Moltmann's major works comprise two distinct series. In the first place, there is the early trilogy: Theology of Hope (1964), The Crucified God (1972), and The Church in the Power of the Spirit (1975). These represent three complementary perspectives on Christian theology. Theology of Hope is not a study of eschatology so much as a study of the eschatological orientation of the whole of theology. The Crucified God is a "theology of the cross" in Luther's sense: an attempt to see the crucified Christ as the criterion of Christian theology. The Church in the Power of the Spirit complements these two angles of approach with an ecclesiological and pneumatological perspective. The three volumes can be read as complementary perspectives in a single theological vision.
Moltmann regards this trilogy as preparatory studies for his second series of major works. This comprises studies of particular Christian doctrines in a planned order. Although they resemble a "dogmatics," Moltmann prefers to call them a series of "contributions" to theological discussion. There are six volumes: The Trinity and the Kingdom of God (1980); God in Creation (1985); The Way of Jesus Christ (1989); The Spirit of Life (1991); The Coming of God (1996); and Experiences in Theology (2000).
The most important controlling theological idea in Moltmann's early work is his dialectical interpretation of the cross and the resurrection of Jesus, which is then subsumed into the particular form of trinitarianism that becomes the overarching theological principle of his later work. Moltmann's dialectic of cross and resurrection is an interpretation of the cross and resurrection together that underlies the arguments of both Theology of Hope and The Crucified God. The cross and the resurrection are taken to represent opposites: death and life, the absence of God and the presence of God. Yet the crucified and risen Jesus is the same Jesus in this total contradiction. By raising the crucified Jesus to new life, God created continuity in radical discontinuity. Furthermore, the contradiction of cross and resurrection corresponds to the contradiction between what reality is now and what God promises to make it. In his cross Jesus was identified with the present reality of the world in all its negativity: its subjection to sin, suffering, and death, or what Moltmann calls its godlessness, godforsakenness, and transitoriness. But since the same Jesus was raised, his resurrection constitutes God's promise of new creation for the whole of the reality which the crucified Jesus represents. Moltmann's first two major books work in two complementary directions from this fundamental concept. In Theology of Hope the resurrection of the crucified Christ is understood in eschatological perspective and interpreted by the themes of dialectical promise, hope, and mission, while in The Crucified God the cross of the risen Christ is understood from the perspective of the theodicy problem and interpreted by the themes of dialectical love, suffering, and solidarity. (These themes will be explained below.) Finally, it is possible to see The Church in the Power of the Spirit as completing this scheme: the Spirit, whose mission derives from the event of the cross and resurrection, moves reality toward the resolution of the dialectic, filling the godforsaken world with God's presence and preparing for the coming kingdom in which the whole world will be transformed in correspondence to the resurrection of Jesus.
The dialectic of cross and resurrection gave Moltmann's theology a strongly Christological center in the particular history of Jesus and at the same time a universal direction. The resurrection as eschatological promise opens theology and the church to the whole world and to its future, while the cross as God's identification in love with the godless and the godforsaken requires solidarity with them on the part of theology and the church.
In The Crucified God Moltmann's theology became strongly trinitarian, since he interpreted the cross as a trinitarian event between the Father and the Son. From this point he developed an understanding of the trinitarian history of God with the world, in which the mutual involvement of God and the world is increasingly stressed. God experiences a history with the world in which he both affects and is affected by the world, and which is also the history of his own trinitarian relationships as a community of divine Persons who include the world within their love. This trinitarian doctrine dominates Moltmann's later work, in which the mutual relationships of the three Persons as a perichoretic, social Trinity are the context for understanding the reciprocal relationships of God and the world. The dialectic of cross and resurrection, developed in a fully trinitarian way, now becomes the decisive moment within this broader trinitarian history, which retains the eschatological direction of Theology of Hope and The Crucified God's suffering solidarity with the world, but also goes further in taking the whole of creation and history within the divine experience. Increasingly, Moltmann has sought to overcome the subordination of pneumatology to Christology, and instead to develop both Christology and pneumatology in mutual relationship within a trinitarian framework.
Although Moltmann addresses issues of theological method at various points in his work, he characteristically focuses on content rather than method, which he often leaves implicit rather than explicit. His last major work, Experiences in Theology, partly makes up for this by reflecting retrospectively on methodology.
Three key methodological principles of Moltmann's theology should be mentioned. The first, which is entailed by the key ideas we have just outlined, is that theology is always "public theology" or "theology for the Kingdom of God," addressing not only the church but also the world beyond the church and carried on in a pluralistic context of common concern for and dialogue about the world.
While this is as clear in Moltmann's early as in his later work, his early work soon moved beyond an exclusive emphasis on praxis. Hence the second methodological principle to be noted is the orientation of theology both to praxis and to doxology. Already with Theology and Joy (1971) he became dissatisfied with seeing theology purely as "a theory of a practice," and began to inject elements of contemplation, celebration, and doxology. Praxis itself is distorted into activism unless there is also enjoyment of being and praise of God, not only for what God has done but also for what God is. And if praxis is inspired and required by the eschatological hope of new creation, contemplation anticipates the goal of new creation: enjoyment of God and participation in God's pleasure in his creation. This rejection of the exclusive claims of praxis in theology enables Moltmann also, in his later work, to distinguish theological knowledge from the pragmatic thinking of the modern world in which the knowing subject masters its object in order to dominate it, and to reinstate that participatory knowledge in which the subject opens herself to the other in wonder and love, perceives herself in mutual relationship with the other, and so can be changed. Such an emphasis fits easily within Moltmann's later trinitarianism, in which reality is characterized by mutual, non-hierarchical relationships - within the Trinity, between the Trinity and creation, and within creation. Closely related is Moltmann's refusal to polarize revelation and experience, as well as his recognition that a theologian's biography is integrally related to his theology. Theology combines "biographical subjectivity and self-forgetting objectivity" (Experiences in Theology, p. xix).
Thirdly, Moltmann's theology is characterized by its openness to dialogue. He resists the idea of creating a theological "system" and stresses the provisionality of all theological work and the ability of one theologian only to contribute to the continuing discussion within an ecumenical community of theologians, which itself must be in touch with the wider life and thinking of the churches and the sufferings and hopes of the world. His theology is also open to dialogue with other academic disciplines, including especially the sciences. This openness is a structural openness inherent in his theology from the beginning, since it results from the eschatological perspective of his theology of hope. Theology is in the service of the church's mission as, from its starting point in the cross and resurrection of Jesus, it relates to the world for the sake of the future of the world. The genuine openness of this future ensures that theology does not already know all the answers but can learn from others and other approaches to reality. At the same time the Christological starting point, in the light of which the future is the future of Jesus Christ, keeps Christian theology faithful to its own truth and so allows it to question other approaches and enter critical dialogue with them. In later work, this structural openness is reinforced by the principle of relationality that becomes increasingly important to Moltmann: to recognize that one's own standpoint is relative to others can lead not to relativism but to productive relationship. In biographical terms, this openness to dialogue has made Moltmann's theological development a journey into unknown and often surprising territory.
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