Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Book Write-Up: The Crucified God, by Jurgen Moltmann

Jurgen Moltmann.  The Crucified God: The Cross of Christ As the Foundation and Criticism of Christian Theology.  Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993.

I found a couple of books by Moltmann when I was shopping at the Fortress Press book sale about five years ago.  They looked good to me, so I bought them.  One of them is The Crucified God, and the other is Theology of Hope.  Moltmann has also written a number of other books.  I probably should have read Theology of Hope before reading The Crucified God, since Moltmann in The Crucified God refers to Theology of Hope.  But I read what I read!

Several years ago, a librarian at a school that I was attending told me that she did not like to read theology.  She said that some theologians are overly cryptic, whereas other theologians spend pages repeating the obvious.  I was reading Karl Barth at the time, and I was trying to figure out which category he fell into!
Years before this conversation, when I was an undergraduate, a friend of mine was telling me about his struggles to prepare for a presentation that he had to give with another student.  The topic was a book by Rudolph Bultmann, and my friend thought that his partner should get on the ball and start reading the relevant parts of the book.  When his partner replied that it was only thirty pages, my friend replied, "And it will take you thirty hours to read it!"

I may link back to this post in the future when I write about theological books, just for these two anecdotes, for I'll probably be thinking about these incidents whenever I read theology.  Is the theological book deep, too cryptic, or repeating the same obvious message over and over?  Does it take me an hour to read each page?  Or, if I didn't have an hour to spend on each page, could I spend an hour on each page if I truly wanted to take the time to understand the book fully?

At first, in reading The Crucified God, I thought that Moltmann was saying stuff that I already knew, either from church or Bible study groups, or from reading evangelical books and tracts.  Then, Moltmann got really deep, and I wasn't entirely understanding his argument, particularly when he was addressing the issue of self-consciousness and interacting with the thoughts of Fichte and Kant.  When he was interacting with New Testament scholarship----such as Bultmann and the question of whether or not Jesus was a Zealot----I felt that I found more secure territory, in terms of my ability to follow what he was saying.  Still, I had a hunch that I might be missing something.  My reading of the rest of the book vacillated between being on fairly secure territory and feeling that Moltmann was repeating the obvious, yet, every now and then, Moltmann would say something that I didn't understand at all.

What this book is about is the significance of Jesus' crucifixion.  Moltmann discusses a variety of ways that Jesus' crucifixion was significant: that it expiated sins, and that it was an example of political oppression and thus teaches us about the importance of social justice.  For Moltmann, Jesus' resurrection indicated the dawn of a new era, the early stages of the eschatological defeat of evil, and that is what sets Jesus apart from other figures who have died for a cause.  Yet, Moltmann seems to believe that Christians should not rush through the crucifixion to get to the resurrection, for the crucifixion is indeed important.

What seems to be of particular importance to Moltmann is that God suffered when Jesus was suffering and dying on the cross.  For Moltmann, God the Father was in anguish during this event, and maybe Jesus' divine nature was suffering as well.  Believe it or not, this is actually a controversial position within Christian theology.  I talk in my posts here and here about the heresy of patripassionism, and the widespread view within ancient Christian theology that God cannot suffer.  Learning about this before I wrote those two posts was quite new to me, not to mention surprising, for I had often heard within my Christian sub-culture that God suffered, that God had emotions, that we could get through our pain in life remembering that there is a God who understands because he himself suffered.  Moltmann is defending what I had long taken for granted, before encountering positions to the contrary.  (I should also note that, while Moltmann at least on one occasion in the book seems to criticize Judaism as legalistic, he does affirm that Judaism at least has a concept of a God who suffers, which, he laments, is lacking within certain Christian beliefs.)

For a long time, the Greek notions of deity that early Christianity would absorb did not make much sense to me.  I heard or read theologians who said that God could not change his mind or suddenly start having a feeling that he did not have before because God is perfect, and, if God changed his mind or had a new feeling, that would imply that he previously was not perfect.  The implication seems to be that God has to be the same perfect way all of the time.  But that didn't make much sense to me, and it still doesn't.  Why can't there be different ways to be perfect?  Why does perfection have to be static?  If God is happy one moment and angry the next, that doesn't mean that God is ever imperfect, for God's happiness is rooted in righteousness, as is his anger.  In my opinion, God can feel different things at different times, and still be perfect (or at least righteous).

On one occasion in the book, Moltmann actually explains why there were ancient Christians who believed that God could not feel.  They thought that God's love had to be based on God being dispassionate, on God not having the neediness and desires that human beings have.  I have to admit that I think that there is something to this, and I wish that Moltmann had addressed it in more detail.  I don't think that we should have to toss out completely the notion that God has emotions, however, to believe in a God of disinterested love, a God who is not clingy and needy but who truly values our enhancement and well-being.  (God in the Bible often appears to me to be needy, insecure, and touchy, but I don't want to get too deeply into that in this post.)

I'll stop here.

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