Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Theology: Moltmann's Hope (part 4)


However, it would be incorrect to assume that Moltmann believes in the myth of progress; that the world is getting better and better. To the contrary, Moltmann believes that there is an inherent discontinuity between the world that is and the world that is coming. We would do well to remember the one of Moltmann’s early theologically formative experiences took place when he was a prisoner of war. In the midst of despair, he found hope. Further, it was precisely in the midst of despair that hope mattered. For this reason, Moltmann prefers to speak in terms of “promise” rather than “revelation.” Moltmann thus explains:

“… ‘promise’ does not in the first instance have the function of illuminating the existing reality of the world or of human nature, interpreting it, bringing out its truth and using a proper understanding of it to secure man’s agreement with it. Rather, it contradicts existing reality and discloses its own process concerning the future of Christ for man and the world. Revelation, recognized as promise and embraced in hope, thus sets an open stage for history, and fills it with missionary enterprise and responsible exercise of hope, accepting the suffering that is involved in the contradiction of reality, and setting out towards the promised future.”

In other words, “revelation” itself is eschatological in nature, and functions not to give individuals clarity regarding their existence, but rather as the promise of God to the community of believers. It serves to highlight the discontinuity between the world that is and the approaching future of God, and thereby to empower and mobilize the community of believers to partner with God in bringing his promised future into the present.

Left Behind-style eschatologies of despair tend to engender in their adherents a disengagement from the world, particularly in terms of social justice and ecological concerns. The sentiment seem to be, “Since this world is going to be destroyed anyway, what does it matter?” On the other hand, one might be tempted at this point to make a similar criticism of Moltmann’s eschatology; i.e. “If God’s future is inevitable, then why should we pour our lives and energies into something that will happen anyway?” Though such a question smacks of a repulsively selfish ego-centrism, Moltmann seems to anticipate it. He explains:

“…a promise reaches out beyond what is existently real into the sphere of what is not yet real, the sphere of the possible, and in the world anticipates what is promised. In so doing it opens up what is existently real for the futurely possible, and frees it from what fetters it to the past: if things are fixed and finished…reality can be reduced to a concept, and defined; if they are in process…they can be influenced only through anticipations of a possible future.”

So, for Moltmann, the promise of God opens up the possibility of the divine future in the present. It thus stands to reason that the community of believers would lay hold of these possibilities and potentialities for the in-breaking of the future reality of God. In Moltmann’s thought, it is not so much that the future is a fixed point that God is somehow pulling history inescapable toward. Rather, he seems to picture God as being located in the future beckoning us, with our conflicting history/reality towards Him.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Family: Chloe is hillarious

Ok, so I missed the "family post" this week. I'll make up for it by posting this video. My mom came up to help Dana while I'm at Lipscomb. Dana was showing mom how Chloe is trying to crawl now and...well...just watch. We were cracking up!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Quoting Theology: N.T. Wright on The Resurretion

"The challenge is in fact the challenge of new creation. To put it at its most basic: the resurrection of Jesus offers itself, to the student of history or science no less than the Christian or the theologian, not as an odd event within the world as it is but as the utterly characteristic, prototypical, and foundational event within the world as it has begun to be. It is not an absurd event within the old world but the symbol and starting point of the new world. The claim advanced in Christianity is of that magnitude: Jesus of Nazareth ushers in not simply a new religious possibility, not simply a new ethic or a new way of salvation, but a new creation."

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Theology: Moltmann's Hope (part 3)


Most theologies, and even eschatologies claim to be rooted firmly in the past; i.e. through revelation. More than a few theologies assert that they are rooted in present experience (feminist, black, etc.). Moltmann orients his thought from a different direction entirely. He claims:

“There is…only one real problem in Christian theology, which its own object forces upon it and which it in turn forces on mankind and on human thought: the problem of the future. For the element that encounters us in the hope of the Old and New Testaments—the thing we cannot already think out and picture for ourselves on the basis of the given world and of the experiences we already have of that world—is one that confronts us with a promise of something new and with the hope of a future given by God.”

Thus, Moltmann orients all theology from the perspective of the future. He takes this so far as to assert that God has “the future as his essential nature” (a phrase he borrowed from Bloch). As Grenz and Olson rightly assert, for Moltmann, the future is “ontologically prior,” and thus the present and the past do not determine the future, but rather are, themselves, determined by it. This is not to say that Moltmann believes that God only exists in the future. He clearly believes that this God of the future does break through into the past and present, though it should be noted that Moltmann conceives of this has happening in the form(s) of the Trinity.

While he is clear that his theology is thoroughly eschatological, Moltmann is equally clear that in his view, eschatology does not focus on the end of history. He explains:

“In actual fact, however, eschatology means the doctrine of the Christian hope, which embraces both the object hoped for and also the hope inspired by it. From first to last, and not merely in the epilogue, Christianity is eschatology, is hope, forward looking and forward moving, and therefore also revolutionizing and transforming the present.”

…and in another work, he further clarifies by explaining:

“…Christian expectation of the future has nothing whatsoever to do with the end, whether it be the end of this life, the end of history, or the end of the world. Christian expectation is about the beginning: the beginning of true life, the beginning of God’s kingdom, and the beginning of the new creation of all things into their enduring form. The ancient wisdom of hope says: ‘The last things are as the first.’ So God’s Great promise in the last book of the Bible, the book of Revelation, is ‘Behold, I make all things new.’(21.5)”

In other words, eschatology is the root of theology, but this root is characterized by hope for all creation rather than despair. Eschatology is led by the future, and not merely the end result of history. Moreover, history is being led into a future beginning (re-birth, redemption, etc), and not the destruction of a fiery end.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Quoting Theology: N.T. Wright on the Bible

"Tragically, the history of Christianity is littered with ways of reading the Bible which have, in effect, muzzled it. The computer I'm writing on right now will do a thousand things, but I use if only for writing and for access to the Internet and email. In the same way, many Christians--whole generations of them, sometimes entire denominations--have in their possession a book which will do a thousand things not only in and for them but through them in the world. And they use it only to sustain the three or four things they already do. They treat it as a form of verbal wallpaper: pleasant enough in the background, but you stop thinking about it once you've lived in the house a few weeks. It really doesn't matter that I don't exploit more than a small amount of my computer's capability. But to be a Christian while not letting the Bible do all the things it's capable of, through you and in you, is like trying to play the piano with your fingers tied together."

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Theology: Moltmann's Hope (part 2)


In his small book, Experiences of God, Moltmann prefaces his response to the question “Why am I a Christian?” by explaining (in Kierkegaardian fashion) that he can only respond to such a question, and indeed the only way he can do such a question justice, is with “a short theological biography.” Indeed, while Moltmann, at times, criticizes Kierkegaard for a theological outlook that is decidedly too individualistic , he elsewhere contends:
“Theology is not an objective science which has to do with facts that can be pinned down, and circumstances that can be proved. It does not belong to the field of objective knowledge which is under our control…Nor does theology fall under the technology which we learn so as to dominate things or control human feelings…We cannot do theology half-heartedly, or with a divided mind or soul, or merely by the way. Theologians will bring the whole of their existence to the search for knowledge about God. ‘Subjectivity is truth.’ That postulate of Kierkegaard’s is true at least for theologians.”

It is thus more than appropriate to give a brief overview of Moltmann’s “theological biography” so as to locate the specifics of his eschatology.

Jurgen Moltmann was born in Hamburg, Germany in 1926. By the time he began his university education, he had developed an interest in (quantum) physics and mathematics, but his education was derailed by German military service. He was drafted into the German Army during World War II, depending on only a volume of Nietzsche and a volume of Goethe’s poems for any kind of intellectual nourishment. He freely admits that at this point in his life he had no affinity for either the church or theology. In fact, Moltmann describes his entire generation as being characterized by guilt, shame and “an inconsolable grief” as a result of living through the “horrors” of WWII. Things went from bad to unimaginably worse when in February of 1945, he was taken as a prisoner of war by the British, and for 3 years was moved around to various “camps” in Belgium, England, and Scotland. During his imprisonment, Moltmann saw the men around him virtually collapse in despair and claims that he almost followed suit. He claims that what saved him was “an experience of God,” though he is quick to assert that this was not “a conversion”. A “well-meaning chaplain” gave him a copy of the New Testament with the Psalms printed as an appendix. He says the Psalms fascinated him, and in them he discovered a God who was present in his sufferings. He further claims that this God gave him an “impetus for hope.” Eventually the war ended and Moltmann was returned to his country in 1948. In Germany, he found that the church was still entrenched in matters of form and was ruled by strict and inflexible leadership. He studied theology and was especially enthralled by Karl Barth. However, Moltmann discovered the philosophical wind for his theological sails in the work of the Marxist philosopher, Ernst Bloch. Bloch, though an atheist, articulated a “philosophy of hope,” that deeply resonated with Moltmann’s heart and theological inclinations.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Family: A determined kid with a cast

Emma is doing much better. She started trying to walk again using a cane I bought while I was in Ukraine, and then figured out that she could walk without it. It's not fast, and she can't do ballet, but she feels better about being able to walk on her own two feet. She's back at pre-school, although she's being carted around in a little red wagon while she's there. She still has her daddy carry her when she gets tired or when her leg starts hurting though. She's a tough, determined little girl. I'm really proud of her.

Chloe's little personality is developing more and more every day. She snuggled up to me and fell asleep for a couple of hours this afternoon. I nodded off myself. It's a simple thing, but I treasure moments like that.

Check out Dana's Blog if you get a chance. On top of taking care of a 4-year-old with a broken leg, a 6-month old, and a sick 32-year old...she's started designing some birth announcements and other types of photo cards. I think they are really good. She is the most amazing person I've ever met.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Quoting Theology: Martin Luther King Jr. on "Like" and "Love"

"It is pretty difficult to like some people. Like is sentimental and it is pretty difficult to like someone bombing your home; it is pretty difficult to like someone threatening your children; it is pretty difficult to like congressmen who spend all of their time trying to defeat civil rights. But Jesus says to love them, and love is greater than like."
-Martin Luther King Jr.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Theology: Moltmann's Hope (part 1)


Much of the popular-level theological landscape in North America in recent years has been shaped by the ‘gloom and doom’ eschatological outlook made popular by the Left Behind novels. Against this suffocating backdrop, a German theologian’s hope-filled eschatology may be the revitalizing, life-giving breath of fresh air we so desperately need. In a lecture presented for the Trinity Institute, Jurgen Moltmann recently quipped:

“Coming from Germany, I have no good news for American ‘millionarionists.’ The Left Behind series doesn’t sell in Germany. They tried with a translation of the first volume, but it became a flop. The German soul is either too stupid or too wise to get excited with end-of-the-world scenarios.”

In the same lecture, Moltmann goes further with his critique, stating:

“American fundamentalists illustrated their apocalyptic dualism with modern end-time scenarios: Hal Lindsay, and LaHaye and Jenkins with their Left Behind series. People may be fascinated or entertained or annoyed by these strange end-time fantasies, but they do shape present worldviews.”

Moltmann believes that worldviews and theologies are shaped by their eschatology. As Grenz and Olson rightly point out, for Moltmann even natural theology finds its basis not in ‘proofs,’ but in “the sighs and groans of Creation for redemption.” Moltmann, himself, contends that when he wrote his groundbreaking Theology of Hope , his intention was not to “simply write a theology about hope,” but rather his purpose was to compose “a theology out of hope—theology as eschatology, theology of the liberating kingdom of God in the world.” Further, in the same work, he states:

“The eschatological is not one element of Christianity, but it is the medium of Christian faith as such, the key in which everything is set, the glow that suffuses everything here in the dawn of an expected new day. For Christian faith lives from the raising of the crucified Christ, and strains after the promises of the universal future of Christ. Eschatology is the passionate longing kindled by the Messiah. Hence eschatology cannot be only a part of Christian doctrine. Rather, the eschatological outlook is characteristic of all Christian proclamation, of every Christian existence and of the whole Church.”

Thus, in Moltmann’s view theology is eschatology, or at the very least inherently eschatological.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Family: Emma's Leg

For everyone that doesn't know, Emma broke her leg this past Saturday. She was at a birthday party at a local "inflatable games" place and just landed wrong. She has what's known as a buckle fracture just below her left knee. She now has a cast from about mid-thigh to her toes. She's been very sweet, but also very uncomfortable. Today was much better in that she perked up to her normal self and started sitting up by herself again. She seems to be in much less pain, but if she could figure out a way to take that cast off...it would be off. She'll have it for about a month.
She's already going a little stir-crazy, but we're making the best of it. We're reading lots of books and watching "family movies" and playing games.