The persuasiveness of any political theology is judged on the strength of its account of the church. How does the church embody, practice, and teach God's love in the world? What is its relationship to secular authority? Where is the church to be found? For Moltmann, these questions cannot be answered satisfactorily in purely formal terms: an adequate description of the church requires detailed description of the historical conditions in which Christians find themselves. Even in his earliest work, however, Moltmann is insistent on one thing: there have been periods of history when leaders in the church believed their task was to conserve the allegedly "natural order" of society; that cannot be the case today. "The Christian Church has not to serve humankind in order that this world may remain what it is, or may be preserved in the state in which it is, but in order that it may transform itself and become what it is promised to be" (1967: 32 7). This is repeated in his larger study The Church in the Power of the Spirit (1975), where Moltmann suggests that in times of peace, long ago, "the church could affirm itself by demonstrating the unbroken and unaltered con tinuance of its tradition and traditions" (Moltmann 1977: 2). This is no longer possible. Ours is a time of crisis, characterized by great suffering in the church. Under current conditions, the dominant themes are messianic, and a longing for the redemption of God's promise. The tradition embodied by the church is one that changes people and causes them to be born again in the Spirit. "Anyone who enters this messianic tradition accepts the adventure of the Spirit, the experience of liberation, the call to repentance, and common work for the coming kingdom" (1977: 3). The time of unrest is not, however, only an effect of a politically unstable world on the church. Unrest is embedded at the heart of the church itself:

its "unrest" is implicit in itself, in the crucified Christ to whom it appeals and in the Spirit which is its driving power. . . . The social and cultural upheavals of the present draw its attention to that great upheaval which it itself describes as "new creation," as the "new people of God," which it testifies to the world concerning the future of "the new heaven and the new earth." (1977: 3)

Theologies which try to draw out the political dimension of worship risk instrumentalizing the church, making it a vehicle for something else, other than being the church. Theologies which set themselves the task of describing the difference between the kingdom of God and earthly cities run the risk of using up their energies on critique of society without articulating the creative power of God's love to make good lives possible. How, then, does Moltmann show that political action arises from worship (rather than being in competition with it) in his account of the church, and how does he handle the balance between critique and creativity in his account of society? The first question is addressed by suggesting that the church serves a particular interest, and that this is the interest of Christ. The second question is handled by considering the relationship between God's glory and Christian life. This is worked out principally through the themes of feasting, friendship, and poverty. We now turn to these.

Influenced deeply by German left-wing philosophy of the 1960s and 1970s, Moltmann asks the critical question of this restless, Spirit-filled church: "whom is it intended to benefit, and for whom and in whose interest is it designed?" (1977: 4). For Moltmann, the concepts of benefit and interest are fully theological; that is to say, their task is to assist the description of the relationship between God and God's creation. Accordingly, Moltmann gives a trinitarian, and then a Christological response: "If the church does everything in the name of the triune God, then theological doctrine will see the church in the trinitarian history of God's dealings with the world." At the same time, "Christ is his church's foundation, its power and its hope. ... Its only where Christ alone rules, and the church listens to his voice only, that the church arrives at its truth and becomes free and a liberating power in the world" (p. 5). Moltmann echoes the Barmen Declaration of 1934: "Acknowledgement of the sole lordship of Christ in his church makes it impossible to recognize any other 'sources of proclamation apart from or in addition to this sole Word of God'" (p. 5). Because of this, there is no separation between theological understandings of the church, and political and social understandings. The sphere of politics and society is the sphere of theology and thus of the church. Whose "interest" does the church serve? Christ's. Whom is it intended to benefit? Those to whom Christ came.

Moltmann places great emphasis on the contemporary meaning of mission. There have been periods of its history when the church was the bearer of European or North American Christian cultural life, which it sought to disseminate in Africa and Asia. This has changed. The church now has a mission in Europe, and it is no longer a European church which has this mission. It is a world church: culturally and racially varied. It is no longer a "national church" and, with a few isolated exceptions, it is no longer an "established church." It is an ecumenical church. "The ecumenical movement seeks the visible unity of Christ's church. It serves to liberate the churches from their ties with the middle-class and political religions of their societies; and in this way it also serves to give the churches renewed life as Christ's church" (Moltmann 1977: 12). Moltmann lists a series of conferences to support this: Lund (1952), Mexico City (1968), Uppsala (1968), Second Vatican Council (1962-5), Bangkok (1973) (1977: 7-15). The change in focus from Europe to the world, and the critical questions about whose interests the church serves, are crucial to Moltmann's ecclesiology, and he aligns himself firmly with the modern "political theology" associated with Metz:

In the age of the restoration in Europe, the churches, consciously or unconsciously, made [a] basic conservative choice which determines their public statements even today. It is the intention of modern political theology to make people conscious of this basic conservative choice made by the European churches, and to put an end to it, so giving back to the church its political liberty. . . . Modern political theology, unlike its earlier equivalent, is not an ideology of political religions, to which the church has often enough surrendered. It is the critical ending of these unholy alliances made by the church. (1977: 16)

Moltmann shows himself willing to learn from Latin America's theology of revolution and theology of liberation (which were relatively new when Molt-mann was writing in 1975): he specifically names Gutiérrez, Assmann, and Bonino as thinkers who have a vital lesson about the liberation of the oppressed and the humiliated to teach European theology.

The church is a witness to God's glory. Moltmann is especially interested in the way in which Christian relationships with God elicit feasting, friendship, and poverty. These three themes are closely related for Moltmann, and although not normally juxtaposed in non-Christian thought, they arise quite naturally for a theologian who understands that the church is the church of Jesus Christ. Reacting against over-authoritarian ecclesiologies which describe Jesus predominantly as Lord, Moltmann tries to draw out the significance of Jesus' transfiguration and of Jesus being not only the Lord of the kingdom but the "Lord of Glory" of 1 Cor. 2: 8 (1977: 109). The kingdom of God is itself a marriage feast, and Easter is a "feast of freedom" where the risen Christ sits with his disciples. Discussions of feasting and joy in theological writings can often seem strangely forced and pedestrian when compared with their subject matter. The theme of feasting calls for something more spontaneous and beautiful. Moltmann thus hosts a more informal discussion, and includes meditations on hymns by St. Paul, Paul Gerhardt, and John Wesley in order to show how the church is engaged with "the laughter of the redeemed, the dance of the liberated and the creative play of fantasy" (1977: 110). Feasting is a rearrangement of time and space, laws and spontaneity, memory and liberation. It does not celebrate in order to deny the lack of freedom which people experience in everyday life but in order to anticipate that freedom and insist that even everyday life is potentially a life of laughter, play, and dance.

There are dangers here: feasting can be darkly and skillfully used as compensation for deeper imprisonment or be instrumentalized as a pressure-valve for passions arising from the experience of real social contradictions. Moreover, there is no simple formula to defend the church's feasting against such abuse. Rather, it has to be watchful and alert. Moltmann does not think European churches are yet in danger of feasting too exuberantly. Far from it: they need to relearn this from the exemplary practices of worship in Pentecostal and independent churches in Africa and elsewhere. At the same time, the crucified Christ is not forgotten or repressed in this feasting: more than anything else, the memory of the Crucifixion forbids Christian feasting from becoming a flight from suffering. Feasting enacts the joy of the risen Christ in solidarity with the groaning creation: it points to Jesus, the risen crucified Christ (1977: 109-14). In later work, Moltmann modifies this picture and arguably abandons it: his account of feasting in The Coming of God concentrates on the risen, rather than the crucified, Christ and the dominant theme is not solidarity but laughter. Moltmann does not explain why (1996: 336-9).

The kind of complex feasting described in The Crucified God, of pain not just transfigured into joy but actually part of it, gives rise to fellowship and friendship, solidarity and participation in the common life of Christ. The traditional account of the "threefold office of Christ," as prophet, priest, and king, has produced a rich tradition of meditations on the life of Christ. Moltmann argues for more emphasis upon the fellowship which Christ brings and embodies in the world: Christ as prophet, priest, king, and friend (1977: 115). Moltmann admits there is something not quite right about thinking of "friend" as another title of office. It is relational more than honorific. What, for Moltmann, does friendship include? Affection, loyalty, reliability, constancy in disaster, openness, freedom, sympathy, and noncompetitiveness. The theme of friendship allows Moltmann to balance his critique of society with a creative image of the good life: "The positive meaning of a classless society free of domination, without repression and without privileges, lies in friendship. Without the power of friendship and without the goal of a friendly world there is no human hope for the class struggles and struggles for dominance" (p. 116).

Jesus' friendship is explicitly described only twice in scripture: he is the "friend of tax collectors and sinners!" (Luke 7: 34) and he says to his disciples: "You are my friends if you do what I command you" (John 15: 14). Interestingly, neither of these passages lends itself easily to Moltmann's theological task of describing Jesus as "friend of the sinful and the sick" (1977: 117): Luke's description is an account of Jesus' response to a reproach; John's passage makes a strong connection between Jesus' authority and his friendship, whereas Moltmann seems to wish to keep them distinct. Scripture should help Moltmann rethink the very idea of Jesus' lordship as friendship, rather than trying, as he does, to correct the one with the other. Similarly, Moltmann has a rather free interpretation of John 15: 15, where Jesus tells the disciples that from now on he does not call them servants, but calls them friends. Moltmann suggests that this is because he relates to the disciples out of joy, not out of condescension (1977: 118). The actual passage of scripture says: "I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father" (John 15: 15, NRSV). The friendship between Jesus and the disciples arises here from a relationship of sharing knowledge, and thus friendship with God, rather than any attitude on Jesus' part. John 15: 14 and John 15: 15, taken together, imply a transformed lordship: a friendship rooted in the sharing of knowledge of God the Father. Nonetheless, it is important to Moltmann's theology of God's glory to indicate the importance of friendship between Jesus and the disciples, between Jesus and the Father, and finally between the disciples and the Father by way of prayer through Jesus: "the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name" (John 15: 16). Moltmann wonderfully draws out the way friendship and prayer arise from each other: "Prayer and the hearing of prayer are the marks of humanity's friendship with God and God's friendship with humanity . . . God's friend prays out of freedom and trusts to the friendship of the free God" (1977: 119).

Moltmann reinterprets the threefold office in the light of this discussion. "In his divine function as prophet, priest and king, Christ lives and acts as a friend and creates friends." Here Moltmann has a worried afterthought. Friendship is a much misunderstood concept. Just as the category of "anticipation" in Theology of Hope corrects Greek philosophical notions of the eternal present with an understanding of God's promise, so "friendship with sinners" has to correct Greek philosophical notions of friendship between equals with an understanding of Jesus' friendship with the unrighteous and the despised. The ancient concept of friendship as equality between those of the same rank is not the only thing needing repair. There is also the modern concept of friendship as intimacy reserved for the private sphere. By contrast, Jesus' friendship is public and widely shared. "The friendship of Jesus cannot be lived and its friendliness cannot be disseminated when friendship is limited to people who are like ourselves and when it is narrowed down to private life" (1977: 121). Christians of all denominations can learn a lot from Quakers, Moltmann suggests, because the Society of Friends show what friendship means through their work in slums and in working for the abolition of slavery. Here, Moltmann has already started his next transition: having moved from feasting to friendship, he now moves from friendship to poverty.

Where is the church found? Ubi Christus - ibi ecclesia: where Christ is, there the church is. Where is Christ? In many places: the apostolate, the sacraments, the fellowship of Christians, "the least of the members of his family, his parou-sia" (1977: 123). The church thus has the task of mediating all of these modes of the presence of Christ. Moltmann devotes space to all of these, but most of all to Christ's presence in the poor. It is often difficult to know where Moltmann's particular emphases lie. His discussions have an encyclopaedic character, and he often tries to cram everything in and summarize all points of view in the course of an argument; and because vast areas of theology are traversed in a few pages, the reader sometimes has to work quite hard to discern what Moltmann thinks is centrally important. In this context, things are clear: Moltmann thinks Christ's friendship with the poor is of utmost importance for understanding who and where the church is. Moltmann develops his account here through interpretation of Matthew 25: 31-46: the son of man as judge of the world. To the righteous the king will say, "I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me." To the unrighteous he will say, "I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink. ..." The central message of this parable of the kingdom is that the king's hunger, thirst, estrangement, nakedness, sickness, and imprisonment are the hunger and imprisonment of the poor, the "least of these who are members of my family" (Matt.25: 40). Moltmann shows the significance of this for ecclesiology: "The way in which the identification between the Judge of the world and the least of people is formulated is remarkably closely parallel to the identification of Christ with the community of believers" (1977: 126). Whoever hears the apostles, hears Christ; and what is done to "the least" is done to Christ. Moltmann develops this juxtaposition so as to suggest that the church is to be identified with the poor and the hungry. Matthew 25: 31ff. is not first and foremost about ethics and the love of one's neighbor (although it is this too). "The hidden presence of the coming Christ in the poor . . . belongs to ecclesiology first of all, and only after that to ethics" (1977: 127).

Moltmann's account of the church is the heart of his political theology. Where is the church found? Where Christ is. But if Christ is both present in Word and sacrament and present as the judge hidden among the poor, how are these two to be related to each other? "We must talk about a fellowship of believers and a fellowship of the least of his family with Christ. 'He who hears you hears me' - 'He who visits them, visits me.' The two have seldom been successfully combined in the church's history" (1977: 128-9). Interestingly, Moltmann offers a division of labor for these two fellowships: "The apostolate says what the church is. The least of Christ's family say where the church belongs" (p. 129). We see here the whole of Moltmann's political theology summed up in an invitation. He calls for the church to understand itself as two fellowships combined: the fellowship of the apostles and the fellowship of the poor. It is for this reason that the church does not minister to the poor: the church is the poor. And for the same reasons, the church is not a church for the people. It is the church of the people (p. 93). And politics, accordingly, is participation in God's life.


1 See esp. "The Revolution of Freedom," in Religion, Revolution and the Future (1969: 63ff.).

2 All emphases are Moltmann's own. I have freely altered translations from the German so that general pronouns are rendered with inclusive language, but have not indicated this in the text.

3 See also Moltmann's essay on Bloch, "Hope and Confidence," in Religion, Revolution and the Future (1969: 148ff.); and the brief discussion of Bloch in God in Creation (1985: 42-5).

4 The indices of names to The Crucified God and The Coming of God show the relevant passages.


Bauckham, Richard (1995). The Theology of Jürgen Moltmann. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.

-, ed. (1999). God Will Be All in All: The Eschatology of Jürgen Moltmann. (Edinburgh:

Moltmann, Jürgen (1967). Theology of Hope, 5th edn, trans. J. Leitch. London: SCM. (First pub. in German 1965.)

-(1969). Religion, Revolution and the Future, trans. M. D. Meeks. New York: Scribner's.

-(1971). Hope and Planning, trans. M Clarkson. London: SCM.

-(1974). The Crucified God, trans. R. Wilson and J. Bowden. London: SCM. (First publ.

in German 1972.)

-(1977). The Church in the Power of the Spirit, trans. M. Kohl. London: SCM. (First publ. in German 1975.)

-(1981). Trinity and the Kingdom of God, trans. M. Kohl. London: SCM.

-(1984). On Human Dignity: Political Theology and Ethics, trans. D. Meeks. London:


-(1985). God in Creation, trans. M. Kohl. London: SCM.

-(1989a). The Way of Jesus Christ, trans. M. Kohl. London: SCM.

-(1989b). Creating a Just Future: The Politics of Peace and the Ethics of Creation in a

Threatened World, trans. M. Kohl. London: SCM.

-(1992). The Spirit of Life: A Universal Affirmation, trans. M. Kohl. London: SCM.

-(1996). The Coming of God: Christian Eschatology, trans. M. Kohl. London: SCM.

(First publ. in German 1995.)

-(2000). Experiences of Theology, trans. M. Kohl. London: SCM.

Rasmusson, Arne (1995). The Church as Polis: From Political Theology to Theological Politics as Exemplified by Jürgen Moltmann and Stanley Hauerwas. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press.

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