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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 God, but 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 Spirit. Oden’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 Spirit, Oden 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.
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.