So it’s Friday night and I’m sitting in the passenger seat while my wife drives us to the mall so that I can buy some Christmas presents. And here I am blogging on portions of Jürgen Moltmann. I love that I can open up Logos Bible Software on my iPad and read the Molt.
The Molt was put on the theological map when his Theology of Hope was published in 1967. Systematic Theologians have been interacting with him ever since. In this week’s selection for “Fridays with the Molt,” I’d like to think about the Molt’s thoughts on what he calls “the Logos of Christian eschatology.” First, let’s think about the Molt’s thoughts about the nature of eschatology. After acknowledging the typical way in which theologians talk about eschatology (e.g., the return of Christ, the end times, judgment, etc.), the Molt challenges this common assumption by writing,
“Thus these teachings about the end led a peculiarly barren existence at the end of Christian dogmatics. They were like a loosely attached appendix that wandered off into obscure irrelevancies. They bore no relation to the doctrines of the cross and resurrection, the exaltation and sovereignty of Christ, and did not derive from these by any logical necessity. They were as far removed from them as All Souls’ Day sermons are from Easter. The more Christianity became an organization for discipleship under the auspices of the Roman state religion and persistently upheld the claims of that religion, the more eschatology and its mobilizing, revolutionizing, and critical effects upon history as it has now to be lived were left to fanatical sects and revolutionary groups. Owing to the fact that Christian faith banished from its life the future hope by which it is upheld, and relegated the future to a beyond, or to eternity, whereas the biblical testimonies which it handed on are yet full to the brim with future hope of a messianic kind for the world,—owing to this, hope emigrated as it were from the Church and turned in one distorted form or another against the Church.”
It would seem that the Molt wants us to see eschatology as having to do with far more than just a few details that are found in the end of many systematic theologies. I like how he ties eschatology especially to the cross and resurrection, two events that certainly have eschatological dimensions (all fans of N.T. Wright should say “here, here!” now).
After telling us that eschatology is about the Christian hope, the Molt fleshes this idea out:
“From first to last, and not merely in the epilogue, Christianity is eschatology, is hope, forward looking and forward moving, and therefore also revolutionizing and transforming the present. The eschatological is not one element of Christianity, but it is the medium of Christian faith as such, the key in which everything in it is set, the glow that suffuses everything here in the dawn of an expected new day.”
I love this because it is essential to a proper understanding of New Testament Theology. We read in Scripture time and time again of what has come to be known as Inaugurated Eschatology. The coming of Messiah Jesus initiated an eschatological event par excellence.
Much of what the Molt writes in this beginning section of Theology of Hope is superb. But I have one significant challenge to what he writes, following the chronology of what he writes. Attempting to emphasize what I’d suggest is the transcendence of God, he writes,
“The God spoken of here is no intra-worldly or extra-worldly God, but the ‘God of hope’ (Rom. 15:13), a God with ‘future as his essential nature’ (as E. Bloch puts it), as made known in Exodus and in Israelite prophecy, the God whom we therefore cannot really have in us or over us but always only before us, who encounters us in his promises for the future, and whom we therefore cannot ‘have’ either, but can only await in active hope.”
I find the Molt’s statement here problematic for a number of reasons. First, even a cursory look at the New Testament will inform us that the Spirit does indeed dwell in Jesus’ followers (cf. John 7:38-39; 1 Cor. 3:16; Eph. 2:22; 2 Tim. 1:14). Second, a robust Trinitarian theology would acknowledge, I think, both the greatness and the nearness of God. Therefore, my third concern is that this statement seems to embrace a false dichotomy. God transcends as well as is near to us. It’s a both/and rather than an either/or.
So while I take issue with this last statement for pneumatological and soteriological reasons, the Molt continues with some great thoughts about the nature of the Christian eschatological proclamation. He writes,
“Christian eschatology does not speak of the future as such. It sets out from a definite reality in history and announces the future of that reality, its future possibilities and its power over the future. Christian eschatology speaks of Jesus Christ and his future. It recognizes the reality of the raising of Jesus and proclaims the future of the risen Lord. Hence the question whether all statements about the future are grounded in the person and history of Jesus Christ provides it with the touchstone by which to distinguish the spirit of eschatology from that of utopia.”
Christian eschatological proclamation is “statements of hope and of promises for the future.” To suggest that eschatology is merely concerned with the “end times” is to overlook the thrust of the NT.
- Why is Inaugurated Eschatology such an important doctrine for Christians?
- What do you make of the Molt’s views concerning eschatology in connection with proclamation?
- Am I being more critical of the Molt than you think he deserves or would you agree that his statement about God’s dwelling in us needs more clarification? Why does this matter?
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