"Let life enchant you again." - Fernando Gros
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Blog // Thoughts
June 20, 2007

Moltmann’s Significance?

Andy Goodliff has been pondering who would follow on from Barth in a list of “theological giants,” assuming the first four on the list would be Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin and Barth (here and here). It’s an interesting question and even allowing for the protestant bias (what, no Ranher?) I’m not sure I would elevate Barth […]

Andy Goodliff has been pondering who would follow on from Barth in a list of “theological giants,” assuming the first four on the list would be Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin and Barth (here and here). It’s an interesting question and even allowing for the protestant bias (what, no Ranher?) I’m not sure I would elevate Barth into that company quite yet. But, if I did, adding Moltmann would seem to be both a compelling and obvious move.

It comes down to influence, rather than quality. Sure, I could make a list of the theologians I like (or think are the best), a preferred theology shopping list, if you will. But, it really only makes sense to compile this sort of list on the basis of how much the theologian has shaped and changed the discipline. For example, Pannenberg and McClendon are my two personal favourite 20thC theologians. Whilst the former is widely read it is debatable how deep his influence really is. The second is highly influential, but only amongst the very small clique that have read him.

What I found interesting in Andy’s blogposts and the comments that follow them, is how strident the support for Barth was in relation to how little seemed to have been read of Moltmann. This, in many ways, inverts my general experience, where I’ve tended to find students of theology to be more frequently well read in Moltmann than Barth. When I was at theological college we had essays set on Moltmann in both theology and philosophy of religion and I can recall seeing a number of students diving into his books. By contrast, I”m fairly confident only one other student, besides myself, read any significant amount of Barth and I don’t recall any essays being set on his work.

In fact, as I was pondering this issue, I stumbled upon Ryan’s post, Moltmann On Hope, where he said,

“It seems like every second author I‚Äôve come across lately is full of references to some book or other by Jurgen Moltmann. So, this week I decided to start reading him for myself. Suffice it to say that I think I‚Äôm starting to see why many find him to be such a compelling voice.”

Part of Moltmann’s appeal lies in directly addressing the issues of the late 20thC. For an example, see Frank Rees comment on Theology Against Globalization. But, maybe a greater part of the power of Moltmann’s work lies in the fact that he is neither a systematician, nor is he abstracted from cultural context.

What I find provocative about the Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin line is a progression for culturally-situated and non-systematic to the more abstract. If we entertained the idea of making the list somewhat chiastic, then would make obvious sense to follow Barth with Moltmann, with the peak of abstraction being Calvin.

[tags] Theological Method [/tags]

Lito Cruz 17 years ago

What, amigo, Luther did not make it in the list? 😉

brodie 17 years ago

Ferrnando – some good thoughts here on why someone should be included in such a list. Like you my experiance at theological college was one where Moltmann figured big, partly because the doctrines lecturer was deeply influenced by him. I think another reason that Moltmann may figure in such a list is that without being systematic he has said significant things about so many areas of theology, thus it is now hard to “do theology” in these areas without interacting with Moltmann.

Fernando Gros 17 years ago

Lito – good point. One thing i pointed out commenting on Andy’s blog is that going Aquinas-Calvin-Barth doesn’t just cut a very protestant path through theology, but also a very fine path within protestantism. Part of what I sensed in the list was a desire to limit “theologian” to the definite systematicians, which is why Moltmann becomes so problematic. Leaving Luther out is very revealing and I suspect a result of his not also being a systematician. For me that is a total non-issue since his exegetical and catechal works were great theology but for others…

…but there is no question that Luther impacted the theology of the church universal far more than Barth has thus far.

Brodie – I’m not much of a fan of systematic theology. During the years I attended Colin Gunton’s research seminars I heard an unending stream of budding young systematicians do little more than write prolegomenas – the image of Nero playing his fiddle often came to mind. I agree that because Moltmann has covered the core issues in the spirt of the 20thC, the fact that he is not a systematican is irrelevant. If we want to do eschatology, you have to take Calvin and Moltmann, but you could skip Barth. If you want to do the doctrine of the Cross you have to take Luther and Moltmann but you can skip Barth again.

Thom 17 years ago

Could it be that Moltmann has taken the most existentially useful bits from Barth already? Moltmann has said that he writes within arms reach of the KD, and he was quite the student of Barth in his seminary days.

brodie 17 years ago

Fernando – hey I’m not a fan of systematic theology either, in fact something that claims to be a systematic theology needs to be examined by the trade descriptions act!

Mike Jimenez 17 years ago

I don’t think I would downplay Barth’s influence too much. Just reflecting on some of the names mentioned (Pannenberg, McClendon, and Moltmann) were all influenced by Barth. In one sense, they build upon his theology or argue directly against it. The fruit of their theology is built upon interaction with Barth. I would argue that Schleiermacher and Calvin does the same for Barth.
Moreover, one can assert that the “early Barth” is more influential for 20th century theology (and perhaps more read) and paved the way for how theologians do theology in the present than the later Barth. Frankly, its a shame that the C.D. is not read enough.
One thing that I think Barth helped do was to blur the line between the labels “conservative” and “liberal” that had become attached to theologians since the Enlightenement and to be one of the first to downplay system (even while building a “system”). What I think is great about Pannenberg and Moltmann is that they are able to heed Barth’s warnings against anthropological theology while not ignoring the “real” world and its needs. Moltmann is more a disciple of Bonhoeffer in this area.

Andy Goodliff 17 years ago

come on that’s unfair on systematic theology … i think most, if not all, systematic theologians would recognise the limitations of the discipline. interesting is the move from the title ‘christian doctrine’ to ‘systematic theology’.

Fernando Gros 17 years ago

Andy – having moved, for a season, in the world of systematicians I would say you are quite right that they would acknowledge the limitations of the game. Rhetorical caveats are a mandate for any systematics paper. But, I’m a little unsure how much the recognition of limitation really bears fruit in practice.

In fact, my feelings are pretty close to Brodie’s provocation. I’m with Wuthnow, that theology is, by definition, the application of Biblical insight to the problems of everyday life. In essence, any “theology” that does not have a cultural, missiological, ethical and apologetic is not, by my outlook, theology.

With that in mind, I see no meaningful distinction between Christian doctrine and theology (leaving off the systematic bit). I’m well familiar with the hoary story about the journey from Christian Doctrine to Systematic Theology. It’s an entertaining fable, especially when told by a good story teller, but I don’t consider it *tells* us much that is helpful for the task of theology going forward.

Fernando Gros 17 years ago

Mike thanks for your comment. I hope everyone reading this post takes the time to read it.

I come not to bury Barth – just to figure out where he fits. There is no doubt one has to navigate Barth in order to read 20thC theology. But then again, I would say one has to navigate Guti?©rrez, Girard and Brunner as well. But the extent of their “influence” is also somewhat hard to gauge.

I guess part of the problem is trying to assess influence. For example, I frequently cite Hauwerwas, but I’m seldom in deep agreement with him and it’s hard to trace many positive “influences” there.

Dan Morehead 17 years ago

I’m a systematic theologian, well, at least on most days of the week, though it’s an interesting story how I ended up in this field and not in philosophy or political theory. I’m wary of systems and like to be very careful with abstraction. Still, some of the problems of everyday life are problems of thought, thought being an action like any other. Ideas make possible certain forms of life. I agree that any theology that does not have a cultural and ethical import, and therefore political import, is not theology (rather it would approach nothingness). However, I get slightly concerned when people push the practical in the name of practicality. Sometimes theory is the most practical thing we have [click on my name above to read a passage from Adorno that I posted a couple years ago that makes the same claim…I differ in a lot of ways from him but we share this worry].

That being said, let’s get back to the game of schoolyard picking of theological teams…

I’d take Rahner and von Balthasar over Moltmann, as I see Moltmann to be derivative of Barth. I’d even pick Schleiermacher over Calvin. However, if I was just going off of influence as you describe it I’d add an surprise pick in Peter Lombard or maybe even John of Damascus.

So, my top 5, if you will (in order of chronology):

1. Augustine
2. Aquinas
3. Schleiermacher
4. Barth
5. von Balthasar

Andy Goodliff 17 years ago

Fernando, hauerwas makes lots of references to niebuhr but is in disagreement with him. the theologians we finding ourselves wrestling with and disagreeing with, I would suggest are theologians of great influence because they enable us to see what our theology wants to say.

On another note, you write

‘any ‚Äútheology‚Äù that does not have a cultural, missiological, ethical and apologetic is not, by my outlook, theology’

I wholeheartedly agree which is why I like barth, gunton, jenson and moltmann. Their systematic theology is all those things (I would suggest). Too much stress on theology as a science, pulls it away from life (the danger sometimes I think in John Webster), but then again, perhaps too much stress on the cultural and apologetic can pull it away from scripture and tradition. I guess the best theology is trying to find that balance.

Tyler Watson 17 years ago

Miroslav Volf — my current favorite theologian — studied under Moltmann and when asked about him, Volf called Moltmann the 20th century’s “most fertile” theologian. He said over 200 doctoral dissertations were written on Moltmann’s thought. If that’s not influence, I don’t know what is.

Fernando Gros 17 years ago

Andy – exactly. That raises a whole set of questions about how we discuss “influence.”

As for your second point – it brings me to a difficult point. Colin Gunton was very good to me during my time at King’s and his death was tragic and untimely. I learnt a lot from him and was very much looking forward to the new work he had been writing. Moreover, his “The One The Three and the Many” was pivotal both in my theological development and my decision to go to Kings ((i first enquired a full 5 years before leaving Sydney).

However, on several occasions I felt that his papers and seminars did not reach the definition I would want for theology. I guess if I had to choose between erring on the side of too much culture and apologetic or not enough I would always, without reservation take the first option. There is such a deep well of exegesis and tradition that we draw upon – so locating oneself within that is enough for most purposes. However, if there is no d and substansive grounding in culture and apologetic (and politics and ethics) then we are really lost. It’s like walking onto a football pitch the the rules and kit and ball and no tactics.

Then again that probably just says a lot about my methodology…

…but, thanks again for your comments, you’ve influenced me! 🙂

Fernando Gros 17 years ago

Tyler thanks for the comment, that’s very insightful.

And yes, mapping out the number and diversity of dissertations on a thinker is a very good and well established way of talking about influence.

max 17 years ago

Moltmann comes closest, for me at least, to articulating something that approaches coherence about the Trinity, as well as making some particularly brilliant meaning of the notion of “Christian hope.”
I have a lot of respect for Barth–the guy could go on longer without end-stop punctuation than anyone I’ve ever encountered who was not on crack–but I think he rides the car right off the rails sometimes.
Am I the only one noticing a Paul Tillich-shaped hole in the room?
yours in the struggle,
ps and I may have stayed up far too late, but there’s something in the creative tension between the theoretical and the material that speaks to me of incarnation…

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