Transcript: Emergent theological conversation with Jürgen Moltmann 1B

Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein’s  (1751–1829) famous painting of the German humanist, Goethe, whom Moltmann loved to read when he was young. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

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.

* * *

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?

Moltmann: Yeah.

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.

*Moltmann laughs*

Jon Sobrino’s blood-soaked copy of Moltmann’s El Dios crucificado on display.  Image from Archbishop Romero Trust, 2013, available on Wikimedia Commons.

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—

*Stroyer laughs*

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.

Artus Wolffort (1581-1641), The Holy Trinity, Wikimedia Commons.

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.

*Transition music*

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 [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 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.

*End music*

Transcript: Emergent theological conversation with Jürgen Moltmann 1A


I got this down today as there’s some good content in this series that hasn’t appeared in writing yet–something I always find easier to make my way through, especially for engaging with Moltmann’s theology in my doctoral studies! I don’t know how many of these I’ll complete but I’ll post this one anyway because it’s done. Also, I don’t know how long the audio will be online so make sure you download it in case it disappears forever!

Most of the following content can be found in the first chapters of A Broad Place, though there are some extra details here, too.

* * *

*Intro music*

Tim Snyder: Hi, and welcome to the Emergent podcast. I’m your new host, Tim Snyder. Before I introduce the upcoming episode, let me first just say a quick word of thanks to all of you who have written about the podcast, anxiously encouraging us in relaunch and telling us how much you enjoy what we’ve done in the past. So, from all of us at Emergent Village, Hey, thanks, we really appreciate your support. It means a lot to us. Alright, now that we’re back, I can’t even say how excited I am to be hosting podcast. We’ve got a great upcoming podcast season for you this summer. To get us started, we’re releasing all of the audio from them Emergent theological conversation with Jürgen Moltmann from this past September. If you were in Chicago with us, then you know what an incredible contribution Professor Moltmann has made, especially to contemporary theology, and especially how provocative that conversation was, as we began to intersect his work with our ongoing conversation about the future of the church and Christianity. If you weren’t with us, well, you’re in for a treat. In the first episode, Tony Jones and Danielle Shroyer sit down with Professor Moltmann for a conversation about his life, how he came to Christian faith, what drove him to study theology back home, in post-war Germany. In this episode, Professor Moltmann shares the stories of his first pastorate and then teaching at the seminary at Wuppertal, before ending up at Tübingen where his career as a theologian took off. If this is your first time hearing Professor Moltmann’s life story, I think you’ll be amazed how his own theology is so wrapped up in that story of his. It’s an incredible story. So, let’s listen in now as that conversation unfolded in Chicago.

*Music transition*

Tony Jones: Well, thanks everybody again for being here, and I think we have just an incredible two days in store. This first session—you’ll kind of get the flow of how everything’s going to go. In this first session, Danielle Shroyer and I are going to talk to Professor Moltmann about his story, and what led him to be the theologian of hope that we all know. After the coffee break, Tripp Fuller will join us on stage, and we’ll talk a little bit about theological method and what it means to be the one who wrote a theology on the way. So, you know, I could list off book titles, and letters after his name, and this kind of thing, but I think that’s all well on the record so, with no further ado, let’s welcome Professor Jürgen Moltmann.

*Audience clapping*

Jones: Thanks for being here.

Moltmann: Thank you for inviting me.

Jones: It’s very much our pleasure, for sure. *To Stroyer*: You’ll get that set up?

Stroyer: Yes.

Jones: Do you wanna test it?

Moltmann: *coughs*


Jones: There we go, it seems to work. *To Moltmann*: Was it you who said—I think I heard this quote—I think it was you who said, “Talking about theological method is a lot like listening to someone clear their throat”?

Moltmann: Yes, [if] you do it for too long a time, the people will leave.


Jones: Yeah, so, we’re gonna do that before lunch, and we’ll try to keep it interesting. Danielle and I, I think, and everyone here would very much like to—your life story is so compelling, and many people in here have read A Broad Place, your autobiography. If you haven’t yet, I would really encourage you to pick up that book. Several people have said to me, something along the lines of—I mean, even in the last day—something along the lines of, “Wow, that book is written”—and I think they’re saying this vis-a-vis the theological text—“Boy, that book is really easy to read.”


Jones: And it’s a really good story, and it’s so compelling, but what I think is so interesting about—this is the case with any notable theologian, where I’m sure someone’s life story has a big impact on what the theology they end up doing. But yours in particular, it seems like in every introduction of you there’s talk about being a POW, there’s talk about growing up in a kinda early twentieth century German, Enlightenment, secular kind of environment—

Moltmann: You seem to know everything about me.

*Stroyer laughs*

Jones: Well, I’m a bit of a stalker—Danielle’s even more so—but—

*Stroyer laughs*

Moltmann: Well, it’s easy to tell but it was difficult to live through these years. Shall I now introduce myself?

Jones: Yeah, please, please.

Moltmann: I was born in 1926 in Hamburg, Germany. My family was a secular family Op teachers and schoolmasters. My grandfather was a great master of a freemason [lodge] in Hamburg, and left the church because he believed in free will and reason—and reason, I also believe. We had no connections to a church because in our quarter of Hamburg there was no church. There was only a pastor living in a certain house. We went to his worship only on Christmas Eve. As my father later confessed, not to celebrate the birth of the Saviour, but to celebrate the Holy Family—father, mother, and the first child in the manger. So this was his ideal—and church and theology and religion was far away from me as it was from my family. My intention was to study mathematics and physics because I was sure that my father understood nothing of physics and mathematics.


Moltmann: —to be an alternative to him.

Circus elephants help clean up Hamburg in November 1945. Wikimedia Commons.

Moltmann: When I was sixteen, in 1943, I was just studying the first book on quantum physics—it was a preface [?] of Werner Heisenberg—, when our whole school class was drafted to the German army, and we were sent to the anti-aircraft batteries in Hamburg and around Hamburg. My class was sent to an anti-aircraft battery in the centre of Hamburg, where we found this very compelling. So, we were looking for aircrafts at night, and, in the morning, school teachers came to give us what they had in mind while we were sleeping. And then it happened. In the last week of July ‘43, the royal air force came with one thousand airplanes and destroyed Hamburg—at least the eastern part of Hamburg—by creating the so-called firestorm. This is a fire, which is running for miles, destroying everything living. Fourteen thousand people died in these nights at the end of July of ‘43, mostly women and children, because the men were already on the front. So, our battery got bombed out. And the bomb, which tore the friend standing next to me like you—tore into pieces—spared me, unconceivably [sic]. When I afterwards stood up, I saw the dead around me, and did not know where I was. There were two questions at that time. One cry: Where is God? Where is God?—in this inferno around me. And the other question was: Why am I alive, and not dead, as the others are? Is there any meaning to survive? And these two questions then followed me and tortured me for years. I was then drafted to the German army and became a prisoner of war in the [unclear] in February of ‘45, and then had three years as a prisoner of war in Belgium, Scotland, and England, to find answers to these two questions. My return into life came about I think by three things. We were completely desperate, and all prisoners in the camp were trying to conceal their wounded souls by an armour of untouchability. This is normally the first reaction. So, you don’t feel sorrow, you don’t feel joy, and everything’s the same. You become stiff while you’re still alive. My first opening of the imprisonment of the soul, which came together with the imprisonment of the person, happened through a blooming cherry tree. We had to bring a wagon out of the camp—and this was the first time I went out of the camp, and all of a sudden stood in front of a blooming cherry tree. I was so overwhelmed by this demonstration of life that I almost collapsed. I still feel the weakness in my knees today, if I remember this. This raised the first sparks of life in my heart. I [unclear] to Scotland and worked in Kilmarnock [unclear] on road reconstructions, and the Scottish workers were so kind to us prisoners, former enemies, that they took us as human beings, while we were still only numbers and had the patches of the prisoners’ suits on our bag. The Scottish families were so kind to us so that we sensed forgiveness of guilt without confessing guilt. So that we could live with the guilt of my people, we were confronted with the pictures of Bergen-Belsen and the other concentration camps in Kilmarnock [unclear] for the first time. We were so full of shame and feeling of guilt that this kindness of the Scottish workers was overwhelming. Then, on one day, [an] army chaplain entered into our camp and distributed Bibles. I didn’t know what to do with it and many of my friends would have expected cigarettes or something like that [instead of?] a Bible.


Moltmann: Then I started to read the Bible, and when I came to the psalms of lament, especially Psalm 39, I found words that spoke to my heart. “I have to swallow up the sorrow in my heart. I am a stranger with you all my time. O God, hear my cry.” I lost my interest in the wonderful of poems of Goethe and Schiller, which had awakened the emotions of a boy, and started reading the Psalms, especially the psalms of lament, because they gave words to my feeling of forsakenness. Then I read the Gospel of Mark, and when I read the death cry of Jesus, “My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?,” I thought, There is someone who understands you. “A fellow-sufferer who understands,” as Alfred North Whitehead put it—his words. So I understood the assailed and tortured, the godforsaken Christ because I felt so close to him. I felt understood by him. This was, then, my first encounter with Jesus and this impression never left me since—that I’m sure that Christ found me in the dark pit of my soul and in this situation behind barbed wire where we all felt forsaken by God and all good things. So, I felt the presence of Jesus in my life and felt that he was taking up the lost prisoner on his way to resurrection and life. Then I lost interest in mathematics and physics and wanted to find out about the truth in Christian faith. I was still seeking God, but, all of a sudden, I had with Jesus the impression that I would not [be] seeking for God if God was not already drawing me. And so I became interested more and more in this type of seeking God. Then, in ‘46, I heard about a special camp for the education of teachers and pastors for post-war Germany. It was arranged by the British YMCA. It was a great gift of the British Christians to the prisoners they had in the British Isles. And it was funded by an American businessman, John Barwick. I never met him, but he was behind the whole camp. I applied for it and was accepted, and a British soldier, strangely enough, with a gun in his hand brought me in a railway from Glasgow down to Nottingham, because Norton Camp was located in the park of the Duke of Portland under beautiful oak trees. There were Nissen huts where we lived. And there I started to study theology. My first book I tried to read was Reinhold Niebuhr, [The] Nature and Destiny of Man, and I’m sure I did not understand one word.


Moltmann: —Completely alien to me. But I studied Hebrew and learned Hebrew in this camp, and started with Greek, and heard my first lectures, had my first contact with the church. But I was still not sure whether to become a pastor because I didn’t know what the church was all about. I was only searching for the truth. When I returned home in April of ‘48—I still don’t know why the British kept the prisoners for so long, because we didn’t do anything good in that time—I all of a sudden felt that my soul was healed from the wounds of the war and the post-war time. I felt as if I had come together with Jacob through the struggle with the dark side of God, the [unclear] of God, the angel and the Jabbok River. I had experienced the dark sides of God and the [unclear] of God, and then had experienced also the warmth of his love and the presence of his countenance, his shining face. I could stop here but perhaps…—I then went to study theology at Göttingen, to the disappointment of my enlightened father.



Moltmann: There I met a beautiful fellow student, Elisabeth. She was already working on a dissertation, so in order to come a little closer to her I asked her professor if he would take me also as a doctoral student!


Moltmann: So, by chance, I came to write a dissertation during my study of theology. In ‘52, I passed three examinations in two weeks—the final examination, the doctoral examination, and the wedding.


Moltmann: Then I wanted to become a pastor and nothing else. It was only my professor, Otto Weber, who brought me to study more in Reformed theology. I had read Karl Barth up and down and got the impression that after Karl Barth there can be no new theology because he had said everything already—


Moltmann: —and everything so fine—so I returned to the study of the history of Reformed theology, especially in the post-Reformation time. I became a pastor in a rural congregation near Bremen. It was, I think, five hundred souls and nearly two thousand cows, a typical North German rural congregation. It was a Reformed congregation. The people came to church, but I felt—vis-a-vis the farmers and the women and  children—like a fool with my PhD. So I tried to preach from life experience to life experience, and not to give kind of lectures to them, because whenever I started to lecture to them, they rolled with their eyes.


Moltmann: I think they fell asleep. They were more interested in the Ten Commandments than in existential self-understanding problems.


The Neckar running through Tübingen, where Moltmann would spend the majority of the latter part of his life. © Roman Eisele, 2003, available on Wikimedia Commons.

Moltmann: I was for five years a pastor in this rural congregation. When we just were looking for a larger congregation in Bremen, our professor came and said we need you in the Kirchliche Hochschule in Wuppertal. This was a seminary run by the Confessing Church in the time when all the faculties in Germany—in the Nazi time—were conformed [?], leicht beschädigt [? slightly damaged], as we say, and full of Nazis. The Confessing Church formed two seminaries, one in Wuppertal, the other one in Berlin, for the education of a free theology, free from the Nazi ideology. Then we changed to this seminary in Wuppertal and I felt this as an impoverishment. As a pastor, I had the old people and the young kids, the families—all the problems of life. And as a professor in Wuppertal I had only the more or less good-educated, young students, at a distance, like in a lecture hall. I think this was not the reality of life. It took me a long time to bring some life into this more distant life of doing theology than I did as a pastor in my rural congregation. Then we moved to Bonn University for three years, and in ‘67 I was called to Tübingen University, which is one of the oldest and the largest theological faculty at that time. It became even larger when a new generation came. It was good. In ‘67 and ‘8 I was a guest professor at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina. This was still kind of the old south. And the boys and girls at the divinity school at certain different interests than my students in the four-hundred-years-old Tübingen University. For example, at Tübingen we raised, of course, the question, What is the church?, and were asking for the essence of the church, etc., while [?] the students in North Carolina were only asking how to run a church.


Moltmann: So there were certain differences. Well, at first, I liked the surface of America. But then my friend, Fred Herzog, showed me around to the misery of the black ghettos in Durham and showed me the huts of sharecroppers deep in the woods. And they burned crosses of the Ku Klux Klan in front of churches. So my American dream was a little bit disappointed at that point [?]. Then in ‘67 my book, Theology of Hope, was published in America, and was praised on the New York Times front page: replacing the God-is-Dead theology—which was not too difficult.


Moltmann: Then the divinity school made a nationwide theology of hope conference in April of ‘68. Everybody with name and rank in theology was present, and I was just debating with Professor Van Harvey the difference of the concept of history and the German concept of Geschichte, when Harvey Cox stormed into the room and cried, “Martin [Luther] King is shot!” It was on the 4th of April, of ‘68. So we stopped the conference and everybody was trying to get home as soon as possible. In the evening, one could see on TV many cities were burning. Durham came under curfew. Was this the end of my American dream? No, it was not, because on the same evening, more than four hundred students, male and female at Duke University, went out on the quadrangle and were having a sit-in for four days and four nights, in sunshine and rain. They were sitting there in silence and mourning. And this made a deep impression upon me. Then, on the last day, I remember black students from a nearby college came and danced through the rows of the sitting students. Then, we all stood up and were singing We Shall Overcome. So, this was my first impression of America. First I like America, then I was disappointed by America, and then I began to love America. At that point [or: part] I make my introduction an end, to give you the opportunity to ask questions.

Art in Moltmann’s Major Works

Moltmann frequently refers to pieces of art that he has had in his office while writing particular works. I decided to put this post together as a reference.

1. The Yellow Crucifixion, Marc Chagall | Image 1 | Image 2

This image is copyrighted so I have linked to other sites displaying it instead.

This is the first image I am aware of that influences Moltmann’s theology. As far as I know, none is mentioned in regard to Theology of Hope. In The Crucified God Moltmann writes, “In front of me hangs Marc Chagall’s picture ‘Crucifixion in Yellow’. It shows the figure of the crucified Christ in an apocalyptic situation: people sinking into the sea, people homeless and in flight, and yellow fire blazing in the background. And with the crucified Christ there appears the angel with the trumpet and the open roll of the book of life. This picture has accompanied me for a long time. It symbolizes the cross on the horizon of the world, and can be thought of as a symbolic expression of the studies which follow. A symbol invites thought (P. Ricoeur). The symbol of the cross invites rethinking. And this book is not meant to bring the discussion to a dogmatic conclusion, but to be, like a symbol, an invitation to thought and rethinking” (6).

Moltmann writes in his autobiography, A Broad Place, “When I was writing this book, a picture by Marc Chagall stood on my writing desk. Is is called ‘Crucifixion in Yellow’ and shows the crucified Christ appearing in the world in an apocalyptic situation: people are sinking into the sea, people are fleeing, and running about homeless, the fire glows yellow from the background. And with the crucified Christ the angel with the trumpet from Revelation 14.6 also appears, showing the scroll of life, open. For a long time this picture was my companion, and was a symbol inviting me to theological thinking” (191).

In the same place, Moltmann writes, “In those years I often sat in the Martinskirche in Tübingen and meditated on Susanne Müller-Diefenbach’s black crucifix. It drew me into the dark suffering of God.” I initially left this piece out because I couldn’t find any Google hits. I thank Steve Sprinkle for directing me to the following, on the website of the Evangelische Martinsgemeinde, Tübingen: Image 1 | Image 2 | Site

2. The Trinity, Andrei Rublev

Wikimedia Commons

Moltmann writes in The Trinity and the Kingdom, “Here too, as in other theological work, there has been a picture in front of me. It is Andrei Rublev’s wonderful fifteenth-century Russian icon of the Holy Trinity. Through their tenderly intimate inclination towards one another, the three persons show the profound unity joining them, in which they are one. The chalice on the table points to the surrender of the Son on Golgotha. Just as the chalice stands at the centre of the table round which the three Persons are sitting, so the cross of the Son stands from eternity in the centre of the Trinity. Anyone who grasps the truth of this picture understands that it is only in the unity with one another which springs from the self-giving of the Son ‘for many’ that men and women are in conformity with the triune God. He understands that people only arrive at their own truth in their free and loving inclination towards one another. It is to this ‘social’ understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity that this book is an invitation” (xvi).

He writes in Humanity in God, “Andrei Rubljov best-known and most famous Russian icon around 1415 for the Church of the Trinity in Sagorsk. It depicts the Trinity in the form of three angels, who, according to Genesis 18, appeared to Abraham and Sarah by the oaks of Mamre. Rubljov has left Abraham and Sarah out and represented the Trinity in intimate conversation. I believe the angel in the middle represents God the Father, for the movement of the three persons proceeds from him. The angel on the left represents the Holy Spirit, who receives a glance from the Father and points with his hand to the Son, who sits on the right, and blesses him. At stake is the sending of the Son on the way of suffering for the reconciliation of the world. For this reason a chalice appears in the middle. The coordination of the hands of the three persons depicts the Trinity open to the sacrifice of love. Also in this picture the doctrine of the Trinity and the theology of the cross are united” (53).

Similar comments appear in Sun of Righteousness, Arise! (169).

3. Annunciation with St. Margaret and St. AnsanusSimone Martini

Wikimedia Commons
Close up, Wikimedia Commons

In The Coming of God, Moltmann writes, “Earlier, when I was writing on other subjects, I had a picture before me on my writing desk. And during my work on this eschatology of ‘the coming of God’ I have again had a picture in front of me: It is the Angel of the Annunciation, by Simone Martini, painted in 1315 and now in Galleria Uffizi in Florence. The angel is not looking back to the wreckage of history, as does Paul Klee’s ‘Angelus Novus’, which Walter Benjamin called the Angel of History. This angel of the future is gazing with great eyes towards the messianic Child of the coming God, and with the green branches in his hair and in Mary’s hand proclaims the Child’s birth. The tempest of the divine Spirit is blowing in the angel’s garments and wings, as if it had blown him into history. And its meaning is the birth of the future from the Spirit of promise” (xvii).

Angelus Novus, Paul Klee, Wikimedia Commons

The 4 pieces discussed in this post appear in the prefaces to three of Moltmann’s major works. But Moltmann discusses other pieces elsewhere, which I would like to bring together one day, too. Watch this space!