Jergen Moltmann, April 8, 1926
(age 92 years)
Every Christmas I used to read this book, The Crucified God (Jurgan Motlmann*). I haven't read it in a few years because in 2007 we had an apartment foold and I haven't seen my copy since. Last a mentioned this and a good friend sent me a new copy! I'm reading it again now. It's one of the best books to read for Christmas because it sets the atonement in context with the incarnation and orients it in Hegelian fashion toward the resurrection as a synthesis of incarnation by the father and rejection by the father.. This book has it all, moving passages that reflect for of and for Christ, and abstruse theological and philosophical points that only a seminarian could love, and a German cultural bias. Hot dog (Wienerschnitzel) it's just made for Christmas.
Christmas is about the baby Jesus and celebrating his birth. Yet lurking behind this innocent facade is the brunt of Christian Trinitarian theology. The whole point of baby Jesus is the cross and the empty tomb. Why did he manifest in hsitory as a man (beginning as baby) but to die on the cross for the sin of the world and raise from the dead. Why do that anyway? what's it all about. That's the true point of Christmas. The holiday is the hopeful side of it all because it starts with unffulled potential of the baby Jesus and looks forward to what he will do in the future when he grows up. The resurrection is positive but not hopeful because it's the fruition of the thing. It' not hoping in something its obtaining it. The Christmas story is hope becuase it looks to the future.
I am going to do at least two if not more summaries of Moltmann's book and I hope the reader will get hold of a copy. There is an online copy on Google books the reader can use now. It's not complete and I hope the reader will buy a copy or at least go to the library and get a copy.
The time I was leaving Perkins (school of theology SMU--1990) Moltmann was being called "the greatest living Protestant theologian." I don't know who get's that title today, as far as I know Moltmann is still alive. He was born in Hamberg in 1926. His family was secular. He grew up interested in German Idealism and philosophy. He was drafted at 18 in 1944 and taken prisoner at the end of the war. Those experienced started him on a theological search. He studied at Göttingen University under Barthian influenced teachers. Something of a rarity he is a Calvinist not a Lutheran. The kind of Calvinist he is I have only encountered in seminary. I would call thm "liberal." Predestination is not important to them. I guess they are neo-orthodox that's what Barth was. He was not a Calvinist.
Moltmann first gained recognition in the mid 60s with his ground breaking work Theology of Hope.(on line text). The Crucified God came out in 68 it coincided with the times. 1968 was a seminal year for the coutner culture and the political movements from Parish (May 68) to Mexico (the massacre of the students at the university in Mexico City), the the riots at Columbia (in New York). Not to mention the police riot at the Dem's convention in Chicago. The Crucified God served as a justification theologically for taking part in the protests. It served as a lunching pad for the liberation theology and the struggles of Latin America. Moltmann was no sooner hailed as a liberation theologian than he was denounced by those wishing to lead such movements and feeling their third world origins deprived them of leadership. They disparaged his contribution. Moltmann was undaunted because he didn't care about leading he cared about the struggle.
The reason the book serves in this way was a liberation is becuase of the new light it sheds on the atonement. Motlmann changes the focus on the meaning of atonement from the efficacy of the act itself to the meaning of the act and it's wider implications due to that meaning. This is not a spoiler.It is the crux of the book. You get this concept here you know what the book says it's still well worth reading in my opinion. This is no more a spoiler than revealing that the allies win in the movie The Longest Day. It's a concept I have called participatory atonement. I've talked about it on this blog I have a page about on Doxa, it's my view of the atonement.
The basic idea is that the atonement is not a commercial transaction or a work of magic. It's not because Jesus shed blood that it atones but because the act itself is a statement of solidarity. It is in creating a mutual solidarity between us and God that the ground for forgiveness is created. That means if we are in solidarity, we signify this by acceptance of God's statement of solidarity, that is by placing faith in Jesus act of atonement, we are in solidarity with God and we can't be held in condemnation.
To get to this point Moltmann begins by talking about Christian identity. He asks where should we find a Christian on Sunday morning? Should we find one in the pew doing the religoius thing? Or should we find one on the barricades fighting the government? He concludes we should find a Christian on the barricades (very 60s you see). This is more than just a sense of identification "I am a Christian and I feel good about it." But the question of "what makes one a Christian?" Doctrine alone doesn't do it, he finds. Of course we know just taking part in ceremony and being present in chruch doesn't' do it. Just touting a doctrine is not personal it doesn't engage one's life. Moltmann finds that living God's love engages our lives in the sense of identity. We live that by taking God's act of solidarity into the world. So having solidarity with the poor ourselves is an expression of God's act of solidarity for all humanity.
There's a lot more going on here than just "live out your faith by being a protester." In this coming I'll try to unpack it. I hope as the reader reads all of this that he/she will think about it in relation to Christmas as the celebration of all of Christ's work not just his birth. WE embrace the hope of the infant in the manger becasue we know how the story wound up.
Moltmann has no mockish sentiments comparing bogus stories about kings sacrificing their sons, nor does he communicate the meaning of cross by multiplying examples of the physical torment a crucifixion victim undergoes. Those are all third rate apologetic and they have no place in Moltmann's thinking. Moltmann talks about the eschatological meaning of the cross. He had already laid down the most sophisticated eschatology in his first groundbreaking work Theology of Hope. He goes on to talk about the meaning of the cross in terms of the solidarity statement.
The participation of Christ in the life of humanity creates the basis for God's solidarity. Other martyr figures died for their noble causes but Jesus did not die for a noble cause. No one understood that he was making a statement of God's solidarity. He was tagged as a blasphemer by the religious authorities and he was being crucified as a criminal with criminals. It was understood that his cause was political power and he was labeled as such. Thus he was not sen as atoning for the sins of the world but as another misguided terrorist who tried to take power and didn't make it. He was crucified among thieves which to the masses "this guy is no better than a thief."
Atheists on message boards sometimes go through gyrations trying to deny that the atonement meant anything. They will say "that was no sweat for God. He was invulnerable like superman and so he didn't feel a thing." Motlmann doesn't mention atheists but that kind of response, which carries all the subtly and sensitivity of a lynch mob, is totally inapplicable. Even though Moltmann doesn't talk about the physical torturer of the cross he illustrates the devastating nature of its meaning in the abandonment by God. This is not an attempt to say "see Jesus really suffered after all." The God haters who long to think of God as suffering will have to be disappointed. The issue of solidarity is not an issue of "did he really suffer?" Instead it's an issue abandonment.
Jesus was abandoned by God. Moltmann makes that point in showing that only one evangelist records that cry "my God, my God why have you forsaken me?" The others all soften it up (Luke, Matt, John). They change it to "into thy hands I commend my spirit," or "it is finished." Mark records the original abandonment cry and Jesus life ends there. Jesus dies abandoned by God. He has no noble cause to die for, he's labeled and classed at the lowest level of society, and dies misunderstood and alone. Moltmann is not wallowing in how much he suffered because the abandonment plays a much more important role in the drama of salvation. It's not that it gives Jesus "street cred" as suffering. It links him to humanity. It establishes the solidarity because he died as a man at the lowest level of humanity, tragically and alone, as we die. He was a man and he died as men die. He felt abandoned by God as we all feel and as some of us feel in extreme measure.
Of cousre that sets up the hope of the resurrection.
As Paul says:
...all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were Baptized into his death.? We were therefore buried with him in baptism into death in order that just as Christ was raised from the death through the glory of the father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him in his death we will certainly be united with him in his resurrection.For we know that the old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be rendered powerless, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.--because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.Now if we have died with Christ we believe that we will also live with him, for we know that since Christ was raised from the dead he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him; the death he died to sin he died once for all; but the life he lives he lives to God. In the same way count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Chrsit Jesus.(Romans 6:1-5)
As I express it on my website doxa:
Jurgen Moltmann's notion of Solidarity (see The Crucified God) is based upon the notion of Political solidarity. Christ died in Solidarity with victims. He took upon himself a political death by purposely angering the powers of the day. Thus in his death he identifies with victims of oppression. But we are all vitims of oppression. Sin has a social dimension, the injustice we experience as the hands of society and social and governmental institutions is primarily and at a very basic level the result of the social aspects of sin. Power, and political machinations begin in the sinful heart, the ego, the desire for power, and they manifest themselves through institutions built by the will to power over the other. But in a more fundamental sense we are all victims of our own sinful natures. We scheme against others on some level to build ourselve up and secure our conditions in life. IN this sense we cannot help but do injustice to others. In return injustice is done to us.Jesus died in solidarity with us, he underwent the ultimate consequences of living in a sinful world, in order to demonstrate the depths of God's love and God's desire to save us. Take an analogy from political organizing. IN Central America governments often send "death squads" to murder labor unionists and political dissenter. IN Guatemala there were some American organizations which organized for college students to go to Guatemala and escourt the leaders of dissenting groups so that they would not be murdered.When we put ourselves into Christ's death and reckon ourselves dead with him then we are in solidarity with God and that puts in the stream of the hope of resurrection which is real and truly had through Christ's actual resurrection. That is the real meaning of Christmas.
The logic was that the death squads wouldn't hurt an American Student because it would bring bad press and shut off U.S. government funds to their military. As disturbing as these political implications are, let's stay focused on the Gospel. Jesus is like those students, and like some of them, he was actually killed. But unlike them he went out of his way to be killed, to be victimized by the the rage of the sinful and power seeking so that he could illustrate to us the desire of God; that God is on our side, God is on the side of the poor, the victimized, the marginalized, and the lost. Jesus said "a physician is not sent to the well but to the sick."The key to salvation is to accept God's statement of solidarity, to express our solidarity with God by placing ourselves into the death of Christ (by identification with it, by trust in it's efficacy for our salvation).