Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Jürgen Moltmann on Theology and Barth

The following quotations are self-reflective comments made by Jürgen Moltmann in the preface to his Experiences in Theology: Ways and Forms of Christian Theology (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2000). These comments illuminate Moltmann’s work, even if one disagrees with their content.
“For me, theology was, and still is, an adventure of ideas. It is an open, inviting path. Right down to the present day, it has continued to fascinate my mental and spiritual curiosity. My theological methods therefore grew up as I came to have a perception of the objects of theological thought. The road emerged only as I walked it. And my attempts to walk it are of course determined by my personal biography, and by the political context and historical kairos in which I live. I have searched for the right word for the right time. I have not written any theological textbooks. The articles I have contributed to various theological dictionaries and encyclopaedias [sic?] have seldom been particularly successful. I was not concerned to collect up correct theological notions, because I was much too preoccupied with the perception of new perspectives and unfamiliar aspects. I have no wish to be a disciple of the great theological masters of past generations. Nor have I any desire to found a new theological school. My whole concern has been, and still is, to stimulate other people to discover theology for themselves – to have their own theological ideas, and to set out along their own paths.” (xv)

“There are theological systems which do not merely aim to be free of contradictions in themselves, but which aspire to remain uncontroverted from outside too. In these systems, theology becomes a strategy of self-immunization. Systems of this kind are like fortresses which cannot be broken into, but cannot be broken out of either, and which are therefore in the end starved out through public disinterest. I have no wish to live in any such fortress, and I have resisted the temptation to view Barth’s Church Dogmatics as a fortress of that kind, as the Barthians do. For it is not a fortress, even if some of his followers let Barth think for them, so as to feel safe with him, while other people put him down as neo-orthodox, so as not to have to read him and grapple with what he says. My image of theology is not ‘A safe stronghold is our God’. It is the exodus of God’s people, on the rod to the promised land of liberty where God dwells. For me, theology is not an inner-church or postmodern dogmatics, designed only for one’s own community of faith. For is it for me the cultural study of the civil religion of bourgeois society. Theology springs out of a passion for God’s kingdom and its righteousness and justice, and this passion grows up in the community of Christ. In that passion, theology becomes imagination for the kingdom of God in the world, and for the world in God’s kingdom.” (xx)

5 comments:

Alex said...

WTM,

Moltmann sounds bit like Howard Roark, Ayn Rand's "ideal man" in her book "The Fountainhead" when he says,

"I was not concerned to collect up correct theological notions, because I was much too preoccupied with the perception of new perspectives and unfamiliar aspects. I have no wish to be a disciple of the great theological masters of past generations."

I think it would be interesting to explore how her philosophy could be applied to Christian theology as antithetical to Christian ethics as most of it is. Moltmann does a good job of that here.

WTM said...

Alex,

If I was more widely read, I would have a response to your comment! As it is, thanks for stopping by. :-)

dan said...

Hey Alex,

I see the word-play in your comparison of this quotation with Roark. Further, like you, I agree that Rand's philosophy (which has, by and large, come to fruition through the globalisation of capitalism) is antithetical to Christian ethics.

Where I get confused is in your last sentence. Are you suggesting that Moltmann's writings are a theological embodiment of Rand's arguments (arguments she embodies through characters in The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged, and elsewhere)?

If that is what you are doing, then I am bound to object. The comparison you make is interesting, but I don't think there is any significant overlap between Rand (or Roark) and Moltmann -- far from it, Moltmann's theology directly opposes Rand's philosophy.

Grace and peace.

Alex said...

Hey Dan,

Thanks for making me clarify. Throughout the book, Roark displays a disdain for glorifying tradition in such a way that people tend to put it on a pedestal and yet pat themselves on the back when they merely copy it. Roark and presumably Rand are disgusted by this. To paraphrase Moltmann's words, Roark had no wish to be a disciple of the great architectural masters of the past.

Other than that, I agree with you that there is no significant overlap between the character Roark and Moltmann. This motivation I see in both of them is what excites me as well about theology. I feel like it is actually an ongoing conversation that I can add to and anyone can add to in the 21st century. We, if we are willing (and God is willing) can know God in new ways that no human has ever experienced before. That's not to say that either ours or our predecessors experiences are any "deeper", closer to God, or more valid than the other. Simply new, exciting and why I bother to read theology at all. The hope of progress. The hope that it all hasn't been done before.

It is Roark's firm belief that the Greeks hadn't mastered the art of architecture with the Parthenon and it is Moltmann's firm belief that Calvin hadn't mastered the art of theology with Institutes.

dan said...

Hey Alex,

I was hoping that that was the limit of your comparison, thanks for clarifying.

It is interesting, this idea of doing theology in "the hope of progress. The hope that it all hasn't been done before." Some others, I think, would say that they do theology so that they can learn to be faithful, like (and to?) the saints who have gone before. I probably end up somewhere in between those two positions -- I'm half inclined to think that the only thing that is new about the theology that I am learning/developing is that I am the one doing it. After all, I suspect that there is little of significance that is new about our contemporary context. So, I find myself trying to be faithful, not just as Calvin was faithful (I am inclined to agree that the Institutes could be improved upon), but as the great cloud of witnesses have been faithful.

Grace and peace.