contend with what Matthew Fox has called ‘Original Blessing.’ Barth puts it well: ‘Creation is the work of the truly free, truly undeserved grace of the one true God, both as an act and in its continuance.’

The gift precedes our ability to respond. Our capacity to respond to the gift of Life is itself a gift of Life. We don’t choose to be born. Our capacity to choose is itself born due to, thanks to, those who have helped bring us into existence. If we may speak here of the giving of others then such giving may be seen as mediating the giving of God. Gift precedes response. A response can embody/express the gift, can be gifted, can rest in something beyond, or prior to, itself. But the gift is beyond our control, grasp, understanding. It is never exhausted in our responses. Our ‘being’ precedes our ‘doing’. Our ‘being’ is not an ‘essence’ within. The gift/call of who we are is prior to, more than, what we make of ourselves. 1

In Barth’s position, God’s Yes to creation embraces a humanity that cannot naturally say Yes to God. In grace, we respond to God’s freedom and find our true freedom. 2

“Perhaps this dilemma is not insoluble [the universalist dilemma of human freedom/response]. A case for a ‘covenantal’ universalism can be made, I suggest, if we root the claim that ‘all respond to God’s grace in God’s grace’ in the conviction that we are created for Life and for God ‘from the beginning’. Responding to God’s creational grace is the warp and woof of our authentic nature. Redemption is the reaffirmation, liberation, and restoration of our true nature, rather than being a creatio ex nihilo. Our true nature is a gift/promise that responds to the gift/promise. In the context of grace, our true nature, we might say, ‘comes into its own’. This is not autonomy or heteronomy. Our response to the gift/call of Life is our response, our life. This is freedom truly defined. Freedom is not ‘doing what we want’. Freedom is not doing ‘what God wants’ instead of ‘what we want’. Freedom is faithfully keeping covenant with the God of Life in the way we choose. A universal salvation that is non-coercive must, in my view, affirm the fact that we are made for God, made for Life, to respond to Life, to initiate Life, to live (and without God there is no life) by being who we are (who we are called to be). In this sense, salvation (including universal salvation) reveals our very nature.

“Redemptive grace reaffirms and re-offers the gift of life. Graced nature ‘naturally’ responds by God’s grace to God’s grace. This is neither divine monergism nor syn-ergism (in the pejorative sense). Our working out of the gift-promise of life is covenantal. It is not a ‘work’ of the kind the reformers opposed. In covenant with God, our work is also God’s work while remaining thoroughly our own (in a non-possessive, non-autonomous sense). 3

“God is the God of creation. Creation is the creation of God. To love God is to love life. It is to find and celebrate our freedom. Only with God may we be human.” 4

There’s a degree to which I think Ansell has taken liberties in thinking beyond Barth, but there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. Although I will say that the one problem I had with the book is how Ansell often referred to Barth as a universalist. I disagree with that claim. Moltmann may be a kind of universalist, but Barth rejected this idea as something we ultimately cannot know. Though it’s a heavily debated subject among the so-called “Barthian” community, so we won’t hold it against him either.

But regardless, this is an insightful look into the nature of grace and response which Ansell seems to think Moltmann is indebted to Barth for. Do you agree with his assessment of Barth? Do you think this is a helpful understanding of human freedom and God’s grace? Leave me a comment and let me know!

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  1. P. 278
  2. P. 281
  3. P. 281
  4. P. 282

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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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