Saturday, 3 June 2006

For the love of God (8): Why I love Jürgen Moltmann

A guest-post by Thom Chittom

“I first read Theology of Hope in April 1973,” writes Richard Bauckham, “and I remember that first reading as one of the most exciting theological experiences of my life.”

I couldn’t agree more. My paperback Fortress edition—dog-eared, coffee stained, highlighted, annotated and signed!—is a cornerstone of my theological library. And why? Because of Jürgen Moltmann.

Of course, Jürgen Moltmann may as well come from another planet. I’m an American, and a Southerner at that. Moltmann was a teenage Nazi, a Hamburger in Hitler’s dying Reich. He found hope in Christ as an Allied prisoner of war in Britain, and discovered a theology of hope absorbed in the maverick Marxist machinations of Ernst Bloch’s Das Prinzip Hoffnung while on vacation with his wife Elisabeth. He romantically recited lengthy sections while they walked together along the piney Bayern trails.

Later on, the 1964 publication of Theologie der Hoffnung (translated as Theology of Hope in 1967) made Moltmann the bushy-browed theological superstar of an international Zeitgeist. An impossibility in the present Western malaise, no matter its technologies! Indeed, Moltmann is completely Herr-und-Sie-formal old-school, a luddite who has never even had an email address. When I broached the subject of with him one afternoon, he only scowled: “I’m just an old European!” Yep, Jürgen Moltmann is pretty close to theo-irresistibility!

See, that father of hope-theology gave me a future. As he says, the resurrection of Christ from the dead “announces the coming of a not yet existing reality from the nature of the truth.” That makes history into real history—real past, real present, real future—rather than dismissing it into an ideological lacuna, as did the premil-dispensationalism of my youth. Unencumbered by the possibilities of the past, Promise strides out of the empty tomb before history itself, pulling everything along behind it, going out to meet its own prophetic pronouncements in missionary zeal, the whole world “involved in God’s eschatological process of history, not only the world of men and nations.” And there, too, is my neighbor! “Faith [in the promises] does not come into its own in becoming radically unworldly, but by hopeful outgoing into the world it becomes a benefit to the world.”

Indeed, I love Jürgen Moltmann because he widened my horizons. He is a prolific theologian (three book-length bibliographies have been published), a political thinker in the best sense of the word, and a man for whom theology is still a wrestling with God. And his message is everywhere and always the same, that “through the knowledge of the resurrection of the crucified the contradiction that is always and everywhere perceptible [is] taken up into the confidence of hope.”


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