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Theology of Hope Paperback – September 1, 1993
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"A stimulating and important book, a 'must' for every theological student and every preacher who wishes to become acquainted with the most significant movement in contemporary continental theology." --Langdon Gilkey, The Christian Century
Text: English (translation)
Original Language: German
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He states in the Preface, “The following efforts bear the title Theology of Hope, not because they set out once again to present eschatology as a separate doctrine ... Rather, their aim is to show how theology can set out from hope and begin to consider its theme in an eschatological light. For this reason they enquire into the ground of the hope of Christian faith and into the responsible exercise of this hope in thought and action in the world today.”
He wrote in the Introduction, “Eschatology was long called the ‘doctrine of last things’ or the ‘doctrine of the end.’ By these last things were meant … the judgment of the world and the consummation of the kingdom, the general resurrection of the dead and the new creation of all things… these teachings about the end led a peculiarly barren existence at the end of Christian dogmatics…They bore no relation to the doctrines of the cross and the resurrection… and did not derive from these by any logical necessity… The more Christianity became an organization … under the auspices of the Roman state religion… the more eschatology … [was] left to fanatical sects and revolutionary groups. Owing to the fact that Christian faith banished from its life the future hope… hope emigrated as it were from the Church and turned in one distorted form or another against the Church…
“In actual fact, however, eschatology means the doctrine of the Christian hope… Christianity is eschatology, is hope… and therefore also revolutionizing and transforming the present. The eschatological … is the medium of Christian faith as such… the eschatological outlook is characteristic of all Christian proclamation… and of the whole Church. There is therefore only one real problem in Christian theology… the problem of the future…. 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.” (Pg. 15-16)
He observes, “Christian faith… means tuning in to the nearness of God in which Jesus lived and worked, for living amid the simple, everyday things of today is of course living in the fulness of time and living in the nearness of God. To grasp the never-returning moment, to be wholly one with oneself, wholly self-possessed and on the mark, is what is meant by ‘God.’ The concepts of God which are constructed in remoteness from God and in his absence fall to pieces in his nearness, so that to be wholly present means that ‘God’ happens, for the ‘happening’ of the uncurtailed present is the happening of God.” (Pg. 30)
He suggests, “Christian theology has one way in which it can prove its truth by reference to the reality of man and the reality of the world that concerns man---namely, by accepting the questionableness of human existence and the questionableness of reality as a whole and taking them up into that eschatological questionableness of human nature and the world which is disclosed by the event of the promise. ‘Threatened by death’ and ‘subjected to vanity’---that is the expression of our universal experience of existence and the world. ‘In hope’—that is manifestly the way in which Christian theology takes up these questions and directs them to the promised future of God.” (Pg. 94)
He points out, “But in the message of the prophets there still remains at first one boundary---death. As long as death is felt to be the natural boundary of life, God remains a God of the living. But if death… is experienced as exclusion from the promise of fulness and consummation of life, and thus as an effect of judgment, then the hope of the overcoming of God’s judgment by his life-creating glory must be exemplified also in relation to this boundary. Hence on the periphery of the prophetic message death appears as a suffering of divine judgment, and the messianic salvation in which the judgment is annulled is exemplified in a conquest of dying and of death… Only when the horizon of expectation extends beyond … the bounds of death, does it reach an ‘eschaton’… The universalizing of the promise finds its eschaton in the promise of Yahweh’s lordship over all peoples. The intensification of the promise finds its approach to the eschatological in the negation of death.” (Pg. 131-132)
He argues, “It is plain that the ecstasy of Christian mystery religion has its presupposition in an apocalyptic ecstasy which was a feature of primitive Christianity, and which thought to perceive in the experience of the Spirit the fulfillment of long awaited promises. This non-Hellenistic, apocalyptic ecstasy, which arose from the consciousness of living in the age of the fulfillment of the divine promises, was then certainly able later on to identify this fulfillment with the timeless epiphany of the eternal presence of God. It was theologically able to take the original, temporal and teleological statements about the fulfillment of promises and translate them into timeless types of the presence of the eternal.” (Pg. 156)
He notes, “the Easter appearances of the risen Christ… require the development of a new eschatology. The resurrection has set in motion an eschatologically determined process of history, whose goal is the annihilation of death in the victory of the life of the resurrection, and which ends in that righteousness in which God receives in all things his due and the creature thereby finds its salvation… only an eschatology of promise … takes the trials, the contradictions and the godlessness of this world seriously in a meaningful way, because it makes faith and obedience possible in the world … by enabling us to believe and obey on the ground of our hope in the overcoming of these contradictions by God.” (Pg. 163)
He acknowledges, “The first question regarding the reality of the resurrection of Christ will always be concerned with the fact which is reported and proclaimed by the Easter witnesses… the question as to the reality of this event will in the first instance take the form of a historical question… the Easter narratives themselves compel us to ask about the reality of the event of which they tell … There can be no forbidding the attempt to go behind their kerygma and ask about the reality which underlies their statements and makes them dependable and credible.” (Pg 172-173)
Later, he adds, “the event of the raising of Christ from the dead is an event which is understood only in the modus of promise. It has its time still ahead of it, is grasped as a ‘historic phenomenon’ only in its relation to ITS future, and mediates to those who know it a future towards which they have to move in history. Hence the reports of the resurrection will always have to be read also eschatologically in the light of the question, ‘What may I hope for?’” (Pg. 190) He continues, “The Easter appearances of Christ are manifestly phenomena of vocation. That is why the knowledge of Jesus Christ and the knowledge of his mission and future coincide in them.” (Pg. 195)
He admits, “None of the Easter narratives goes back any further than to the appearance of the risen Lord. Nowhere is the actual process of the raising of Jesus described in a historicizing or mythological way. What actually happened… is left in the darkness of the still unknown and still hidden God… What ‘resurrection of the dead’ really is, and what ‘actually happened’ in the raising of Jesus, is this a thing which not even the New Testament Easter narratives profess to know… they argue to the event in between as an eschatological event for which the verifying analogy is as yet only in prospect and is still to come.” (Pg. 197)
He goes on, “The fundamental event in the Easter appearances than manifestly lies in the revelation of the identity and continuity of Jesus in the total contradiction of the cross and resurrection, of god-forsakenness and the nearness of God. That is why the whole New Testament can assert that the disciples at Easter did not see a new heavenly Being of some kind, but Jesus himself.” (Pg. 199) He summarizes, “What happened between the cross and the Easter appearances is then an eschatological event which has its goal in future revelation and universal fulfillment. It points beyond itself, and even beyond Jesus, to the coming revelation of the glory of God.” (Pg. 201)
He states, “By the revelation of the risen Lord the men involved were identified with the mission of Jesus and thus placed in the midst of a history which is instituted and determined by the mission of Jesus and by his future as revealed and made an object of hope in the fore-glow of Easter. The perceiving of the event of resurrection which took place in him thus led by logical necessity to a perception of their own mission and their own future… The titles of Christ which are used to express it anticipate his future… They are stirred and stirring ideas of mission, which seek to point men to their work in the world and their hope in the future of Christ.” (Pg. 202)
He suggests, “[Jesus’] resurrection must then be understood not as a mere return to life as such, but as a conquest of the deadliness of death---as a conquest of god-forsakenness, as a conquest of judgment and of the curse, as a beginning of the fulfillment of the promised life, and thus as a conquest of all that id dead in death… as a negation of the negation of God… To recognize the event of the resurrection of Christ is therefore to have a hopeful and expectant knowledge of this event. It means recognizing in this event the latency of that eternal life which in the praise of God arises from the negation of the negative, from the raising of the one who was crucified and the exultation of the one who was forsaken… It means following the intention of God by entering into the dialectic of suffering and dying in expectation of eternal life and resurrection.” (Pg. 211)
He asserts, “But if the raising of Jesus from the dead is thus a constitutive part of the Christian message of the kingdom, then it is hardly possible any longer for the latter to be concentrated on its ‘meaning for existence’ and existentially ethicized, but then it is essential to take the universal horizon of hope and promise embracing all things and develop it just as widely as apocalyptic had done… Hence we ought not to speak only of divine LORDSHIP… but we should also speak again of the KINGDOM of God, and so bring out the all-embracing eschatological breadth of this future, into which the mission and the love of Christ leave the man of hope.” (Pg. 220)
He says, “The Church is then an absolutely non-worldly phenomenon, which in contrast to the planned society of rational ends is described in the categories of ‘community.’ It is then still possible to speak of the Christian Church’s responsibility for ‘the world,’ but hardly any longer of Christian callings in the world. Yet it must surely be plainly recognized that such a church… cannot disturb the official doings of this society and certainly cannot alter them---indeed, it is hardly any longer even a real partner for the social institutions…. Nor does the emphasis on the genuineness and authenticity of life in this personal community prevent Christian neighborliness being brought to a social standstill.”
He concludes, “As a result of this hope in God’s future, this present world becomes free in believing eyes from all attempts at self-redemption or self-production through labor, and it becomes open for loving, ministering self-expenditure in the interests of a humanizing of conditions and in the interests of the realization of justice in the light of the coming justice of God. This means, however, that the hope of resurrection must bring about a new understanding of the world… The world is not yet finished, but is understood as engaged in a history. It is therefore the world of possibilities… The glory of self-realization and the misery of self-estrangement alike arise from hopelessness in a world of lost horizons. To disclose to it the horizon of the future of the crucified Christ is the task of the Christian Church.” (Pg. 338)
This book will be virtual “must reading” for anyone seriously studying contemporary theology.
Peace with God results in conflict with the world, not escape from it. Because we see the hope of God’s promises being fulfilled, we are impatient in unrest until we see the promise fulfilled. This unrest is quite different from despair, which my world-view tends to cause because it lacks confidence. Moltmann points out the the medieval sin of accidie is the opposite of belief in the eschaton. Chrysostom identifies despair as that which plunges us into disaster. Rev. 21:8 puts 'fearful' before other sins like idolatry. Despair can lead us into revolutionary millenarianism, which is a tendency I have. Unrest must be a Christian trait because God leads us to new things all the time, going on before us. Faith torments and stimulates us whereas cynicism and resignation destroys us. The Judaeo-Christian view of history is opposed to the 'epiphany religions' that see divinity revealed in the midst of a transient world and enables us to escape from it to reality. The stress on this world, however, mustn't lead us to steal fire from the gods and build the kingdom ourselves, as I tend to see Christianity being called to do. Millenarianism has its roots in an 18th Century view of the world as machine - we become parts of the machine moving on and gaining momentum until all is accomplished. Reject that, and we are likely to existentialise the gospel and see it as a subjective 'becoming what I am', whereas Moltmann's Christianity is about 'becoming what I was made to be', which isn't the same thing. Creation of man in God's image has yet to be realised. In the resurrection of Jesus we see the first fruits of the process, but sin and death are still around for us. Our path to self-realisation, like Jesus's, involve the cross because we share Jesus's hope in the divine promise and we too feel ill at ease in the world and, thus, the world feels ill at ease with us around and tends to make martyrs of us at different ages and places.
In a section that contrasts prophecy and apocalyptic, Moltmann disagrees with the view that the prophets believed in a national destiny only and, when those hopes were dashed with the exile, apocalyptic developed, moving the promise on to the next world or the whole cosmos. He sees apocalyptic as a development from prophecy which widens its scope. Bad apocalyptic tends to see the process of blind fate but there is much in apocalyptic generally that is exhortatory, so man is still called to repentance as he was by the prophets. The picture that emerges as I reassess my eschatological world view is one where history has a purpose and where God will ensure that this purpose is realised, but he will does this in co-operatic with us. We are free to become agents of the kingdom-building or not. It is not that the kingdom will come automatically, nor that we have to build it. Rather, God builds it and we are amongst his agents. We achieve self-realisation when we align ourselves to his will because that is the path to becoming fully human, to be what we were created to be. To think we have to build the kingdom all on our own is to become gods, not to be fully human.
The Christian hope is based upon the resurrection of Christ as the first fruits of the end-process. It is a 'real' event, not a subjective faith-experience as some form critics would suggest. To speak of the resurrection in existentialist terms is to foist our ideas back on to the 1st Century, which is ignorant of history. Something happened which was entirely new and for which no language existed to express it. That event calls into question our scientific world view - there is a reality which is not envisaged in our thought and picture of reality. The Christian hope, thus, exceeds 'secular' hopes like Marx's classless Utopia. If and when Marx's world is reached, the eschatological hope will still be leading us further ahead.
The importance for the Christian view of history that eschatological perspectives give is that the Christian is swimming in the tide of history but has his head out of the water. Salvation is not attempting to escape out of the water, nor is it abandonment to the flow of the eater; it is a knowledge of the tide's direction and the living of a life-style, of concern with issues to do with the humanization of mankind and the peace of society, by membership of the church which sacramentally embodies these insights in its community life and by living and working in secular society - this makes for our being more fully human because we are no', to change the metaphor, going against the grain.
I like particularly Moltmann's statement that secularisation is not an apostasy frm but a fulfilment of the Christian hope insofar as the 'state' has taken and over and promoted many of the church's functions w education, medical care, social work &c.