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Moltmannia: Questions for the Accusers

September 24, 2009

Last week, I spent an hour listening to two gentlemen give their critique of the Moltmann conversation on an internet radio show.  To their credit, they were kind and even conciliatory at points, even as they mocked attenders and bemoaned how depressing the whole event was for them.  Fair enough.  And they’re certainly entitled to disagree and to say so in whatever format they like.  And there is a lot for avowed conservatives to critique about a theological figure like Jurgen Moltmann, who has been on a lifelong quest to explore the bounds of orthodoxy and to creatively interpret the Bible.

I wasn’t really bothered by their commentary, because it seemed to miss the mark in so many different ways.  What interested me more was the strained psychology they demonstrated.  Which inspired this personal (tongue-in-cheek) definition–

Fundamentalist (n.):  a person obsessed with the twin ideas that, 1.) someone, somewhere is happy, and 2.) someone, somewhere disagrees with them.

1.)  The constant refrain of the podcast was about divine judgment.  While Moltmann spoke eloquently and with consideration about an eschatology (future) of hope, these men were quick to (repeatedly) point out that God’s judgment will not be exclusively good news.  Which is true, obviously.  (Indeed the very same Hebrew term is used for ‘justice’ and ‘judgment’.  That is, the same act of God will be both good news and bad news, depending on where you’re at.  If you’re an oppressor, then it’ll feel like judgment.  And if you’re oppressed, then it’ll be a freeing sense of justice that you experience.)

But really, do we need to harp on the bad news all of the time?  And do we need to assume that such a basic point has escaped all of those who gathered at the event?  Seriously, guys:  we get it.  We read the same Bible. You see God primarily as a force of judgment, and we see God primarily as a force of love and grace.  If we’re wrong, then we’re prepared take our lumps from your angry God.  But if you’re wrong, you’ll be spending a very long time regretting all of the people you chased out of God’s playground.

2.)  This need to be right, and to perseverate on the wrongness of everyone else seemed pathological, truly.  Can intelligent people not simply disagree?  Do we need to villainize one another?  Do we need to be so polarized?  Did these two men really need to avoid table fellowship with everyone else who attended the Moltmann conference?  I mean, let’s talk to one another, rather than lobbing podcasts and tweets back and forth after the fact, okay?  We might be able to find common ground, rather than only arguing about our differences.

Now, I understand that with a radio show called ‘Fighting for the Faith’, I need to expect a bit of pugilism. At the same time, I find myself wondering about that very adversarial assumption.  What faith is so fragile as to need such a constant, shrill defense?  Does God need that from us?  Is anyone convinced by such vehemence?  Is such an engagement with the world healthy, and life-giving? Are these two men happy?

There’s just got to be a better way.

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5 Responses to “Moltmannia: Questions for the Accusers”

  1. Duh-sciple Tim says:

    Is it me, or is the world in a positive feedback loop of runaway polarization?

    Thanks for a well articulated post, although I'm now coveting my neighbor's Emergent conversation with Moltmann :)

  2. Vinny says:

    Moltmann sermon, Moltmann sermon, Moltmann sermon…

  3. Christopher says:

    You said,
    "Now, I understand that with a radio show called 'Fighting for the Faith', I need to expect a bit of pugilism. At the same time, I find myself wondering about that very adversarial assumption. What faith is so fragile as to need such a constant, shrill defense? Does God need that from us? Is anyone convinced by such vehemence? Is such an engagement with the world healthy, and life-giving? Are these two men happy?

    There's just got to be a better way."

    As someone who agrees with Chris from Fighting for the Faith, I find some of the things you said incredibly interesting in this post. Jude actually commands that we contend for the faith. The idea is that of an ancient wrestler in a tournament. So, yes, fighting for the faith is an incredibly Biblical idea.

    And, while I understand the desire to underline the Love and Mercy and Grace of God, the observation of many is that other attributes of God are neglected at the expense of underlining these. Truth of the matter is that Jesus spoke much more about eternal condemnation than He did Heaven itself. The relentless focus on divine judgment is important because without the correct understanding of divine judgment we do not have the appropriate background of understanding Divine Mercy. Paul goes through nearly two chapter of condemning both Jews and Gentiles in the book of Romans before He mentions ANYTHING about the Love of God and the offer of Christ. Unless someone understands how desperately sick they are the cure does not look that amazing.

    Lastly, yes, we all have the same Bible, but that has meant nothing throughout Church History. Those of Jude's day had the same teachings of the Apostles. Athanasius theologically fought against men who had the same Scriptures as himself, and on and on throughout the history of God's people.

    I, personally, do not see God as mainly a God of judgment and wrath. That is not a correct view. Nor doe I see Him as mainly a God of Love and Mercy. I emphasis the attribute that it seems Scripture emphasizes itself: The Holiness of God, His utter set apartness from Creation and Sin.

  4. Hey, Christopher, thanks for your kind and thoughtful comments.

    I think you're right– there ought to be a balance here. And I think that if Chris was as balanced and respectful in his podcasts as you are in this comment, I would never have written this post.

    (Btw, I left Chris a comment several days ago, mostly to thank him for his careful and generous dialogue with Doug Pagitt. He has yet to approve my contribution.)

    And not to take anything away from what you've written here, I'd like to respond a bit. First, Jesus definitely *talked* about divine condemnation, but that was in the context of a life of mercy and love lived all around his words. Second, I tend to read *rhetoric* into Paul's argument in Romans, ie, he is speaking judgmentally to elicit the same kind of judgmentalism in his listeners, so that they would be susceptible to his contention that "You, therefore, have no excuse when you pass judgment on someone else…" Otherwise, how would Paul justify his rabid judgmentalism in the preceding chapters? He would be a hypocrite.

    Thanks again for interacting, Christopher. I hope we can meet someday.

  5. Christopher says:

    Meeting would be awesome, if not for the distance between Saint Louis and DC. I would agree that it is unfortunate that more discussion is not taking place.

    Concerning what you said about Paul, the point of Romans 2 is the seeming contrast between the moralistic unbelievers and the hedonistic unbelievers. I do not think Paul needs to prod those to whom he is writing. They are judging those who do such things AND YET are doing them themselves. The point of the passage is that the Jews are condemning the Gentile world for their behavior and yet the behavior of the Jews is no better.

    Paul shows here very clearly that judging in and of itself is not wrong. Jesus said that we to know a tree by its fruit, which is judging. Paul, in chapter 2, is showcasing the fruit of those who claim to be the people of God (just because they have the written code and circumcision), but act the same way. Judging is wrong, Paul states in verses 1-3, when the person we are judging is doing the exact same sin as I am! For as Christ said, with the measure we judge we will be judged by the measure ourselves.

    Lastly, it is important to note the REST of the verse you begin to quote above: "Therefore you have no excuse, O man, everyone of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself because you the judge practice the very same things.(ESV) Paul is not reacting against the judging of the Gentiles, but reacting to them sinning in the same manner AND judging the Gentiles.

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