Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A Broad Place: Moltmann’s Biographical Sketch[1]

Moltmann is considered to be the most important German-speaking Protestant theologian since the Second World War. The importance of his works is quite evident as he engages with the most controversial theological issues of the second half of the twentieth century as well as he interacts with the great theologians of the first half of the same century.[2] This section looks at Moltmann’s early life, his life during and after the war, his pastoral experience and his influence to theology all over the world.

Moltmann’s Early Theology

Jurgen Moltmann was born in Hamburg, Germany on April 8, 1926. He was raised in intellectual secular family that had no place for the Bible and the church. He grew up under the influences of German poetry and philosophy of Lessing, Goethe, and Nietzsche. Einstein and Heisenberg were his heroes and he thought he would become a mathematician and physicist.[3] It was not meant to be because he became one of the world’s greatest Christian theologians. This section will discuss the events that lead to the development of his early theology.
There are several events that lead to the beginning of Moltmann’s theology. First are the circumstances in his life during the Second World War. He was part of the Royal Air Force that defended against the Allies bombing of Hamburg’s center. Many of his friends were brutally killed during the attack while he on the other hand to his own bewilderment escaped unscathed. Witnessing his friends mangled to death while his life was spared evoked a few essential questions: “Where is God; “why am I not dead too;” and “what gives life meaning?” These questions signal the beginning of his theology.[4]
Second is Moltmann’s discovery of hope in the midst of prevailing hopelessness he shared among his countrymen during the war. He felt shame for the atrocities that their country committed at their expense. Those who survived the war certainly escaped death but their lives were stripped of purpose and meaning. This hopelessness overcame them like a disease that he realized that it was the actual caused of many deaths among the wounded rather than the physical injury or illness. Moltmann discovers hope from the Bible. He learned about the suffering of Jesus and believed that Jesus was with them as they suffer as prisoners of war. This hope was enriched by the unconditional love and forgiveness he received from Christians (supposedly are the enemies) who ministered to them in the prison camp. These acts of kindness gave him new life perspectives and the courage to live again. No wonder that hope and theodicy were of subjects of special interests for Moltmann in his early theological works.[5]
Third is his experience as a prisoner of war (POW). It was in the POW camp that his fascination with theology began. With the help of YMCA, books were purchased and famous theologians like Andres Nygren, Vincer’t Hoof, and John R. Mott visited and taught at the camp. The prison camp became his first seminary. His theology grew deeper not only because of what he had learned from the teachers and from reading the books but also because of the virtues demonstrated by the Christians. He received love and forgiveness and this experience gives him liberation from existential meaninglessness. It was from this moment that he experienced true freedom and uttered these words; “I was able to breathe again, felt like a human being once more.”[6] This explained why liberation is significant in Moltmann’s theology.
Moltmann’s association in the collective suffering, guilt of the German nation during the war, his discovery of the true meaning of hope and his experience of existential freedom set him on the road in his commitment to political theology.

Theological Development after the War

After the war, Moltmann’s theology radically developed. This section will discuss the events that serve as major contributors to the development of his theology as it is now perceived and analyzed.
The first event is his entering the University of Gottingen to pursue his newfound passion for theological studies. There, he learned from famous theologians like Hans-Joachin Iwand, Ernst Wolf and Otto Weber. It was through these theologians that Moltmann came to be recognized as Barth’s disciple. The great theologian profoundly influenced the young Moltmann. Moreover, during that time, Barth’s greatness was so remarkably pervasive that Moltmann thought that development of theology beyond Barth was impossible. Nevertheless, Moltmann’s theology had astonishingly evolved independently of Barth.[7]
The second event is his marriage to Elizabeth Wendell, a fellow doctoral student under Weber, had greatly affected his theological thoughts. For his wife Elizabeth, the decision to marry him meant sacrificing her own calling because the church regulation during that period forbid married woman to become minister and ordination to pastorate was unacceptable. She was relegated to the role of a housewife taking care of the children and cleaning the house. This relegation imposed by the church upon women impelled her to become a feminist theologian. Consequently, Moltmann himself became one of prominent theological voices in support of feminist theology.[8]
Finally, his early experience as a pastor of a small community church in Bremen is also essential to the development of his theology. He originally accepted the pastoral position of a city church in Berlin-Brandenburg. The government, however, refused him an entry to the city suspecting he was a spy because of his involvement in the war. He ended up ministering to a village church in Bremen. These circumstances provided him the opportunity to know the theology of the ordinary people in their struggles, bereavement, and anxieties. It was through his pastoral ministry that he “experienced theology as shared theology of believers and doubters, of the oppressed and consoled.”[9] His involvement with the life of his parishioners persuaded him to do theology for the benefit not only of the scholars but also of the church.[10]
Moltmann’s experience during the war, his theological studies after it, and his experiences as pastor of a small church are compelling reasons to believe that his theology is relevant to the subject of this research.

[1] A Broad Place is the title of Moltmann's autobiography published in English in 2008. The researcher has already written this brief biographical sketch when the book was published. Moltmann has been using the term to describe that the Spirit is the broad place in which human beings have their experiences. See Jurgen Moltmann, A Broad Place: An Autobiography, trans., Margaret Kohl (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press, 2008). See Moltmann, The Spirit of Life, 174.
[2] Geiko Muller-Fahrenholz, The Kingdom and the Power: The Theology of Jurgen Moltmann, trans., John Bowden (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press, 2001), 12.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Jurgen Moltmann, The Source of Life: The Holy Spirit and the Theology of Life, trans., Margaret Kohl (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press, 1997), 17.
[5] Ibid., 4.
[6] Ibid., 9.
[7] Bauckham, "The Modern Theologians," 209.
[8] Jurgen Moltmann, Experiences in Theology: Ways and Forms of Christian Theology trans., Margaret Kohl (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press, 2000), 4-5.
[9] Bauckham, "The Modern Theologians," 209.
[10] Moltmann, Experiences in Theology, 4-5.

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