Book Review: Exodus Church and Civil Society

ExodusChurchandCivilSocietyTitle: Exodus Church and Civil Society: Public Theology and Social Theory in the Work of Jürgen Moltmann

Author: Scott Paeth

Bibliographic info: viii + 223 pp.

Publisher: Ashgate, 2008.

Buy the book at Amazon

With thanks to Ashgate for the review copy!

As the title of this volume indicates, this study examines the relationship between theology and social theory in the theological project of Jürgen Moltmann. The author, Scott Paeth, explores Moltmann’s concept of the “exodus church” (a concept first discussed by Moltmann in the final chapter of his Theologie der Hoffnung / Theology of Hope), and how the church can engage in public theology in our (pluralistic) civil society. What is meant by public theology and what does it entail? These words from the author may be helpful:

It is because the church exists as an entity within civil society and also as a community set apart through its faith in the promises of God, that it can act in anticipation of the coming Kingdom of God in ways that have the potential to make genuine political and social progress in modern society.

The book is divided in four parts.

In the first part, Paeth takes a look at Moltmann’s public theology. Part of this entails a look at a possible distinction in Moltmann’s writings between his “public” theology and “political” theology. Paeth rightly, in my opinion, notes that there is continuity between the two, with political theology being subsumed under the larger rubric of public theology. This part also encompasses a helpful examination of the role of Moltmann’s concept of the “exodus church” in civil society.

In the second part, Paeth goes further into Moltmann’s public theology, specifically in regards to ethical engagement. He draws upon Walter Rauschenbusch’s ethics of the kingdom of God, H. Richard Niebuhr’s theology of social responsibility, and Reinhold Niebuhr’s theology of sin and human social relations (these three theologians could be considered as having provided precursors to public theology). Other theologians Paeth draws upon are David Tracy, Ronald Thiemann, Max Stackhouse, Miroslav Volf, Hans Küng, James Skillen, and Karl Barth.

With the third part of this book, Paeth discusses Moltmann’s relation to thinkers of the Frankfurt School in the 1960s, Max Weber and Max Horkheimer, as well as Jürgen Habermas (and his “recovery of emancipation through communication”). By exploring the themes of civil society and the public role of the church, Paeth is attempting to make up for a missing aspect in Moltmann’s writings on civil society as it appears in history.

For the final part, Paeth ties together everything he has discussed so far with the hope being to provide an approach to public theology in a pluralistic society. There is substantial interaction with Moltmann himself in this section, particularly his Theology of Hope, The Crucified God, and The Way of Jesus Christ. Paeth sees the political engagement of the believer to be essential in Moltmann’s theological project.

This study is more of a theoretical examination of the topic, rather than one which draws upon actual case-studies of the church’s engagement with civil society, yet despite its focus on theory it is written in a very accessible manner. The author shows an in-depth knowledge of Moltmann’s oeuvre and this study will definitely be beneficial for anyone interested in Moltmann, and will also be enlightening to anyone interested in the relationship between church and modern society. It is a touch on the expensive side (~$100), so you might have to take a trip to your local seminary!

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