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Moltmannia: Resurrection of Resurrection

August 15, 2009

I snuck a peek at Moltmann’s autobiography yesterday, and learned that he has overseen 200 doctoral students. That is 200 people who have done extensive, original research to bring to light the intricacies of his work. That’s a lot, but I’m quickly realizing that it isn’t nearly enough.

On the topic of ‘resurrection’ alone, the man unfurls a beautiful landscape. Resurrection, he says, brings into clear view at least two horizons. First, the glory of God’s lordship is understood to be moving toward human beings. At the same time, resurrection signals the current breaking in of God’s future. We look back at one horizon, even as we see another horizon approaching. And we realize once again that movement is an implicit and important part of Moltmann’s conception of theology. We are nomads, and we make sense of things by moving.

Which is a helpful corrective, since so many other theologians seem intent only on looking back. What’s worse is that they tend to focus only on certain eras of thought. In particular, Moltmann suggests, we fixate on the Hellenistic approach to God, taking on all of the assumptions from Greek metaphysics: perfection, goodness, purity, immutability, impassibility, and unity. Even worse than that is the fact that we tend to look upon these matters through the lens of the modern worldview which has a particular perspective of history, and humans in history, and which tends to suggest that history is fulfilled (finally and completely) in Jesus. But these perspectives are far removed from the connection which the Christian story ought to have with Yahweh– who was the peculiar God of the Jews– and to Jesus, who was himself a Jew. They leave us impoverished, because they leave us standing beside the path on which we ought to be traveling. We’re taking notes and reminiscing when we ought to be lacing up our shoes for a journey.

To make his point, Jurgen points to a bit of Greek wordplay. epangelia is a word that connotes ‘promises’, ‘vows’, and ‘pledges’. euangelia is very similar, and is often translated ‘gospel’ or ‘announcement’. Moltmann makes the point that these concepts are wonderfully intertangled: “the gospel is promise and as a promise it is an earnest of the promised future” (ToH, 148). The gospel draws us back, even as it propels us forward.

This same tension between the past and the future, Moltmann wisely points out, was a big part of primitive Christianity. Judaic Christianity thought it was forward-focused, what with its determined apocalyptic outlook and fervent expectation of a political Messiah. But it was the unexpected emergence of Gentile Christianity that offered a truly fresh understanding of gospel. This gospel/announcement is of good news for the godless– of the calling of Gentiles to the God of hope. And that is the truly fresh and future and ongoing work of God in the world, and it is an initiative that has included me and so many others into the story of God. Yet like so many seond- or third-generation immigrants to America, those of us welcomed into the family have a short memory about such hospitality: we forget what is important about the past, even as we proclaim ourselves guardians of the past.

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