Sunday, October 28, 2012

Online Book Proposal Questions for Fortress Press

The following is my initial response to the three questions Fortress Press asks to submit an online book proposal.  I'll be attaching a chapter-by-chapter summary.  My expectation is to get the proposal out by next weekend.  The following and what I'll be posting here is in draft form. I'm open to constructive feedback on any aspect of text refinement.  Clearly this is a long shot.  The good news is that Fortress Press is actively seeking theologically-based manuscripts at this time (GD).

In Quest of Protestant Faithfulness in
Postmodern America:  A Boomer’s Engagement with the Faith of Our Elders—Packer, Bloesch, Fackre, Brueggemann, Moltmann
Online Publishing Information 

Who are you? Tell us a little about yourself, your setting and the focus of your work. 

An overview of my book is provided below and more in-depth in the attached file which includes a chapter-by-chapter synopsis.  Andover-Newton Professor Emeritus Gabriel Fackre has provided assistance and encouragement throughout the writing of this book and is supportive of the project.  In addition to Professor Fackre, other members of the Confessing Christ Discussion listserv (, a prime audience for my book, have reviewed one or more chapters of the manuscript and have shared helpful commentary.  I have highlighted sections of the book in various draft development stage on my blog, Onward Christian Sojourner (  I am a theologically informed lay person and published author and practitioner in the field of adult basic education where I have been professionally focused since 1983.  Information about my book, Conflicting Paradigms in Adult Literacy Instruction: In Quest of a U.S. Democratic Politics of Literacy can be accessed here: (  I have also published a number of articles and book chapters in my field, many of which can be accessed here ( 

My introduction to Christianity began in 1972 with a conversion experience that summer, which has galvanized my life and thinking in ways that I could never have fathomed previous to that momentous event  (  I have studied, written, and lived out much of my life from the perceptions of reality opened up by my embrace of Christianity, amidst many changes of theological understanding.  I have audited courses at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut, and Bethel Seminary in San Diego.  I did PhD level study in U.S. history at the University of Connecticut with a strong concentration on American religious history, particularly on the Second Great Awakening and the role of religious culture in the antebellum period preceding the American Civil War.  I also worked briefly as a campus ministry associate with the Protestant and Catholic ministers while attending graduate school at Central Connecticut State College in the 1970s and wrote my master’s thesis on the evangelist, Charles G. Finney.  I detail my faith narrative in the following document  (, which is a presentation I gave at my church in 2006 or 2007 .  Additional religious reflections mostly of a theological and autobiographical nature which I wrote between 1995-2007 can be accessed at the United Church of Christ, Connecticut Conference website, theotalk (  

Throughout the course of the 40 years since my conversion experience, I have studied many academic and more lay-oriented texts on a wide array of themes through which I have sought to work out my own faith stance.  Much of this has been played out at the critical intersection between a sharply-attuned critical evangelical and a more diffusive mainline Protestant identity in which theological probing and biblical discernment have played a pivotal role in personal faith formation. This book might be viewed as an imaginative resolution of sorts, noting that the journey of faith continues within the broader narrative of contemporary Protestant cultural identity in the working out of faith issues within the context of an essentially middle class U.S. religious culture in the first decade of the 21st century. 

Throughout this odyssey I have been primarily connected to United Church of Christ, United Methodist Church, and American Baptist congregations. For the few years immediately following my born again experience I was engaged in the Pentecostal movement through participation in an Assembly of God congregation. In the years since 1972 I have read much, thought much and have worked through many issues in grappling with my faith in which this book is one significant distillation.  

On a professional level I worked as a program manager at Literacy Volunteers of Greater Hartford for 17 years and have taught in a variety of other adult education settings.  I am an adjunct online instructor in adult education at the Virginia Commonwealth University and am currently employed as an adult education instructor at the Saint Vincent de Paul Career & Education Center, which is a partner agency of Father Joe’s Village in San Diego, CA ( which provides long term supportive services to homeless adults and family members.  Additional professional information is available on my Linkedin profile ( 

What's your project? Provide a brief prĂ©cis of your project and an expected completion date. 

In Quest of Protestant Faithfulness in Postmodern America:  A Boomer’s Engagement with the Faith of Our Elders—Packer, Bloesch, Fackre, Brueggemann, Moltmann, probes into the relationship between Scripture and culture in 20th century U.S. theology and biblical studies and points to the necessity of turning to what Karl Barth has epigraphically referred to as “the strange new world within the Bible” for any revitalization of mainline Protestantism on its own foundational premises in critical dialogue with serious evangelical theology.  This project is undertaken through a brief historical overview underlying this pivotal challenge in Chapter One and through an in-depth exploration of five representative theologians/biblical scholars spanning the gamut from conservative evangelical (J.I. Packer) to postliberal (Walter Brueggemann and Jurgen Moltmann).  A concluding chapter assesses the viability of drawing upon the neo-orthodox legacy as a potentially bridging resource between evangelical and postliberal theology.  For the contemporary significance of the neo-orthodox impetus, I have drawn on J. Douglas Hall and Gary Dorrien as well as the original theologians of that movement. 

The struggle to make the case for the centrality of a broad-based canonical interpretation of the Bible without getting bogged down over fundamentalist “battles over the Bible” is a critical challenge of major proportions amidst a good deal of theology and cultural experience to the contrary within mainline religious culture.  So is the corresponding Barthian turn to the text as a whole rather than that of any specific Barthian interpretation of Christocentrism or how the Word is revealed through “actualism” of the Holy Spirit (Husinger, How to Read Karl Barth).  

A major stumbling block to a more discriminating discussion of the critical issues that keeps evangelical and mainline sensibilities sharply separated is the persistence of the modernist/fundamentalist divide on the interpretation of the Bible.  This tension came to a symbolic climax with the Scopes Trial of 1925 in which various literal and more figurative interpretations of the Bible became exceedingly polarized.  In some key ways, evangelical and mainline theology have moved well beyond the intense polarization unleashed on both sides of this crucial divide during the defining period of the 1920s.  Moreover, there have been various moves toward greater convergence in both camps in which, for example, the current dialogue between postliberal and an increasingly irenic evangelical theology is particularly promising as depicted, for example, in T.R. Philips & D.L. Okholm (Eds): The Nature of Confession:  Essays by George Lindbeck, Alister McGrath, George Hunsinger, Gabriel Fackre and others. (InterVarsity Press, 1993).   

My book builds on this dialogue and provides an additional dimension by incorporating the neo-orthodox perspective toward the construction of a centrist theological project built on the triple pillars of canonical scriptural integrity, scholarly theological acuity, and ecumenical ecclesial comprehensiveness.  My book is written in the spirit of Gabriel Fackre’s two short books Ecumenical Faith in Evangelical Perspective (Eerdmanns, 1993 and Restoring the Center:  Essays Evangelical and Ecumenical (IVP, 1998) and is resonant in content with his more extensive theological work as discussed in Chapter Four. 

The book addresses two consequential issues facing contemporary U.S. Protestantism:  the role of the Bible in its canonical integration and the viability establishing a durable centrist position between moderate evangelical and mainline theological perspectives. These issues are explored through historical analysis, biographical profiles of the five major authors, addressed in separate chapters, and the author’s own theological and spiritual odyssey across the landscape of Protestant theology and religious culture over a forty year period which is interspersed where relevant particularly in Chapter One and Chapter Five.  The persisting modernist/ fundamentalist split within contemporary Protestant culture as stumbling block of major proportions toward establishing a vital theological center is an underlying theme running through the book.  This book is designed to contribute toward an imaginative resolution of this dilemma.  It does so initially by raising the issue in explicit terms (Chapter One). It then evaluates its continuing impact, and ultimately identifying the importance of its resolution in part through the theological comprehensiveness offered throughout this book. It is only through such a resolution; an “imaginative exorcism,” as I describe it in the book, that establishing a vital Protestant center becomes reasonably plausible in coming to terms with this period of increasing Christian diaspora, a topic discussed in some depth in Hall’s Thinking the Faith as addressed in Chapter Seven of my book. 

In Quest of Protestant Faithfulness in Postmodern America consists of seven chapters and is about 125,000 words or approximately 300 pages in published book format.  It is designed for advanced seminary students, theologians, biblical scholars, theologically informed pastors and laity, and others who have a strong interest in contemporary theology, biblical studies, and 20th century U.S. Protestant religious culture, such as those who participate on the Confessing Christ listserv.   

How does you project advance the field in which you work? In what way will the field be different after its publication? 

The book addresses an important theme, posits a provocative proposal, and provides an in-depth overview of some key contemporary Protestant theologians and biblical scholars who are broadly ecumenical within the context of their respective spheres of influence.  With the exception of Moltmann, little in- depth has been written on the other four theologians and biblical scholars detailed in Chapters Two-to-Six.  Given their respective influence across the theological landscape of contemporary Protestant culture, the profiles in themselves help fill an important gap in the field.  Placing these five on a continuum from conservative evangelical to postliberal provides a way of drawing out and imaginatively working through both the prospects and the problematics of establishing a vital centrist ground in contemporary Protestant theology and religious culture.  So does the broad dialogue between evangelical, postliberal and neo-orthodox perspectives that is teased out within the biographical chapters and more formally articulated in the first and last chapter of the book.  In spanning the gamut from Packer to Moltmann and from evangelical to neo-orthodox theology, In Quest of Protestant Faithfulness in Postmodern America will serve as a resource in facilitating critical dialogue among divergent schools of thought both in seminary circles as well as among the discerning reading public among Protestant clergy and theologically informed laity.


Friday, October 26, 2012

The Trinitarian Vision of Jurgen Moltmann: An Eschatological Perspective

The following is an extract of my proposal which I am gearing to Fortress Press.  I will be happy to discuss publishing stratgies with anyone who has experience in working with major religious publishing houses (GD)

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. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Moltmann and Bloesch on the Role of Eschatology Compared

I reluctantly had to cut this material from my final draft, in the final analysis because I thought it weakened rather than strengethened my discussion of Moltmann's Trinitarian eschatology.  I do believe a thorough analysis of the respective theologies of Moltmann on Donald Bloesch on the role of eschatology in contemporary theology is a most worthy endeavor, but one that I was not able to give the attention that it merits.  I suppose that'e the main reason I pulled it from my chapter on Moltmann.  Nonetheless, as a blog posting, I believe it may have some value in this format, if in doing more than pointing to the need for additional work (GD).

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.

[i] Bloesch, The Last Things, p. 110.
[ii] Ibid., p.,111.
[iii] Moltmann, The Coming of God, p. 195.
[iv] Bloesch, The Last Things, p. 111.
[v] Ibid., p. 32.
[vi] Ibid., p. 260.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Open Social Trinity

The Open Social Trinity
Moltmann incorporates a good deal of theological reflection and historical exegesis in his concept of the open, social Trinity.  The primary focal points include the nature of God’s character, the relationship between what Karl Rahner has described as the “economic” and “immanent” Trinity, and a constitutive/relational contrast on the formation and operation of the Trinity.  Democratic politics and feminist and liberationist theologies provide some of the not difficult to discern sub-text that gives shape to Moltmann’s Trinitarian vision, in which one might hear the echo of  the intercommunicative social theory of Jurgen Habermas.[i] 
Moltmann’s critique of what he interprets as static definitions of God’s substance and absolute subjectivity has been discussed.  In short, Moltmann maintains that:
[T]he trinitarian Persons are not ‘modes of being’; they are individual, unique, non-interchangeable subjects of the one common, divine substance, with consciousness and will.  Each of the Persons possesses the divine nature in a non-interchangeable way; each presents it in his own way.[ii]
Each Person “possesses the same individual, indivisible and one divine nature” in which there is intrinsic unity, yet each “possess[es] it in varying ways.”[iii]  This largely accords with a great deal of classical orthodox Trinitarian theology.  What is more novel is the distinction Moltmann makes between the Trinitarian relationships, which diverge in function and in consequence of world historical contingency in which God acts in time, and the underlying substance of God which remains the same regardless as to person or contingency within the fundamental constancy of the triune God.  As Moltmann puts it, “[t]he trinitarian Persons subsist in the common divine nature; they exist [original italics] in their relations to one another.”[iv] The first reflects the constitutional makeup of God in which the Father precedes the Son and the Spirit; the second, the manner of their interaction in human history.  
Both of these expressions are critically important and dialectically intertwined.  Yet, the heart and soul of Moltmann’s Trinitarian theology is the manner of their radical egalitarian and diverse interaction (perichoresis) within the context of God’s fundamental purpose in bringing creation to its ultimate consummation.  In Moltmann terms, “through the concept of perichoresis, all subordination in the doctrine of the Trinity is avoided” notwithstanding the acknowledgment of the constitution of God “the Father as starting point.”[v]  This “starting point” has traditionally has been viewed as God’s unequivocal and unremitting sovereignty, the latter concept of which Moltmann attenuates a great deal as fundamentally contradictory to any notion of God as love.  His critique of Barth and Rahner’s modalistic representations, which he doubts has never “really been overcome,” provides an important critical baseline in contemporary theology through which Moltmann launches his own Trinitarian thesis.[vi]  It is this which warrants additional commentary.                  
Our main entry point is Moltmann’s probing into the relationship between the economic and immanent Trinity.  The former has at its basis a soteriological function as the means through which God reveals himself to humankind, while the latter, to which Moltmann gives little sustained focus, is the embodiment of God’s innate being beyond creation.  In contrast to the classical vision of God’s “impassibility, immutability, and nonsuccessive eternity,” Moltmann’s depiction of the divine revelation seldom extends beyond the apocalyptic moment of new heaven and new earth.[vii]  While not deeply examining the relationship, Moltmann rejects as utterly speculative any radical disjunction between the economic and immanent Trinity.  He stresses instead their continuity in the ineradicable nature of the suffering God, an incarnational deity, seemingly without transcendent remainder beyond history even as hope extends to the eschaton, the red thread pulling human and natural history to its ultimate destiny. 
In a formal theological sense, Moltmann does give credence to God’s utter incomprehensibility, hence, transcendence as an outer, and even when pushed, an impassible boundary.  Nonetheless, the brunt of his theological vision gravitates toward the utter trustworthiness of the God who suffers, who cannot by his own innate nature as incarnational love deny his fundamental purposes and basic character.  With an exceedingly strong proclivity toward divine passibility in the image of the crucified God, there is, on Moltman’s account an ultimate singularity between the economic and immanent Trinity in that “[t]he triune God can only appear in history as he appears in himself, and in no other way.”  While there are depth dimensions to the fullness of God’s reality well beyond our own comprehensibility, there is a quintessential consistency wherein God as revealed to human beings “‘cannot deny himself,’”[viii] and in any fundamental way be radically different than what such unveiling discloses.  Thus:
Statements about the immanent Trinity must not contradict statements about the economic Trinity.  Statements about the economic Trinity must correspond to doxological statements about the immanent Trinity (original italics).[ix]                                                                                                              

The nub of Moltmann’s argument is that “[t]he economic Trinity completes and perfects itself to immanent Trinity” as part of the emergent soteriological process that comes to fruition “when history and experience of salvation are completed and perfected.”[x]  The process of unveiling within the history of human and creational time as the red thread pulling the eschaton toward its cosmic destiny depends on the viability of God’s perpetual self revealing, however fragmentarily and ambiguously perceived.  Any notion of an impassible God and a suffering Son as somehow reconcilable is, on Moltmann’s reading, fundamentally contradictory on its face.  Whether in the process Moltmann collapses too much of what Hart describes as God’s “incomprehensibility, absolute power, simplicity, eternity,” and “uncircumscribab[ility], elusive of every finite concept or act” in his quest for comprehensibility and coherency is an issue further explored below.[xi] 

Hart hits very close to Moltmann’s core project if the convergence of the economic and immanent Trinity “is taken to mean that “God depends upon creation to be God and that creation exists by necessity (because of some lack in God).”  In such an interpretation, “God is robbed of his true transcendence and creation of its true gratuity.”[xii]  It is true that for Moltmann, God’s passibility, his vulnerability is a voluntary self-limiting, but by this he also presses the point that given his very nature as creator, a God of love could do no other than to give to humanity and the created order “its time” in the economy of God’s kingdom, which, on Moltmann’s interpretation has a retroactive impact on the very nature and substance of God’s triunity.   To this, McDougall raises a core challenge that, despite the emphasis he places on biblical foundations, “Moltmann’s theological move to postulate such an eternal self-limitation is certainly a highly speculative move that lacks any direct support in the biblical witness.”[xiii] This is so, one might argue, even as it possesses a certain explanatory power in shedding light on Moltmann’s effort to attain an underlying coherency in his broader theological project.

It is also worth emphasizing at this point Moltmann’s rejection, and perhaps caricature, of any notion “about ‘the mystery of the Trinity’…pointing to some impenetrable obscurity or insoluble riddle.”[xiv]  However much there may be some convergence in their perspectives, Moltmann and Hart exhibit profoundly different emphases in their Trinitarian theologies, ultimately over the passibility and impassibility of God’s need to suffer in order to be the God whose Son went to the cross, and the role of God’s transcendence even in the midst of his incarnational indwelling within the created order.  Hart, for example, does not deny the importance of a dynamic vision of the Trinity, one of Moltmann’s major concerns.  What he wants to assure is that “[t]he insuperable ontological difference between creation and God—between the dynamism of finitude and an infinite that is eternally dynamic” is maintained.[xv]  This, he believes is viable through the capacity of “creatures [hence of, creation as well], embracing” God’s infinity “in an endless sequence of finite instances,” which for Moltmann is the Spirit’s work of deification in bringing creation toward its ultimate destination;[xvi] what McDougall, in turn, refers to as “drawing creation into” the “life of fellowship” of the divine Trinity itself.  “In so doing, the Spirit acts to consummate the original intention of creation, that is, to make all things [in Moltmann’s words,] ‘the home of the triune God’” through which the creation itself participates in God’s triune being even as the distinction between the creation and the creator is maintained.[xvii]
 For Hart, the persisting gulf between God and humankind is not an intrinsic barrier toward living a life that is increasingly attuned to God.  He maintains, rather, that the gap between that which can be attained, “the presence of the infinite God” within human flesh, and the creation itself, can never fully realize the desirable (total union with God) because the desirable is infinite in its capacity to transcend every achievable human incarnation in which God existed fully complete in his triune plenitude before the creation and will exist similarly even after the consummation comes to fruition.[xviii]  For Hart, God will be all in all because God is all in all even before the creation, which on his view adds nothing to the plenitude of God even as the bestowal of the gift of creation was an overwhelming expression of his desire.  There is nothing static about this as Hart has it in the ever present possibility of going from glory to glory in the infinite embodiment of the indwelling spirit and power of God to infuse and transform human reality within the context of its own finitude and historicity “in an infinite display of analogical differentiation.”[xix]
Continuing with his words, creation is infused with “the infinite plenitude of the transcendent act in which all determinacy participates” wherein “God is the being of all things, beyond all finite determination, negation and dialectic, not as the infinite ‘naught’ which all things are set off.”[xx]  Rather, through what he describes as “the analogy of [God’s] being—the actual movement of analogization, of our likeness to God within an always greater unlikeness,” we have the capacity, that is, the possibility of participating in God’s triune identity in and through the various finite manifestations that characterize our lives in which the specter of non-being as false identity is also an ever present existential possibility.[xxi]
In short, for Hart the gap between our finite being and God’s ever infinite splendor is never overcome even as “deification” can be experienced in the here and now embodying in analogical plenitude God’s glory in an infinite array of display in concrete manifestations as diverse as the universe itself.  For Hart, this “gap” is the basis of God’s apatheia, which if diminished results in a rhetorical attenuation of nothing less than God himself even ultimately in his fully incarnated manifestation.  It is in this latter respect, the reflection of God’s incarnational glory even onto deification, that Moltmann and Hart share a common aspiration.  For Hart, however, the viability of God’s incarnation depends on the depth and range of his transcendent beauty, which Moltmann does not conceptually deny, but dramaturgically underplays throughout the passion of his theological narrative. 
By contrast, for Moltmann God is eternally wounded in his triune being as a result of Golgotha in a manner that resonates with rather than in any way inviolates his fullness.  For Moltmann, there is something profoundly suspect about any claim of God’s eternal glory that itself is not a dynamic process of perpetual agonistic overcoming in the very midst of the history of God himself in the unfolding of human and creational time.  As Moltmann has it, therefore, in contrast to Hart, the crucified God in his triune fullness unequivocally embraces the pain and shame of the cross as the provocative and exceedingly risky means of its transcendence in the resurrection and ultimate promise of the final eschaton that on his reading the Spirit brings to fruition.  This persisting dialectical dynamic within the stream of time as well as in the diversity of the divergent Trinitarian functions in the midst of its interactions in history is crucial to Moltmann, without which in the most fundamental sense, there would be no triune God as revealed most fully in the New Testament.  In contrast, Hart emphasizes at least the possibility of a perpetual indwelling of the infinite Spirit of God manifested within creation (deification) in which God’s apatheia does not result in dialectic contradiction as a result of human suffering and evil.  This is so on Hart’s reading even as contradiction in creation is a consequence of an all-too-common occurrence of human sin, but not of the intrinsic nature of creation, itself.
The difference between the two can also be parsed in that Moltmann focuses primarily on what he refers to as “the history of God” within the context of human and creaturely time leading to, but not, extending in his theology, in any dynamic sense beyond the eschaton (1 Cor 15:28).  For Hart, by contrast, the starting point is the eternal significance of God’s ontological reality and the appropriation of his glory in human and creaturely time.  The difference in emphases has a great deal to do with how the transcendent/immanent manifestations of God’s revelation are perceived in which neither Hart nor Moltmann take a strictly polar approach even as each pulls very strongly toward one pole (apatheia) or the other (pathos) as theological starting point for very compelling reasons that go to the heart of their respective projects.

[i] Jurgen Habermas, The Theory of Communicative Action:  Volume One:  Reason and the Rationalization of Society (Boston: Beacon Press, 1984); Jurgen Habermas, The Theory of Communicative Action:  Volume Two: Lifeworld and System: A Critique of Functionalist Reason (Boston: Beacon Press, 1987).
[ii] Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom of God, p. 171.
[iii] Ibid., p. 172.
[iv] Ibid., p.173.
[v] Ibid., pp. 175, 76.
[vi] Ibid., p.136.
[vii] David B. Hart, The Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eesrmann’s Publishing Company, 2003), p. 166.
[viii] Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom of God, p. 153.
[ix] Ibid., p. 154.
[x] Ibid., p.161.
[xi] Hart, The Beauty of the Infinite, p. 192.
[xii] Ibid., p.157.
[xiii] Joy Ann McDougall, Pilgrimage of Love: Moltmann and the Trinity and Christian Life (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), p. 84.
[xiv] Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom of God, p. 161.
[xv] Hart, The Beauty of the Infinite, p. 193.
[xvi] Ibid. p.194.
[xvii] McDougall, p. 86.
[xviii] Hart, The Beauty of the Infinite, p. 196.
[xix] Ibid., p.141.
[xx] Ibid., p.242.
[xxi] Ibid., p. 243.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Further Trinitarian Reflections: God’s Self-Limitation (Moltmann)

Further Trinitarian Reflections: God’s Self-Limitation
Theology invariably followed in the shaping of formal articulation of Trinitarian doctrine in the face of Greek philosophical probing during the first few centuries of the church’s existence.  Moltmann does not deny the profound influence of this.  In laying out the scriptural basis for the Trinity what he objects to is any reductionistic explanation for its emergence based on the smuggling in of ancient Greek philosophical concepts that are alien both to the Jewish underpinnings of the New Testament  and to contemporary interpretations of the social construction of human identity .  At the same time it need be noted that in his theological construction Moltmann pushes toward, and arguably, at and beyond the edges of any strictly biblical theology in his reflection on the world’s influence on the triune God.  The primary effect is an interpenetrating one in which as God gives “the world his impress, so his world puts its impress on God, too, through its reactions, its aberrations, and its own initiatives.” 
Moltmann does not claim equal reciprocity, but that “in its’ own [original italics] way there can be no doubt at all.  If God is love, then he does not merely emanate, flow out of himself; he also expects and needs [italics added] love,” the love of the world, his intended home in which he “desires to dwell” and to reconcile even at the risk, as Moltmann has it, of God’s core triune identity.[i]   Moltmann does not deny that at some ineffable level God cannot fail.  Yet, unless the risk of suffering love is ultimately of little account, the prospect not only of utter failure of achieving the world’s reconciliation, but of the disintegration of the incarnational embodiment of the triune God in the world’s rejection of the gift of reconciliation needs to be perceived as a real possibility.  On Moltman’s account of the crucified God, in risking this, the Cross became the supreme propitiation.
The world’s impress on God extends to the purpose of creation on whether it was “necessary for God himself, or merely fortuitous;” that is, did “it proceed from God’s nature, or from his will?”[ii]  The question, in turn, is whether the world is temporary or in some fundamental sense eternal, a concern which extends to the core of Moltmann’s interpretation of “Christian panentheism;” God’s perpetual indwelling within the world.  In his radical rejection of divine impassibility, God’s core characteristic is radical love rather than supremacy, sovereignty, or almightiness.[iii]  By its very nature, such supreme love requires creation, “the fruit of God’s longing for his ‘Other’ and for his Other’s free response [in turn] to the divine love.”[iv]  In the form of intra-Trinitarian communication, God expresses himself through a very profound self-loving.  Yet love, in its most radical sense cannot be merely “like for like” without “love of the other,” which “communicates itself by overcoming its opposite.”  For Moltmann the counterpoint to God’s self-loving (Jn 3:16) is the world as radical other, given that self-love alone even within the Trinitarian indwelling of God’s social identity “is not yet creative love.”[v]
Moltmann posits that “[i]n God necessity and freedom coincide” (italics in original) in the creation of the world; necessity stemming from the nature of God as love (1 Jn 4:16); freedom in terms of his superabundant plenitude.[vi]  Thus, “[f]rom eternity God has desired not only himself,” even in his triune fullness.  He desires “the world, too,” particularly through “[t]he eternal Son of God” as an everlasting incarnation in which “[a]ll things were made through him, and without Him nothing was made that was made” (Jn 1:3).  To state this in related terms, “[t]he Son is the [italics removed] Logos in relation to the world;” an essential aspect of God’s Trinitarian existence.  On the flow of Moltmann’s argument, God would not exist without the world as envisioned from creation to consummation.[vii]  Or at least he would not exist within the superabundant manner in which he does in incarnational conjunction with his world in which both God and “the whole creation groan and labor with birth pangs” (Rom 8:22) for the consummatory apotheosis in which God will be all in all. 
To be sure, as Moltmann puts it, “[i]t is not out of inner necessity” in any literal sense.  Rather, “it is out of his overflowing love, that God goes out of himself and wills the existence of other beings, not divine, who will be in accord with the divine bliss through their joy in existence.”[viii]  This is a critical qualification that should not be missed, even as, when all that he says on the topic is taken into account still leaves the question of the necessity and freedom of God unresolved in mystery, where perhaps it belongs. 
As summarized by Grenz & Olson, Moltmann’s view is subtly related, though sharply distinctive from that of Barth’s who also posits God’s core attributes of love and freedom in close proximity.  For Barth, a balanced interpretation of their relationship requires more emphasis on God’s freedom than suggested by Moltmann in his argument that by the necessity of his nature, God had no other choice than to create the world without which his expression of love would only be “like-for-like.”  By contrast, for Barth, “[w]hile God’s love for the world is real and eternal, it is not necessary.”  To state it in direct contradistinction to Moltmann, “God would still be love even if he did not choose to love [or create] the world.”[ix]  For Barth, the Trinity is self-contained as the full manifestation of the infinite plenitude of God’s love in itself.  In his graciousness and plenitude he did create and love the world to the point of the agonistic death of his incarnate Son, but necessity, on Barth’s account had nothing to do with it.  For Barth, the most distinctive characteristic of God is his “absolute[eness] in relationship to the world.”[x] To blunt or obfuscate this in any way is at the least, to move toward the worship of the creation rather than the creator, particularly in the light of a great deal of contemporary theology since the time of Schleiermacher with its naturalistic human-centered focus.   

Clearly, Moltmann was no supporter of any form of natural religion remotely connected with pantheism.  However, the press of his theological construct does require a panentheistic theology, in which, while God and the world are distinct, can never be as radically differentiated as posited by Barth.  I raise this contrast between Barth and Moltmann not to seek to substantially work through it at this point.  My more modest intent is simply to lay out a counterpoint to Moltmann’s theological construct over the critical relationship between immanence and transcendence which he grapples with in subtle ways even as his resolution leaves gnawing questions and concerns that remain unresolved in his panentheistic theology. 
Moltmann constructs his theology of God through what might be conceived as the extra biblical-concept of God’s self-limitation.  This is a doctrine that emerges in his press for explanation of the centrality of God’s commitment to the world as a necessity of both his outward and inner love to the point of radical suffering for the sake of his beloved.  In seeking to bridge the chasm between radical transcendence on the one hand and un-avowed pantheism on the other hand, Moltmann lays out some very subtle relationships between God’s inward and outward activities.  Based on the very substance of God’s creativity, Moltmann posits “an equally eternal non-divine or counterdivine entity” that corresponds to “God’s self-constitution in eternity.”  This stems from “a self-limitation” [italics in original] of the omnipotent God, preceding his creation, thus, making “room for this finitude beforehand, ‘in himself,’”[xi]  that is, within the infinite space of the open, social Trinity.  It is God who withdraws into himself, becoming, one might say, “of no reputation, taking the form of a servant” to creation, and in himself, becoming “obedient to the point of death” (Phil 2:7-8), as manifested through the incarnational presence of Christ crucified and resurrected.
Moltmann’s broader point is that his self-limitation for the sake of “‘creation outside God’ exists simultaneously in God, in the space that God [graciously] made for it in his omnipresence.”  God embodies time with and “in his eternity, finitude” with and in his infinity, space” with and “in his omnipotence and freedom” with and “in [italics in original] his selfless love.”[xii] The self-limitation, then, is intended to gain the world in which there is a to and fro of “light flooding back into God” in the ongoing creativity of his triune self and “break[ing] forth from him” into the creation, however fragmentarily, with the red thread of the eschatological fulfillment pulling the creation and the triune God himself toward the final apotheosis (1 Cor 15:28).  In this, the Spirit plays a crucial role in the very “sigh[ing] and long[ing] for the revealing of the liberty of the children of God” in the very “cr[ying] out for redeeming freedom in enslaved creation.” [xiii]  In this respect, as Moltmann puts it, the Holy Spirit is the very indwelling of God in men and women, which, in its active presence is nothing less than “the very “efficacious power of the Creator and the power that quickens created beings.”[xiv]  In this respect, too, “the Spirit acts as an independent subject, and he does so not merely for men and women.”  More, “in the glorification of the Son and the Father he acts on the Son and Father as well.”[xv] God’s self-limitation, then, is meant both for his greater glory as well as that of the entire creation.

[i] Ibid., p. 99.
[ii] Ibid., p. 105.
[iii] Ibid., p. 106.
[iv] Ibid.
[v] Ibid.
[vi] Ibid.
[vii] Ibid., p. 108.
[viii] Moltmann, The Coming of God, p. 325.
[ix] Grenz & Olson, 20th Century Theology, p. 73.
[x] Ibid., p. 74.
[xi] Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom of God, p. 109.
[xii] Ibid.
[xiii] Ibid., p., 111.
[xiv] Moltmann, God in Creation, p. 96.
[xv] Ibid., p. 97.