The night I met Jürgen Moltmann

Jun 14, 2024 by

By Carl R Trueman, First Things. (image credit: Creative Commons)

Jürgen Moltmann, who died on June 3 at age 98, was the last of the great German post-Barth theologians whose influence, like that of Wolfhart Pannenberg and Eberhard Jüngel, stretched well beyond his native land and language. His contributions to Liberation Theology, Christology, social Trinitarianism, theodicy, eschatology, and political theology were in their time immense.

For me, news of his death brought back a personal memory from some thirty years ago when he delivered a lecture at the University of Nottingham. At that time, I was the most junior member of faculty in the Department of Theology. After the lecture, I found myself seated in the back of a colleague’s car next to the distinguished theologian as we headed to dinner. I asked him two questions. First: Had he been to Nottinghamshire before? He had, he told me. Had he enjoyed it? No, he replied, I was being held here in a prisoner-of-war camp. I recall a minute or two of awkward silence after that. Then I mentioned his book The Crucified God and expressed my fascination with how he had developed Luther’s Christology in his attempt to offer a theological account of Auschwitz and suffering. I had found the work powerful and moving, if ultimately unconvincing. I then asked my second question: Did he still find Luther a useful source for theological dialogue? Again, the answer was Nein! Luther was too focused on individual salvation to be of any constructive theological use in the present, he declared.

Over dinner, Moltmann discussed his initial theological development, which culminated in his famous trilogy: Theology of HopeThe Crucified God, and The Church in the Power of the Spirit. These works, especially the first, had been strongly influenced by the Marxist Ernst Bloch. Moltmann thus emerged in the 1960s as a theological example of Hegelian Marxism, folding a reading of Marx refracted through strands of German idealism into the narrative and idioms of the Bible and of Christianity. The result was a heady revolutionary vision that would profoundly shape Latin American Liberation Theology of the kind that would later influence Pope Francis. Moltmann never produced subsequent work that matched this trilogy for its sense of intellectual excitement or influence.

It seemed that Moltmann knew this. Toward the end of the evening, his conversation became wistful. He wanted, he said, to be a voice for the oppressed, but the world was changing and he knew he was being left behind.

Read here.

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