Atheism and Theism Are Outside of the Trinity

I’m in a blog series on The Crucified God by Jürgen Moltmann. In a couple of my previous posts I’ve included clips from the 2009 Emergent Village Conversation with Moltmann. This is another one, where Moltmann made a statement that has stuck with me since I first listened to this recording: “Atheism and theism are outside of the Trinity”.

This time, I’ve included a transcript only of the first part of this exchange. You’ll have to listen to the YouTube video below for the whole segment.

E.V. Miroslav Volf said basically that atheists are closer to God than most theists because they are arguing with God constantly. But are they arguing with this metaphysical concept of God or are they actually arguing with God…. Someone in this room said that it seems that Moltmann fell in love with Christ and then kind of backed in to theism. Jesus first and then theism later. Does this accurately depict your conversion?

J.M. No. Atheism and theism are outside of the Trinity. And I only believe in the God of Christ, whom he called Abba Dear Father. So looking at Christ I see his God and in community with Christ his God becomes also my God. But theism is a general understanding of transcendance, that there is a higher being somewhere somehow. So theism is no answer to the problem, and atheism is difficult. You see, in the 19th century you had this type of protest atheism. The best story about it is in Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov. Ivan Karamazov is protesting against God because of the suffering of an innocent child, so he said, “I have nothing against God in heaven, but that this earth is God’s kingdom I reject as long as there is no justice on earth.”  This was a good protest atheism. We have this type of protest atheism after the war in Camus and other writers, so much so that the German Catholic poet Heinrich Burr [sp?] said, “I don’t like these atheists, they always talk about God!”

But there is now coming up this other type of atheism which is just banality. With Dawkins, etc. I think Heinrich Heine said this in the 19th century already: the theodicy question is, “if there is a God, why is there evil?” The best answer is, “There is no God!” That is the best excuse for God. And then the whole question of why there is evil collapses. So only the presupposition that there is a God keeps the question of evil alive. So let us hunger for righteousness on earth!

Usually in our current culture war it is assumed that if you are a Christian you have a strong stake in the “theism” side of this debate between theism and atheism. For Moltmann both atheism and theism as philosophical outlooks are “outside” of the Trinity, i.e. “outside of God”. Here we see a glimpse of the practical outworkings of Moltmann’s social perichoretic understanding of the Trinity. We don’t pray to (or protest against) a generic creator God that we use to explain the existence of the universe (i.e. the famous “God of the gaps”). That God is “out there” somewhere and abstract. Rather, we know God through Christ. And in that fellowship with Christ we find ourselves “inside” of the Trinity, inside of God. This God is not far away. As Moltmann says here, the God of Jesus Christ becomes our God.

Moltmann discusses this concept of “protest atheism” in The Crucified God later in the book (p 220-222). I may add some more reflections on this subject when I get to that part of the book this time around. In the next day or two, I plan to post another clip from the Emergent conversation where Moltmann is asked about his theology of “protest hope”.

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