Eschatology

One of the most important achievements of Moltmann's early theology was to rehabilitate future eschatology. This was in part a response to the demonstration by biblical scholarship that future eschatology is of determinative significance for biblical faith. Whereas Schweitzer, Bultmann, and others had thought biblical escha-tology unacceptable to the modern mind unless stripped of reference to the real temporal future of the world, Moltmann, along with some other German theologians in the 1960s, saw in future eschatology precisely the way to make Christian faith relevant in the modern world. He wished to show how the modern experience of history as a process of constant change, in hopeful search of a new future, need not be rejected by the church, as though Christianity stood for reactionary traditionalism or withdrawal from the world. Rather, the orientation of biblical faith toward the future of the world requires the church to engage with the possibilities for change in the modern world, to promote them against tendencies to stagnation, and to direct them toward the coming Kingdom of God. The gospel proves relevant and credible today precisely through the eschatological faith that truth lies in the future and proves itself in changing the present in the direction of the future.

Christian hope, for Moltmann, is thoroughly Christological, since it arises from the resurrection of Jesus. His famous claim that "from first to last, and not merely in the epilogue, Christianity is eschatology, is hope" (Theology ofHope, p. 16) was possible only because it was a claim about the meaning of the resurrection of Jesus. Since the God of Israel had revealed himself to Israel by making promises which opened up the future, his act of raising the crucified Jesus to new life is to be understood as the culminating and definitive event of divine promise. In it God promises the resurrection of all the dead, the new creation of all reality, and the coming of his kingdom of righteousness and glory, and he guarantees this promise by enacting it in Jesus' person. Jesus' resurrection entails the eschatological future of all reality.

When this concept of the resurrection as promise is related to Moltmann's dialectic of cross and resurrection (see above), important aspects of his eschatology emerge. In the first place, the contradiction between the cross and the resurrection creates a dialectical eschatology, in which the promise contradicts present reality. The eschatological kingdom is no mere fulfillment of the immanent possibilities of the present, but represents a radically new future: life for the dead, righteousness for the unrighteous, new creation for a creation subject to evil and death. But secondly, the identity of Jesus in the total contradiction of cross and resurrection is also important. The resurrection was not the survival of some aspect of Jesus which was not subject to death: Jesus was wholly dead and wholly raised by God. The continuity was given in God's act of new creation. Similarly, God's promise is not for another world, but for the new creation of this world, in all its material and worldly reality. The whole of creation, subject as it is to sin and suffering and death, will be transformed in God's new creation.

Christian eschatology is therefore the hope that the world will be different. It is aroused by a promise whose fulfillment can come only from God's eschatological action transcending all the possibilities of history, since it involves the end of all evil, suffering, and death in the glory of the divine presence indwelling all things. But it is not therefore without effect in the present. On the contrary, Jesus' resurrection set in motion a historical process in which the promise already affects the world and moves it in the direction of its future transformation. This process is the universal mission of the church. This is the point at which Moltmann's Theology of Hope opened the church to the world as well as to the future. Authentic Christian hope is not that purely other-worldly expectation that is resigned to the unalterability of affairs in this world. Rather, because it is hope for the future of this world, its effect is to show present reality to be not yet what it can and will be. The world is transformable in the direction of the promised future. In this way believers are liberated from accommodation to the status quo and set critically against it. They suffer the contradiction between what is and what is promised. But this critical distance also enables them to seek and to activate those present possibilities of world history that lead in the direction of the eschatological future. Thus, by arousing active hope, the promise creates anticipations of the future kingdom within history.

While Theology of Hope was more about the eschatological orientation of theology than the content of eschatological hope, The Coming of God is a systematic eschato-logy, a detailed exposition of the Christian hope in personal, historical, cosmic, and divine aspects. A notable feature is Moltmann's now much more critical attitude to the progressivism of the modern West, which projects the future only as the processive completion of history, rather than also as the messianic redemption of history. Moltmann sees the liberating potential of the modern West compromised by its justification of domination as progress.

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