Emerging Moltmann

One of my big projects this year, beginning in January and continuing now onwards to at least this next March, has been to read Moltmann as a guide for emerging/missional thinking. This won’t be too surprising to those who have read my book and have gotten to the end and into the “About These Sources” section in which I talk about the foundations of my thinking. Moltmann makes a strong appearance. When I ventured back into the emerging/missional world and read Emerging Churches by Gibbs and Bolger I was struck by how similar the themes in that book were with Moltmann’s Spirit of Life. Not directly correlated, mind you, but similar enough that I was provoked to think more about the relationship between the Holy Spirit and emerging church practices.

At the beginning of this year I sought a little more study, not on the emerging side but on the theological. So I sat in on a PhD class focusing on Moltmann. We read through and discussed all his major works. Though I was not required to do so I wrote a research paper on Moltmann titled Hope for the Kingdom: Jurgen Moltmann and the Emerging Church in Conversation. In that paper I took a section from his last ‘Contribution to Systematic Theology’ and used his points to interact with various emerging church texts. I also took a few leaps. I had read his major works but that’s only a part of his collected writings. I’ve since ventured into more. And the more I read the more I’m narrowing in on a couple of realities. My leaps are in fact a lot more grounded than I supposed. And, second, Jurgen Moltmann was emerging before the emerging Church began to take off, not just in hints and suggestions as I had supposed. Pretty directly. Though, as Bauckham suggests, most people took up Moltmann’s discussion on other theology topics while almost entirely ignoring his pleading and hopes for a new expression of ecclesiology.

Take a look at this quote from his 1999 book, God for a Secular Society: The Public Relevance of Theology, a book I’m just now reading for the first time:

Mission in the original theological sense of the word is missio Dei–God’s sending. But what does God send? According to biblical understanding (both Jewish and Christian) he sends nothing less than his Spirit into this world, through the Christ, the Messiah. This is the Spirit who is the life-giver and who is therefore called the Spirit of life, or the source of life. According to the Gospel of John, what God brings into the world through Christ can be summed up in a single word, life. ‘I live and you shall live also’ (John 14:19). What is meant is the fulfilled life — the wholly and entirely living life — the shared life — the eternal life — the fullness of life.

It is experienced in the new livingness of love. Nor is it just human life that is meant, for according to the prophetic message this living power of God will be poured out ‘on all flesh’, which in the language of the Old Testament means everything living. God’s sending is biocentrically oriented, not anthropocentrically. It is not concerned with the political or religious rule of human beings over the world, and not merely with the salvation of human souls, but with the liberation, salvation and final redemption of the life shared.

Its goal is therefore ‘the new creation of all things’. The eternal life which is the gift of the Spirit who is the life-giver is not a life other than this life here and now; it is the power through which this life here will be different. This mortal, temporal life gains a share in the divine life, and through that becomes life that is eternal: ‘This perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality’ stresses Paul (1 Corinthians 15:53). So Nietzsche was right: ‘Eternal life is eternal livingness.’ If Gods’ sending embraced the whole of life, the shared life of all the living, it must not be reduced to religion and inwardness and ‘the salvation of our souls’, important though our ‘souls’ are.

Jesus didn’t bring a new religion into the world. He brought new life. He didn’t found ‘Christianity’, nor did he set up an ecclesial rule over the nations. He brought life into this violent and dying world, the life ‘that was from the beginning, which we have looked upon and touched… and the life was made manifest, and we saw it, and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the life that is eternal…’ (1 John 1:1-2). Christ is the divine Yes to life. That Yes leads to the healing of the sick, to the acceptance of the marginalized, to the forgiveness of sins, and to the saving of impaired life from the powers of destruction. This is the way the Gospels tell about Jesus’s mission. And according to the Gospels this is also the character of the mission of the women and men who life in his Spirit (Matthew 10:7-8).

Absolutely. The question remains, however, why we all should care what a theologian that the great majority of Christians have never heard of has said on this topic. It is important because so much of emerging/missional thought has risen out of a interest in liturgical or organizational change. And so much of the books are about practices or church models or leadership or other kinds of structural issues. However, underlying these instincts towards institutional change is something much deeper, and I think not as well explored. It is a renewed look at the core theology of our faith. This isn’t about ignoring Scripture or drifting into liberal rejections of core principles. It is about taking Scripture as a whole, a more thorough examination, and finding where we have missed the mark.

Fundamentalism and Liberalism are, as Moltmann states earlier in the book, products of the Modern Age, actively fighting against each other with now very clear models of attack and defense. However, modernity is behind us and so we entire into something new.

And what this something new becomes is not a rejection of the past as much as it is an embrace of the future of the Holy Spirit who has always been working in the life of those who call on Christ, even if the church has not well reflected this.

So Moltmann is important because he comes to the conclusions mentioned above not out of a rejection of church leadership or an experience of dry, parched Evangelicalism. He comes to those conclusions having walked forty years through the utter depths of Scripture and Theology. Which means he, and those who share this journey, can give emerging church thought a foundation that goes far beyond fleeting liturgical transformation and becomes instead a new face of the Church that takes better more holistic note of Scripture, better more holistic understanding of the Trinity, better more holistic balance of breadth and depth, and in every way points to the fuller, richer mission of God that we experience and are called to pursue.

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