The Trinitarian Vision of Jurgen Moltmann: An Eschatological Perspective
The chapter begins with a review of the principle protagonists of In Quest for Protestant Faithfulness in Postmodern America and the need to situate what I refer to as the UCC theological triangle of Bloesch, Fackre and Brueggemann within a broader generously orthodox hexagon that includes Packer at the conservative, and Moltmann at the postliberal, postmodern edge. Zeroing in on Moltmann, I build on Volf’s contention that he has been the most formative theologian of the second half of the 20th century on a world-wide level and substantially influential in the United States. I then provide a broad theological overview, drawing out the formative influence of Moltmann’s two early books, Theology of Hope and the Crucified God while touching on the central themes of eschatology and Trinitarian theology which occupy the remainder of Chapter Six.
The chapter then hones in on the relationship between Moltmann’s eschatology and his hermeneutics of hope. Moltmann’s central text is 1 Corinthians 15:20-28, especially v. 28, “Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him so that God may be all in all.” In the most provocative of terms God creates space for humankind and creation itself for its own freedom, while simultaneously acting in history and nature to bring the entire created order into its ultimate destination of right relationship with God in new creation. In Moltmann’s theology, the future oriented trajectory of God’s passionate quest for world restoration is the red thread pulling creation to its consummation.
Thus, despite the seeming normative power of any historical forces to shape reality through a variety of human constructions, God in his full triune capacity is working with, through and beyond human striving and with the pulsating rhythms of nature itself to bring new creation to its anticipatory fulfillment in the glorification of new heaven and new earth. In this consummation which in terms of human struggle and even in the midst of the most Trinitarian striving (Rom 8:18-23), God, the Father, too, groans in eager anticipation and waits with less than full certainty, on one of Moltmann’s most provocative readings. In the eschaton of new heaven and new earth, time and space as we know it will be utterly transformed even as the created order will maintain its identity as distinct from God in its infinite fulfillment of realizing ever anew infinite depth and height of God’s love, beauty, and power. Moltmann’s impact here is two-fold: that of bringing eschatology into respectable theological focus outside of evangelical circles and of providing a world confirming rather than world denying apocalyptic theology to the fore in a manner that has the capacity of richly informing at least certain important streams in Protestant mainline and evangelical theology.
Much of the remainder of the chapter probes into Moltmann’s concept of the Trinity in which his eschatological vision cannot be sharply separated, especially when one takes into account God’s active engagement with the space opened up to history in his own striving with and against humanity in the bringing of creation to the desired consummation when God finally does become all in all. A point acknowledged by his evangelical critics and echoed in this chapter is Moltmann’s important contribution to the revitalization of Trinitarian theology within mainline and liberal Protestant thought. His notion of the open social Trinity contains significant innovative features. However, it should be added that even a traditional Calvinist like the popular British preacher C.H. Spurgeon accepts much of Moltmann’s broad characterization of a triune God with three distinctive and complementary purposes.
Where Moltmann is somewhat unique is in emphasizing the power of the Holy Spirit to bring God the Father and Christ the Son together in the fullness of glory from the crisis of the cross where the relationship was severely at risk. Thus on this reading, the “economic” Trinity has not only its role to play in leading creation to its anticipatory fullness in God, but in healing the rupture in God himself, a panentheistic theology that raises a good deal of concern in many traditional orthodox quarters. As a point of contrast I juxtapose Moltmann’s Trinitarian theology through the prism of God’s possibility with the view of David Hart on God’s “apatheia,” as laid out in his masterful The Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth.
The chapter concludes with various summary affirmations and critical concerns with Moltmann’s theology as exemplified in my treatment of his core vision of “immanent transcendence” without, I argue, substantial transcendent remainder. He does leave space for the latter, but it is a somewhat minor and underdeveloped key. In addition, I raise a concern with Moltmann’s critique of “monotheism” as a reflection of Greek substantialist philosophy, which he replaces with a panentheistic vision of God. The chapter concludes with brief remarks of the potential contribution of Moltmann’s work on mainline and evangelical theology focusing on summary statements on the inter-relationships he draws between eschatology and Trinitarian theology.