Next week I’m going to tell you the top 5 reasons why I love Moltmann. (Believe me, I could list thousands, but I’ll just give you the top five.) For now, though, I’ll point out one example of Moltmannian genius for you that I like to call WWF Smackdown Moments. These smackdown moments are defined as instances when (in my opinion) Moltmann fixes an entire theological debate in a single leap (or a few sentences)…and then goes off to have his breakfast.
I apologize in advance for greatly simplifying the complexity of this smackdown in its full context, but I won’t bore those of you who aren’t theology nerds. First, a little background- in 1934 Karl Barth and Emil Brunner had a rather famous debate over natural theology. Brunner believed, as a proponent of natural theology, that humanity can see/experience God revealed in nature and that these experiences can lead to faith. He felt Barth’s emphasis on sola Scriptura was overstated and wrote him a letter explaining how natural theology did not necessarily have to be in contest with the Reformed “solas” (sola Scriptura, sola gratia, etc.). Barth’s not-so-subtle answer? “Nein!” He wrote Brunner back with a letter of the same name and asserted that humanity can only know God and come to faith through God’s grace. Thus the debate raged for years, their two opinions polarizing further and further out.
Enter Moltmann, who in his Theology of Hope argued that the entire basis of their argument (which intersects with his re-definition of “history”) was actually misplaced, and therefore both of them were wrong. The problem, in an oversimplified nutshell, was that they were arguing on the proper basis of faith (where does faith begin?), which is an annoyingly self-centered (and modern) question. Moltmann was far more interested in asking a different question altogether- where is this faith headed? Moltmann says, “A natural theology…in which God is manifest and demonstrable to every [hu]man, is not the presupposition of Christian faith, but the future goal of Christian hope. This universal and immediate presence of God is not the source from which faith comes, but the end to which it is on the way” (TOH, p.282).
If you read the pages around this argument, they are so unbelievably hopeful and so properly missional that you cannot help but laugh at the haughtiness of the entire natural theology debate. Why in the world did they waste so much time on such a navel-gazing question when the whole “problem” could be fixed simply by moving the question from the origin of faith to the future goal of faith?!
Barth and Brunner, consider yourselves smacked down. ZING.