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Jürgen Moltmann (1926-2024): “His influence on Protestant theology has had a great impact”

German theologian J. Hutter analyses his theology from an evangelical perspective: “Moltmann's emphasis on experience and reason leads to a dilution of biblical teaching”.

FUENTES Protestante Digital AUTOR 45/Jonatan_Soriano,5/Evangelical_Focus 07 DE JUNIO DE 2024 17:19 h
Jürgen Moltmann died at the age of 98. / Photo: [link]Facebook World Council of Churches.[/link]

The German theologian Jürgen Moltmann died on 3 June at the age of 98 in Tübingen, where he had worked as a professor until his retirement in 1994.

Moltmann became a Christian after being recruited as a soldier in World War II and captured by the British. The horror of war, the Holocaust and the loss of friends were such a shock to him that his theology was clearly shaped by his experience at the war front.

Schooled in Göttingen, with teachers who had mostly been disciples of Karl Barth, his two most well-known works, Theology of Hope and The Crucified God, show his emphasis on an eschatology lived in the historical present and on the idea of the suffering God.


Suffering and hope

“Moltmann's influence on Protestant theology has undoubtedly had a great impact”, German theologian and writer José Hutter tells Spanish news website Protestante Digital. Hutter is a German who has served in the past as chair of the Theology Group of the Spanish Evangelical Alliance.

“With his work he shifted the focus from past events to the future promise of the kingdom of God. That emphasis on hope as a central theological theme resonated with many Christians searching for meaning and purpose in a world marked by suffering and injustice”, he adds.

Hutter underlines that “Moltmann challenged the traditional concept of God's impassibility and emphasised God's suffering in solidarity with humanity (...) This idea of a suffering God has influenced the liberation theology, feminist theology and other theological movements concerned with social justice and human suffering”, the evangelical theologian says.

Furthermore, "his work contributed to the development of political theology as a distinctive field of study, encouraging Christians to participate actively in pursuing a more just and equitable society”.


Controversial theological aspects

Despite having developed one of the most renowned academic careers in the field of theology during the 20th century, Hutter recalls that “Moltmann's theology has been deeply influenced not only by Christian faith, but also by philosophical trends such as socialism and existentialism”.

The Swiss theologian Armin Sierszyn defines his theology as a “symbiosis of biblical and Marxist thought”.

Hutter points out that, “like other 20th century rationalist theologians such as Bultmann, Käsemann and Pannenberg, Moltmann uses traditional theological vocabulary, often without explaining his redefinition of key concepts, which led to misleading many Christians unable to make sense of his different understanding of key concepts of the Christian faith”.

Like many who were influenced by the neo-orthodoxy of Karl Barth, his conception of the infallibility of Scripture cannot be considered evangelical. “Moltmann, for example, did not believe in the physical and historical resurrection of Jesus Christ”, says Hutter.

In his most famous work, Moltmann writes: “The resurrection of Jesus from the dead by God does not speak the language of facts, but only the language of faith and hope, i.e. the language of promise”.

For Hutter, “behind complex language for people with no philosophical or theological training, there are ideas that are deeply alien to the essentials of the Christian faith”.

“Evangelicals, who defend the authority and inerrancy of Scripture have often questioned Moltmann's theological method, which they perceive as prioritising experience and philosophical reflection over biblical exegesis”, he adds.

For Moltmann, the Bible is “a stimulus for one's own theological thinking' and not an 'authoritative model”.

“That is why he dismissed a large part of the Bible as irrelevant for the essence of faith”, underlines Hutter. “At the same time he admitted extra-biblical texts as long as they were in line with his theology”.


Experience and reason

“Moltmann's emphasis on experience and reason leads to a dilution of biblical teaching”, says Hutter, who also argues that “his idea of a suffering God questions the biblical doctrine of the immutability and omnipotence of God", and warns that "some of Moltmann's writings show a leaning towards universalism, the belief that all people will ultimately be saved”.

“That idea, clearly reflected in his theology, is in contradiction with the biblical doctrine that salvation comes exclusively through faith in Jesus Christ”, he stresses.

Despite the more controversial aspects of his theology, many evangelical scholars today appreciate Jürgen Moltamann's contribution and value his thought as that of one of the last great figures of 20th century theology.


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