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) 

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