In Moltmann’s initial work, Theology of Hope, he championed the significance of eschatology to all of theology. In his second work, The Crucified God, he applies this eschatological hermeneutic to Christology, providing a refreshing prolegomena to soteriology.
As is true with what I’ve found in other Moltmann books, the introduction itself is a captivating read, containing some quotable snippets that are liable to provide someone with an “Aha!” moment. One such snippet which particularly struck me is the following:
Jesus died crying out to God, ‘My God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ All Christian theology and all Christian life is basically an answer to the question which Jesus asked as he died. … Either Jesus who was abandoned by God is the end of all theology or he is the beginning of a specifically Christian, and therefore critical and liberating, theology and life.
In fact, the entire gist of The Crucified God could be summarized as a lengthy contemplation on Jesus’ death cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” For Moltmann, in the cross of Christ, God encountered and fully experienced death. The importance of the cross for God, and not just its importance for man, is of great importance for Moltmann in this book. In fact, only a few pages into the introduction he says:
To take up the theology of the cross today is to go beyond the limits of the doctrine of salvation and to inquire into the revolution needed in the concept of God. Who is God in the cross of the Christ who is abandoned by God?
Moltmann does indeed use the cross to take a revolutionary approach to God, which is demonstrated in how The Crucified God is often seen as advocating for the reconstitution of patripassianism and the passibility of God into orthodox Christian doctrine (but more on that in a future part of this review).
Another overarching thread in this book that Moltmann seeks to answer is the question of what the cross means today: “What does it mean to recall the God who was crucified in a society whose official creed is optimism, and which is knee-deep in blood?” This is critically important in that “the theology of the cross is none other than the reverse side of the Christian theology of hope, if the starting point of the latter lies in the resurrection of the crucified Christ.” In other words, The Crucified God is the necessary complement to Theology of Hope, for “unless it apprehends the pain of the negative, Christian hope cannot be realistic and liberating.”
The opening chapter, The Identity and Relevance of Faith, contains three sections in which Moltmann provides what is essentially a sociological look at the crisis of relevance of the cross to Christian life, faith, and society. Moltmann perceptively states:
In Christianity the cross is the test of everything which deserves to be called Christian. One may add that the cross alone, and nothing else, is its test, since the cross refutes everything, and excludes the syncretistic elements in Christianity.
If I could engrave that onto a wooden plaque and hang it on the wall (especially the first sentence), I would. Building upon this, Moltmann explains what it means to identify oneself with the cross of Christ:
Christian identity can be understood only as an act of identification with the crucified Christ, to the extent to which one has accepted the proclamation that in him God has identified himself with the godless and those abandoned by God, to whom one belongs oneself. …
Christian identification with the crucified Christ means solidarity with the sufferings of the poor and the misery both of the oppressed and the oppressors.
Something else Moltmann emphasizes in this chapter is how the revelation of God is seen in the cross. Moltmann argues that there must be a dialectical principle of knowledge and it is in this vein that he says:
God is only revealed as ‘God’ in his opposite: godlessness and abandonment by God. In concrete terms, God is revealed in the cross of Christ who was abandoned by God.
This dialectical approach of Moltmann’s necessarily has some far-reaching consequences for the traditional theism of Christianity, as well as for the Church. Moltmann gets into these consequences throughout the book, but for now he says:
But for the crucified Christ, the principle of fellowship is fellowship with those who are different, and solidarity with those who have become alien and have been made different. Its power is not friendship, the love for what is similar and beautiful (philia), but creative love for what is different, alien and ugly (agape).
To summarize, the thrust of this initial chapter is that “Christian theology must be theology of the cross, if it is to be identified as Christian theology through Christ.”