Saturday, July 03, 2010

Sun of Righteousness, Arise! -- Review

SUN OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, ARISE! God’s Future for Humanity and The Earth.  By Jürgen Moltmann.  Minneapolis.  Fortress, 2010.  254 pp.

Too often we’re presented with theological “choices” that are either so narrow that they exclude a vast number of those who call themselves Christian, or so broad that there is little substance left. Jürgen Moltmann walks down a middle path, not too light or too heavy, not to narrow and not so broad as to leave the faith empty. For many modern Christians, Moltmann has been and continues to be a faithful theological companion, opening new vistas, offering new ways of seeing God and God’s relationship with humanity and the world. His is a theology that is both evangelical in the truest sense of the word and ecumenical. It recognizes the suffering present in the world, but it also foresees a time when God will be all in all, so that suffering will be no more. When a new book emerges from his pen, many gravitate toward it, hoping to find something that will help sustain one’s faith journey.

In The Sun of Righteousness, Arise! Moltmann takes up many of the issues that have been close to his heart over the years – the future of the world, the resurrection of Christ and humanity, justice, the Trinity and creation. The chapters in this book, seventeen in all, are not original creations; rather this book is a gathering together of lectures, meditations, sermons, and essays that were either presented at the meetings of the Gesellschaft für Evangelische Theologie or published in the journal Evangelische Theologie over the past the past ten years. They may have previous incarnations, but they are available for the first time in English translation (ably provided by Margaret Kohl).

In presenting these essays to the world, Moltmann has a specific goal in mind. He wants to present that which is “specific, strange and special about the Christian faith” (3). He wants to engage the broader world, including the various religious traditions, from an open but confessional standpoint, sharing both what Christians believe and don’t believe. And at the heart of his confession is, for him, “the confession of Christ and belief in the resurrection” (3).

Moltmann lays out his book in four parts: “The Future of Christianity;” “The God of Resurrection”; “God is Righteousness and Justice” (under which he places much of his discussion of the Trinity); and “God in Nature.” There is something here for everyone, whether one’s questions center on the resurrection, justice or evolution.

Moltmann begins by offering a vision for the future of the church as it emerges from Christendom and the optimism of the nineteenth century, an age in which the European “Christian” nations took on a messianic identity and sought to impose a new “Christian” world order, what came to be known in Germany as Culture Protestantism. That world came crashing down in 1914, but the post World War I era has offered the potential for a rebirth of the church. As with other writers, such as Phyllis Tickle and  Harvey Cox, Moltmann envisions historically-rooted paradigms of the church, beginning with the hierarchical, which he rightly dates back to as early as Ignatius of Antioch and not to the Fourth Century, wherein the priest is the symbol of Christ’s presence. The Reformation offered a Christocentric Paradigm, where the church as a whole becomes the sign of Christ’s presence in the world. In this new age hierarchical understandings begin to give way to a may egalitarian one, where the division between priest and laity disappears. As with Cox, Moltmann sees the beginnings of an age of the Spirit, which he calls The Charismatic Paradigm. In this new age, the focus is on releasing the gifts present in the community. It is a “trinitarian argument for unity in diversity and diversity in unity” (24). The difference between Moltmann’s vision and other contemporary critiques of the history of the church is that he doesn’t take a condemnatory position. Rooted in a social Trinity view, he is able to bring these paradigms together, recognizing that they may not always appear together, but all have aspects to them that are valuable, for ultimately the Triune God is the church’s dwelling place, while the church is “God’s living space on earth” (26). What is powerful about this perspective is that it both challenges and encourages. It’s not a restorationist perspective, but one that sees the Trinitarian God reaching out to creation, and drawing Creation into the future.

Moltmann offers a vision of a substantive Christianity that embraces the Resurrection and the Trinity without become narrow in his perspective. He believes that without the resurrection we know nothing about Jesus, and that the resurrection is an essential part of the Christian faith, something that will prove challenging to many Progressives who find it difficult to embrace resurrection. But, Moltmann shall not be deterred. Writing of the liberal quest for the historical Jesus, he opines:

It pushed out the raising of Jesus from the dead, and came to terms with death as the natural end of human beings. The historical Jesus became “historical” through his death in the way that all human beings are subjected to transience through their deaths, and with their deaths become people who are past and gone. All that is left of him is a passing remembrance” (40).

This is not sufficient for him. For him, the resurrection is key to the future, to the Trinity, and to God’s justice. Through the Resurrection, Jesus becomes the “leader of the new humanity.” (41). In light of this commitment, Moltmann lays out his vision of the nature of resurrection in several essays, insisting that in Christ’s death and resurrection, death has ended and hell has been destroyed. Why is resurrection important? It is central because the heart of the Christian message is the pursuit of a life worth living. It beckons us to commit ourselves to a common world struggle “for life , for loved and loving life, for life that communicates itself and is shared, life that is human and natural – in short, life that is worth living in the fruitful living space of this earth (77).

Rooted in this commitment to resurrection life, Moltmann moves on to righteousness and justice. Interestingly, it is in this section that he places his discussion of the Trinity. In the course of this discussion, Moltmann makes it clear that Trinitarianism isn’t like any other form of monotheism. The Christian embrace of the Trinity transforms one’s understanding of monotheism, and if pursued in the direction he believes one should, it can move away from patriarchy, which is rooted in the Roman vision of God. Returning to Israel’s understanding of God, he envisions a view of God that seeks to liberate the people and, who through God’s Shekinah, is an indwelling God. Because God is a community of persons, the church is invited to participate in this community, even as God as Trinity indwells both church and people through the Spirit. The fellowship that is shared within the Trinity isn’t a closed circle, but one that opens up to include the world within the circle. In light of this confession, Moltmann envisions true Christianity as a “movement of hope in this world, which is often so arrogant and yet so despairing. As a movement of hope, it is also a movement of healing and liberation.

Because of Moltmann’s commitment to life and to justice, he views of evolution and even nature from a theological perspective. He doesn’t dispute the science behind evolution, but he’s insistent that the science isn’t ultimate. This is especially true of some interpretations of human evolution, that have given rise to unfettered capitalism and the abuse of others, for if we are mere brutes, with the fittest alone deserving to survive, then we have fallen far short of the Christian vision of humanity and nature itself.

As is true of any compilation of texts, this one has its peaks and valleys. There is a sense of a whole here, but it is more Moltmann’s theological vision rather than a specific outline. Readers will gravitate to the texts that interest them the most. For this reviewer, it was the chapters on resurrection and Trinity that proved to be the most compelling sections, others might find others equally compelling or more so. If you are like this reviewer, and see Moltmann as one of the great Doctors of the Church, ranking with Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, and Barth, then you will find this to be a most welcome gift. We need theologians whose perspectives are broad, and yet are deeply rooted in the Christian faith. Herein one will find much of substance, that which is “specific, strange and special about the Christian faith” (3).

Reposted with permission from the Englewood Review of Books

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