The “Charisma” of Disability: A church without the disabled is a disabled church

Pope Francis meets a disabled man during a meeting with the UNITALSI, the Italian Union responsible for the transportation of sick people to Lourdes and the International Shrines in PaulVI hall, at the Vatican, on November 9, 2013. AFP PHOTO / FILIPPO MONTEFORTE (Photo credit should read FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Francis meets a disabled man during a meeting with the UNITALSI, at the Vatican, on November 9, 2013. (Photo credit FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images)

“Congregations without any disabled members are disabled and disabling congregations.” (The Spirit of Life, 193)

A touching moment in the Emergent Village Theological Conversation with Moltmann occurs at the beginning of episode 6, when a participant at the event named Jean, who was born with a disability, thanked Jürgen Moltmann for his impact on her life (audio embedded below the transcript):

Jean: I read in 1975 The Crucified God. You gave me language to describe my reality as a person born with disability, and I claimed myself created in the image of God from your book. How do persons with disabilities, who are both gifts and burdens to the church, have access to full expression of church in the power of the Holy Spirit?

Jürgen Moltmann: A disability concerned me my lifelong, because my older brother was a severely disabled person and he died when euthanasia began in Germany, so I think the church must consist of the disabled and not-disabled persons. A congregations without disabled persons accepted is a disabled church. So, let’s bring our members of our families who have disabilities into our congregations as a part of our community because they all are images of Jesus Christ.

For Moltmann, the issue of disability is very personal: his older brother, Hartwig, was severely disabled and was among the 10,000 disabled people who fell victim to the Nazi euthanasia program. This makes him particularly sensitive to ways in which those in our world and in the church tend not to appropriately value the physically and mentally handicapped. Continue reading The “Charisma” of Disability: A church without the disabled is a disabled church

God’s Hearing of Our Prayer… and Praying for the Dead

Painting by Fra Angelico. Source: Wikipedia

On November 1 and 2, in many traditions at least, Christians celebrate the twin feasts of All Saints and All Souls. Among other things, this is a time to remember those who have departed, both from our faith communities and from our families. And for many, this includes prayer for the dead.

For much of my Christian life, I assumed that prayer for the dead was basically off limits (at best pointless; at worst, pagan). Why pray for the dead? Their eternal destiny has already been determined by their response to God in this life; so… what is left to pray for now that they have passed on?  But as Moltmann reminds us in the clip below from the 2009 Emergent Village Conversation, throughout the history of the church, most Christians have not thought this way.  Here Tony Jones asks Moltmann some questions about the nature of prayer, leading Moltmann to make two profound observations:

  1. The initiative in God’s blessing on us is always God’s (not ours). The hearing of God precedes our praying.
  2. The dead died; but they are not “dead” in the modern sense of gone and annihilated. They are present because Christ is Lord of the living and the dead. 

Continue reading God’s Hearing of Our Prayer… and Praying for the Dead

Moltmann, Left Behind, and the Need for a Hopeful (Not Dystopian) Eschatology

The new Left Behind movie comes out next week: A reminder that now more than ever this world needs to hear a hopeful Christian alternative to dystopian pop-eschatology. #AreYouReady to offer some Moltmannian hope?

About 15 years ago a megachurch in a nearby city had some sort of “Rapture Ready” event (I can’t remember what they called it exactly). It’s goal was to make sure that we all knew that we were “ready” when the pretribulational Rapture came; that we would be “taken” and not “left behind” to endure the terrible events that would follow. Since the Rapture could come at any time, participants were encouraged to buy tape recordings of the event, so that their loved ones who didn’t make the cut would find the tape, listen to it, and have that post-Rapture “aha” moment where they could realize what was going on (after all, while they would have to endure the tribulation regardless, if they repented they could still escape the flames of eternal torment!).

I was a teenager at the time, and invited some friends to come over to my parents’ house to watch this event on TV (don’t worry – I made sure to get a tape recording too!).  Afterwards, one girl remarked to me that it seemed that the preacher was trying to “scare the hell out of people.” At the time I shrugged this off. Don’t some of us need this in order to turn to Christ? Besides, while I thought that maybe the “timing” of the Rapture was debatable, it didn’t occur to me to call into question the truth of the general narrative…

Most of us who were raised in American Evangelicalism have had some exposure to this brand of end-times doctrine. Even when I didn’t feel particularly strongly about it, I remember sensing that this approach was helpful because it motivated Christians to do evangelism and resulted in some unbelievers converting. It was explicitly taught at the Christian high school I attended, and seemed to be the assumed belief among many of the Pentecostals and other conservative Evangelicals I knew.

It’s been a widespread approach for a number of years, but the Left Behind franchise – with its books, movies (and now, of course, the movie reboot starring Nicolas Cage) – has further brought this dystopian story of the end into the forefront of popular apocayptic imagination. All based on a speculative, relatively recent, and hotly contested, interpretation of the Bible.

There are plenty of biblical, historical, and theological reasons to reject Left Behind’s Rapture theology (maybe I’ll dive into that in a future post).  What I want to focus on here is the general thrust of its message: The misguided theology informing Left Behind spreads fear and is about escaping this world; the Gospel of Jesus brings hope and is about redeeming this world.

Continue reading Moltmann, Left Behind, and the Need for a Hopeful (Not Dystopian) Eschatology

Why Jürgen Moltmann Did Not Write a Theological System

Thomas Aquinas, father of Modern Dogmatics and Systematic Theology

“Systems save some readers, and their admirers most of all, from thinking critically for themselves, and at arriving at independent and responsible positions. For systems do not present themselves for discussion. For that reason, I have resisted the temptation to develop a theological system. Even an open one.”
– Jürgen Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom

I recently shared some helpful bullet points from How I Have Changed on Moltmann’s theological method. Since he has “always been interested only in the theological content”, Moltmann can seem a little dodgy to American Evangelicals. What are his presuppositions? His approach to the Bible, tradition, and experience? He finally got around to writing about these matters in detail only at the end of his Systematic Contributions to Theology. I’m grateful that a whole session was devoted to this subject in the Emergent Village Theological Conversation with Moltmann. Below is audio and transcript* from the opening question of this session (#2), where Tony Jones asks Moltmann about how his approach to theological method differs from a traditional Systematic Theology or Dogmatics.


Continue reading Why Jürgen Moltmann Did Not Write a Theological System

Moltmann’s Biblical Hermeneutic and the Gay Debates

Rainbow flag breeze.jpg

I’ve shared here previously some of Moltmann’s comments about homosexuality and gay marriage from the Emergent Village Theological Conversation with Moltmann from 2009. I thought his comments were helpful just to illustrate where Moltmann stands on that subject (which calls into question the divisive nature of it in the American church). However, one thing you don’t get from that brief exchange is “how he got there” (i.e. coming to the conclusion that “homosexuality is neither a sin nor a crime”) in terms of his biblical hermeneutic and theological method. Below is another short clip with transcript* where Moltmann reflects on why simply quoting the Bible against LGBT people doesn’t cut it. It’s not exactly an extensive exegesis of the relevant passages (far from it!), but it does seem to give us a clue. For other excerpts that I’ve shared from the Moltmann-Emergent conversation, visit here

Continue reading Moltmann’s Biblical Hermeneutic and the Gay Debates

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 on Working Towards a Better Future in Community

Petare Slums in Caracas. Source: Wikipedia.

This post is part of an ongoing series on Moltmann’s political theology. I have previously posted about turning swords into plowshares and the American Dream. Stay tuned for more to come!

Below are two sources where Jürgen Moltmann expounds on the importance of community when it comes to political engagement. Here Moltmann offers reflections on how the early Jerusalem church in the book of Acts gives us an example of how a another (better) world is possible when we live not as individuals but in community with one another. The first is an extended quotation from Ethics of Hope that includes this powerful statement: “The opposite of poverty is not wealth, but community. In community individuals become rich, rich in friends who can be trusted, rich in mutual help, rich in ideas and powers, rich in the energies of solidarity.”  Below it I’m including another clip with transcript from the Emergent Village Theological Conversation with Moltmann from 2009, where Moltmann is asked about this same topic. You can view other clips I’ve shared from that event here.

Continue reading Moltmann on Working Towards a Better Future in Community

Turning Swords Into Plowshares – Moltmann on War and Peace

Beating Swords into Plowshares, cf Isa. 2:4
Let Us Beat Swords Into Plowshares statue at the United Nations Headquarters, New York City

Responsible participation in the just order of things in industry, society, culture and politics – or consistent undivided discipleship of Christ in economic, social, cultural and political decisions: that is the basic ethic question. There are three options. To put it pictorially: to turn swords into Christian swords, or to use only ploughshares without swords, or to make ploughshares out of swords. The time of ‘Christian swords’ in the Holy Roman Empire is past, so only the other two options are left. Must we see these as alternatives or can they also act together in a complementary way?
Jürgen Moltmann, Ethics of Hope, p. 204

I’m going to try to do a series of posts on Moltmann’s political / ethical theology over the next few months. This aspect of Moltmann’s thought has had a profound impact on me since I discovered his writing a few years ago.

Continue reading Turning Swords Into Plowshares – Moltmann on War and Peace

Jürgen Moltmann on Gay Marriage

Sexuality has been a hot topic in the Church for some time. Not only has it been at the epicenter of the culture war; it has divided congregations and denominations, leaving many of us hesitant to even bring up the issue in Christian company for fear of unhelpful heated debate (meanwhile the LGBT people in our midst often feel misunderstood, targeted, and marginalized). There now exists among Christians a spectrum of approaches on this matter. That does not mean that all positions are equally right. But it does mean that we should be open to having conversations where we speak the truth with grace, and steer clear of using loaded words like “apostate” or “bigot” to describe those who take the view opposite our own.

Continue reading Jürgen Moltmann on Gay Marriage

The Cross and Universal (Cosmic) Salvation


Today is Holy Saturday, which is when the church reflects on the day that the body of Jesus lay dead in the tomb. I know many of us fast forward the story from Friday to Sunday (spoiler: Jesus is raised from the dead!), but I find it helpful to dwell a bit more on the death of Christ first. He suffered and died on Good Friday and was actually dead on Holy Saturday. Easter is not a magic trick where it is revealed that “you can’t really kill the Son of God.” Today, the Messiah was really dead and his followers cowered in defeat.  On the cross we see a picture of how God is victorious not by conquering but by being conquered. Easter is good news only because just as God raised the defeated and the godforsaken Christ… so he will also one day raise us (see my previous post, How does the suffering God give us hope?).   In that vein, today is also when many Christian traditions reflect on Christ’s descent into Hell (the ultimate place of godforsakenness). Below is a clip with transcript from the 2009 Emergent Village Theological Conversation with Moltmann, where he is asked about the concept of universal redemption as it relates to the themes of The Crucified God (it’s in Episode 3, if you want to listen to the whole conversation in context).  Here he makes powerful use of Martin Luther’s comments about Hell and the suffering of Christ:  “Don’t look at Hell in the destiny of others; don’t look at Hell in your own destiny. Look at Hell in the wounds of Christ; there Hell is overcome.”

Continue reading The Cross and Universal (Cosmic) Salvation