Jürgen Moltmann on Theology’s Undiscovered Territories

Image source: Wikipedia

In the process of researching for his doctoral dissertation (later developed into his new book, which I highly recommend), Patrick Oden conducted three interviews with Jürgen Moltmann (One, Two, Three). At the beginning of the third interview he broke from his topic and asked Moltmann a great question about the future of theology: I’m curious what your thoughts are on the direction of theology in the future. What are the open fields and undiscovered territories that theology has to pursue still? What should we look in to that you feel theology has not explored?

Below is Moltmann’s response! Continue reading

Moltmann on Justified vs Unjustified Use of Force

Religion, Revolution and the Future by Jürgen Moltmann. Image Source: PostBarthian

Religion, Revolution and the Future by Jürgen Moltmann. Image Source: PostBarthian

On July 23, 1968, just a few short months after Martin Luther King’s death, Jürgen Moltmann gave the opening lecture at the World Student Christian Federation Conference in Turku, Finland. The title of his lecture was “God in Revolution”, in which Moltmann offers a series of theses (the text of this lecture can be found in Religion, Revolution and the Future).  A while back, The PostBarthian shared an excellent selection from this lecture: Thesis 5, on the dialectic of siding with the oppressed. In that section, Moltmann used Martin Luther King Jr. as a prime example of why Christians are to side with the downtrodden:

Martin Luther King, Jr., sided with the blacks and the poor. He organized protest movements and strikes. These actions were directed against the white racism and the capitalistic society in his country. But at the same time he was constantly concerned about the white people, unredeemed and enslaved by their pride and anxiety. He mobilized the marches of the blacks and the poor, not for revenge against the whites but for the redemption of the black and white alike from their mutual estrangement.

Religion, Revolution and the Future, 142

Below is Thesis 6 from this same speech, which I offer as a supplement to today’s post on James H. Cone’s critique of nonviolence. Moltmann, like Cone, is cautious about urging oppressed people to embrace total nonviolence. Instead, he encourages people to be mindful of justified vs unjustified violence. If the oppressed must take up arms against their oppressors (which has happened so many times in history) they must be very careful lest they become oppressors too!  Continue reading

James H. Cone’s Critique of Nonviolence


For some time, I have had a strong sermon-on-the-mount (pacifist? nonviolent?) impulse when it comes to my political theology. While a few years ago I might have gone so far as to identify as something of an Anabaptist on this issue (what can I say? I was listening to a lot of Greg Boyd podcasts!), I’ve since found Moltmann’s more nuanced approach to be helpful: The Kingdom of God is not a peaceable kingdom (jib-jab at Hauerwas!) but a peacemaking kingdom. Moltmann shares that when he returned home from the prison camps after WWII, he vowed to never pick up a weapon again – but if he was given an opportunity to kill a tyrant, he would do so!

The method of nonviolent resistance is something I’ve always admired in Martin Luther King Jr. In Stride Toward Freedom, King describes his approach this way:

My study of Gandhi convinced me that true pacifism is not nonresistance to evil, but nonviolence resistance to evil. Between the two positions, there is a world of difference. Gandhi resisted evil with as much vigor and power as the violence resister, but he resisted wi th love instead of hate. True pacifism is not unrealistic submission to evil power, as Niebuhr contends. It is rather a courageous confrontation of evil by the power of love, in the faith that it is better to be the recipient of violence than the inflicter of it, since the latter only multiplies the existence of violence and bitterness in the universe, while the former may develop a sense of shame in the opponent, and thereby bring about a transformation and change of heart.

Martin Luther King Jr., Stride Toward Freedom, 79-80

This is truly inspiring!

As you may gather from my previous post, James Cone is a big fan of Martin Luther King Jr.  When I first started to read Cone, I was surprised to rather quickly discover that one area where he differs from his hero MLK is on nonviolence, an area of King’s thought that I (like many others) have found to be so compelling. Cone claims that King’s “dependence on the analysis of love found in liberal theology and his confidence that ‘the universe is on the side of justice’ seem not to take seriously white violence in America.”   In this probing passage of  God of the Oppressed, Cone explores the topic of violence vs nonviolence in America as it relates to the black struggle for liberation, offering a scathing critique of nonviolence (which I should point out is not quite the same as defending violence). I’m inclined to agree with Cone at least on this point: it is especially problematic for oppressors [including all who benefit from systems of oppression] to urge the oppressed to keep their cool and walk in the nonviolent way of love.  Continue reading

3 Reasons Why Martin Luther King Jr. May Be America’s Most Outstanding Theologian

Karl Barth and Martin Luther King Jr - 20th Century Theology's Most Important Theologians?

Karl Barth and Martin Luther King Jr – 20th Century Theology’s Two Most Important Theologians? Image Source: kbarth.org.

Martin Luther King Jr’s name doesn’t seem to come up much in scholarly theological conversation these days, and that’s too bad. He is frequently discussed as an important figure in history, an inspiring civil rights leader, even as an amazing Christian pastor and preacher…. but theologian?

Yes! In Risks of Faith, James Cone offers three reasons why MLK should be nominated as a candidate for “America’s Most Outstanding Theologian.” Stand back Jonathan Edwards!  Continue reading

The Transformative Church: New Ecclesial Models and the Theology of Jürgen Moltmann, by Patrick Oden

I recently finished reading an exciting new book relating Moltmann’s theology to what is going on in the church today: The Transformative Church: New Ecclesial Models and the Theology of Jürgen Moltmann, by Patrick Oden. It doesn’t hit the streets until next month, but the author was kind enough to hook me up with an early digital copy.

In this book, Oden explores the practices of a broad array of movements that he calls “transformative churches” (Emerging, Missional, Fresh Expressions, Neo-Monastic), and puts them into conversation with the theology of Jürgen Moltmann. He builds a case for a “program for liberation of the oppressor that can inform transformative churches”, in hope that in such contexts “a transformative messianic life can take shape.” (65) Continue reading

Moltmann’s Trinitarian Theology of the Cross


This post is a part of my ongoing (slow and steady) blog series on The Crucified God by Jürgen Moltmann (CG). You can view the other posts in this series here.

“The place of the doctrine of the Trinity is not the ‘thinking of thought’, but the cross of Jesus.” (Moltmann, CG, 240)

(As a sidebar: I recently posted a review of the new collection of Moltmann’s works  [Jürgen Moltmann: Collected Readings]that was released released last year by Fortress Press. It is worth noting that this pivotal section of The Crucified God is included in the reader. So to dive a bit more into Moltmann’s “Trinitarian Theology of the Cross”, you don’t need to wade through all of CG…. Check out the reader!)

The Trinity is best seen at the cross of Jesus, not in doctrinal formulations

The doctrine of the Trinity, as I learned it, goes something like this: God is one, the Father is God, Jesus is God, the Spirit is God. The three are distinct, but there is only one God. This seems to leave the Trinity in the category of abstract doctrine, but (practically speaking – at least for me!) it doesn’t seem to affect the way we think about God, and many of us continue to relate to God in an undifferentiated way (almost as though we were talking to one person who goes by three different names).

But does the Doctrine of the Trinity belong in the category of pure doctrine? Just a logical stringing together of paradoxical biblical descriptions of God?

As we saw in a previous post, Moltmann argues earlier in the book that “Anyone who really talks of the Trinity talks of the cross of Jesus, and does not speculate in heavenly riddles.” Theology must always resist the tendency to live in the realm of abstraction. And so, for Moltmann, the Trinity is most vividly seen in the event of the cross:

If the cross of Jesus is understood as a divine event, i.e., as an event between Jesus and his God and Father, it is necessary to speak in trinitarian terms of the Son and the Father and the Spirit. In that case the doctrine of the Trinity is no longer an exorbitant and impractical speculation about God, but is nothing other than a shorter version of the passion narrative of Christ in its significance for the eschatological freedom of faith and the life of oppressed nature. It protects faith from both monotheism and atheism because it keeps believers at the cross. The content of the doctrine of the Trinity is the real cross of Christ himself. The form of the crucified Christ is the Trinity. In that case, what is salvation? Only if all disaster, forsakenness by God, absolute death, the infinite curse of damnation, and sinking into nothingness is in God himself, is community with this God eternal salvation, infinite joy, indestructible election, and divine life.


All human history, however much it may be determined by guilt and death, is taken up into this ‘history of God’, i.e. into the Trinity, and integrated into the future of the ‘history of God’. There is no suffering which in this history of God is not God’s suffering; no death which has not been God’s death in the history of Golgotha. Therefore there is no life, no fortune and no joy which have not been integrated by his history into eternal life, the eternal joy of God.

CG, 246

Trinitarian theology of the cross opens up hope for the future and a new way of prayer

Moltmann is fond of saying that we should never speak “of” God in a way that we cannot speak “to” God. Far from being speculative, the doctrine of the Trinity gets to the core of how what happened on the cross revolutionizes the way that we relate to God. God is not one person with three components; there are three persons in God. We’ve seen before how Moltmann’s understanding of the Trinity affects how we pray: we don’t pray to a distant God “up there” somewhere; we pray from “inside the Trinity.” If Christian theology cannot speak of God in an undifferentiated way, neither should Christian prayer.

Anyone who speaks of God in Christian terms must tell of the history of Jesus as a history between the Son and the Father. In that case, “God” is not another nature or a heavenly person or a moral authority, but in fact an “event.” However, it is not the event of co-humanity, but the event of Golgotha, the event of the love of the Son and the grief of the Father from which the Spirit who opens up the future and creates life in fact derives. In that case, is there no “personal God”? If “God” is an event, can one pray to him? One cannot pray to an “event.”

In that case there is in fact no “personal God” as a person projected in heaven. But there are persons in God: the Son, the Father, and the Spirit. In that case one does not simply pray to God as a heavenly Thou, but prays in God. One does not pray to an event but in this event. One prays through the Son to the Father in the Spirit. In the brotherhood of Jesus, the person who prays has access to the Fatherhood of the Father and to the Spirit of hope. Only in this way does the character of Christian prayer become clear. The New Testament made a very neat distinction in Christian prayer between the Son and the Father. We ought to take that up, and ought not to speak of “God” in such an undifferentiated way, thus opening up the way to atheism.

CG, 247

As an event in the Trinity, the cross means liberation for all who are outside of God and far from God

We’ve seen already how the cross removes all distinctions among people. Here Moltmann amplifies this: God allows himself to be rejected and cast out in Jesus. Jesus, The Crucified God, goes “outside the gate” in solidarity with all who have been cast out; he experiences our rejection, our suffering, our alienation, and is executed. His rejection is our liberation! Because God himself is cast out, he is present with everyone “on the outside” – without any distinction! Through the suffering of Jesus, all are brought in to the very life of the Trinity:

God allows himself to be forced out. God suffers, God allows himself to be crucified and is crucified, and in this consummates his unconditional love that is so full of hope. But that means that in the cross he becomes himself the condition of this love. The loving Father has a parallel in the loving Son and in the Spirit creates similar patterns of love in man in revolt. The fact of this love can be contradicted. It can be crucified, but in crucifixion it finds its fulfillment and becomes love of the enemy. Thus its suffering proves to be stronger than hate. Its might is powerful in weakness and gains power over its enemies in grief, because it gives life even to its enemies and opens up the future to change. If in the freedom given through experience of it the believer understands the crucifixion as an event of the love of the Son and the grief of the Father, that is, as an event between God and God, as an event within the Trinity, he perceives the liberating word of love which creates new life. By the death of the Son he is taken up into the grief of the Father and experiences a liberation which is a new element in this de-divinized and legalistic world, which is itself even a new element over against the original creation of the word. He is in fact taken up into the inner life of God, if in the cross of Christ he experiences the love of God for the godless, the enemies, insofar as the history of Christ is the inner life of God himself. In that case, if he lives in this love, he lives in God and God in him. If he lives in this freedom, he lives in God and God in him. If one conceives of the Trinity as an event of love in the suffering and the death of Jesus—and that is something which faith must do—then the Trinity is no self-contained group in heaven, but an eschatological process open for men on earth, which stems from the cross of Christ. By the secular cross on Golgotha, understood as open vulnerability and as the love of God for loveless and unloved, dehumanized men, God’s being and God’s life is open to true man. There is no “outside the gate” with God (Borchert), if God himself is the one who died outside the gate on Golgotha for those who are outside

CG, 248-249