Some passing brief reflections on the work of Jürgen Moltmann

Jürgen Moltmann (born in Hamburg 8 April 1926) is an influential German theologian whose early attempts at theology were originally shaped by the influence of theologians like Karl Barth and philosophers like Hegel and Bloch. Later he transferred his attention to the writings of Reinhold Niebur and Bonhoeffer whose struggles to make sense of their faith in the face of Nazi terror highlighted many of the same issues that Moltmann was attempting to resolve in the aftermath of World War II.

As a reluctant soldier in Hitler’s Third Reich, and later as a prisoner of war, Moltmann was forced to come to terms with the extreme suffering caused by those like Hitler, and it appears his later contributions to Liberation Theology and what came to be called Social Trinitarianism were at least partly shaped by his personal war experiences. Moltman had earlier almost idolized Albert Einstein, and initially set out to seek wisdom through mathematics and theological ideas such as those implied by Nietzche. Moltmann’s later theology comes across as more traditional than the Einstein view of God as Spinoza’s non personal mystery behind the Universe. He certainly saw his relationship with Jesus as a personal one and was quoted as saying “I did not find Jesus, he found me”.

On the other hand he took traditional understandings of God eg the notions implied by the Trinity, and tried to see how experiences and contemporary problems ought then to be related to the underlying theology. Since Moltmann referred in a number of places to the despair and guilt he experienced in thinking about the overwhelming disaster of the Holocaust and the suffering of innocent victims of the Second World War we might also begin to understand how he came to find his hope in Resurrection and see why he chose to develop such themes in his two most famous books, “Theology of Hope” and “The Crucified God”. A prolific writer and learned scholar, Moltmann has continued to influence many modern theologians through into his retirement.

To me the real value of Moltmann’s contribution to theology is that he encouraged his students and readers to see the task of theology can be to incorporate the realities of life into their varying faith settings. I assume that his emerging theology would not speak equally to Christians who have very different life experiences to his own, yet his example of setting out to learn without assuming others had worked out all the answers for him gives much of his theology a contemporary feel. However I would also suggest that we get the most value from his books, papers and reflections when we incorporate the characteristics of his quest rather than his specific answers into our own faith history.

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