Jürgen Moltmann, Johann Metz

Merging Moltmann and Metz: An End Course Review

I was excited at the beginning of the semester to take a Jürgen Moltmann class, but now at the close, I find that I am more partial to Johann Baptist Metz – the other theologian we read for the class. As I thought about closing out the class, I found a tack that incorporates various positions of Moltmann and Metz and begins to both satisfy and improve my own theological voice. As much as this is a closure paper for a class, it is also a continuation paper and, probably most appropriately, a future looking paper toward fusing my own voice with positions certain from Moltmann and Metz. The following sections on Moltmann and Metz are the highlights of their theologies and the class for me.

Moltmann: Future and Hope in Christ and Basileia
The heart of Moltmann’s use of the term “eschatological,” and subsequently his whole theology of hope, is found in the Christological dialectic of the cross and resurrection.1 That is to say, both the suffering death and the glorious resurrection hold an equal amount of weight as they continually inform each other and push us forward into the promise and hope of the future horizon.2 Simply put, “one could say that Christian eschatology is the study of the tendency of the resurrection and future of Christ.”3

While eschatology finds its specific understanding in the cross and resurrection, we cannot rightly understand the death and resurrection without the greater foundation of the basileia (kingdom).4 It is in the cross and resurrection that the basileia and its promises are fulfilled and proclaimed; the basileia breaks into the current reality in proclamation and action about and through the cross and resurrection, while at the same time speaking of a future in the “mission and love of Christ” through the cross and resurrection.5 To understand the cross and resurrection, particularly as the basis for eschatology and the breaking in of the basileia, it is necessary to understand death and re-life as a theological category, as opposed to an andocentric idea. Fundamentally, the cross and resurrection are not existential (Bultmann) or historical (Schweitzer); rather, they are an action that makes our history and locating us within a promise and identity, while pushing us toward the eschaton.6

History is best understood through promise – specifically, God’s revelatory and eschatological promises. History understood this way is history in flux, which is to say history is dynamic and driven by hope rooted in promise.7 The promises themselves and their fulfillment continue throughout history, and this “overspill” changes history from merely event oriented to an ongoing fulfillment and revelation of promise.8 Therefore the active story that history tells, framed by promises, is re-imagined at every fulfillment; the promises become larger and larger as the fulfillments continue and increase.9 Thus history, or the representation of the past, continually changes in light of the revelation of promise/fulfillment. It “will lead us to open ourselves and our present to that same future,” while still mired in present circumstances.10

Eschatology is inherently participatory and political: we proclaim the hope of Christ as the Christ who proclaimed the basileia, while at the same time we imbue the missional idea with Christ-like suffering and solidarity in faith.11 Thus it is hope that fuels our human faith; faith, our belief in the divine, “hopes in order to know what it believes” and it is hope, from our faith, that drives our vitality so necessary to faith.12 Consequently faith and the hope of the future brings the future into the present resulting in church participation in funneling the vision of the future – “righteousness, freedom and humanity” – into the current events of today.13

Metz: Hoping Rightly, Remembering Dangerously, and Solidarity with the Dead
A Christian historical consciousness is radically and diametrically opposed to a “purely historical relationship with the past that not only presupposes that the past is past; it also works actively to strengthen the fact that what has been is not present.”14 Rather Christian historical consciousness – remembering – is a reforming experience; it brings an idea of change, pushing Christians to change not only themselves, but also the surrounding world. “Identity is formed when memories are aroused” and likewise narrative achieves the same ends – we are given a vision of a great past and a brilliant future.15 This idea of a tangible past changes who we are in the present and gives hope to move our current present towards the eschatological hope. Thus the Christian vision of dangerous memory interrupts our conception of the present, by giving an alternate vision of history; we are re-contextualized within a different story, an informative and liberating story. This new and biblical story, informs us on who we are, gives a new identity – practitioners of a social, Christian praxis.

Simply put, envisioning the Christian mission through memories is the beginning of solidarity with the dead. We are made responsive to past suffering through anamnesis, for it is the nature of Christianity to imitate the suffering Christ, as it is also a religion of the oppressed.16 Thus the Christian praxis, attuned to suffering, consistently interrupts the apathetic world through solidarity for and with the helpless and suffering, in the present.17

However, we have lost the “messianic praxis” of “discipleship, conversion, love, and suffering”, because we have accepted the secularized notion of a nationalistic anthropology and hope (both espousing the ideology that humanity will overcome, thrive, and conquer future frontiers).18 With secularized theologies and the forgetting of Christian suffering, the church does not act in its prophetic role to the world; instead of liberating, the ideology holds the globe within Americana’s oppressive custody.19 The secularization of the church through a form of secular hominization has caused us to lose not only the idea of suffering with and for others, but we have also lost ourselves. Thus the American church has ceased remembering the atrocities of Auschwitz, or cannot respond well to current genocides, by accepting the hope of American promises.

Metz: Bourgeois religion and Privatization
A Bourgeois religion is dependent on privatization; in order to envision the Messianic nature of Christianity, we must first understand who we are.20 How we see ourselves is less universally governed by the church’s direction or definition, rather, as American’s our most universal understanding as to who we are is fundamentally through individual and nation-state interaction – a privatizing, enlightenment document we call the Constitution. The American Christians needs to realize the influences of the Constitution and understand how the idea of a church is fundamentally a contrary social institution – the body of Christ.21 We can only get to the Christian call when we get past the American Dream and its hopes.22

Moltmann, Metz, and I in Agreement
As a person “the Christian has the responsibility to develop his faith’s relationship to the world as a relationship of hope, and to explicate his theology as eschatology.”23 All of Christianity, not just single Christians, is to be grounded in a “horizon of eschatology,” and more specifically in an eschatological foundation that is primarily a creative and militant.24 Thus the church reveals the Christian forward-looking hope to the world. This revealing is inherently political, as it forms the church according the mission of Christ and moves the church toward declaring the eschatological hope of the kingdom to the world.25

It is the church that stands within the kingdom, as the kingdom’s mission; it is the church that continually interrupts the world’s attempts at self-redemption or self-production through love, sacrifice and solidarity.26 The church is the breaking of the kingdom into the now by visibly crystallizing the intensifying nature of the Christological sacrifice on the cross.27 Thus the church points for the world from the suffering and resurrected past to the future and its hope. Fundamentally, the church interrupts the world, by proclaiming the hope of the future in a revolutionary and imaginative way; the center of Christian life is rooted in the forward-looking, eschatological hope that places Christianity within the kingdom within the world.

Moltmann and Metz in Contrasting Ecclesiology
Despite their many similarities, Moltmann and Metz have divergent approaches to ecclesiology. This is especially clear when Moltmann asserts that the church ought not “claim any direct power in secular matters,” specifically in economics, politics and culture.28 Metz disparages bourgeois Christianity in favor of a messianic Christianity that requires the de-privatization of Christianity. In contrast, while Moltmann supports liberation, he does so by way of individual Christian action in the political, economic, and cultural sphere that results in the ethical actions of the church carried out through the privatized social contracts between citizens and government.29 For instance, when Moltmann talks about a Christian opposition to immoral ethical systems, he does not appeal for collective church action such as withdrawal or criticism – instead he uses the word “Christians,” which connotes individual movements.30

Metz calls for the church to be the relational model that answers the Christian call by continually critiquing both the church and the world. It is through this that the church becomes a vision for the world to understand right relationships through the basileia of God. However, Moltmann distinguishes himself from this – the church does not become the agitator for resistance or representation, nor is the church supposed to be envisioning and displaying right relationships concerning racialism, sexism, or valuing the handicapped; instead, the social problems are confronted by a reformationist idea of justification and the I-identity.31

I much prefer Metz’s ecclesiology over Moltmann’s. Moltmann leaves his theology, and subsequently the church, open to a modernist individualism when he calls for the church not to involve itself in economics, politics, or culture. The church ceases to become a holistic, alternative reality and critique to the secularized world when individualism governs the church’s dialogue with the world, and thus the church lacks greater strength engage structural evils.

Blending Metz and Moltmann
I highly value Moltmann’s emphasis on faith, hope, dialectical Christology, and basileia. Not only are they decidedly Christian categories, but they also work well as a foundation upon which to build a political theology. Likewise with Metz, I am heavily indebted to his formulations of solidarity with the dead and dangerous memories, along with his critiques of secularization (as apposed to hoping rightly), Bourgeois religion, and privatization. The merging of Moltmann and Metz in both their agreements and understanding their disagreements is very fertile ground. I am grateful for the strong foundation they offer as I begin to construct my own theopolitical voice.

1. Jürgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993) 200.
2. Ibid., 211.
3. Ibid., 195.
4. Ibid., 216.
5. Ibid., 210-211, 220.
6. Ibid., 165, 181.
7. Ibid., 18.
8.Ibid., 107-108.
9. Ibid., 105.
10. Ibid., 108.
11. Ibid., 211, 212, 219, 224.
12. Ibid., 33.
13. Ibid., 22.
14. Johann Baptist Metz, Faith in History and Society: Toward a Foundational Political Theology, (New York: Seabury Press, 1979) 190.
15. Ibid., 66, 188.
16. Ibid., 52, 71.
17. Ibid., 57-58, 229.
18. Johann Baptist Metz, The Emergent Church: The Future of Christianity in a Postbourgeois World, (New York: Crossroad, 1981) 27 and Theology of the World, (New York: Herder and Herder, 1969) 68.
19. Johann Baptist Metz, Faith and the Future, (Maryknoll, N.Y.; Orbis Books, 1995) 55.
20. The Emergent Church, 12.
21. Theology of the World, 133.
22. Ibid., 146.
23. Ibid., 90.
24. Ibid., 90, 94.
25. Theology of Hope 330, 337, 338.
26. Ibid., 338; Metz, Faith in History and Society, 171.
27. Faith in History and Society, 89.
28. Jürgen Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993) 167.
29. Ibid., 164.
30. Ibid., 174.
31. Ibid., 194, 182-186, 189.


4 thoughts on “Merging Moltmann and Metz: An End Course Review

  1. Pingback: Recovering Neglected Theologians Series for Levellers: Johann Baptist Metz « flying.farther

  2. Pingback: Recovering Neglected Theologians #3: Johann Baptist Metz « Levellers

  3. Pingback: Neglected Theologians #3 « Pilgrim Pathways: Notes for a Diaspora People

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