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,
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!