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A Broad Place: An Autobiography Hardcover – November 1, 2007
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About the Author
Moltmann's book The Coming of God: Christian Eschatology received the 2000 Grawemeyer Award
- Item Weight : 1.9 pounds
- Hardcover : 400 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0800662148
- ISBN-13 : 978-0800662141
- Dimensions : 6.25 x 1.25 x 9 inches
- Publisher : Fortress Press (November 1, 2007)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #2,869,080 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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For a theologian such as Moltmann, an autobiography may be the proper place to explore a theology, for his theology is not so much the working out of a theological system as it is a series of theological reflections on a life journey. His journey begins in the context of a secular German family. It is liberal but also nationalistic. His is a family of teachers, and there is nothing in that early biography that would suggest that he, a person without God or a church, would become one of the leading theologians of the second half of the 20th century and early decades of the 21st century. Yet, a war and time as a prisoner of war would provide an opportunity for an encounter with God in Jesus Christ that would transform his life and that of many others.
World War II raised important questions in his mind - including why he survived, when friends did not, and where God was in the midst of the terrors of war. As he was trying to put his life back together in a POW camp in Scotland, he was handed a Bible, and that Bible provided a starting point for seeking the answers to those questions. The texts that spoke most clearly to him were Psalm 39, which offers a cry of lamentation, and Jesus' cry on the cross found in Mark's Gospel - "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me."
In this early reflection on the Scriptures you see the seeds of a theology of hope and a theology of the crucified God, the fellow sufferer who reveals God's love to you. But more was to come, as the life of a Christian, a pastor, and a theologian began in earnest.
A Broad Place is a first person account of a life lived in the theological and ecclesial world. It alternates summations of his best-known works and projects with accounts of family, travels, conferences, debates, feuds, and academic politics. If one has never read Moltmann, this may be a good place to start, even if it is rather long. But by reading this, one better understands the nature of Moltmann's theology and even his theological method. What one must do is not get bogged down in the names and dates and places. Moltmann does drop a lot of names, many of whom most American readers will likely not know. But even here there is a richness, because the reader realizes that his theological reflections have emerged out of real life conversations and experiences. His was not a life spent in the study, but was lived in public.
In the course of a long and distinguished career, in which Moltmann has reached the pinnacle of greatness, he has touched upon most of the major doctrinal issues, but he has not left us, and doesn't plan to leave us, with a system. That isn't his way, which may be a good thing. Although hope and eschatology are key concepts in his theology, it would be wrong to try to force his theology into a box called a "theology of hope." His is Trinitarian, Christ-centered, Spirit-centered. It is a political theology and a public one. It's influenced by Barth, but has gone beyond Barth. It is rooted in the Reformed tradition, but especially his view of the Trinity has been influenced by the Eastern church. It has engaged liberation theology, but isn't liberationist per se - he recognizes his white male, first person context out of which he writes. It is distinctly Christian, but not in a triumphalist way. He was influenced by his encounters with the Marxism of his late Tübingen University colleague Ernst Bloch, but he's not a Marxist. He has been touched by and influenced by, perhaps more than by any other person, the thoughts and work of his wife, a theologian of note in her own right, Elisabeth Moltmann Wendell. Just a note on his wife, she was a doctoral student at Gottingen, working under Otto Weber, even before he was.
Reading the book, especially in preparation for attending a conference in which the author was the featured presenter, gives a good sense of the person. Having read widely in his corpus of works over the years, incorporating many ideas as a result, the book provides context for these works - including ones I've not read or at least not read deeply enough. Perhaps it goes with the genre, but the book reveals a man of deep faith, but also a bit of vanity. He can be hurt and offended by critics, and he can offer some criticisms of his own. There is a bit of the name dropper as well. But again, that's to be expected. He has traveled widely - and the book has a bit of the travel-log in it as well - and knows or knew many important people. He has received many honors, some of which he shares.
Although written in the golden years of life, the story is not yet complete. There are chapters still to be written, but the life lived so far has been influential on the lives of many of us, even if we have only known him through his many published works. If you have interest in Moltmann, then this is a book that needs to be read.
In the second chapter of this 2007 book, he recalls that in 1943, “my youthful years were marked by the state youth movement… and the Hitler Youth, by confirmation classes, and a dancing class… and for all three I was wholly unsuited and somewhat too young… Once I had to attend a Hitler Youth camp … It was an appalling time… The experience strengthened my conviction that I was not born to be one of a mass, and my determination to be alone rather than to be ordered about. In 1943 the Nazi hullabaloo was over for me and was replaced by the military lunacy.” (Pg. 13)
He recounts how as a soldier, “an explosive bomb hit the platform where we were standing with our useless firing device… and tore apart my friend Gerhard Schopper, who was standing next to me… Everyone looked at me as if I were a miracle, somehow risen from the dead… More bombs fell… and destroyed the platforms and landing stages. Finally, I found myself on a plank in the water and pulled myself out with the help of one of the stilts. During that night I cried out to God for the first time in my life and put my life in his hands… My question was not, ‘Why does God allow this to happen?’ but, ‘My God, where are you?’ And there was the other question, the answer to which I am still looking for today: Why am I live and not dead, too, like the friend at my side? I felt the guilt of survival and searched for the meaning of continued life. I knew that there had to be come reason why I was still alive. During that night I became a seeker after God.” (Pg. 17)
He became a POW at the end of the war. He laments, “In September 1945 we were confronted in the camp with picture of the Belsen and Buchenwald concentration camps… slowly and inexorably the truth seeped into our consciousness, and we saw ourselves in the eyes of the Nazi victims. Was this what we had fought for? Was my generation the last of many to have been driven to death so that the concentration camp murderers could go on killing and so that Hitler could live a few months longer?... Depression over the wartime destruction and a captivity with no end in sight was compounded by a feeling of profound shame at having to share in shouldering the disgrace of one’s own people. That really choked me, and the weight of it has never left me to the present day.” (Pg. 29)
He began theological studies, and became a pastor. “With my doctorate, I at first felt a fool standing in the pulpit in front of this farming congregation. But earlier I had lived with workers and farmers in ‘the hard school of life,’ and it was out of these experiences that I preached, not from my Göttingen lecture notes. This congregation taught me ‘the shared theology of all believers,’ the theology of the people. Unless academic theology continually turns back to this theology of the people, it becomes abstract and irrelevant. For the fact is that theology … is a task laid on the whole people of God, all congregations and every believer… These farmers were not interested in questions about the meaning of life … They trusted in God and loved the Ten Commandments. When my elders rolled their eyes, I knew that I had lost them. So they guided me and preached to me.” (Pg. 59)
He says, “In January 1958 I heard from the Church Seminary… that they had a vacancy… I held two probationary lectures there and was soon accepted… For me a decisive questions was that I should teach, and what direction my theological interests should take. I remember… putting the question before [his wife] Elizabeth: either to offer lectures on Zwingli and his theology… or to lecture on the history of hope for the kingdom of God… Encouraged by Elizabeth, I took up the challenge and threw myself into ‘the kingdom of God,’ not knowing that this theme---the future---would keep me on the move for the rest of my life.” (Pg. 66-67)
He notes, “In 1964 the ‘Theology of Hope’ met its [time/season]. The subject was, so to speak, in the air… In the Second Vatican Council… the civil rights movement… a Christian revolutionary spirit was abroad… Common to all these new beginnings was hope: with the power of hope one could let go of the old and begin something new…. We sought out changes for the better because we expected the good… We linked the forward-looking hope in history with eschatological expectations, which went beyond historical possibilities and human powers.” (Pg. 99-100)
He became friends with fellow theologian Johann Baptist Metz: “We very quickly came into lively contact with the liberation theology that was growing up in Latin America, with the rebellious black theology in the USA… We shared the forward hope of the new eschatology and political commitment to the liberation of the oppressed and the victims of institutionalized violence. For Metz and myself these two factors have remained. What is a thing of the past, however, is the over-valuation of the political aspect as ‘the total’… The political and military East-West conflict ended in 1989, but its place was taken by the globalization of the economy and the total marketing of everything and every relationship… today politics are regulated by the economy… whereas politics are still persistently national. Theology ‘with its face turned towards the world’ must therefore also become an economic and ecological theology if it wishes to take on the forces of our time.” (Pg. 157-158)
Of his book ‘The Crucified God,’ he comments, “I had long been preoccupied with a theology of the cross, before the theology of hope. I had come to the Christian faith in God through fellowship with the assailed Jesus… But the traditional interpretation of sin, sacrifice, and grace did not reach into the depths of my experiences of death. I was still unliberated… When I began to take the history of Jesus’ crucifixion seriously in a personal sense, I had to read Golgotha, the darkness of Good Friday, and Jesus’ dark night of the soul together with my own  annihilating experience, and in this way I was able to find myself again in Jesus’ history… ‘Where is God?’ That was my existential question, the question which took me to the theology of the cross. The possible theodicy question did not interest me.” (Pg. 189-190)
He notes, “Because I did not grow up in a church, that church was not for me a matter of course. As pastor, too, I tried to answer the questions, What is the church, and what is it there for?... In the 1970s there was a powerful movement for reform in the German Protestant regional churches. Its aim was to get away from the pastoral church for looking after people, and to move towards a congregational church, a community. The aim was no longer to be a church FOR the people, but to become a church OF the people… Our question was not as yet whether a congregational structure of this kind could exist at all in conjunction with binding participation in a regional church, with varying degrees of commitment, down to general non-commitment. That question arose only in the aftermath of disappointments.” (Pg. 202)
He summarizes, “I have often asked myself what really happened to me during the years from 1980 until 1994, the last 15 years of my life as a professor of theology… At that time I tried theologically to follow up the new approaches of the theology of hope, the theology of the cross, and Trinitarian thinking by sorting out my various fragments… That was the beginning of my Systematic Contributions to Theology. They are provisionally final configurations of an ongoing work, uncompleted…” (Pg. 285) Later, he adds, “In the 1980s my life changed radically… Elizabeth and I found a joint task. Masculine and feminist theology… became a ‘joint theology.’ We began to develop joint lectures and to learn to talk about God as a woman and a man, with mutual respect and sufficient self-respect. That… anticipates a future of which at present we can still see but little.” (Pg. 321)
He says of Hans Küng: “Küng’s conflict with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome dragged on for years and concerned us deeply… I always admired his readiness to react at once to all criticism, and never to become resigned… Jüngel and I organized a declaration of our Protestant faculty in his defense… But after the Christmas holidays … Küng lost the support of the majority of his [Catholic] faculty, which hurt him most of all… Afterwards, Jüngel and I continually encouraged Küng to go on giving his dogmatic lectures in spite of everything, even though only a few Catholic students would come. But he shifted the emphasis of his work… inter-religious dialogue became important for him… Elizabeth, Jüngel and I accompanied him respectfully along this path, whether he liked it or not.” (Pg. 372-.373)
He concludes, “I have written this story of my life for all those to whom I am bound in life’s closer circles and its less close ones… But in the end I have to admit that in writing I simply had delight in the telling, and pleasure in the writing.” (Pg. 382)
This is a fascinating and insightful book, that will be “must reading” for anyone seriously studying Moltmann, or 20th century theology.