Turns out I did find some time to transcribe the second part of the podcast, the discussion with Moltmann following his short biographical presentation. The audio can be found here.
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Tony Jones: There’s a lot, and there’s obviously a lot that happened since 1967. I’d like to stop and look back at a couple of points, and maybe Danielle would too. Trying to understand what a significant event it was for you to convert, to become a follower of Christ, is difficult, because those of us who’ve grown up in America, where Christianity is so much a part of the culture, in the water. How would you characterise—you write about and I’ve heard it many times that you went with a pocket edition of Goethe in your pocket, and Faust was—. So, for a lot of us who’re unfamiliar with that, what’s the message of Faust? What’s the gospel of Goethe and early twentieth century, European humanism?
Moltmann: Well, do good, love the beauty of nature, and follow your instinct for adventures of life. So, it’s a kind of humanism of free will and reason and good emotions, but without transcendence. Goethe was certainly convinced that God is present everywhere and everything is divine. Well, with this presupposition, you cannot go through a war and the imprisonment and the suffering. This collapses very quickly.
Jones: In the war a couple times you had close friend die right in front of you?
Jones: Yeah. And when you first learned that Hitler was exterminating Jews, you write about this in A Broad Place, yes? Were these some of the events that caused that—you’d said earlier Goethe had awakened a young boy, like, it had been exciting to as a young boy but then these were starting to collapse, these ideas of humanism. They seemed not in keeping with your experience?
Moltmann: Yeah, and no words for these experiences of forsakenness and destruction, and guilt-feeling. There were no words for it. I found these words first in the psalms of lament and then the New Testament.
Jones: Many of the people in this room are pastors—the majority are pastors, Danielle is a pastor. I was once told in seminary by a theologian, Jim McClendon—he said all the best theologians were pastors. This was his opinion. [He?] had spent some time in parish ministry. Do you continue to draw on that these many years later?
Moltmann: Yes, when a theological idea occurs to me, I ask myself, What would the people think about it and what would they make with it? And then, of course, the people of my congregation, who are [a] long time dead already, appear in my spiritual eyes and react to it. I think professional theologians must again and again into the people and listen to the people—into the people’s theology, to their questions and also to their answers.
Jones: Of course.
Moltmann: And the people should not be shy, and get away from professional theology. They should take responsibility for the education of theologians. I think most of the seminaries do this. They have connections to the congregations. Only the universities in Germany—I have a lot of colleagues who want to be accepted by the other faculties. And therefore they change the title of systematic theology into philosophy of religion, because this sounds more general and not so Christian, etc., etc. So there are a lot of problems inside of university theology. But this not the main question.
Jones: No, but I think a lot of us will resonate with that—what you experienced at Duke, that the American pragmatism—. There are people here who are thinking, as you’re speaking these two days, Well, how does that preach? Danielle just quotes you in her sermons, which her congregation doesn’t complain about, I’m sure.
Danielle Stroyer: *Laughs* It’s usually the best thing I say.
Jones: Can you us the story of your book—you’d been in Latin America, you’d been in base communities, your Crucified God, which many of us consider—. That book is a life-altering book, I think. And that book had an impact in the liberation, base communities of Latin America, yes?
Moltmann: Well, to most of the things in my life I came by chance. And I came by chance to Latin America because I was invited by the Ecumenical Council to give the [unclear] Lectures in Buenos Aires, and then all the other schools in Brazil and Mexico came into it. So it was a long trip over six weeks. Then, all of a sudden during this travelling I got fed up with conference theology, this [unclear]-type of theology, and wanted to be on earth at some place. I found this place at that time in the year 1990, in Managua, Nicaragua, which was still destroyed by the war of the Sadinistas against the Somoza regime, and by the Contra War on the borders of Nicaragua. It was really a poor and destroyed country but with very self-conscious people because they had won their freedom by themselves. And there was a large Protestant seminary in Managua—CIEETS—still with sedged huts and very poor. So I promised that this would be my place in Latin America and I would return every second year to give lectures in Managua. Five years later, we founded the first Protestant university in Central America, UENIC—Universidad Evangélica Nicaragüense—which is flourishing today with five thousand students and a lot of support from outside. But, as you know, the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua is completely separated from the Pacific coast. There is no road in between. You cannot get from one coast to the other coast, and the Atlantic coast is Protestant. The Miskito Indians are Moravian brothers, *laughs*
Moltmann: This was British Honduras in the nineteenth century, a British kind of kingdom.
Jones: *Agrees*, A colony.
Moltmann: Yeah. So, twenty-five percent of the Nicaraguans are Protestant. This is strong in comparison with other places. I’m a part of the Protestant seminary and university of Nicaragua. With the book, The Crucified God, there’s a for me very moving story. As you know, in ’89, Ellacuria—Ignacio Ellacuria—and six Jesuit brothers were killed by the soldiers in UCA, the Jesuit university in San Salvador—and the housekeeper and the [? their?] daughter too. Really, an act of terrorism. When they had killed the Jesuits, they dragged one across—Ramón Moreno—into the room of Jon Sobrino, who, by chance, was outside of the country at that time. And in the morning they found this corpse of Ramón Moreno in his blood. One book fell out of the bookshelf of Jon Sobrino and was sapped [?] by the blood of this martyr. This was El Dios crucificado [The Crucified God]. Two years later I made my pilgrimage to that place and found it under glass, as a reminder of what really happened in this place. So El Dios crucificado was helpful to understand what happened there—
Jones: We can just let that sit—
Moltmann: Otherwise, I had a very lively exchange of letters with the first liberation theologians—my friend, José Míguez Bonino. I wrote an open letter to him to criticise this type of seminar Marxism—
Moltmann: —and they were very angry about me—most of them. But this happened after a group of students from Argentina and Brazil came to Tübingen and declared: We want to be liberated from European influence. We no longer read Karl Barth, we no longer read Rudolf Bultmann, and we will never read Moltmann, because Karl Marx had said,—
Moltmann: *laughing* “All history is a [? the?] battle of class struggle.” And then I asked, Where was Karl Marx born, in Trier or in [unclear]? Then they became silent and angry with me. So, when I made this trip in 1990, through Latin America, I ended up in Mexico City with liberation theologians. And my friend, Jim Cone, from Union Seminary was also present. He said to me, “Jürgen, they want to crucify you.” Really, after my lecture, they criticised me from all sides—as a liberal humanist, a fundamentalist, whatsoever—
Moltmann: —because I was not a real Marxist. I knew Marx very well, but I was not a Marxist. On the next day, something strange happened. Jim Cone stood up and went through the rows of liberation theologians and said, “You are all whites, and to my knowledge there are more blacks living in Brazil than in the United States of America. Where are the black liberation theologians?” And then the liberation theologians became silent and looked to the floor. But then, Dora Arce—the mother of Reinerio Arce—from Cuba stood up and went through the rows and looked to Jim Cone and to the white liberation theologians and said, “To my knowledge, more than half of mankind is female. *Laughing*, There is no female liberation theologian between you.” So they were shocked again and at the end we celebrated a beautiful fiesta and were all one heart and soul. *Laughs*
Moltmann: This was the beginning of liberation theology. Nowadays you have black liberation theology and indigenous liberation theology, a lot of feminist liberation theologians, mujerista theology, etc. So it has differentiated more and more, and that’s good.
Jones: —I might read a little bit from it later—yesterday, John Franke, who’s a theologian here in the States, read from Experiences in Theology, his favourite book. I think my favourite text is actually the preface to [The] Trinity and the Kingdom of God, because in there you write about a turning in your career. You wrote the first three, each of which looks at the entirety through a single lens. And then you write in the preface to The Trinity and the Kingdom of God that you got back to Germany after having all these speaking engagements in liberation circles and realised: I’m a white male who lives in Germany. I’m not a liberation theologian in that way. And you then set out to write the six contributions to systematic theology [i.e., Moltmann’s “systematic contributions to theology”]. In that you’re talking about your experiences in Latin America and liberation theology, but some of those very conversations about how do you fit into this burgeoning liberation theology world must have had an impact on you as well?
Moltmann: I started with a theology of hope, and this is granted in the resurrection of Christ. Then I turned—because of some experiences with American optimism—to a theology of the cross, which is the other side of christology. And then, in the book on the crucifixion, I had only in view two subjects: Jesus the Son of God, and God the Father. Jesus cries out to the Father and the Father experiences bereavement from his own Son. I asked myself and my students were asking, Where is the Holy Spirit? So, I made a lot of doctoral seminars on the question of the Holy Spirit and finally found it, I believe, and wrote this social doctrine of the Trinity—because, since Augustine, we have a psychological doctrine of the Trinity. God the Father has two hands: the Son and the Holy Spirit. And his image is the subject in every person, the subject of will and reason, Christ and the Holy Spirit. Each subject on the human level is an image of the Holy Trinity. This I found misleading because then the Holy Spirit is only the interrelationship between the Son and the Father, but the Son and the Father already are interrelated by the fatherhood and the sonship of Christ, so they don’t need the Holy Spirit for it. If the Holy Spirit is a relation between two subjects, the Holy Spirit is not a subject herself.
Moltmann: We have in the Western tradition, in the icons—pictures—of the Holy Trinity, always two subjects and an animal, the dove, while in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, you have the three angels who visited Abraham and Sarah. And if you take Abraham and Sarah away, you have the three angels sitting around the tabled—on the centre is a cup. This is Rublev’s icon, very famous. They have complete kind of doctrine of the Trinity, while we in the West have a shattered kind of doctrine of the Trinity. And so I came up with the idea that the best would be to create a social doctrine of the Trinity, where God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are interrelated by the perichoresis, the indwelling in each other. “Who sees me sees the Father. I am in the Father; the Father is in me.” This mutual indwelling is the real mystery of the social understanding of the Trinity. And then, all of a sudden, it’s completely clear: the Christian congregation, which is one heart and one soul, is a good image of the Trinity. “That they all may be one, like you are in me and I am in you.” This is the high-priestly prayer of Jesus, according to the Gospel of John. The true human community is an icon and a witness to the trinitarian God. This is the idea of the social understanding of the Trinity. I got a lot of support from the Orthodox side, of course, but also from Protestant sides. My friend, Leonardo Boff, always tells a story: One time, the basic communities in Brazil came together in one place. They had a sign: The Holy Trinity is the best basic community. And he followed me in this social understanding of the Trinity. But, to put it in simple terms, the doctrine of the Trinity is not at all a mystery. It’s very simple. If you come into fellowship with Jesus, you also come into fellowship with the God whom he called, “Abba, dear Father.” And in the fellowship with Jesus, and in the prayer, “Abba, dear Father,” you feel the life-giving energies of the Spirit. So, the Christian faith has a triadic structure in itself. Before we develop a doctrine of the Trinity, we live already in God, surrounded by God, the Son of God—Jesus Christ and [? in?] the Abba, dear Father—and the life-giving energies of the Spirit. We don’t believe in the Trinity only; we live in the Trinity. We live in God, in the trinitarian God, surrounded from outside. There’s an indwelling in us and our community, just as there’s an indwelling of our community in God. I found this for myself very enlightening.
Jones: A few others agree—find that enlightening as well. I think Danielle might be on the same page.
Stroyer: I really appreciate the way that you restructured—or helped us to reorient understanding of—the unity of the Trinity, because it seems that in Western theology when we talk about the Trinity, the numbers sort of mess with us and we try to figure out how to be three in one. You were very clearly stating, Well, Jesus said that “I and the Father are one,” not “I and the Father are one and the same.” As a pastor, that’s helpful for me because we’re not a doctrine-based church. So, when people come and say, “What do you believe about X?,” or, “What is your statement on this?,” we often say, “Well, there are a lot of different beliefs in our church.” And then they say, “What holds you together?” And we say, “This unity comes not through our doctrine, but through the fact that we feel that Christ provides us a unity that is far above that, right? So, can you talk a little bit more about that?—because I think for many of us in the room who are pastors, who have congregations, who disagree on a number of different doctrines, this gift of the unity of the Trinity that doesn’t have to be sameness is a really important thing for us.
Moltmann: Let me first say: Jesus addressed his God as Abba, dear Father. The Apostle Paul heard the Abba prayer in Galatia and in Rome. But after the first century, the Abba prayer disappeared from the Christian congregations and was replaced by “Our Father, who is in heaven”—with a far distance, and with the possible misunderstanding of patriarchalism: There’s a Father in heaven and a father in the family, etc., the father of the fatherland, etc. If we would reintroduce into our congregations, in our personal life, the Abba prayer, we would feel the nearness of Jesus in the moment. So I try to convince congregations in Tübingen to reintroduce the Abba prayer, and replace the “Our Father in heaven” with “Abba, dear Father, hallowed be thy name,” etc.—because then you are already in the Trinity, while the father of the fatherland and the Father of the universe, etc.—this is another concept of fatherhood. And what keeps us together? Well, the trinitarian persons in their mutual indwelling and their perichoresis are not only three persons, but also three rooms. They give room for indwelling of the other persons in them. So, God the Father gives room to Jesus to dwell in him, and he dwells in Jesus. To give room to each other means what we are doing if we accept other people, open our life, our houses, in love and friendship to them. We give them a light space in which they can breathe [?] freely and reveal themselves, go out of themselves, etc. If we give no living space to other people, to exclude them or shut them out or become aggressive, the other people will retire into themselves and become defensive. We all do this, and therefore this room-giving to each other is the best way to correspond to the triune God. And perhaps this is what you are doing, your church.
Snyder: Well I hope you enjoyed the first episode. The next episode we’ll again join Tony but we’ll also add Tripp Fuller with us, sitting alongside Professor Moltmann, as we continue the conversations. In the second episode, the panel’s going to talk about Moltmann’s theological method. In other words, we’ll hear about how Moltmann thinks theologically, how that happens, to what end, and how all that affects the kind of theology we focus on. It, too, is brilliant and it’s an important conversation so I hope you’ll join us again next time. But, until then, please do join the conversation. If you have thoughts, reflections, or you have questions—you’d like to bring them up to continue [?]—we really only get started here [?]. Visit the website at emergentvillage.com [now defunct]. Click on “podcast,” on the left-hand side there. Hey, we wanna give a special thanks to our sponsor for this series, the Center for Missional Leadership at Luther Seminary. They’ve provided studio space for this podcast. So we wanna thank them for their role in making these conversations available. If you’re interested in learning more about the Center, you can visit them online at luthersem.edu. Music for this series comes from our good friend, Jonny Baker. The theme song is called “Hope.” It’s from Jonnys in the Basement album, Backbone. So a special thanks to Jonny for letting us use that. Again, I’m Tim Snyder, host of the Emergent podcast. Thanks for listening, blessings on [? all?] the way.