Jürgen Moltmann 1968-1972 Lectures on Theology of Hope and The Crucified God (audio)

I’ve discovered three more Jürgen Moltmann lectures* that are available free via Princeton Theological Seminary. The first two are from the year Moltmann spent in America after the publication of Theology of Hope in English, and the other corresponds to the publication of The Crucified God. Enjoy!

Continue reading Jürgen Moltmann 1968-1972 Lectures on Theology of Hope and The Crucified God (audio)

“Just War” in the Nuclear Age


 When the atomic bomb was invented and dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August of 1945, it was not just the Second World War that was ended. The whole human race entered its end-time as well.” (Jürgen Moltmann, Ethics of Hope)

The PostBarthian recently shared some passages from Ethics of Hope that highlight the danger that nuclear weapons still hold in the world today. 

No human being could survive the nuclear winter that would follow a major nuclear war. It is true that, since the end of the Cold War in 1989, a major nuclear war is for the moment not very likely, but there are still giant arsenals of atomic and nitrogen bombs in the United States, Russia, China, England, France, India, Pakistan and Israel, ready for ‘the final solution’ of the question about humanity. ‘The one who shoots first dies second.’ That is humanity’s latent but always-present suicide programme. Today it has been forgotten and suppressed, pushed out of public awareness. But it hangs over humanity as a sombre fate.

During the Cold War (before concerns about the buildup of nuclear arms were pushed out of public awareness), Moltmann gave a lecture on “Discipleship of Christ in an Age of Nuclear War,” where He explored this topic in more depth.  It is published both in On Human Dignity and in The Politics of Discipleship and Discipleship in Politics –  a collection of Moltmann lectures in dialog with Anabaptist theologians, including John Howard Yoder. Its context may make us think that perhaps this lecture is too dated for us today and surely there is no need to argue such an extreme position in today’s world, with the Cold War long behind us.  But when you look at Moltmann’s two statements on this topic side by side you can see that the thrust of his message has been unchanged in 30+ years.  The goal of disarmament has still not been realized, and it still must not be forgotten!

For this post I’m going to focus on the meat of Moltmann’s argument in this direction. I plan to circle back and do a couple follow up posts based on this lecture covering 1) why the most common Christian approaches to politics tend to fall short when tested against this problem, and 2) why people living in the way of the Sermon on the Mount should think differently friend-enemy relationships and peace.  

In America at least, we tend to assume that nuclear weapons are a necessary evil that must be kept in the right hands (ours and our allies) and out of the wrong ones (Iran or anyone else who may wish us harm). But what if there are no “right” hands for this technology?  Moltmann is no principled pacifist, but he does believe that pacifism is the only just option in today’s world. He argues using the principles of Just War to demonstrate that: 1) The use of nuclear weapons is evil and sinful; 2) The same must be said of the threat of nuclear weapons; 3) The mere possession (much less development and build up) of nuclear weapons by any country cannot be justified; 4) Any conflict which is likely to escalate to the use of nuclear weapons cannot be justified. As we shall see, this leaves us with little choice other than the side of disarmament and pacifism.

Whoever is not a pacifist always explains himself or herself with a kind of doctrine of just war. This doctrine does not intend to provide a justification for war – we must be clear about this – but seeks to apply the moral criteria of justice and injustice to the conduct of war. With this doctrine the moral norms of good and evil are applied to the execution of war. According to this theory, war must be conceived as a means of politics or a continuation of politics by other means. Yet we should be aware of the fact that the doctrine of just war was not developed for the justification of war but for the limitation of war because no one is allowed to participate in an unjust war. (Both the Vietnam War and the Falklands War, for example, were according to this tradition unjust wars because war was never declared.)
The decisive elements of the doctrine of just war are:

1. War must be declared by a legitimate authority; it must serve the common good of the state.
2. It must be conducted with a good intention.
3. It must be conducted with the expectation of a good outcome; the general situation after the war must be better than the situation before it.
4. All peaceful means for a resolution of the conflict must have been exhausted.
5. The means of the war may not be worse than the evil which is supposed to be overcome by it, that is, the means must stand in the right proportion to the end.
6. There must be a distinction between soldiers and citizens. The civilian population must be protected. (On Human Dignity, 119)

It is should be readily accepted that the use of nuclear weapons against enemy countries does not fall within the confines of the elements of just war as outlined above.  But what about their continued existence? Surely complete disarmament is nothing but a utopian dream that would leave the world vulnerable to annihilation at the hands of evil nations or groups who wish us harm? For Moltmann, there is no question on the ethics of this dilemma: 

There is ethically no conceivable justification of a possible destruction of humanity and of life on earth in order to protect the rights and freedom in one of the social systems in which human beings live today. A “peace” which is bought with the threat of world destruction is no peace. The peace of deterrence through mutual fear may technically be nonemployment of weapons, but it is not peace. Mutual deterrence through fear is a condition of extreme lack of peace, because it increases potential realities of violence. Even without nuclear war the stockpiling of armaments already destroys the life of human beings and the natural environment. The “military-industrial complex” spreads itself like a cancerous growth and infects all dimensions of life. Unnoticed, a total mobilization has come into being..
We call, therefore, for withdrawal from the apocalyptic threshold, a gradual nuclear disengagement as a first step and then the gradual dismantling of conventional armaments. (On Human Dignity, 122)

But this isn’t a matter of following the moral reasoning of one theologian. Moltmann leans heavily on official declarations from the Society of Protestant Theology (1981) and the Reformed Alliance in Germany (1982) which echo a declaration  of the Brethren from 1958, and concludes: 

If the use of the means of mass destruction is sin, then the possession of the means of mass destruction for the purpose of threatening and deterring the enemy can not be justified as Christian. because this threat is effective only if one is also ready to use the weapons, the threat itself is immoral and must also be viewed as sin.  
The modern military means of mass destruction have changed war so much that the real nature of war is revealed now before everryone’s eyes. We have reached the point, therefore, where we must go back and say that all war is irresponsible, is sin, and there can be no justification of it. Every martial threat and positioning which includes the possibility of escalation to universal nuclear war is irresponsible. The current concept “peace through mutual deterrence” is also irresponsible.” (On Human Dignity, 129)

Far from starting with an extreme position that absolute nonviolence is the only option for all Christians (must less the world), he argues through “just war theory” to arrive at position that pacifism should no longer be considered a fringe option in today’s world; it is the only option that takes the nuclear threat seriously, as he concludes in this lecture: “I believe that so-called pacifism is no longer an illusion or utopia. Pacifism is the only realism of life left to us in this apocalyptic situation of threatened world annihilation.” 

Jürgen Moltmann on the Death Penalty

Jürgen Moltmann was featured in a New York Times article on death row inmate Kelly Gissendaner on 2/28/2015. The featured photo from the article was taken at Gissendaner's graduation from a prison theology program in 2011.
Jürgen Moltmann was featured in a New York Times article about death row inmate Kelly Gissendaner on 2/28/2015. The photo with Moltmann from the article was taken at Gissendaner’s graduation from a prison theology program in 2011.

Yesterday The New York Times featured Jürgen Moltmann for the unlikely friendship that has been forged between he and Kelly Renee Gissendaner, a death row inmate in Georgia who is scheduled to die by lethal injection tomorrow. Gissendaner learned of Moltmann through a prison theology program, finding Theology of Hope to be especially inspiring. Since Gissendaner first wrote to Moltmann in 2010, they’ve exchanged many letters, and Moltmann made it a point to travel to Georgia in 2011 order to speak at Kelly’s graduation from the program. A friend of Kelly’s who is a member of the  Jürgen Moltmann Discussion Group on Facebook shared there that in January professor Moltmann sent Kelly one of his own hankerchiefs “for the tears.” Moltmann told the New York Times that “If the state of Georgia has no mercy, she has received already the mercy of heaven.” He is clearly hoping and praying that the state will be merciful to Kelly, as am I. If you haven’t had a chance to learn about Kelly, I encourage you to read the Times article, and watch this video about Kelly’s story. Continue reading Jürgen Moltmann on the Death Penalty

Moltmann on Justified vs Unjustified Use of Force

Religion, Revolution and the Future by Jürgen Moltmann. Image Source: PostBarthian
Religion, Revolution and the Future by Jürgen Moltmann. Image Source: PostBarthian

On July 23, 1968, just a few short months after Martin Luther King’s death, Jürgen Moltmann gave the opening lecture at the World Student Christian Federation Conference in Turku, Finland. The title of his lecture was “God in Revolution”, in which Moltmann offers a series of theses (the text of this lecture can be found in Religion, Revolution and the Future).  A while back, The PostBarthian shared an excellent selection from this lecture: Thesis 5, on the dialectic of siding with the oppressed. In that section, Moltmann used Martin Luther King Jr. as a prime example of why Christians are to side with the downtrodden:

Martin Luther King, Jr., sided with the blacks and the poor. He organized protest movements and strikes. These actions were directed against the white racism and the capitalistic society in his country. But at the same time he was constantly concerned about the white people, unredeemed and enslaved by their pride and anxiety. He mobilized the marches of the blacks and the poor, not for revenge against the whites but for the redemption of the black and white alike from their mutual estrangement.

Religion, Revolution and the Future, 142

Below is Thesis 6 from this same speech, which I offer as a supplement to today’s post on James H. Cone’s critique of nonviolence. Moltmann, like Cone, is cautious about urging oppressed people to embrace total nonviolence. Instead, he encourages people to be mindful of justified vs unjustified violence. If the oppressed must take up arms against their oppressors (which has happened so many times in history) they must be very careful lest they become oppressors too!  Continue reading Moltmann on Justified vs Unjustified Use of Force

The Transformative Church: New Ecclesial Models and the Theology of Jürgen Moltmann, by Patrick Oden

I recently finished reading an exciting new book relating Moltmann’s theology to what is going on in the church today: The Transformative Church: New Ecclesial Models and the Theology of Jürgen Moltmann, by Patrick Oden. It doesn’t hit the streets until next month, but the author was kind enough to hook me up with an early digital copy.

In this book, Oden explores the practices of a broad array of movements that he calls “transformative churches” (Emerging, Missional, Fresh Expressions, Neo-Monastic), and puts them into conversation with the theology of Jürgen Moltmann. He builds a case for a “program for liberation of the oppressor that can inform transformative churches”, in hope that in such contexts “a transformative messianic life can take shape.” (65) Continue reading The Transformative Church: New Ecclesial Models and the Theology of Jürgen Moltmann, by Patrick Oden

Moltmann’s Trinitarian Theology of the Cross


This post is a part of my ongoing (slow and steady) blog series on The Crucified God by Jürgen Moltmann (CG). You can view the other posts in this series here.

“The place of the doctrine of the Trinity is not the ‘thinking of thought’, but the cross of Jesus.” (Moltmann, CG, 240)

(As a sidebar: I recently posted a review of the new collection of Moltmann’s works  [Jürgen Moltmann: Collected Readings]that was released released last year by Fortress Press. It is worth noting that this pivotal section of The Crucified God is included in the reader. So to dive a bit more into Moltmann’s “Trinitarian Theology of the Cross”, you don’t need to wade through all of CG…. Check out the reader!)

The Trinity is best seen at the cross of Jesus, not in doctrinal formulations

The doctrine of the Trinity, as I learned it, goes something like this: God is one, the Father is God, Jesus is God, the Spirit is God. The three are distinct, but there is only one God. This seems to leave the Trinity in the category of abstract doctrine, but (practically speaking – at least for me!) it doesn’t seem to affect the way we think about God, and many of us continue to relate to God in an undifferentiated way (almost as though we were talking to one person who goes by three different names).

But does the Doctrine of the Trinity belong in the category of pure doctrine? Just a logical stringing together of paradoxical biblical descriptions of God?

As we saw in a previous post, Moltmann argues earlier in the book that “Anyone who really talks of the Trinity talks of the cross of Jesus, and does not speculate in heavenly riddles.” Theology must always resist the tendency to live in the realm of abstraction. And so, for Moltmann, the Trinity is most vividly seen in the event of the cross:

If the cross of Jesus is understood as a divine event, i.e., as an event between Jesus and his God and Father, it is necessary to speak in trinitarian terms of the Son and the Father and the Spirit. In that case the doctrine of the Trinity is no longer an exorbitant and impractical speculation about God, but is nothing other than a shorter version of the passion narrative of Christ in its significance for the eschatological freedom of faith and the life of oppressed nature. It protects faith from both monotheism and atheism because it keeps believers at the cross. The content of the doctrine of the Trinity is the real cross of Christ himself. The form of the crucified Christ is the Trinity. In that case, what is salvation? Only if all disaster, forsakenness by God, absolute death, the infinite curse of damnation, and sinking into nothingness is in God himself, is community with this God eternal salvation, infinite joy, indestructible election, and divine life.


All human history, however much it may be determined by guilt and death, is taken up into this ‘history of God’, i.e. into the Trinity, and integrated into the future of the ‘history of God’. There is no suffering which in this history of God is not God’s suffering; no death which has not been God’s death in the history of Golgotha. Therefore there is no life, no fortune and no joy which have not been integrated by his history into eternal life, the eternal joy of God.

CG, 246

Trinitarian theology of the cross opens up hope for the future and a new way of prayer

Moltmann is fond of saying that we should never speak “of” God in a way that we cannot speak “to” God. Far from being speculative, the doctrine of the Trinity gets to the core of how what happened on the cross revolutionizes the way that we relate to God. God is not one person with three components; there are three persons in God. We’ve seen before how Moltmann’s understanding of the Trinity affects how we pray: we don’t pray to a distant God “up there” somewhere; we pray from “inside the Trinity.” If Christian theology cannot speak of God in an undifferentiated way, neither should Christian prayer.

Anyone who speaks of God in Christian terms must tell of the history of Jesus as a history between the Son and the Father. In that case, “God” is not another nature or a heavenly person or a moral authority, but in fact an “event.” However, it is not the event of co-humanity, but the event of Golgotha, the event of the love of the Son and the grief of the Father from which the Spirit who opens up the future and creates life in fact derives. In that case, is there no “personal God”? If “God” is an event, can one pray to him? One cannot pray to an “event.”

In that case there is in fact no “personal God” as a person projected in heaven. But there are persons in God: the Son, the Father, and the Spirit. In that case one does not simply pray to God as a heavenly Thou, but prays in God. One does not pray to an event but in this event. One prays through the Son to the Father in the Spirit. In the brotherhood of Jesus, the person who prays has access to the Fatherhood of the Father and to the Spirit of hope. Only in this way does the character of Christian prayer become clear. The New Testament made a very neat distinction in Christian prayer between the Son and the Father. We ought to take that up, and ought not to speak of “God” in such an undifferentiated way, thus opening up the way to atheism.

CG, 247

As an event in the Trinity, the cross means liberation for all who are outside of God and far from God

We’ve seen already how the cross removes all distinctions among people. Here Moltmann amplifies this: God allows himself to be rejected and cast out in Jesus. Jesus, The Crucified God, goes “outside the gate” in solidarity with all who have been cast out; he experiences our rejection, our suffering, our alienation, and is executed. His rejection is our liberation! Because God himself is cast out, he is present with everyone “on the outside” – without any distinction! Through the suffering of Jesus, all are brought in to the very life of the Trinity:

God allows himself to be forced out. God suffers, God allows himself to be crucified and is crucified, and in this consummates his unconditional love that is so full of hope. But that means that in the cross he becomes himself the condition of this love. The loving Father has a parallel in the loving Son and in the Spirit creates similar patterns of love in man in revolt. The fact of this love can be contradicted. It can be crucified, but in crucifixion it finds its fulfillment and becomes love of the enemy. Thus its suffering proves to be stronger than hate. Its might is powerful in weakness and gains power over its enemies in grief, because it gives life even to its enemies and opens up the future to change. If in the freedom given through experience of it the believer understands the crucifixion as an event of the love of the Son and the grief of the Father, that is, as an event between God and God, as an event within the Trinity, he perceives the liberating word of love which creates new life. By the death of the Son he is taken up into the grief of the Father and experiences a liberation which is a new element in this de-divinized and legalistic world, which is itself even a new element over against the original creation of the word. He is in fact taken up into the inner life of God, if in the cross of Christ he experiences the love of God for the godless, the enemies, insofar as the history of Christ is the inner life of God himself. In that case, if he lives in this love, he lives in God and God in him. If he lives in this freedom, he lives in God and God in him. If one conceives of the Trinity as an event of love in the suffering and the death of Jesus—and that is something which faith must do—then the Trinity is no self-contained group in heaven, but an eschatological process open for men on earth, which stems from the cross of Christ. By the secular cross on Golgotha, understood as open vulnerability and as the love of God for loveless and unloved, dehumanized men, God’s being and God’s life is open to true man. There is no “outside the gate” with God (Borchert), if God himself is the one who died outside the gate on Golgotha for those who are outside

CG, 248-249

Defending Marcion: Moltmann on “the New”

Apostle John (left) and Marcion of Sinope (right), from Morgan Library MS 748, 11th century (Source: Wikipedia)
Apostle John (left) and Marcion of Sinope (right), from Morgan Library MS 748, 11th century (Source: Wikipedia)

“There are few Christian theologians who refer faith so strictly to God’s revealing work in Christ, who so earnestly try to connect it with Christ alone, as this heretic did.”
– Karl Barth on Marcion (Church Dogmatics III/1, 337)

Heretics are usually remembered most for what they got wrong, not what they got right. Their stories are told as cautionary tales of dangerous doctrinal errors. This is certainly the case with Marcion, the early Christian heretic famous for rejecting the God of the Old Testament as evil, and instead embracing only the God of the New Testament (the Father of Jesus Christ)  as good (that’s right: two Gods). His error, as Karl Barth reminds us, was basically taking an important insight (the finality of the revelation of God in Christ) to a dangerous extreme, which resulted in a distorted picture of Christ: “He purifies the New Testament so drastically that he cannot appreciate its true Christ, and His existence even in Israel, and the connection of the whole of the New Testament with the whole of the Old. He apprehends the witness of Paul the Jew only in a violently distorted form.” (Barth, CD III/1, 338)
Continue reading Defending Marcion: Moltmann on “the New”

Moltmann on Christ’s Birth by the Spirit

"Adoration of the Shepherds" by Gerard van Honthorst
“Adoration of the Shepherds” by Gerard van Honthorst
I shared here before some selections from The Way of Jesus Christ that demonstrate the way that Moltmann wrestled with the historical question of the virgin birth (in a way that is not all that dissimilar from Wolfhart Pannenberg’s treatment of this topic). He follows this up with an excellent theological discussion of Christ’s birth by the Spirit.

Here Moltmann points out that there are two streams of tradition in the church: 1) Jesus was born of the virgin Mary. 2) Behind the human motherhood of Mary is the “motherhood of the Holy Spirit”.

But what is the theological intention of these claims? And what must we say theologically about Christ’s birth by the Spirit today? Continue reading Moltmann on Christ’s Birth by the Spirit

Jesus: Brother of the Tortured and Judge of the Torturers

Pietà by Bernard Buffet (The National Museum of Modern Art, Paris) – Used in the Cover Art for Jesus Christ for Today’s World by Jürgen Moltmann

In Jesus Christ for Today’s World, Moltmann devotes an entire chapter to the subject of torture, titled “The Tortured Christ.” In light of the recently released Senate report on CIA interrogation methods,  I thought I would share a few highlights and reflections from Moltmann on this topic.

Continue reading Jesus: Brother of the Tortured and Judge of the Torturers

Jürgen Moltmann to Speak at the 2015 Barth Conference

Mark your calendars, Moltmanniacs! Jürgen Moltmann is scheduled to speak at the Karl Barth Conference, June 21-24 2015, over at Princeton Theological Seminary.  Registration is now open at an Early Bird Rate of $170 (through March 1).

I would love to hear from you if you are a fellow Moltmanniac and plan to come to this event! Drop me a comment below, or hit me up on Facebook or Twitter. I hope to be there for this and would love to connect.

Jürgen Moltmann to Speak at the 2015 Barth Conference