thursday morning began with Jurgen Moltmann heading to the chancel to share with us. i felt a hefty emotional impact as this man came into our presence. Moltmann began by sharing with us his life story to begin. this man is extraordinary. his journey with God began in his teenage years when he was drafted into the german army. his first questions of God were raised when friend who was standing next to him was killed by a bomb that was dropped on the city of Hamburg. Moltmann instantly asked the questions: “Where is God? Why am I alive?” these were the beginnings of his journey, which continued soonafter in a POW camp, where the sight of a blooming cherry tree and kind scottish camp servants were some of things that shone the glory of God to him. an army chaplain at one point passed out bibles to the prisoners. and, as Moltmann describes, Christ found him in the dark pit of his soul and his situation.
as Moltmann began his schooling and his pastoring, he was noticing what things were and weren’t close to the experiences of life: like trying to preach academically to a congregation of farmers, or talking about God inside the confines of a lecture hall. an experience at Duke University lifted his view of amercian christianity during particularly dark times in the US:
in the midst of a time when the US saw an active KKK, and many african-americans mistreated and degraded, Moltmann was giving a conference when MLK Jr. was assasinated. the conference was dismissed prematurely, and in the midst of this national tragedy, 400 students at Duke staged a sit-in – for 4 days and nights to mourn the loss of a man who was seeking to embody God’s truth.
as he moved from personal history into discussion, Moltmann touched on a number of significant areas within Christianity. he talked a bit about the difference between one-ness and same-ness – as in the difference between Christ and God being “one” or “one in the same”. unity is in one-ness, not necessarily in sameness. he went on to talk about near-ness and far-ness with relation to God: God as ABBA (daddy, loving father) vs. God as ‘Our Father WHO IS IN HEAVEN’.
for Moltmann, truth is to be found in unhindered dialogue. thus, he breaks the mold of a typical ‘systematic theologian’. he believes systematic theology sees the need to be ‘perfect’ and ‘all in order’ – but he sees theology as an exploration and a conversation: something to be sought and discovered, rather than something that is organized and tied up with a bow. it was interesting to hear him comment about Barth in this regard: “the Dogmatics is 8000+ pages of doctrine and systematics: can the truth be that long?” he also commented how Barth was (self-proclaimedly) not good at dialoging with his contemporaries. Moltmann is a conversational, dialoging theologian: “we have a starting point: Jesus Christ, and a life-giving Spirit. and we have a universal horizon.”
tony jones asked him about his uniqueness in that he grew up in a secular family: that he is not tied to a particular heritage/tradition – asking if this plays into how his theology plays out. his reply: “Reformed tradition is my heritage, and the ecumenical church is my future.” his open-minded outlook is profound – especially in our world where so many people hold so tightly to their personal convictions. moltman: “don’t become so narrow-minded to only defend your own denomination. Christ is more than one’s own denomination.”
on “scriptural inerrancy” – moltmann makes a number of claims as to where he stands. “i read the bible with the presupposition of meeting the Divine Word in humans words.” as a man who has been exploring the gospel for many, many years, this is a profound statement. i can imagine that a lot of us (myself included sometimes) ‘worry’ about how seriously we take the bible. especially in the midst of the homosexuality debate and the “leviticus says this” / “jesus says this” throwdown. moltmann’s measuring stick in hermeneutics is this: using the scriptures to decide what is closest to Christ. he uses paul’s claim on women to be silent as an example: “if women were to truly remain silent, we would have no knowledge of the resurrection.” a simple but significant observation to support that some of paul’s commands are of a ‘cultural’ nature rather than a ‘divine’ nature. his comment on fundamentalist christianity got a bit of a rise: “I would ask them: ‘Do you really read the Bible? And do you really understand what you are reading?’”
“Pray with open eyes!” he says. he tells us that the NT calls us to not only to pray, but to watch – to look around at the world in which we live – to see what is in contradiction to God and his coming kingdom.
Moltmann offered a great reminder that there are two crosses that people subscribe to – the actual cross of Christ on Golgotha, and the cross that Constantine implemented: the cross of imperialism.
on being asked as to whether he would call himself a universalist, as he is sometimes labeled, he responded: “I am afraid that I am not a universalist; there are a few people that I would not want to see again [in heaven].”
these were the highlights (from my point of view) of day one. day two will follow at some point...