Jurgen Moltmann: “No where else in Christianity does the terrible or heroic name of Armageddon play such role as in America.”

moltmannDr. Jurgen Moltmann spoke at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary last September. His address was titled “A Theology of Life, A Life for Theology.” The 40-minute video can be watched here.

Here’s a little biographical information about Moltmann, who has been called the “foremost Protestant theologian in the world” today. Moltmann digs deep into the divine solidarity that undergirds all Christian hope. (Also, at minute 33, Moltmann describes where he was at Duke University in North Carolina when he heard from Harvey Cox that Martin King had been killed.)

Born on April 8, 1926, Moltmann was raised in a thoroughly secular home in Hamburg and grew up learning about poets and philosophers — Lessing, Goethe and Nietzsche — far from the church and Bible. He idolized Albert Einstein and planned to study mathematics at university. He was drafted into the German army at the end of 1944 and served for six month before surrendering in Belgium to the first British soldier he met in the woods. From 1945 to 1948, he was confined POW camps in Belgium, Scotland and England.

Overwhelmed with remorse in the camps and despairing over the horrors Germany had perpetuated throughout World War II, especially at concentration camps like Auschwitz and Buchenwald, he was given a copy of the New Testament and Psalms in a Belgium camp by an American military chaplain. He began reading mostly out of boredom and was surprised how the Scripture fed his imagination and met his emotional needs. He saw a God who was with the broken hearted and present behind barbed wire. He later said, “I didn’t find Christ; he found me.” The suffering and hope he saw as a prisoner left a lasting mark on him.

Moltmann was allowed to study theology at Norton Camp run by the YMCA under British army supervision near Nottingham, England. After his release from prison, he began studying theology at Gottingen University, where he received his doctorate in 1952. The next five years he served as pastor of the Evangelical Church of Bremen-Waserhorst. In 1958 he became a theology teacher at an academy operated by the Confessing Church in Wuppertal and in 1963 joined the theological faculty at Bonn University. He published “Theology of Hope” the following year and in 1967 was offered the prestigious position of professor of systematic theology at Tubingen University, where he taught until 1994.

Today, he continues his work as emeritus professor of theology at Tubingen and has been named the “foremost Protestant theologian in the world” by Church Times, a London-based international publication of the Anglican Church.

Moltmann married Elisabeth Wendel in 1952. Active in feminist theology, she is the author of many books, including “The Women Around Jesus,” “A Land Flowing with Milk and Honey,” and “I Am My Body.” He gives her credit for making him conscious of the psychological and social limitations of the male point of view and male judgment.

The “Boston Collaborative Encyclopedia of Western Theology: J?rgen Moltmann” notes that his development as a theologian has been marked by a “restless imagination.” In “Theology of Hope,” Moltmann presents Christianity as an active doctrine of hope with power over the future. Hope strengthens faith, helps believers move into a life of love and creates a “passion for the possible.” For him this hope acts as the motivating force behind liberation in the world.

Beyond this eschatology of hope found in the resurrected Christ, his other major theological contributions focus on creative restructuring of the doctrine of God to include suffering (“The Crucified God”) and social doctrine of the Trinity (“The Trinity and the Kingdom”).

Some quotes from Moltmann’s presentation at Garrett are below:

“Despair can be like an iron band constricting the heart.”–Jurgen Moltmann

“The turn from this end [despair] to a new beginning came from three things. A blooming cherry tree, the unexpected kindness of Scottish workers and their families, and the Bible.”–Jurgen Moltmann, the spark of life when he first left the prisoner of war camp after WWII

“Christ’s own ‘God-forsaken-ness’ on the cross showed me where God is present where God had been present in those nights of deaths in the fire storms in Hamburg and where God would be present in my future whatever may come.”–Jurgen Moltmann

“Imprisoned professors taught imprisoned students free theology.”–Jurgen Moltmann, on studying theology at the POW camp at the Norton Camp in Nottingham, England

“There are various names for this ‘Spirit of Life’ because there are various life experiences.”–Jurgen Moltmann, on the Holy Spirit

“God is not only a divine person who we can address in prayer, but also a wide living space … We human beings are giving each other space for living when we meet each other in love and friendship.”–Jurgen Moltmann

“With every righteous action, we prepare the way for the New Earth on which righteousness will dwell. And bringing justice to those who suffer violence means to bring the light of God’s future to them.”–Jurgen Moltmann, on the future of God

“Americans as no one else in the Old World are looking ahead and are future-minded without the limitations of traditions and can look ahead without the burdens of the past.”–Jurgen Moltmann, on America

“To reinvent your own country you need a great audacity of hope.”–Jurgen Moltmann, on the recurrent desire of American presidents to reinvent America

“[In 1967] The ‘Hope Movement’ replaced the ‘God is Dead’ movement.”–Jurgen Moltmann

“Christian hope does not promise successful days to the rich and the strong, but resurrection and life to those who must exist in the shadows of death.  Success is no name of God. Righteousness is.”–Jurgen Moltmann

“There were two different expectations … in this land of the future. On the one hand the the optimistic belief in an unending progress with millenarianistic overtones and on the other hand the doomsday expectation of the final battle of Armageddon. Both are perspectives are uniquely American and both are inter-related.”–Jurgen Moltmann, on the messianic politics of the American founding fathers

“No where else in Christianity does the terrible or heroic name of Armageddon play such role as in America. Not even in the Revelation of John.”–Jurgen Moltmann, on the Left Behind series

There are more Moltmann videos and further details here, including “Conversation with Jurgen Moltmann,” featuring Dr. Moltmann discussing theology with three Garrett-Evangelical professors of theology, followed by a Q&A session with the audience in the Chapel of the Unnamed Faithful; one-on-one interviews about the life and theology of Dr. Moltmann with the professors who participated in the “Conversation” — Dr. Nancy Bedford, who studied under him at the University of Tubingen in Dr. Moltmann’s native Germany; Dr. Stephen Ray; and Dr. Anne Joh.

5 thoughts on “Jurgen Moltmann: “No where else in Christianity does the terrible or heroic name of Armageddon play such role as in America.””

  1. The Hebrew word that is translated as “spacious place” is merchab. It’s found in 2 Samuel and also in Psalm 31: “You have not handed me over to the enemy but have set my feet in a spacious place” (Psalm 31.8) and in Psalm 118: “In my anguish I cried to the LORD, and he answered by setting me free” (Psalm 118.5 where the literal translation is “I called upon the LORD in distress: the LORD answered me — spacious place”). I think Moltmann also identifies it as one of the sacred names of God.

  2. Just watched Jurgen Moltmann’s address and I am most grateful to you for making it available. He has been an inspiration to me for many years, especially how he has managed to remain “hopeful” and practical at the same time. He mentioned at the end a Hebrew word for holy places, “mecum(?)” and I was hoping you would help me identify the word and lead me to some relevant references. Many thanks ahead of time for any and all you can provide.
    Ernie Lisi

  3. In no other living theologian have I come across the breadth and profundity displayed by Moltmann. I believe this comes not only from his natural gifts and talents, but above all from the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. He has been instrumental in my being able to remain a Christian.

  4. Hope separates us from the rest of creation so we can live in anticipation and promise. Memory and hope like festivity and fantasy are casualties of consumerism (cf. Harvey Cox, Feast of Fools).
    God is not only above us but before us. How exciting! Comparing Jurgen Moltmann with Dorothee Soelle, Eberhard Arnold, Soren Kierkegaard and Eberhard Jungel would be life-giving.
    Thanks for your website, rose. I hope you’ll check out my website with articles on liberation theology and trinitarian theology.
    We can regain our subject nature! We are the light, the door and the water! May we pour ourselves out!
    The mammon spirit battles the community spirit (cf. Eberhard Arnold)! We are only called to plant the seed, not worry about success!

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