Jürgen Moltmann

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Jürgen Moltmann
Born (1926-04-08) 8 April 1926 (age 96)
Hamburg, Germany
Occupation Theologian, author
Theological work
Main interests Eschatology, Liberation theology
Jürgen Moltmann at Aarhus University on 29 March 2012

Jürgen Moltmann (born 8 April 1926) is a German Reformed theologian who is Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology at the University of Tübingen.[1] Moltmann is a major figure in modern theology and was the recipient of the 2000 University of Louisville and Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary Grawemeyer Award in Religion,[2] and was also selected to deliver the prestigious Gifford Lectures in 1984–1985. He has made significant contributions to a number of areas of Christian theology, including systematic theology, eschatology, ecclesiology, political theology, Christology, pneumatology, and the theology of creation.

Influenced heavily by Karl Barth's theology, Hegel's philosophy of history, and Ernst Bloch's philosophy of hope, Moltmann developed his own form of liberation theology predicated on the view that God suffers with humanity, while also promising humanity a better future through the hope of the Resurrection, which he has labelled a 'theology of hope'.[3] Much of Moltmann's work has been to develop the implications of these ideas for various areas of theology. While much of Moltmann's early work was critiqued by some as being non-Trinitarian, during the latter stages of his career Moltmann has become known for developing a form of Social Trinitarianism.[4] His two most famous works are Theology of Hope and The Crucified God.[5] Moltmann also served as a mentor to Miroslav Volf.[6]


Moltmann was born in Hamburg. He described his German upbringing as thoroughly secular. His grandfather was a grand master of the Freemasons. At sixteen, Moltmann idolized Albert Einstein, and anticipated studying mathematics at university. The physics of relativity were "fascinating secrets open to knowledge"; theology as yet played no role in his life.

World War II

He took his entrance exam to proceed with his education, but went to war instead as an Air Force auxiliary in the German army. "The 'iron rations' in the way of reading matter which he took with him into the miseries of war were Goethe's poems and the works of Nietzsche."[7][8] He was actually drafted into military service in 1944, when he became a soldier in the German army. Ordered to the Klever Reichswald, a German forest at the front lines, he surrendered in 1945 in the dark to the first British soldier he met. For the next few years (1945–48), he was confined as a prisoner of war and moved from camp to camp.

He was first confined in Belgium. In the camp at Belgium, the prisoners were given little to do. Moltmann and his fellow prisoners were tormented by "memories and gnawing thoughts"—Moltmann claimed to have lost all hope and confidence in German culture because of Auschwitz and Buchenwald (concentration camps where Jews and others the Nazis opposed had been imprisoned and killed). They also glimpsed photographs nailed up confrontationally in their huts, bare photographs of Buchenwald and Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.[9] Moltmann claimed his remorse was so great, he often felt he would have rather died along with many of his comrades than live to face what their nation had done.

Moltmann met a group of Christians in the camp, and was given a small copy of the New Testament and Psalms by an American chaplain. He gradually felt more and more identification with and reliance on the Christian faith. Moltmann later claimed, "I didn't find Christ, he found me."

After Belgium, he was transferred to a POW camp in Kilmarnock, Scotland, where he worked with other Germans to rebuild areas damaged in the bombing. The hospitality of the Scottish residents toward the prisoners left a great impression upon him. In July 1946, he was transferred for the last time to Norton Camp, a British prison located in the village of Cuckney near Nottingham, UK. The camp was operated by the YMCA and here Moltmann met many students of theology. At Norton Camp, he discovered Reinhold Niebuhr's Nature and Destiny of Man—it was the first book of theology he had ever read, and Moltmann claimed it had a huge impact on his life. His experience as a POW gave him a great understanding of how suffering and hope reinforce each other, leaving a lasting impression on his theology.

After the war

Moltmann returned home at 22 years of age to find his hometown of Hamburg (in fact, his entire country) in ruins from Allied bombing in World War II. Moltmann immediately went to work in an attempt to express a theology that would reach what he called "the survivors of [his] generation". Moltmann had hope that the example of the "Confessing Church" during the war would be repeated in new ecclesiastical structures. He and many others were disappointed to see, instead, a rebuilding on pre-war models in a cultural attempt to forget entirely the recent period of deadly hardship.

In 1947, he and four others were invited to attend the first postwar Student Christian Movement in Swanwick, a conference center near Derby, UK. What happened there affected him very deeply. Moltmann returned to Germany to study at the University of Göttingen, an institution whose professors were followers of Karl Barth and theologians who were engaged with the confessing [non-state] church in Germany.

He received his doctorate from the University of Göttingen, under the direction of Otto Weber in 1952. From 1952 to 1957 Moltmann was the pastor of the Evangelical Church of Bremen-Wasserhorst. In 1958 Moltmann became a theology teacher at an academy in Wuppertal that was operated by the Confessing Church and in 1963 he joined the theological faculty of Bonn University. He was appointed Professor of Systematic Theology at the University of Tübingen in 1967 and remained there until his retirement in 1994. From 1963 to 1983, Moltmann was a member of the Faith and Order Committee of the World Council of Churches. From 1983 to 1993, Moltmann was the Robert W. Woodruff Distinguished Visiting Professor of Systematic Theology at Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. He delivered the Gifford Lectures at the University of Edinburgh in 1984–1985. Moltmann won the 2000 Louisville Grawemeyer Award in Religion for his book The Coming of God: Christian Eschatology.[10]


Upon his return to Germany in 1948, Moltmann began his course of study at Göttingen University, where he was strongly influenced by Karl Barth's dialectical theology. Moltmann grew critical of Barth's neglect of the historical nature of reality, and began to study Bonhoeffer. He developed a greater concern for social ethics, and the relationship between church and society. Moltmann also developed an interest in Luther and Hegel, the former of whose doctrine of justification and theology of the cross interested him greatly. His doctoral supervisor, Otto Weber helped him to develop his eschatological perspective of the church's universal mission.

Moltmann cites the English pacifist and anti-capitalist theologian Geoffrey Anketell Studdert Kennedy as being highly regarded. However the inspiration for his first major work, Theology of Hope, was the Marxist philosopher Ernst Bloch's "Principle of Hope". Bloch is concerned to establish hope as the guiding principle of his Marxism and stresses the implied humanism inherent in mystical tradition. Bloch claims to identify an atheism at the core of Christianity, embodied in the notion of the death of God and the continued imperative of seeking the Kingdom. The whole theme of the Theology of Hope was worked out in counterpoint to the theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg, who had worked alongside Moltmann at Wuppertal, and had also undergone a conversion experience during Germany's defeat in World War II. With its slogan of "History as Revelation", Pannenberg's theology has many parallels, but Moltmann was concerned to reject any notion of history as a closed system and to shift the stress from revelation to action: hope as the principle of revolutionary openness to the future.

The background influence in all these thinkers is Hegel, who is referenced more times than any other writer in the Theology of Hope. Like the Left Hegelians who immediately succeeded the master, both Moltmann and Pannenberg are determined to retain the sense of history as meaningful and central to Christian discourse, while avoiding the essentially conformist and conservative aspects of his thought. In so doing, they are wrestling with the history of Germany itself. They are also implicitly offering a critique of the Neo-Orthodox theology of Karl Barth and Emil Brunner, which they see as ahistorical in its core. Moltmann writes that Barth's eschatology was at first "not unfriendly towards dynamic and cosmic perspectives" but that he then came under the influence of Plato and Kant and so "set to work in terms of the dialectic of time and eternity and came under the bane of the transcendental eschatology of Kant".[11] The liberalism of Rudolf Bultmann is not sharply distinguished from the other dialectical theologies, since it is still focussed on an event of revelation – albeit as "an event which transposes me into a new state of my self".[12]

For Moltmann's second major work, The Crucified God, the philosophical inspiration comes from a different tendency within Marxist philosophy. In Explanation of the Theme, his introduction to the book, Moltmann acknowledges that the direction of his questioning has shifted to that of existentialist philosophy and the Marxism of the Frankfurt School, particularly Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer – close associates of Paul Tillich. An unacknowledged influence, and certainly an important parallel, is probably the Death of God theology that was winning notice in the mid-1960s, particularly the essay collection under that title, edited by William Hamilton and Thomas J. J. Altizer in memory of Paul Tillich.

The title of Moltmann's crucial work, however, is derived not from Nietzsche but from Martin Luther, and its use marked a renewed engagement with a specifically Lutheran strain in Protestant theology, as opposed to the more Calvinist tenor of his earlier work. Moltmann's widening interest in theological perspectives from a broad cultural arena is evident in his use of the book by Kazoh Kitamori, "Theology of the Pain of God" (Kitamori, 1946), which he relates to Bonhoeffer's prison reflections.[13] However, he footnotes Kitamori's very conservative, individualist conclusions, which he does not share. Moltmann continued to see Christ as dying in solidarity with movements of liberation, God choosing to die with the oppressed. This work and its footnotes are full of references, direct and implied, to the New Left and the uprisings of 1968, the Prague Spring the French May and, closest to home, the German APO, and their aftermath.

In the Spring 2004 Pneuma, Moltmann cites Johann and Christoph Blumhardt as being major contributors to his thought.


The early Moltmann can be seen in his trilogy, Theology of Hope (1964), The Crucified God (1972), and The Church in the Power of the Spirit (1975):

  • Theology of Hope was strongly influenced by the eschatological orientation of the Marxist philosopher, Ernst Bloch's The Principle of Hope.
  • The Crucified God posited that God died on the Cross, raising the question of the impassibility of God.
  • The Church in the Power of the Spirit explores the implications of these explorations for the church in its own life and in the world.

The later Moltmann took a less systematic approach to theology, leading to what he called his "systematic contributions to theology"[14] that sought to provoke and engage more than develop some kind of set Moltmannian theology.

Moltmann corroborates his ideas with those of Catholics, Orthodox Christians, and Jews in an attempt to reach a greater understanding of Christian theology; which he believes should be developed inter-ecumenically.

Moltmann has a passion for the Kingdom of God as it exists both in the future, and in the God of the present. His theology is often referred to as "Kingdom of God" Theology. His theology is built on eschatology, and the hope found in the resurrected Christ. This theology is most clearly explained in his book, Theology of Hope.

Moltmann's theology is also seen as a theology of liberation, though not in the sense that the term is most understood. Moltmann not only views salvation as Christ's "preferential option for the poor," but also as offering the hope of reconciliation to the oppressors of the poor. If it were not as such, divine reconciliation would be insufficient.

"According to Moltmann his future final volume in the ‘systematic contributions to theology’ will be published probably under the title Kingdom of God Theology focused on the foundations and methods of theology. Thus the sixth volume will be helpful for concern for his theological method. However, in fact Moltmann is interested in "the content of theology, in its revision in the light of its biblical origin, and in its innovation given the challenges of the present" rather than in the questions of theological method (Meeks 1996,103). In addition, his development as a theologian has been marked by a restless imagination." [15]

Eschatology / Theology of Hope

Moltmann's Theology of Hope is a theological perspective with an eschatological foundation and focuses on the hope that the resurrection brings. Through faith we are bound to Christ, and as such have the hope of the resurrected Christ ("Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (1 Peter 1:3, NIV)), and knowledge of his return. For Moltmann, the hope of the Christian faith is hope in the resurrection of Christ crucified. Hope and faith depend on each other to remain true and substantial; and only with both may one find "not only a consolation in suffering, but also the protest of the divine promise against suffering" [16]

However, because of this hope we hold, we may never exist harmoniously in a society such as ours which is based on sin. When following the Theology of Hope, a Christian should find hope in the future but also experience much discontentment with the way the world is now, corrupt and full of sin. Sin bases itself in hopelessness, which can take on two forms: presumption and despair. "Presumption is a premature, selfwilled anticipation of the fulfillment of what we hope for from God. Despair is the premature, arbitrary anticipation of the non-fulfillment of what we hope for from God." [17]

In Moltmann's opinion, all should be seen from an eschatological perspective, looking toward the days when Christ will make all things new. "A proper theology would therefore have to be constructed in the light of its future goal. Eschatology should not be its end, but its beginning."[18] This does not, as many fear, 'remove happiness from the present' by focusing all ones attention toward the hope for Christ's return. Moltmann addresses this concern as such: "Does this hope cheat man of the happiness of the present? How could it do so! For it is itself the happiness of the present."[19] The importance of the current times is necessary for the Theology of Hope because it brings the future events to the here and now. This theological perspective of eschatology makes the hope of the future, the hope of today.

Hope strengthens faith and aids a believer into living a life of love, and directing them toward a new creation of all things. It creates in a believer a "passion for the possible" [20] "For our knowledge and comprehension of reality, and our reflections on it, that means at least this: that in the medium of hope our theological concepts become not judgments which nail reality down to what it is, but anticipations which show reality its prospects and its future possibilities." [20] This passion is one that is centered around the hope of the resurrected and the returning Christ, creating a change within a believer and drives the change that a believer seeks make on the world.

For Moltmann, creation and eschatology depend on one another. There exists an ongoing process of creation, continuing creation, alongside creation ex nihilo and the consummation of creation. The consummation of creation will consist of the eschatological transformation of this creation into the new creation.[21] The apocalypse will include the purging of sin from our finite world so that a transformed humanity can participate in the new creation.

Liberation theology

Moltmann's liberation theology includes an understanding of both the oppressed and the oppressor as needing reconciliation. "Oppression has two sides: on one side there is the master, on the other side the slave... Oppression destroys humanity on both sides." [22] The goal is one of mutual liberation. God's 'preferential option for the poor' should not be exclusive, but rather include the rich; insofar as God holds judgment over them also. The sufferings of the poor should not be seen as equal to or a representation of the sufferings of Jesus. Our suffering is not an offering to God, it is not required of us to suffer. The point of the crucified Christ was to present an alternative to human suffering. Human suffering is not a quality of salvation, and should not be viewed as such. This is not to say that the sufferings of humans is of no importance to God.

Trinitarian theology

Moltmann stresses the perichoresis of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is to say that he believes the three dwell in one another. The three persons are differentiated in their characteristics, but related in their original exchange.[23] Moltmann seeks to defeat a monotheistic Christianity that is being used as a tool for political and clerical absolute monarchism. He believes the doctrine of the Trinity should be developed as the "true theological doctrine of freedom." [24] He suggests that we "cease to understand God monotheistically as the one, absolute subject, but instead see him in a trinitarian sense as the unity of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit."[25]

Moltmann relates his views on the trinity to three modes of human freedom. The first mode is the political meaning of freedom as supremacy. This mode is rejected by Moltmann, who sees it as corresponding to a God who rules over his creation, which exists merely to serve Him. It is a relation of a subject with an object, where the goal is to enhance the supremacy of the subject. The second mode of human freedom is the socio-historical and Hegelian meaning of freedom as communion, which implies the relation between two subjects. This relationship aims at love and solidarity, and corresponds to the perichoresis of the Father and Son, and through the Son the children of God, or humanity. This relationship is both liberating and loving, and is one Moltmann favors. The third mode of human freedom is the implicitly religious concept of freedom as the passion of the creature for his or her potential. This deals with the relationship between subjects and their common future project. This is the mode favored most by Moltmann, who correlates this relationship with the one humans share with God in the realm of the Holy Spirit. Here, an indwelling of the Spirit allows humans to be friends with God. As you can see, the first mode of freedom is political, and focuses on The Father; the second is communal, focusing on the Son; and the third is religious, focusing on the Spirit.[25]

Bibliography in English

Some of Moltmann's works that are available in English include:

  • Theology of Hope: On the Ground and the Implications of a Christian Eschatology, SCM Press, London, 1967
  • Religion, Revolution and the Future, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1969
  • The Gospel of Liberation, Word, Waco, Texas, 1973
  • The Crucified God: The Cross of Christ As the Foundation and Criticism of Christian Theology, SCM Press, London, 1973
  • Man: Christian Anthropology in the Conflicts of the Present, SPCK, London, 1974
  • The Church in the Power of the Spirit: A Contribution to Messianic Ecclesiology, SCM Press, London, 1975
  • The Experiment Hope, SCM Press, London, 1975
  • The Open Church, SCM Press, London, 1978
  • The Future of Creation, SCM Press, London, 1979
  • The Trinity and the Kingdom: The Doctrine of God, Harper and Row, New York, 1981
  • History and the Triune God: Contributions to Trinitarian Theology
  • On Human Dignity: Political Theology and Ethics, Fortress, Philadelphia, 1984
  • God in Creation, SCM Press, London, 1985
  • The Way of Jesus Christ, SCM Press, London, 1990
  • The Spirit of Life: A Universal Affirmation, SCM Press, London, 1992
  • The Coming of God: Christian Eschatology, Fortress, Minneapolis, 1996
  • The Source of Life, SCM Press, London, 1997
  • Experiences in Theology: ways and forms of Christian Theology, SCM Press, London, 2000
  • Science and Wisdom, SCM Press, London, 2003
  • In the End the Beginning, SCM Press, London, 2004
  • Is “Pluralistic Theology” Useful for the Dialogue of World Religions?" in D’Costa, Gavin, Christian Uniqueness Reconsidered (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1990)
  • Sun of Righteousness, Arise! God's Future for Humanity and the World, Fortress, Minneapolis, 2010
  • 'Is the world unfinished? On interactions between science and theology in the concepts of nature, time and the future', Theology, vol. 114, no. 6 (Nov 2011). Professor Moltmann's Boyle Lecture, with response by A. J. Torrance
  • Ethics of Hope, Fortress, Minneapolis, 2012


  1. http://www.trinitywallstreet.org/news/articles/jrgen-moltmann-the-life-power-of-hope
  2. "2000– Jürgen Moltmann".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. http://www.sats.edu.za/userfiles/Woodbridge_RevisitingMolmannsTheologyOfHope.pdf
  4. http://www.christiancentury.org/reviews/2012-09/ethics-hope
  5. http://www.theologicalstudies.org/resource-library/theologian-biographies/modernpostmodern-theologians/313-jurgen-moltmann-b-1926
  6. http://cfs-aa.org/?page_id=872
  7. The items were a gift from his sister. In other places, Moltmann mentions that "Faust" was included in the collection of Goethe's poetry.
  8. C. Ellis Nelson, "How Faith Matures", Westminster/John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 1989, p. 96
  9. The initial reaction of the prisoners to these photos was that they were British propaganda.
  10. Gifford Lecture Series – Biography – Jurgen Moltmann
  11. Moltmann, J: Theology of Hope, SCM, London, 1967, p. 51
  12. Moltman, J: Theology of Hope, SCM, London, 1967, p. 45
  13. J. Moltmann, The Crucified God, London: SCM, 1974, p.47.
  14. Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1981), xi.
  15. Jürgen Moltmann entry in the Boston Collaborative Encyclopedia of Western Theology by Hyung-Kon Kim
  16. Moltmann, Theology of Hope, pg.21
  17. Moltmann, Theology of Hope, pg. 23
  18. Moltmann, Theology of Hope
  19. Moltmann, Theology of Hope, pg. 32
  20. 20.0 20.1 Moltmann, Theology of Hope, pg. 35
  21. Moltmann, God in Creation, 88
  22. Moltmann, Erfahrungen, 168
  23. Moltmann, Trinitat, 169
  24. Trinitat, 107
  25. 25.0 25.1 Trinitat


Further reading

  • Moltmann: Messianic Theology in the Making, by Richard Bauckham, Basingstoke, Marshall Pickering, 1987
  • God, Hope, and History: Jürgen Moltmann and the Christian Concept of History, by A. J. Conyers, Mercer, GA, Mercer University, 1988
  • The Creative Suffering of God, by Paul S. Fiddes, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1988
  • The Theology of Jürgen Moltmann, by Richard Bauckham, Edinburgh, T & T Clark, 1995
  • The Future of Theology: Essays in Honour of Jürgen Moltmann, ed. M. Volf, Grand Rapids, MI, Eerdmans, 1996
  • God Will Be All in All: The Eschatology of Jürgen Moltmann, ed. Richard Bauckham, Edinburgh, T & T Clark, 1999
  • Disavowing Constantine: Mission, Church and the Social Order in the Theologies of John H. Yoder and Jürgen Moltmann, by Nigel Wright, Carlisle, Paternoster, 2000
  • The Kingdom and the Power: The Theology of Jürgen Moltmann, by Geiko Muller-Fahrenholz, Minneapolis, Fortress, 2001
  • Spirit of the Last Days: Pentecostal Eschatology in Conversation with Jürgen Moltmann, by Peter Althouse, London, T & T Clark, 2003. (Foreword by Moltmann)
  • Jürgen Moltmann's Ethics of Hope: Eschatological Possibilities For Moral Action, by Timothy Harvie, Burlington, VT, Ashgate 2009. (Foreword by Moltmann)
  • Theology as Hope: On the Ground and Implications of Jürgen Moltmann's Doctrine of Hope, Princeton Theological Monograph Series, No. 99, by Ryan A. Neal, Eugene, OR, Pickwick Publications, 2009.
  • VILELA, D. M. Utopias esquecidas. Origens da Teologia da Libertação. São Paulo: Fonte Editorial, 2013. ISBN 9788566480276

External links