Love: The Foundation of Hope (Part 2)

Hans Frei offering a critical response to Moltmann’s views of divine power and the Trinity, in “Love: The Foundation of Hope”

This week I am sharing video segments from “Love: The Foundation of Hope” – a 1986 Trinity Institute Conference which was held in honor of the lives and work of Jürgen Moltmann and his wife Elisabeth Moltmann-Wendel. Highlights from this conference were distributed on a VHS tape designed for individual or group study at local churches (apparently) as a companion to a book published under the same name. I’ve obtained permission from Trinity Church parish to digitize and publish the content in this tape. Each video segment is narrated by Frederic Burnham and includes conversations between Rev Leonard Freeman various theologians regarding the life and work of the Moltmanns.

The sessions are as follows: 1) Jürgen Moltmann: A Theology of Hope; 2) Theology of Hope: Critiques and Questions (this post); 3) Theology of Hope: The Feminist Response; and 4) Theology of Hope: The Church in the World. This second session includes contributions from Jürgen Moltmann, Stephen Sykes, Hans Frei, and José Miguez-Bonino! Below the embedded video you’ll find the group discussion content from the pamphlet included with the video.

Part 2 – Theology of Hope: Critiques and Questions

Video

Part 2 Discussion Guide

Suggestion:

Ask the group which themes or ideas were most engaging to them and make a list of their responses for the purpose of discussion.

For biblical reflection:

Romans 8:31-39

The Nature of Power

Moltmann’s critics claim that he concentrates exclusively on God’s self-sacrificing love and does not adequately represent God’s power. Stephen Sykes, for example, claim that even in the most loving relationships we find the exercise of power. And though Christ’s sacrifice is one perspective on divine power, Sykes does not think that everything we mean by power can be subsumed under the idea of self-sacrificing love. Using the example of the church in the world, he says:

Even if the church declares itself to be on the side of the poor and outcast, it exercises itself powerfully on their behalf in accordance with power structures already existent within society – structures already existent within society – structures such as moral persuasion, publicity by means of communication networks, pressure groups, participation in political groupings, and so forth….

In reply Moltmann insists that God’s power is a manifestation of God’s love:

God’s power is no contradiction to his love but it is the power of his love. We humans have the love of power, but God hash the power of love.

Questions:

  1. Is all of this mere semantics, or is there something mutually exclusive about love and power?
  2. Can God be both all-powerful and perfectly loving, or do you see a problem with these two aspects of his nature?
  3. How do power and love work together in your life? Do you find it possible to exercise power lovingly?
  4. Have the parents among you found a way to combine love and power? Do your children understand?

The Nature of the Trinity

Like the discussion about God’s love and power, Moltmann’s conception of the Trinity raises intriguing questions. Hans Frei notes that in Moltmann’s theology, God the Father is understood almost entirely through the attribute of his self-sacrificing love. Thus Moltmann is inclined to associate God’s creative power in nature and history with the work of the Spirit. This raises the question, Is God divided, or is God one? Says Frei:

The only power of God we know is the power of the Spirit, as I gather from Moltmann…. I don’t see yet how that community of the three persons in the Trinity comes together for Moltmann if the one aspect, namely, the power of powerlessness, is seen to dominate.

I don’t altogether understand Jürgen Moltmann on the Trinity – it is hard to understand anyone on the trinity altogether!

Questions:

  1. What do you think? Is it okay to attribute the quality of love to God the Father and the quality of power to God the Spirit? Does God, then, remain one?
  2. Do you understand the doctrine of the Trinity or, like Frei, do you find it confusing?
  3. How do you make sense of this doctrine in the life and language of our day?

The Nature of Life after Death

Moltmann:

As dying one, Christ became the brother of all the dying. As dead one, he became brother of all the dead. As risen one, he incorporates the dead and the living in his love and takes them with him on his way to the perfection of the kingdom of God. If I understand that correctly, then it means the dead are dead and not risen yet, but they are in Christ and thus on the way to his future.

The wrath of God is an expression of God’s wounded love… as long as we are under God’s judgment, he is concerned with us. In the final analysis I believe hell will be empty.

Meeks on Moltmann’s views about life after death:

His point is that the kind of life we will have beyond death has an affect on the kind of life we have right now.

Questions:

  1. Is the gospel promise a promise about life after death? If so, how does this bear upon the kind of life we live now?
  2. Do you think that hell will be empty? If not, how would you reconcile eternal punishment with God’s love and forgiveness?
  3. Discuss Moltmann’s idea that “the dead are dead and not risen, but they are in Christ and thus on the way to his future” (that is, the kingdom of God). Does that explanation of the whereabouts of the dead satisfy you?

Note: In this section of the video Moltmann uses the word eschatology. This is a theological term referring to ideas about the last period of history and life as we know it in this world. The coming of the kingdom of God, which is often connected with the last age, is seen as the end to which nature and history leads. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is a sign that the last days are upon us. We are, in this respect, in an eschatological age.

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