Reason #3: He talks about the Trinity in a way that does not make me want to poke my eyes out.
If you haven’t noticed yet, I’m a theology nerd. But let me tell you- even I get supremely annoyed when theologians start theorizing about the Trinity…because what they say is mostly nonsense, and they know it. If you want to see some fancy tap-dancing, ask a theologian to explain to you this whole three-in-one concept without falling into pitfalls of heresy. (Ooooh, I’m sorry Rick, you’re disqualified for that misstep into modalism!)
Moltmann feels our pain. He writes, “It is difficult enough to believe that there is a God at all and to live accordingly. Does the belief in the Trinity not make the religious life even more difficult, and quite unnecessarily?” (The Trinity and the Kingdom, p.1) But Moltmann is not one to back down from a challenge. His contributions to trinitarian theology have been incredibly profound, and there’s no way I can summarize them with justice here. (If you’re coming to the Theological Conversation, sign up for my Moltmann 101 course and I’ll fill you in with more detail!)
Here’s what he doesn’t do: Moltmann’s approach avoids the feel of calculation that plagues much of trinitarian doctrine. He refuses to get bogged down in a conversation about “substance” and other eye-stabbing philosophical ramblings (THANK YOU). He does not create weird mathematical formulas to explain how three and one can happen simultaneously. And, of course, he refuses to do what I consider the cardinal sin of most trinitarian theology- to relegate the Spirit to some sort of directional arrow flinging between the muy importante Father and Son.
In a word, Moltmann has painted for us a trinitarian theology that is brightly and colorfully relational- and not in an abstract, philosophical way but an it-really-matters-to-the-world way. He writes, “The New Testament talks about God by proclaiming in narrative the relationships of the Father, the Son and the Spirit, which are relationships of fellowship and are open to the world” (TK, p.64). The Father, Son and Spirit are known to each other by their relation to each other, and because of their love for the world we are invited into that web of relationships and commanded to embody that kind of mutual love in our own lives and communities. (Notice that in this he not only fixes most trinitarian theological pitfalls but also makes the trinity a matter of missional, redemptive, eschatological importance rather than some doctrine only nerds care to debate. WWF Smackdown!)
Moltmann’s even so bold as to use Jewish monotheistic concepts like the Shema to describe how the trinity upholds the unity of God. With graceful and wise simplicity, he says, “The unity of the divine tri-unity lies in the union of the Father, the Son and the Spirit, not in their numerical unity” (TK p.95). How can that happen? By the Eastern Orthodox concept of perichoresis, which describes an intimate, mutual indwelling between Father, Son and Spirit that resembles a dance. Moltmann says, “The trinitarian relationship of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is so wide that the whole creation can find space, time and freedom in it” (TK p.109). In this relational love, the whole world is nourished.
In describing a relational, perichoretic God, Moltmann also addresses problems of hierarchy that have always, always, always been an issue in trinitarian theology- and an issue that has plagued our forms of government, our institutional church structures and even our everyday relationships. For Moltmann, the trinity is a way of seeing the world that correspondingly inhabits God’s very real relationship of love with the world.
Thanks, Professor. I can put down the ice pick now.