The first chapter of Jürgen Moltmann’s book, Theology of Hope, is titled Eschatology and Revelation, and is divided into eight sections. In the first section, Moltmann begins by saying that the discovery of apocalyptic eschatology in the message of Jesus (by Schweitzer and Weiss) is “undoubtedly one of the most important events in recent Protestant theology”. However, since Schweitzer had no eschatological sense (both theologically and philosophically), Schweitzer concluded that this apocalyptic Jesus was aimed at the final conquest and annihilation of what he considered to be “an illusionary eschatologism”.
Moltmann then takes a look at how this apocalyptic Jesus was interpreted by some important early twentieth-century theologians, specifically as to how they interpreted the eschaton – Barth (transcendentally), Bultmann (existentially), and Althaus (axiologically). Moltmann, however, considers that they all became victims of a transcendental eschatology “which once again obscured rather than developed the discovery of early Christian eschatology”, and that these forms of thinking are “entirely the thought forms of the Greek mind”. In order to unlock true Christian eschatology, Moltmann posits that we must see Christian eschatology in the “language of promise”.
In the second section of this chapter, Moltmann starts to explain how promise relates to revelation. The most intriguing aspect of what Moltmann writes here is that he is not so much concerned with the ability to define God as he is in discovering this “language of promise”. He starts off by noting that the topic of “revelation’ in theology has been dominated by Greek philosophical speculations, which he believes is seen in attempts to create “proofs of God”. Instead, Moltmann says that an Old Testament theology of God is the path we should be taking to get a proper perspective on revelation. He notes that the Old Testament reveals God as a “God of promise”, due to the fact that instances in which God is revealed are frequently accompanied with promises from God.
Moltmann then takes an intriguing turn by comparing this religion of promise of Israel to the epiphany religions: “the God of the promise and the gods of the epiphanies”. This is to say, the difference between the god of Israel and the surrounding gods is promise, not revelation. I thought that was a very fascinating comparative religion interlude. Following this, Moltmann discusses the Reformers and how they saw the correlate of faith not as revelation, but as the promissio dei: fides et promissio sunt correlativa. It was only later in Protestant orthodoxy that revelation became a problem and thus the central theme of prolegomena. The reason behind this? Because theology exchanged promise for Aristotelian concepts of reason and nature, from which arose a dualism of reason and revelation.
In the next three sections of this chapter, Moltmann tackles the concepts of “transcendental eschatology” (as seen in Kant), the “transcendental subjectivity of God” (as seen in Barth and Hermann), and then the “transcendental subjectivity of man” (Bultmann). Admittedly, reading these sections were a bore and only reaffirmed why I don’t like reading these theologians terribly much
The next section in this chapter is on progressive revelation, or “salvation history”. This was a very interesting part of this chapter due to the fact that this view (i.e. God is revealed to us through his actions in history) is something that I have basically always taken for granted. Moltmann sees this view as stemming from the enlightenment, and he brings forth a good argument about this view, which he summarizes by calling it “philosophically anachronistic and theologically deistic”. One critique that he levels against the view of salvation history is that it sought to discover the eschatological progressiveness of salvation history not from the cross and the resurrection. Very interesting stuff in this section.
In the next section, Moltmann interacts with the view of history as the indirect self-revelation of God as proposed by Pannenberg et al. While Pannenberg attempted to free the revelation of God from transcendental subjectivity, Moltmann disagrees with how he does this by using a cosmological proof of God. Pannenberg’s concept posits that as history rolls on, more of God becomes known through God’s self-revelation, and when all of history is known, then all of God will have been revealed. I won’t summarize Moltmann’s critiques against this view, but I will provide a nice soundbite he ended this section with:
The theologian is not concerned merely to supply a different interpretation of the world, of history and of human nature, but to transform them in expectation of a divine transformation.
In the final section in this chapter of the book, Moltmann discusses the eschatology of revelation. He begins by saying:
It is ultimately always a result of the influence of Greek methods of thought and enquiry when the revelation of God which is witnessed in the biblical scriptures is understood as ‘epiphany of eternal present’. That describes the God of Parmenides rather than the God of the exodus and the resurrection.
In a nutshell, Moltmann sees God as being revealed not in the present, but in his promises of the future. The world is not a closed system but is open to future possibilities that have been authorized by the God of promise through the resurrection of Jesus. The resurrection, though, was only an anticipation of the future of Jesus, and we, as believers, are a part of his future, and we groan in anticipation of the promises of God, and it is the impetus leading us to changing the present.
It is true that the appearances of the risen Lord are to be taken as a foretaste of his own future, then they are to be understood in the context of the Old Testament history of promise, and not in analogy to an epiphany of the truth in the Greek sense. The witnesses of Easter do not recognize the risen Lord in a blaze of heavenly, supra-worldly eternity, but in the foretaste and dawn of his eschatological future for the world. They do not regard him as the one who has been ‘immortalized’, but as the one who ‘is to come’. They saw him not as what he is in timeless eternity, but as what he will be in his coming Lordship.