Moltmann and Bloesch on the Role of Eschatology Compared
In coming to a balanced appreciation of Moltman’s contribution in stimulating dialogue between postliberal and evangelical theology, a comparison of Moltmann’s, The Coming of God: Christian Eschatology and Bloesch’s The Last Things: Resurrection, Judgment. Both Moltmann and Bloesch have been influenced by Barth, though neither embraces the full Barthian project even as both have been significantly shaped by his mentoring voice throughout their respective careers. In addition, Bloesch accepts a great many of Moltmann’s reflections on God’s infusion into human experience and nature, including broad similarities with his eschatology, while maintaining a sharper appreciation for the more classical depiction of God’s transcendence as a reflection of his holiness in which distance and closeness play equally prominent roles.
On the matter of eschatology, consider Moltmann’s rejection of any notion of “last things” where he posits instead, the coming of God within the stream of time, even in its reconstitution in new heaven and new earth. To be sure, Bloesch does speak of God himself “bring[ing] the world into subjection to the advancing kingdom of Christ.” This clearly has close resonances with God’s “coming” in the Moltmannian vein.[i] Deep affinities reside in both of what they reject and what they embrace, notwithstanding critically important divergences on the relative role of transcendence to that of immanence. First Bloesch:
I uphold that part of the millennial vision that includes the promise of a transfigured earth anticipated in Christ’s resurrection and powerfully carried forward at his second advent. In the millennium Christ with his glorified saints proceeds to extend his rule over the kingdom of this world, but his rule is hidden and will become manifest in the period of millennial glory following the return of Christ.[ii]
As similarly put by Moltmann:
What hope is awakened through the lived and suffered community with Christ? It is the hope that, just as we have participated in Christ’s mission and his suffering, we may also share in his resurrection and his life: those who die with him will live with him too. But what resurrection is meant? It is the special and messianic ‘resurrection’ from the dead’, not the universal and eschatological resurrection of the dead. But the resurrection from the dead necessarily leads into a reign of Christ before the universal raising of [italics in original] the dead for the Last Judgment. That is to say, it leads into a messianic kingdom in history before the end of the world, or into a transitional kingdom leading from this transitory world-time to the new world that is God’s.[iii]
Thus, the broad affinities between the prominent ecumenicist-leaning evangelical who played such a pivotal role in the founding of the conservative leaning Biblical Witness Fellowship and the world renowned theologian who has exhibited such a powerful influence among the major liberationist theologies of the past three decades. The similarities stem from an embrace of eschatological hope as a new 20th century key against a great deal of “realized” eschatology in the first coming of Christ, combined with emphasis on the indwelling bestowal of the Holy Spirit as a continuous source of presence and hope in its own right. Equally significant is the post-millennial, or what Bloesh would prefer to identify as a “transmillennial” vision of the penultimate reign of Christ as the final harbinger of the full reigning glory of the coming of God against an apolitical pre-millennial apocalyptic vision of radical separation of the sheep and the goats culminating in the reign of Christ beyond the pale of history.
One of the subtle differences in nuance between Moltmann and Bloesch is that for the latter there is a greater focus on the “the dawning of [God’s] millennial glory” unfolding “within history, not just at the end of history” in which the partiality of God’s revelation will continue even in the apotheosis of the final coming.[iv] In this respect the influence of Barth and Reinhold Niebuhr are more pervasive than with Moltmann in which there is less of an emphasis on eschatology with Bloesch as a central theme of his theology. Consequently, Bloesch refers to his view as “a realizing eschatology in which the kingdom of God bursts into history as an invading force of righteousness” as an ongoing presence throughout the stream of time.
Thus, for Bloesch, “the dawning of the millennium” occurs as “both present and future” whenever and wherever the spirit of “Christ’s lordship” appears.[v] God’s elusive presence in the ongoing odyssey of the “pilgrimage of faith” in which the eschaton is always coming but never fully appears, is never and can never be fully swallowed up, even as, in the most literal sense hope springs eternal through God’s beneficent graces, as manifest in the present and in the time to come.[vi] In this respect eschatology is critical to both of their theologies even as Bloesch lays greater emphasis on the graces of God’s presence as exhibited within the gap between the already and not yet. This includes a more substantial position for the role of the church and the mighty cloud of witnesses of the 2000 year tradition than seems evident in Moltmann’s philosophical theology with its prevailing apologetic and distinctively eschatological overtones.