The Church’s Identity Crisis

I just discovered an article written by Jürgen Moltmann titled “The Cruficied God,” published April 1974 in Theology Today (just before the publication of his famous book by the same title). Moltmann argues strongly that “there is no true theology of hope which is not first of all a theology of the cross.” (p. 8) To Moltmann, the church’s very identity is at stake when we talk about the cross. Get the cross wrong, and you may have spirituality or theism or even religion… but you don’t have Christianity.

Behind the political and social crisis of the church in modern society, there stands the Christological crisis: From whom does the church really take its bearings? Who is Jesus Christ, really, for us today? In this identity-crisis of Christianity, the question of God lies hidden: Which God governs Christian existence — the one who was crucified or the idols of religion, class, race and society? Without a new clarity in Christian faith itself, there will be no credibility in Christian life. (p.6,7) 

I have a feeling that these words are just as relevant today as then. Where do we, the church, find our identity? In the idols of this world? Or in Christ, the crucified one?

Moltmann is a German Reformed theologian who (having served as a Nazi soldier) offers an interesting perspective on the subject of “faith after Auschwitz:”

How is faith in God, how is being human, possible after Auschwitz? I don’t know. But it helps me to remember the story that Elie Wiesel reports in his book on Auschwitz called Night. Two Jewish men and a child were hanged. The prisoners were forced to watch. The men died quickly. The boy lived on in torture for a long while. “Then someone behind me said: “Where is God?’ and I was silent. After half an hour he cried out again: ‘Where is God? Where is he? And a voice in me answered: ‘Where is God?. . . he hangs there from the gallows….

A theology after Auschwitz would be impossible, were not the sch’ma Israel and the Lord’s prayer prayed in Auschwitz itself, were not God himself in Auschwitz, suffering with the martyred and the murdered. Every other answer would be blasphemy.  (p 9,10)

Read the complete article here (about 13 pages printed, and well worth the read!). I’ve not yet read The Crucified God, but have a feeling that if this article is any indicator of its content, the book too is a must-read. The complete text is available on Google (though I’ll probably go for a print copy). Another of Moltmann’s works, The Trinity and the Kingdom, is already in my queue to read directly after Barth’s CD I.2.  You can hear Moltmann himself sharing his personal story (in English!) recently here. Good stuff!

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