Book Review: Jürgen Moltmann’s Ethics of Hope

HARVIE JKT(240x159)filmsTitle: Jürgen Moltmann’s Ethics of Hope: Eschatological Possibilities for Moral Action

Author: Timothy Harvie

Series: Ashgate New Critical Thinking in Religion, Theology and Biblical Studies

Bibliographic info: 238 pp.

Publisher: Ashgate, 2009.

Buy the book at Amazon

With thanks to Ashgate for the review copy!

This volume is a slightly revised version of the author’s doctoral dissertation completed at the University of Aberdeen. In this work, Timothy Harvie attempts to explore—what was at that time—an unfinished trajectory in Jürgen Moltmann’s theological project, that is, an ethics of hope. The author notes, however, that the title may be a bit “misleading” for this study is “not a piece of applied ethics engaging specific moral quandaries or the nature of Christian virtues”, but is rather “a piece of systematic theology … [that] attempt[s] to theologically describe the sphere of Christian moral action and the means by which this is enabled to take place.” Thus, “the primary task of this project is to develop an eschatological account of the sphere of human moral action in dialogue with Moltmann’s work.”

I mentioned at the beginning of the previous paragraph that an ethics of hope was an unfinished trajectory of thought in Moltmann’s work at that time. Since the publication of this study, however, Moltmann has remedied this by publishing his Ethik der Hoffnung in 2010 (Ethics of Hope, 2012).

This study is divided into two parts and seven chapters. Part I tackles the issue of doctrinal considerations and covers various important themes that arise when one focuses upon Moltmann’s theology that is centered on hope within its eschatological context. Throughout these chapters, Harvie is attempting to elucidate an eschatological ethic of hope that might be derived from Moltmann’s theology. The first chapter deals with the themes of hope and promise in Moltmann’s theology, the second chapter looks at hope and the kingdom of God, the third chapter discusses hope and the Spirit of God, and the fourth chapter is on hope in the Triune God. A key concept found in these chapters is in how Moltmann conceives of the divine promise as establishing an “interval of tension” that Harvie labels as a “between-space”, or Zwischenraum, between the time of promise and fulfillment. The grand example of this is divine promise found in the cross and resurrection of Christ for the future redemption of creation. This Zwischenraum contains an “Exodus community”, or Exodusgemeinde, that Christians may now participate in, in contradistinction to the world and in anticipation of the future fulfillment of the divine promise.

Part II then grapples with certain theological issues within the framework of eschatological hope that Harvie put forth in preceding chapters, specifically exploring how these “doctrinal insights alter an understanding of moral agency and action within the framework or Christian hope.” The three chapters in this part aim to glean what systematic theology might say in regards to time and space (chapter six), humanity (chapter seven), and the economy (chapter eight). This final chapter on the economy was quite interesting. In it, Harvie attempts to understand how Moltmann’s eschatological hope might inform Christian involvement in the world of international economics. Rather than attempting to offer up a complete and singular vision of global monetary exchange and what this might look like, Harvie instead puts forward some thoughts on the types of market engagement that are commensurate with the kingdom of God in vision of eschatological hope. Here is an example:

Christians living in high-income nations must recognize that notions of scarcity which drive domestic and global markets do not apply to their lived experience in a similar manner as is found in other nations. A reconceptualized understanding of what true scarcity is needs to be achieved through education regarding the divergences of world poverty and the desperate situations of those living in economically failing nation states. Such public awareness education can be conducted in ecclesial settings through sermons and homilies, or service groups organized by local parishes. Moving further, such awareness needs to be conjoined with how a perception of scarcity influences consumption levels. …

All in all, this was an appealing and absorbing examination of the ethical implications Moltmann’s theological project. For the uninitiated, Harvie provides a superb look at Moltmann’s theology in the first part of the study, specifically the roles of divine promise and eschatological hope. While I did enjoy reading the second part, I was hoping the author would have pushed the envelope further with his application of the framework he developed in the first part. Granted, this is no doubt easier said than done, but I think the boundaries could have been pushed more. If you’re into Moltmann or ethics from a modern Christian theological perspective, then I would heartily recommend this volume.

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