Eberhard Jüngel on Heidegger, Barth, and Other Teachers Who Shaped Him

Eberhard Jüngel. Image source: bilder.bild.de

Eberhard Jüngel is another one of those theologians whose works have long been on my “to read” list, but I haven’t gotten around to just yet (that list does not seem to be getting any smaller, because I keep adding new names to it!). I was pleased to be introduced to him via his contribution to How I Have Changed (edited by Jürgen Moltmann). Below are a couple paragraphs where Jüngel reflects on the teachers who shaped him, including Bultmann, Heidegger, and Barth. Heiddeger once told Jüngel that God is much worth thinking about but that language fails us. In contrast, Barth’s Church Dogmatics (CD) manages to use human language to talk about God for some 8000+ pages, about which Jüngel is elsewhere famously quoted as saying “the truth can’t be as long as that”. Here Jüngel speaks with deep appreciation of what he learned from CD when he returned to it years after his early encounters with Barth. By engaging with CD, “one could learn that a concentration on the truth attested in the Bible is the best presupposition for giving the present world its spiritual and worldly due and keeping faith with the earth for the sake of heaven.”

Now a few remarks on the teachers who shaped me. There was a philosopher who instructed me in logis and logistics, Gerhard Stammler. There was my New Testament teacher and doctoral supervisor, Ernst Fuchs, who brought me and Rudolf Bultmann together and stimulated me to study Heidegger. In a semester spend ‘illegally’ outside East Germany, commuting between Zurich, Basel and Freiburg, I then heard Heidegger himself lecturing in Freiburg. At that time he was ‘on the way to language’. Towards the end of his life I visited him once again and at the end of a long conversation asked him quite openly whether the condition of thought was not that of being ‘on the way to God’. Heidegger replied, ‘God – that is what is most worth thinking about. But here language fails….’ Now I certainly didn’t have this impression myself. At that time Gerhard Ebeling had introduced me to the thought of Luther, while at Basel Karl Barth made me familiar with his own thought. And Luther’s concern for a new mode of theological language, and also Barth’s theology, which flowed broadly from there and suffered more from an excess of argumentation, did not exactly give the impression of a language which was failing. At first Barth regarded me as a kind of spy from the Bultmann school and for weeks viewed me with undisguised scepticism. But when in an unforgettable session of his small seminar I not only dared passionately to refute his criticism of Bultmann with the audacity of youth but at the same time interpreted a section from Barth’s anthroplogy to his satisfaction, I was invited to another dispute in the late evening over a bottle of wine. And a few days later the whole of the Church Dogmatics appeared on the doorstep of my student lodging – with the dedication ‘For Eberhard Jüngel on the way in God’s beloved East Zone’.
There, in the German Democratic Republic, some years later, when I now had to give lectures on dogmatics myself and was looking round for helpful stimulation, I once again steeped myself in this magum opus of my great teacher. And lo and behold, here within a theological discussion which was becoming increasingly short of breath, I discovered the long breath of a thought which expected something. Barth’s theology was autochthonous. From it one could learn that a concentration on the truth attested in the Bible is the best presupposition for giving the present world its spiritual and worldly due and keeping faith with the earth for the sake of heaven. A new involvement in the tradition opened up for me, which was one neither of disrespectful criticism nor of uncritical respect. And as a result of this I also developed an ecumenical breadth without which I cannot imagine any future theology. Above all, however, I was stimulated to think of God in terms of the event of his revelation, i.e. the event of his coming into the world, and thus of a God who leads us ever more deeply into the world – a God to whom nothing human is alien and who has come closer to humankind in the person of Jesus than humankind can get to itself.
How I Have Changed, p. 9-10

Jürgen Moltmann on Resurrection

Resurrection is not a consoling opium, soothing us with the promise of a better world in the hereafter. It is the energy for a rebirth of this life. The hope doesn’t point to another world. It is focused on the redemption of this one. In the Spirit, resurrection is not merely expected. It is already experienced. Resurrection happens every day. In love we experience many deaths and many resurrections. We experience resurrection through the rebirth to living hope. We experience resurrection through the love which already brings us to life here and now; and we experience resurrection through liberation: ‘Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.’ (II Cor. 3:17)
Jürgen Moltmann, Jesus Christ for Today’s World, p. 81

The Crucifixion of Religion

I’ve blogged before about Karl Barth’s critique of religion in his Church Dogmatics I/2. For Barth, religion is an unbelieving grasping for God, in contradiction to the revelation of God in Christ. Moltmann approaches the subject from a different angle, speaking of the cross as the irreligious or unreligious center of Christianity, which puts to death everything that religious man thinks about God and wants from God:

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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’….)

Continue reading A Letter from Jürgen Moltmann

Protest Hope

In my previous post I shared a clip from the Emergent Village Theological Conversation with Jürgen Moltmann, where he is asked about whether atheists might be “closer to God than most theists”. Here Moltmann is asked about his concept of “protest hope”, in contrast with the “protest atheism” of his previous answer. Moltmann explains how he interprets “to wait and to hasten” (2 Pet 3:13) as “to resist and to anticipate” the coming kingdom of God. The churches must not only pray but “pray and watch”, which in his view should involve direct resistance against injustice in the world, including capital punishment, for, “after the capital punishment that Jesus suffered, there can be… no justification for capital punishment.”

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How does the suffering God give us hope?

This week I’ve been expanding on how Moltmann’s book The Crucified God calls us to rethink everything in light of the revelation of God we see in the cross of Christ. I introduced this concept here and expanded specifically how this relates to Moltmann’s understanding of omnipotence and divine weakness (with a little help from Barth and Bonhoeffer) here.

Below is another audio clip from the Emergent Village Theological Conversation with Jürgen Moltmann, where he answers the follow up question of “how does the suffering God give us hope?”

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The Weakness of God

“God lets himself be pushed out of the world on the cross. He is weak and powerless in the world, and that is precisely the way, the only way, in which he is with us and helps us. Matt 8.17 makes it quite clear that Christ helps us, not by virtue of his omnipotence, but by virtue of his weakness and suffering…. Only the suffering God can help… That is a reversal of what the religious man expects from God. Man is summoned to share in God’s sufferings at the hands of a godless world.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, as quoted by Moltmann in CG, p. 47)

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New Jürgen Moltmann Video (At Claremont)

Anyone who follows this blog knows that I could be described as a bit of a “moltmanniac”. So I was a bit disappointed to discover (too late) that Moltmann had a speaking engagement in the United States last week. Not that I could afford a trip to California for a philosophy of religion conference…but still! Continue reading New Jürgen Moltmann Video (At Claremont)

Crucified God: An Invitation to Rethinking

Moltmann’s basic thesis in The Crucified God is that the cross is both the “foundation and criticism” of Christian theology. It is the basis for our message and existence, but at the same time calls our message and existence into question. All of Christian theology, and all of Christian life, is essentially an answer to the open question with which Jesus died: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The very identity of the church is at stake: “Whether or not Christianity, in an alienated, divided and oppressive society, itself becomes alienated, divided and an accomplice of oppression, is ultimately decided only by whether the crucified Christ is a stranger to it or the Lord who determines the form of its existence.” (p. 3) Strong words! I fear that more often than not the crucified Christ is stranger and not Lord in popular Christianity, where the radical implications of Christ crucified are far from realized (I don’t mean this as a sweeping judgment on other Christians; I’m talking about my own life!)

Continue reading Crucified God: An Invitation to Rethinking