Moltmann on Praying the Abba Prayer with Jesus


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.
-Jürgen Moltmann

The above quote comes from the Emergent Village Theological Conversation with Moltmann from 2009, and is part of a clip I shared previously. It gives a little window in how Moltmann’s social Trinitarian theology translates into how we relate to God. Below is another clip with transcript* from that event where Moltmann brings this basic insight on the Trinity directly into the realm of prayer. In community with Jesus, the God he called “Abba, Dear Father” becomes our God. And so, when we pray, we don’t pray to God “up there” in heaven. We pray to God who is here and present; we pray from inside of the Trinity. Continue reading Moltmann on Praying the Abba Prayer with Jesus

Moltmann: The Doctrine of the Trinity is not “Speculation”

The necessary resistance against Arianism on the one hand, and the laborious surmounting of Sabellianism on the other, led to the development of an explicit doctrine of the Trinity. Both heresies are christological in nature. Consequently the dogma of the Trinity was evolved out of christology. It is designed to preserve faith in Christ, the Son of God, and to direct the Christian hope towards full salvation in the divine fellowship. The doctrine of the Trinity cannot therefore be termed `a speculation’. On the contrary, it is the theological premise for christology and soteriology.
Jürgen Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom, p 129

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Biblicism Leads to Heresy

According to Christian Smith, Biblicism just plain doesn’t work.

The “biblicism” that pervades much of American evangelicalism is untenable and needs to be abandoned in favor of a better approach to Christian truth and authority. By untenable I do not simply mean that it is wrong, but rather that it is literally impossible, at least when attempted consistently on its own terms. It cannot actually be sustained, practiced, and defended. (The Bible Made Impossible, Kindle Location 189)

Karl Barth put it this way: 

In actual fact, there has never been a Biblicist who for all his grandiloquent appeal directly to Scripture against the fathers and tradition has proved himself so independent of the spirit and philosophy of his age and especially of his favourite religious ideas that in his teaching he has really allowed the Bible and the Bible alone to speak reliably by means or in spite of his anti-traditionalism. (CD I.2, p 609)

I’m becoming convinced that the problem goes even deeper: Where Biblicism holds sway, heretical understandings of essential doctrines will always be able to gain traction. This is an inevitable result of biblicism and interpretive pluralism.

Let’s step back and remind ourselves what is meant by “biblicism.” I’ll defer to Smith’s definition from The Bible Made Impossible:  “a theory about the Bible that emphasizes together its exclusive authority, infallibility, perspicuity, self-sufficiency, internal consistency, self-evident meaning, and universal applicability.” (Kindle Location 66)

I’m generally pretty reserved about using an “H” word (heresy or heretic) to describe a contemporary Christian teaching, movement or teacher.  And when I use it, I don’t intend it in an insulting or demeaning way; and I don’t intend to come off as having an opinion about any individual’s eternal destination. To me, it’s simply a descriptive word meant to denote a teaching universally rejected by all major segments of the church (Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant). Arianism and Sabellianism (which came up in yesterday’s post) are great historical examples of heresy, and are relevant because they still creep up today in places such as Unitarianism and Oneness Pentecostalism. 


To illustrate a little more specifically… I’ve recently been exposed to something of a conservative denomination that adheres to a unique brand of  Unitarianism. I probably wouldn’t have given them a second glance, but decided to take a closer look because a friend of mine has a background in it (and I really want to understand where he is coming from). Most of us think of more gushy liberal types when we hear the term Unitarian (think: the “Unitarian Universalist” denomination); but this particular group shares a lot of surface-level similarities to conservative evangelical and fundamentalist cultures. They take the Bible seriously, in a literalist sort of way (though I would argue that, like everyone else, they are selective about their literal interpretations). They affirm the inerrancy of Scripture, the uniqueness of Jesus as God’s son and the Messiah, the substitutionary atonement and physical resurrection of Jesus, salvation via faith/repentance, etc etc. Sounds fairly typical, no? Orthodox, with nothing to raise an eyebrow at? But their main distinctive doctrine is a denial that Jesus can be called “God” in any meaningful sense (since it is a term reserved for Jesus’ Dad), or that he was preexistent; in other words, they deny the Trinity because they see it as at odds with the “unity” of God.


I’ve started into a book by one of their current principal thinkers, Anthony Buzzard (it’s free on Kindle right now). He argues (at length) that Christians should return to the creed of Jesus, which was the same “unitarian creed” of Judaism (i.e. the Shema). I don’t intend to address any of his arguments here at this time (honestly I’m not sure if I have the patience for it!). However, I do want to note that he supports his unorthodox views via a sort of restorationist biblicism. He believes that Jesus “was the ultimate biblicist,” making Buzzard’s mission to restore the church to the original beliefs of Jesus and the apostles regarding the unitary nature of God. 

In places Buzzard seems bewildered that anyone would simply write him off as a “heretic” without engaging his arguments. After all, he shares a common basic approach to the Bible with many evangelical and fundamentalist Christians (biblicism), and he also proclaims basically the same “how-to-get-saved” gospel message. Given that common ground, shouldn’t Christians be more willing to engage in open conversation regarding the foundational question of who God is?


Who can blame him?

Biblicism makes for a confusing, splintered playing field, with no clear authority. As Barth argued, biblicism takes authority out of the hands of Christ, and puts it into the hands of the reader of Scripture (see quote in previous post, “Our Paper Pope“)With the “Bible” as our only foundation (i.e. without relying on “man-made” creeds or even doctrinal statements), what grounds do we have to dismiss either Unitarianism or Oneness Pentecostalism as heretical? They base their beliefs on the Bible also. While we can argue with them about the texts, these conversations are rarely  productive — since all sides involved are absolutely convinced that they are faithful to what Scripture clearly reveals.

Can we just be honest? American Evangelicals have biblicism in our blood. Sometimes we can only get along with each other based on a common view of the Bible — that it is inerrant, clear, and the ultimate authority on… everything. Want to learn about science? Read the Genesis account of creation. Want to know what to make of the situation in the Middle East? Read the newspaper alongside the prophetic literature in the Bible. Want to be happier, healthier, or more physically fit? Vote for the right presidential candidate?  Bible, Bible, Bible. (Smith’s excellent book, The Bible Made Impossible, is replete with examples of this type of thing).

Biblicism lets us use the Bible to address our pet-issues that it wasn’t meant to address, and at the same time inevitably leaves the back door open for essential doctrines to be brought into question.

Moltmann against Monarchical Monotheism

I have been absolutely mesmerized by the writings of German Reformed theologian Jürgen Moltmann (who I blogged about once before here). In the past few months I’ve read three of his major works: The Trinity and the Kingdom (1981), then The Crucified God (1973), followed by A Theology of Hope (1967). In between those, I also read a short (and accessible!) collection of his sermons, titled The Gospel of Liberation (1971), along with his autobiography, A Broad Place (2007). And, yes, in case you were wondering, my wife thinks I’m a bit obsessed. 🙂 (Not a bad thing, because the other day this helped her find me a closeout book on Moltmann at Baker Book House in Grand Rapids; thanks for being on the lookout, babe!). 


I’m hoping to attempt to unpack a few of the major themes in the Moltmann books I’ve read so far (I started drafting several of these a number of weeks back and never got around to posting!). I’ll start with the one I read first (though it is last chronologically), The Trinity and the Kingdom. Here goes:

Moltmann doesn’t think that most Christians are trinitarian enough, which has a profound impact on the way we talk about God and engage with the world (and I’m inclined to agree with him!). Moltmann believes that monarchical (i.e. “strict”) monotheism is an ongoing temptation of the church today — which goes back to the third century, when Sabaletist and Arian heresies were getting their original traction. Both heresies shared the same essential goal: To maintain (at all costs) the unity of God.

In Trinity Moltmann develops a “social doctrine of the Trinity, according to which God is a community of Father, Son and Spirit, whose unity is constituted by mutual indwelling and reciprocal interpenetration.” (p. viii). The six-penny theolgoical word for this interpenetration is perichoresis. To quote Moltmann at length:

God’s unity cannot in the trinitarian sense be fitted into the homogeneity of the one divine substance, or into the identity of the absolute subject either; and least of all into one of the three Persons of the Trinity. It must be perceived in the perichoresis of the divine Persons. If the unity of God is not perceived in the at-oneness of the triune God, and therefore as a perichoretic unity, then Arianism and Sebellianism remain inescapable threats to Christian theology.

For the most part, we’ve largely forgotten about what Arius and Sebellius.

“The necessary resistance against Arianism on the one hand, and the laborious surmounting of Sabellianism on the other, led to the development of an explicit doctrine of the Trinity. Both heresies are christological in nature. Consequently the dogma of the Trinity was evolved out of christology. It is designed to preserve faith in Christ, the Son of God, and to direct the Christian hope towards full salvation in the divine fellowship. The doctrine of the Trinity cannot therefore be termed ‘a speculation’. On the contrary, it is the theological premise for christology and soteriology.”

Arius (unitarianism) and Sebellius (modalism) share one and the same error: strict, or “monarchical,” monotheism.  Trinity is largely a critique of strict monotheism. Most Western Christians think of themselves as first monotheists (along with Jews and Muslims), and then break down that one God into a tri-unity as a secondary matter. To Moltmann this is problematic: “To represent the trinitarian Persons in the one, identical divine subject leads unintentionally but inescapably to the reduction of the doctrine of the Trinity to monotheism.” (p. 18)