Overcoming Schismatic Thinking

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The Trinity and the Kingdom (TK) is the first book in Jürgen Moltmann’s six part “systematic contributions to theology” and was the also the first of his books that I personally read. Below are a couple paragraphs from the Preface to TK. I love the way he here sets the tone of ecumenical open dialogue that characterizes Moltmann’s entire project. Theology is an ongoing conversation between people, generations, and traditions. As he says here: “Truth is universal; only the lie is particularist”. So while Moltmann comes from the Reformed tradition (which comes out so wonderfully throughout his theology), he frequently utilizes the resources of other traditions, including Orthodox, Catholic, and (as I alluded to in my previous post) Jewish. This extended excerpt introduces this ecumenical approach, and why it extends beyond the limits of Christian traditions into conversation with Judaism (since for Moltmann the “first great schism” in the people of God was between Christian and Jew). Enjoy!

So we have to ask ourselves: in what fellowship did these contributions to theology develop? For what fellowship are they written? As we all know, the community of theologians can be a very narrow one; for every theologian also likes to be someone on his own, someone unique. But if we cease to take the special and fortuitous features of our own subjectivity too seriously, that community reaches far beyond particular periods and natural frontiers. The fellowship in which theological contributions are expected and offered, reaches back over the centuries to the biblical testimonies themselves; for these testimonies were the beginning of an unbroken, still incomplete, and uncompletable dialogue in history. There are unsettled theological problems for which every new generation has to find its own solution if it is to be able to live with them at all. No concept within history is ever final and complete. Indeed in the history of Christian theology the openness of all knowledge and all explanations is actually constitutive; for it is their abiding openness that shows the power of their eschatological hope for the future. If we consider theology’s task and its problems, then the historical intervals are unimportant, and Athanasius, Augustine, Luther or Schleiermacher enter into the theological discussion of the present day. We have to come to terms with them as we do with contemporaries. What we call `tradition’ is not a treasury of dead truths, which are simply at our disposal. It is the necessary and vitally continuing theological conversation with men and women of the past, across the ages, in the direction of our common future.
But theological fellowship always reaches beyond our own present denominational, cultural and political limitations too. As the present contribution hopes to show, today Christian theology has to be developed in ecumenical fellowship. We can no longer limit ourselves merely to discussions with our own tradition without being quite simply `limited’. As far as is humanly possible, we must take account of the other Christian traditions, and offer our own tradition as a contribution to the wider ecumenical community. Then, as I have said, we recognize our own whole to be part of a greater whole, and by recognizing our own limits we can step beyond them. Then we begin to get the better of self-centred, particularist ways of thinking.
`Particularist’ is the name we give to isolating, sectional thinking, which is hence self-complacent and anxiously self-justifying. Because it only recognizes its own premises and only wants to have its own conclusions accepted, it comes forward with an absolute claim. In Christian theology particularist thinking is schismatic thinking. The divisions of the church are its premise, and it deepens these divisions through controversial `distinctive’ doctrines. In the age of ecclesiastical divisions – an age reaching to the present day – it is this denominational absolutism that has been practised. The differences are used to stabilize our own limited identity. To think ecumenically means overcoming this schismatic thinking, to which we have become so accustomed that many people do not even notice it any more, and beginning to think in the coming ecumenical fellowship. It means no longer thinking contrary to the others, but thinking with them and for them. It requires us to invest our own identity in this coming ecumenical fellowship. But how can we get away from particularist schismatic thinking, to thinking that is universal and ecumenical? The theological testimonies of the Christian faith can be viewed in the light of their particularity. Then there are Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran and many other theological testimonies. But they can also be investigated and interpreted in the light of their universality. Then they can be seen as the testimonies of the one church of Christ, and we can interpret them as contributions to the theology of this one church of Christ. Then, whatever denominational stamp a text may have, the important thing is simply its contribution to the truth to which all together are subject. Truth is universal. Only the lie is particularist.
Because today the growing ecumenical fellowship has already to be seen as the earthly body of Christ’s truth, in these `contributions to theology’ I am trying to take up Protestant and Catholic, Western and Eastern traditions, to listen to what they have to say, and to come to terms with them critically and self-critically. This work on the doctrine of the Trinity is dedicated especially to an overcoming of the schism between the Eastern and Western churches which has so tragically burdened the whole life of the Christian faith ever since 1054. I owe many ideas to the conferences on the Filioque question, which at my suggestion were held by the ecumenical Commission for Faith and Order in 1978 and 1979; but I am indebted to these conferences even more for the hope that this question may be solved and that the schism may be healed. In addition to this I have been particularly concerned to bring Judaism and the testimonies of the biblical Jewish faith into the discussion with the biblical Christian faith. The first schism in the history of the kingdom of God began with the separation between Christianity and Judaism. Even if we are not free to annul that first schism all by ourselves, we can still overcome its fateful effects and arrive at the common ground crossed by paths which are indeed still divided but which none the less run parallel to one another. This is enjoined on us by our common commitment to the scriptures and our common hope for the kingdom. It is time to extend our theological conversations in the ecumenical fellowship to theological conversations with Israel. The testimonies of the biblical Jewish faith may also be interpreted as the testimonies to a fellowship that goes beyond Judaism, for God’s people are one people.
(Jürgen Moltmann. The Trinity and the Kingdom, pp. xiii-xv).

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