Christian Themes

Moltmann’s epistemology mistrusts simple analogy, the conventional “like is known only by like.” Instead he relies on dialectical thinking: paradoxes of seeming opposites. Revelation is not dogma or proposition but an event happening in contradiction; God is able to make use of whatever appears furthest from the divine. Thus Jesus’ cross becomes not an embarrassment but the epitome of God’s selfhood.

History is not to be defined by the positivists or materialists but is open-ended, an indeterminate flow until the grand climax of all things. Historical criticism should be welcomed, including studies of the historical Jesus, but criticism by itself proves inadequate. That is because historical and eschatological methods are reciprocal, each casting new light on the other. Jesus’ history must be read both forward and backward, relating him both to his Jewish heritage and his (and therefore our) resurrected future. The end calls forth the beginning.

Critiques of religion from various quarters are embraced by Moltmann, who sees how often in history religiosity has supported alienation. As his allies, he cites critics such as the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud and especially liberal Marxists (Ernst Bloch, the Frankfurt school of social analysis), who detail how institutions and civil religion manipulate religion whenever it loses its primal dimension of hope. Theistic faith is hardly immune from this critique, but for years it has been the most susceptible to unholy alliances with autocratic regimes or mystical privatism.

So who is God? Not polytheism, of course, but the subtleties of trinitarian vision have shaped Moltmann’s doctrine of God—especially with the horrific tensions of Good Friday, first analyzed in this book. Because the triune One is both vastly transcendent and intimately present, and it encompasses from the far reaches of ancient Israel to our own daily lives, only a doctrine of Trinity can serve adequately. Moreover, it not only clarifies the inner life of God but also marks a paradigm for the unfolding of earthly history toward its goal. Moltmann has adopted the term “panentheism” to navigate between the extremes of austere theism and shapeless pantheism, and he openly admires Eastern Orthodoxy with its heritage of a “social Trinity” of divine persons (contrasting to Augustinian/Western emphases on divine unity). This vision undergirds Moltmann’s social ethic, for which he is well known, because humans are empowered by God’s presence and stretched beyond their failings by the gospel of hope.