ContextIn 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.