Hermeneutics, James Cone, Jürgen Moltmann, meme, Stanley Hauerwas

Critiquing a favorite theologian

This is a rather late response to halden’s meme – critique a favorite theologian.

Edit: Looking back, I did do a post on Hauerwas that might also apply to Halden’s challenge. While Hauerwas is technically an ethicist and not exactly systematic, he does collapse the categories of theology and ethics into one category and has covered a great deal of territory in his many writings. So I suppose the reader can take their pick between Moltmann’s lack of method, or Hauerwas’ faulty use of history.

This challenge exposes a weakness I have, for all the reading I have done, I have rarely focused on one person’s systematic theology. And this limits the choices I feel even somewhat confident enough to talk about. However, if I were to pick someone, it would be Jürgen Moltmann. Given that theology in some areas (most prominently seen in liberation theology) has shifted from a focus upon the believer/atheist dichotomy to the person/non-person, James Cone has made the point that many theologies have lost their relevancy insomuch as they address an old question. However, there is a motif within European-born theology that holds promise for continuous relevancy between old and new theology: the suffering and hopeful Christ. This is why I have chosen Moltmann (no matter how much Halden might dislike him. heh.). Moltmann seems to be able to bridge the gap between many aspects of liberal, liberation, and conservative theology, but still retain a Christocentrism and this strength of Moltmann is very important for me right now.The truth be told, I’d begun writing a rather lengthy response to this meme sometime ago, only to realize that I should read more to adequately critique and thus I kept putting this off. So now as I actually write this, in an effort to not come off crazy or extend beyond myself, I’ll attempt to level one solid of crititque that I have noticed myself, but have also been vocalized by others as well, particularly by some faculty here.

Despite all that Moltmann has accomplished (helped revive Trinitarian work, helped revive eschatology, a great deal of thought on theodicy, a theology of Creation and even “opened up a veritable new chapter in theology, in which the suffering of God is almost a new orthodoxy” says Grenz and Olson in 20th Century Theology), Moltmann is not flawless – far from it.

In my book the most difficult flaw to deal with, is the lack of method. Moltmann simply does not line out a hermeneutical method (although I hear he says that he will finally write one). I like his writing and understand it well enough, but as far as he approaches the Biblical text or theology as a whole, there is next to no information on method from what I have seen. In fact, this is also a gripe I have heard from a few professors here at Union. So for me, to access Moltmann’s conclusions, I sometimes have to construct my own arguement, an argument that satisfies me and reaches his conclusion, because it just does not exist in his writings. With a lack of method, the rest of his writings seem to take on a whole other level of difficulty.

For instance, Moltmann came by Union for a Q and A while giving lectures in the city. We were given the lectures ahead of time to read. Here is a section:

The justice which Christ will bring about for all and everything is not the justice that establishes what is good and evil, and the retributive justice which rewards the good and punishes the wicked. It is God`s creative justice, which brings the victims justice and puts the perpetrators right. The victims of injustice and violence are first judged so that they may receive their rights. The perpetrators of evil will afterwards experience the justice that puts things to rights. They will thereby be transformed inasmuch as they will be redeemed only together with their victims. They will be saved through the crucified Christ, who comes to them together with their victims. They will `die` to their evil acts against their victims and the burden of their guilt in order to be born again to a new life together with their victims. Paul also expresses this with the image of the fire through which every human work is proved: `If any man`s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire` (1 Cor. 3.15). The image of the End-time `fire` is an image of the consuming love of God and not an image of the wrath of God. Everything which is, and has been, in contradiction to God will be burnt away, so that the person who is loved by God is saved, and everything which is, and has been, in accord with God in that person`s life is preserved.

The purpose goal of erecting the victims and correcting the perpetrators is not reward and punishment but the victory of God`s creative justice over against all that is godless in heaven, on earth and under the earth. Victorious divine justice will not separate humankind into blessed and condemned at the end of the world, but will unite them for God`s great Day of Reconciliation on this earth. On this day all the tears will be wiped away from their eyes, the tears of suffering as well as the tears of remorse, for there will be no more suffering and pain nor crying (Rev 21, 4). The earth will than be cleaned up from the dirt of sin and death. The shadows of sin will disappear together with the night of death: “And death shall be no more”. Annihilated are the powers of annihilation.

Now, I was curious as to how this plays out in light of the scriptural text, Matthew 25, specifically about the sheep and the goats. I asked him and he said we are misreading the text. Well of course we are reading the text differently, but the only answer he gave to the question was that we are both the sheep and the goats – we are at least one point in our life, the person in prison, the visitor and the one who does not visit. Alright, I got that, but how does this work with the surrounding text? I would love to arrive at his conclusion (and kinda do actually), but he has not voiced well his hermeneutical method. So, the only way I can reach some of his conclusions is by creating my own theology and determining my own method with some goal in mind. Right. ‘Cause thats easy, especially with all the other hermeneutical problems to consider. Sigh. So in the end, until he lines out his method, Moltmann in my book will be someone with great insights and a visionary, but not a very good theologian in the professional sense.

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3 thoughts on “Critiquing a favorite theologian

  1. adamsteward says:

    I feel a similar complaint against Moltmann. Just like Walter Brueggemann, I feel like there is such an eclectisism in method that it makes critiques very difficult. With Brueggemann, it seems like he’ll just use whatever is handy for saying what he wants to about the text. Most of the time I agree with what he ends up saying, but I get frustrated when he’ll use a source critical argument one minute, and then ditch it later on to make a canonical move.
    At any rate, it seems like a truly Christocentric reading of MT 25 needs to talk about the fact that the judge who distinguishes between the sheep and the goats is himself the Sinless One who has become a goat for the sake of us goats, being “crucified outside of the city” (as Hebrews so poignantly names Jesus as our scapegoat). I think it’s not so much that we are all both sheep and goats intrinsically, but that we are all goats, and that those of us who are simul goat et sheep are so only by the grace that took hold of us through Christ’s sacrifice.

  2. Jeff says:

    I’m glad i came across this article. I’m critiquing Moltmann’s use of scripture in the Coming of God (CoG) and it’s pretty clear that he comes to scripture with want he wants it to say and then lets it say it. In other words he creates meaning for the text as there is no priviledged meaning in any text prior to his approaching that text. Ouestion of Method? Yes!

  3. d. w. horstkoetter says:

    I’m glad you guys liked the post. Its certainly not a new critique, but perhaps if the theoblogoshpere yelled loud enough then he’d do something? Yeah, probably not, however, I still wish he would become more than a visionary. Oh well, I suppose thats for our generation?

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