The Living God and the Fullness of Life

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Jürgen Moltmann
  • Louisville, KY: 
    Westminster John Knox Press
    , November
     2015.
     242 pages.
     $30.00.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9780664261610.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

One wonders if there will ever be an end to Jurgen Moltmann’s passion for theology and writing—this book is but one more example of a life both intensely lived and broadly reflected on with integrity. If this were his last book, it would be a fitting testament. As alluded to in places, it incorporates a good deal of previous volumes, including memoirs, always helpful references to Moltmann’s personal World War II experiences, and his three years as a Prisoner of War. He thinks of it as complementary to two prior readable works with life in the title: The Spirit of Life (Fortress Press, 1992) and The Source of Life (Fortress Press, 1997). There are certainly echoes to In the End–The Beginning: The Life of Hope (Augsburg/Fortress Press, 2004) as he touches on death, the cross, resurrected and eternal life and, once more, clear Trinitarian convictions conveying the pervasive presence of God. If one has even a nodding familiarity with basic Moltmann themes there is much to look forward to and cull from this book, including retrieved and fresh reflections on play, revolution, death, ecology, and hope—with prayer and thinking. In view of the very worrisome current events, what’s missing are explicit comments on corporate sin, and thus evil, though implicit in familiar reflections on the cross and compelling sections on living in fellowship—via the Divine life—with humans living and dead, and the earth. In any case, a working index would have clearly helped the reader.

Likely intended for a wider, popular readership, there are discernible traces of combined approaches of several theological methods in The Living God. I think of apologetics via Friederick Schleiermacher, or a Niebuhr-like treatise in response to the “cultural despisers” of historic and contemporary Christianity. In the introductory chapter, “The Diminished Life of the Modern World,” Moltmann deftly depicts and firmly critiques the plain, shallow reductionistism in secularism and its pretensions to thinking and living apart from the theistic dimension and perspective. I think of a socio-ethical approach given the book’s consistent interweaving of a holistic and concrete attention to both shared and mutually respectful life. It thus includes the earth and the support systems humans are summoned to attend in chapter 5’s “In the Fellowship of the Earth,” and chapter 6’s “Freedom Lived in Solidarity.” I discern a meditative and even poetic tonal approach via an eco-theological or a pen-en-theistic intuition of God’s sustaining grounding of life. Chapter 9’s aesthetically attentive “A Spirituality of the Senses”’ is worth the whole of the book. Indeed, this book could readily be used as a meditation reader. I think further of the approaches of systematic theology and with it, philosophical theology—Moltmann again expressing a thermal current indebtedness to the constructive critique of Ernest Bloch’s affirming “truth as prayer” in chapter 10. Again, one encounters the richness of Moltmann on the inescapable eschatological dimension; he evokes how the “end” penetrates the present, profoundly influences the past, and ever luring us to contribute to what in the eschaton sense of the end—including more than finis or teleos—God will be all to all. That Moltmann persists in professing the nature of God’s redeeming purpose to be relentlessly pervasive continues to challenge—that Dag Hammarskjöld-like, cannot rest until even evil perpetuators as well as their sinned-against are included.  Alas I, and perhaps others, presently lack such grace and hence stand in the need of what Moltmann counsels is the enduring ministry of hope. To wit, “The person who maintains hope in life is already saved” adding, Thomas Merton-like: “It continually makes us live again” (169).

An expression of Moltmann’s core credo is present in this book from start to finish; a confession of faith that expresses the legacy of church history and convictions that endure as bedrock. An “adoration and doxology” section thus concludes the volume: “in the adoration of God we stand face to face not only with the holy mystery but also with God’s inexhaustible fullness … the inexhaustible abundance of God, from which we take not only grace upon grace but also life upon life” (207). Of the many ways life can be depicted or unpacked–Canadian ecologist David Suzuki simply expresses the meaning of life to be life–Moltmann sojourns into the indispensable heritages of the church “fathers” and Reformers. Representing the former, Ireneus professed that the glory of God is the human being full alive, while the Westminster Catechesis confesses that the chief end of humans is to glorify God and enjoy the presence of that Being forever. While I wondered if the discipline of practical theology, in the service of practical ministry, was at all evident, my forced present attention to the devastating opioid crisis—especially in Vancouver and the whole province of British Columbia—signs that indeed, the very title to this book conveys in the drug trade and its virtually evil dependency on desperately pervasive addictions. To all of the above, this book compellingly attests.

Wouldn’t it be fitting if Journey Films took on–as has already been done for Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Reinhold Niebuhr–a life witness of Jurgen Moltmann, his steadfast life partner and frequent co-author, Elisabeth Moltmann-Wendel, and the frequently able translator, Margaret Kohl.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Barry K. Morris is an independent scholar, long-time urban minister, and author of the recent Hopeful Realism in Urban Ministry.

Date of Review: 
February 24, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Jürgen Moltmann is one of the world's greatest living theologians. In such books as The Theology of Hope, The Crucified God, and The Trinity and the Kingdom, he has inspired countless readers to encounter the reality of God more fully and respond to the needs of the world more faithfully.

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