A Letter from Jürgen Moltmann

Less than three weeks ago I mailed a letter to the famous German Reformed theologian Jürgen Moltmann,  and have already received a very gracious response. He even signed the theologian trading card I enclosed with my letter! (I’m going to go out on a limb and say that there probably aren’t very many other theology nerds out there who can say that they have a signed Jürgen Moltmann card. Just sayin’….)

I discovered Moltmann a little over two years ago and have since read about 14 of his books, all of which have been very helpful. And as you might guess from the name of this blog, I’ve been a bit mesmerized with his writing, which has provoked much theological reflection and transformation in my own life during that time. I am currently slowly re-reading The Crucified God with some friends right now (which is why I have been attempting to do a blog series on the book). I mentioned this group study to Moltmann in my letter and he included greetings to us as a “group of theologians” in his reply. I realize that Moltmann is the sort to say that “everyone is a theologian”, but I’ll still take it as a complement!

Anyway, in my short letter to Moltmann I thanked him for his many contributions to theology, which I regard as an incredible blessing to myself personally and to the whole church. I also asked him a question about the possibility of universalism articulated in The Coming of God as it relates to tradition. Here was my question:

Your section on “The Restoration of All Things” in The Coming of God has given me much to think about in terms of the possibility of Christian Universalism – that on the other side of judgment, perhaps all will be reconciled through Christ. My Reformed friend Wyatt Houtz (you may remember the letter he wrote you a few months ago) often points out to me that there is a much stronger case for universalism within Reformed thought than in the Wesleyan-Arminian thought of my tradition. I wonder if you have any insights on that? Do you feel that the Reformed faith gave you special insight into this universal horizon? To share in this hope need I come closer to the Reformed faith, or might there be something embedded in the tradition of my evangelical Wesleyan origin?

Here is his reply (with a text version below the scan):

Dear Ben Merritt,
It was most kind of you to write, and I thank you for your letter as a sign of trust. I like people who read theology in order to understand what they believe and to explore what they don’t yet believe. For me personally theology is an adventure of ideas and insights into the divine mystery. But you have read my life-story and know what my theological passion is.

In the doctrine of election it is not so much universalism vs particularism, but how to understand condemnation and the election of grace in Jesus Christ. Karl Barth reformulated the double predestination christologically: Because Christ took the condemnation of sinners upon himself on his cross – he died for us – God gave the election of grace in Christ’s resurrection to all sinners. Read Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II/2. § 33: The Election of Jesus Christ. Grace is universal, faith is specific, we are saved by God’s grace. The destiny of unbelievers we should leave to God and hope and pray for them – There is for us a universalism of hope and prayer, I would say.

Elie Wiesel is important, Endo, Silence, is also.
Warm greeting to you and your group of theologians!

Greetings and blessings,

Jürgen Moltmann

The section I reference from The Coming of God (“The Restoration of All Things”) is truly Moltmann at his best, and explores this subject in ways I did not expect, basically in a dialectic between double outcome judgment and universalism (since both concepts are in scripture); much richer/deeper than Love Wins! I am intending to do a post or two on this aspect of Moltmann’s theology in the near future. I do love that he pointed me to a section of Barth’s Church Dogmatics (it’s not a volume of CD that I have read); I hope to take his advice and read it very soon!

And, just for fun, here is a scan of my newly signed Jürgen Moltmann Theologian Trading Card!

15 thoughts on “A Letter from Jürgen Moltmann”

  1. I am working on writing and curriculum about Christian faith as hope. I was wondering where you found Dr. Moltmann’s mailing address. There are a few questions I would like to ask him, as well as send my appreciation for how he has influenced my life. Please, e-mail me if you feel it’s appropriate.

    1. Sounds like an exciting project! This was my first time writing to Moltmann (and I don’t know that I will again) but from what I hear he is very prompt and gracious in his replies to all. For further information I would recommend joining the Jürgen Moltmann Yahoo group, which is where I obtained the address. It is located here: https://groups.yahoo.com/group/jurgen_moltmann/

      I believe he is also publicly listed in Tübingen.

      My friend Wyatt also got a reply from Moltmann recently. He posted it here: http://houtz.tv/2014/01/09/a-letter-from-jurgen-moltmann/

  2. Ben,
    How much did enjoy reading this post! I’m confident you are familiar with Talbott’s, The Inescapable Love of God. If not, you’d enjoy it I believe. The Moltmann trading card might be the coolest thing ever. I wonder if Peter Rollins would sign one for me? Looking forward to future posts.
    Always grateful,
    Monty

    1. Unfortunately I have not read very widely on this topic, beyond Moltmann (and now his recommendation in Barth!). I enjoyed Von Balthasar’s book “Dare We Hope?” which was also excellent. Molty seems to dance around this subject in many of his books, usually without getting too explicit. I would like to read Talbott one of these days but haven’t gotten around to it yet. Thanks for reading and for your kind comment!

  3. How I hope you were joking, by referencing (and having Amazon link to) “Love Wins” by Rob Bell in the same article as you quote Herr Motmann! . In reading Bell’s writing it is difficult to see, in comparison with scripture, that he is even under the Christian umbrella. This is not meant in this judgment, just that the beliefs he espouses so freely in his writing directly contradict scripture.
    I have not read a lot of your blog (just linked to this particular post) so I may be missing the tongue-in-cheek.
    Very much appreciated getting to read your letter from Moltmann himself!

    1. Hi Eve,
      Thanks for stopping by! I’m from Michigan and primarily know Rob Bell most as the former pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville (about 90 minutes from my house). I visited that church several times during his leadership, and also followed the church’s podcast during that time. I read Love Wins when it first came out and quite liked it, though I wasn’t necessarily convinced he was right on every point; I posted some reflections on the book here (note: this was imported from my old blog and pre-dates my discovery of Moltmann). I mentioned Love Wins briefly in this post because it was the book that first introduced me to the universalism conversation, and I wanted to highlight that this theme is much more biblically / theologically satisfying in Moltmann than in Bell (though of course my intention was not to disparage him either). Since leaving the pastorate, Bell has certainly evolved quite a lot, but in my view he is still seeking to bring Jesus to places where he is not known. I don’t follow him as closely now so I could be wrong on that point.

      I’d need to know what you are referring to when you say he directly contradicts Scripture to say much more, but I will make a general comment: often when we think people are contradicting the Bible they are actually just contradicting our interpretations of the Bible. I’m finding that it is best to hold fast to the crucified and risen Jesus, and hold my opinions about the biblical text more loosely. The Bible was written over a long period of time by many authors in totally different cultural situations from our own. I learn more about the writings and the world they were addressed to I often find that that my previous thinking about the text needs to be adjusted!

      One other point of clarification: What you see at the bottom of the post is an Amazon ad that helps cover the cost of hosting/maintaining this site; I don’t control what books are served up (it automatically picks content it thinks is relevant to my readers), nor was I trying to promote Rob Bell or Love Wins in this post.

      Anyway, thanks again for visiting and commenting. I’m glad you enjoyed reading the letter I got from Moltmann (I was very delighted and surprised to receive it!).

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